Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Trough

Sometimes people tell stories that stick with you.   Stories that you hide away somewhere deep in your mind and heart to pull out at a time when you really need the encouragement or even the reprimand.  Recently, something I heard months ago, crept to the forefront of my thoughts. 

At the beginning of the school year, an administrator at our high school recited the history of the school complete with a description of the many buildings the school has occupied through the years.   One of the final sets of classrooms rented before the school had a building of their own was brand new at the time.    Our administrator confessed that she somewhat humbly told the pastor, whose church the school would be renting, that the students would surely  "put stains on the new carpet and dings on the freshly painted walls." She was wise enough to know the reality that kids in a building lead to such marks.   These rooms would never again look brand new.  The walls would forevermore hold scars of activity.  The carpet would wear with the busyness of little feet.  The children would undoubtedly leave evidence of life nearly everywhere they were allowed to go.     
The pastor, without hesitation and with a glint of excitement in his eyes, quoted to her Proverbs 14:4~ 
     "Where there are no oxen, the trough is clean, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest."

A clean, unscathed trough can only mean one thing:  there are no oxen.
No life.    
But with oxen, there's the potential for an abundant harvest. 
The potential for an abundant harvest. 
Deep down, I knew there would come a day this verse in Proverbs would be needed to refocus me.
So many shoes. 
So many coats. 
So many "especially made for mom" crafts. 
So many toys.
So many puzzle pieces.   
So many cereal boxes.
So many crumbs.
So many toothbrushes.  
So many toothpaste specks splattered on the mirrors.
So many people using the bathrooms.
So many orange sport cones littering the yard. 
So many dings on the walls.  
So many nicks on the furniture.
And those are the physical signs.  
So many emotions. 
So many unkind words.
So many tempers. 
So many tears.
So many heartaches. 
So many fears. 
So many doubts.
It's impossible to remove the evidence that a lot of people live in this house.
And the people seem to be getting bigger everyday.
Or maybe they are just getting messier on all accounts.      

Without the constant maintenance of running our busy home and tending to all degrees of emotions, we would very quickly be buried alive.        
As the people in the home continue grow, everything else about living life seems to grow too.    
The toilet is clean...until someone has to go.  
The shoes are picked up...until someone comes home.  
The laundry is done...until someone wears something.
The back door window clean...until someone goes outside. 
The dishes done...until someone gets hungry.
The hearts happy...until a tongue lashes out.  
The atmosphere calm...until discipline is required.  
The questions answered...until someone has another thought. 
There's never a moment when I look around my home with satisfaction and breathe, "It is finished."  
Because it never is. 
As one of my kids unloaded the dishwasher Sunday night, I heard muttered, "I think I've already done this today."  
The oldest son (who was attempting to help the pouty 7-year-old sweep up the floor) piped in "I think you've already unloaded the dishes like 3 times today."  ("Not a helpful comment, Teenager.")  
I reminded them that we "used paper plates for lunch, so technically we used less dishes today than normal."   
They decided together, "We need two dishwashers."  
I looked around at the very capable 7 pairs of hands in the room.
No, I'm pretty sure we have enough dishwashers.  
Here's what I know about having a large family:
Many hands and feet in a home make much of a mess.  
But, many hands and feet in a home make for an abundant harvest when they all work together.

Couldn't that be said about living life too?  
The more people that you let in to your world, the greater the potential they will bring all of their emotional and physical messiness with them.  
But, the more people that you let in, the more potential for a bountiful harvest of personal growth and for more souls saved for eternity. 

Every day, we do several five minute clean-ups.
The timer is set;  ready, go!   
Five pairs of hands (sometimes six pairs) work together to remove excess debris from the stairs, floor, tables, couches, to carry laundry upstairs, carry laundry downstairs, empty the car, etc., etc.   That many hands can accomplish a lot working in a very short amount of time.
It just never lasts. 
How dare a mess try to live in this house with all these hands working to keep it uncondemnable?   
It dares.  
It often wins.
More exhausting, though, are the emotional marks and baggage that can't be fixed with a timer.  
Quick, Little One, Mommy has five minutes for you to cry.   Ready, cry.  Clock is ticking.    
I actually think this mama has said that before.     
You have two more minutes to be afraid of playing soccer and then you gotta get out there because I don't have time for this nonsense.  Ready, Go.  Be afraid.   Okay, time's up.  Get out there and play.  
No timer in the world can quantify how much emotional energy might be required in dealing with people.  
Even healthy people require energy; how about the people that truly need our investment in their lives?    
I'd do much better at reaching out to people if I could set my phone on countdown mode and say, Ready, Talk.  You have five minutes left.  I've got things to do.
There's no five ingredient recipe for fixing people.  
Time and Energy.   Energy and Time.       
I miss so many opportunities to touch the hurting world around me because people and life are messy, and sometimes I'd rather save my energy, and control my time, and have the clean trough than deal with the marks that life leaves.          

Sometimes, I walk into a room in my house and will myself to not look too closely at the accumulating dust, the gash in the wall, or the neatly stacked pile of "something important" waiting to be put up.  
Walk in...get what you need...and walk out.  
Because I really can only think clearly when the house is organized and clean.   
(That might explain why I haven't been able to put together a string of coherent thoughts for the last couple years.)
Sadly, I often do the same with people.   
Walk in...avoid eye contact with the ones that really need loved...get what I need...and walk out.   
I'm so glad that's not what Jesus does with us.   
He'd have avoided me at every angle if He viewed me the same way I often view others.  
This person's going to take time and energy.  
And Jesus says to that,  "Then, this is the person I've come for---the sick---the needy---the hurting."
But the healthy are easier.  Less messy.   Less marks on the trough. 

I'm not done confessing the physical marks bothering me about my house, so I have to leave my spiritual analogy for a digression...   
I've tried to explain my struggle with managing our home to my husband.
The fact that I just can't clearly think in our house because it's kinda cluttered and kinda loud and a bit messy and there's just so many people.   
Of course he offers advice because he's naturally more organized than I am.
"So, let's organize it and clean it up." 
Like that thought doesn't cross my mind one hundred times a day.   
"It was clean and picked up for a minute yesterday...or last week...or maybe that was actually last month," I protest, "You just didn't happen to be home for that minute.  The PROBLEM is that it doesn't ever stay that way.  The chores are just so constant."
He seems unmoved, "Well, we do actually have to live here." 
Like somehow that's supposed to make me feel better. 
That anything touched by living creatures is bound to leave a sign and that the life marks are somehow okay.   
Naturally organized and neat people offer this advice that seems so easy to follow...for them: 
Everything has its place.  
That.  Is.  So.   Not.  True.
So not true.     
Not everything has a place.  What about the 7 pool towels that need to stay by the back door for daily swim practice?   What about the pile of neatly colored pictures waiting to be sent in a card to family members?   What about the over-sized, doesn't fit in the pantry, big box of individual pretzel bags that I bought from Costco that no one is eating?   What about the school papers I still need to grade?   What about the photos that I'm in the process of putting in frames for Christmas?  What about the 17 hoodies that are piled on the bench in the hall? 
And what about the people needs?   There's not always a perfect, controlled spot for those needs.   What about the tears that come in the middle of the day over a hurt from the past---who has time for that?  What about the late night fear that plagues a child's thoughts and keeps more than just the child awake?   What about the constant struggle with a sinful thinking pattern that leads to poisonous words?    You can't put those things always in their place---to be dealt with at a more convenient time---and make them stay.   Life is fluid.  It really can make a mess of a schedule.   
Not everything can be put in a box and solved with a five minute clean-up.       
My husband encourages me with this thought:  "I guess you'll just have to learn to think in the midst of living life."  
The marks are getting in the way.        
This is usually when he steps out of my pity-party all-together. 
"Well, that must be rough to live in your mind." 
He really has NO IDEA how hard it is to be trapped in my brain. 
And I think he secretly wonders (as do I) how someone like me could be the bearer of six children.
Because I want to limit the marks of life evident in our home and the nicks that touch my heart.  
I want to control the amount of emotional dings I might sustain reaching out to those hurting around me.     
And this is in direct contrast with the way I truly want to view the messiness of life and people.   
So, the struggle continues.

Years ago, burdened by the most overwhelming mess that had ever touched my grown-up world, a handful of dear friends stepped out of their orderly lives and dove into my mess with me.   Not to take the trough analogy too far, but if sin and ugliness smelled like a home for animals, our odor would have stretched to the next state.  Truly, no one had the extra time and energy to pour into our family.   Who wakes up each day with blocks of hours set aside to love on the hurting?  But they made time.   They sacrificed of themselves.   They allowed our mess to touch their world too.  Their investment into me and my family surely left marks on them.  But they valued life.   They listened to the Lord when He urged them to forsake the schedule for the sake of the people.   And we are forevermore humbled and thankful.    Although we've moved to a different part of the country, and we often go months without talking to some of these people from our past, I sometimes wish they could sneak a peek at the joy often found in our family these days.    We are a living testimony to their own harvest.  Time and energy.  Marks on the trough.  But the end result brought forth an abundant harvest. 
How can I forget the value of loving on people so easily?      

As the birth of our new baby girl approaches (I can't wait to meet her by the way!), I find myself in a manic state to find some order in our home.  To gain control over the chaos.  To remove the messy signs of living life from our home.    I want all "attitudes" dissolved.  All sin removed.  All tears tucked away.  All shoes on the shelves.  The idea to paint a magnetic chalkboard wall is my solution to the pile of lovingly drawn pictures waiting on the counter to be displayed.   Somehow that makes sense to me.   Tackle the pile of crafts by displaying them on the wall with magnets.  My husband nips that idea before I've even completed speaking the thought.   

"No.  No.  Absolutely no.  If we have a magnetic wall, then our wall will look like our fridge.   It's bad enough that there's all those papers that fall off the fridge every time someone walks into the kitchen.   No way do we want a whole wall that looks that way." 

As I contemplate the fridge and the 400 pictures that are magnetically struggling to maintain their place in our kitchen, I mentally clear the fridge of the clutter.     
The thought of removing the work of my little people's little hands from their central place in our home snaps me somewhat out of this "control" fog that is smothering me.
Remove evidence of our life together from our home?   We, the people, ARE this home.   Do I really want to remove the signs that love happens here, and many hands and feet move among these walls everyday? 
Nope.  The fridge stays as is.   No way are we removing the signs of life from this house.   I guess the tears can stay too.   Even the attitudes that are being trained.   All of that is part of the life that happens and makes a bit of mess.      

There's more to my thinking shift, though.  
Do I really want to remove everything that causes a little bit of a mess in my life?
What a worthless, selfish existence to only be concerned that my hypothetical trough is order...both physically and emotionally.   

Life happens within the walls of a home, within the walls of a church, and even simply walking down the street to get the mail.  There's no way to completely eliminate the fact that getting involved with real people will leave real marks.   I love walking into model homes because they are so clean, and so unmarked, and so absolutely un-lived in.   So unlived in appeals to me.    Clean and neat, but lifeless.          
     "Where there are no oxen, the trough is clean, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest."

I'm praying for the ability to value the marks that life leaves.   To not hold so tightly to the energy I think I need to conserve, but to pour it out on people.   To not value control and order so highly that I miss the blessing of diving into a mess with someone and helping them to see the Truth.  My pursuit of the clean trough might lead to a sense of control, but I will miss out on the abundant harvest that awaits.   

The harvest has the potential to be plentiful if we take the time to really touch people. 
But it will surely be messy too.   
I pray for the courage to choose what is best.
And I pray that at the moments when I'm the messiest, that someone will also find the courage to allow their own trough to get a little dirty.        

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Advice for Jen

My precious cousin, Jen, just had her first baby.  When my aunt asked me to give her some advice this summer on becoming a new mom, there was only one criteria:  let it be light-hearted.  Light-hearted?   At the time she asked, I was stuck in a tunnel of parental weariness where I wasn't seeing many light-hearted things about being a mom.  

Here's my first draft:    
1)  You will be tired, FOOOREEEEVER.                                 
Does that count as light-hearted advice?   

2)  There will ALWAYS be something you will be training out of your child. Always.         
Is that encouraging enough?

3)  I have been doing the same load, SAME LOAD, of laundry for 15 years.    
Fun stuff. 

4)  You will forevermore fight feelings of failure.
What a downer.

I might as well have given Jen a prescription for anti-depressants along with her baby gift with all the "light-hearted" advice that was rolling from my pen.   All my aunt was looking for was fun advice about childbirth and new baby issues.    There was no need for the Eeyore warnings.     
Perhaps, it's because I have a mild case of parental confusion. 
The reading pile beside my bed consists of three books:  
1)  What to Expect When You Are Expecting.
2)  Shepherding Your Child's Heart.
3)  I Kissed Dating Goodbye.   
I told my OB doctor this and she raised her eyebrows when I mentioned the dating book.    In case she was confused about my interest in dating, I clarified that I indeed had kissed serial dating goodbye many years ago when I got married, but I was currently reading it with my teenage son.   She added a positive spin---"at least you haven't bought a pre-menopause book yet." Awesome.  Like I'm not already feeling a little bit old sitting beside all these spunky twenty-something mamas in the waiting room.  

Light-hearted.  Upbeat.  Fun. 
Light-hearted.  Upbeat.  Fun.   

Draft #2: 
Advice for a new mama:    

Sounds like a Doomsday prediction.
Surely I'm not so jaded that I can't remember all the excitement and fears and questions about being a new mom.    
Dear Lord, remind me...

And then...
I lay waiting anxiously on an ultrasound table to hear my own baby's heartbeat.    
An external scan at an earlier doctor's appointment had picked up nothing but silence.
The ultrasound would reveal whether there was still life.  
In those few hours of waiting, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I totally wanted to be a new mama again.   I was no longer too tired.   I was eager to do more laundry.   The forever training didn't seem so daunting.   
Because there's nothing that revives a tired mama's soul than to hear the beating of her own baby's heartbeat echoing through the room. 
The hours stretched on.           
Finally, the tech began the scan.   
A tiny fluttering filled the screen and the ultrasound broadcasted my new little baby's heartbeat loud and clear.
The sound of a new life. 
Instantly, I became a new, yet old mama once again. 

All of the sudden, I was filled with all sorts of memories of love stories for Jen and moments of pure joy that come with falling in love with your new baby for the first time.   Childbirth---a necessary means to a blessed gift.  Lack of sleep---inevitable.  All of the worries of being a new mom...part of the journey. The light-hearted (and somewhat useless) advice to Jen came easier as I thought about all the things I'll remind myself having a baby again fifteen years after becoming a first time mom.            

To Jen, 
There’s no perfect, fool-proof way to raise kiddos.   The more kids I have, the more I realize how little I actually know.  There's a book called, I Was A Really Great Mom Before I Had Kids.  It's kinda true.  Every child is different, every family is different, and you really have to pray for wisdom continually, beg God on behalf of your children, and make lots of adjustments as you go.   Never forget that there’s only one perfect parent:  Our Heavenly Father.   He’s perfect and look how we’ve wandered.  "No matter how great of a job you do parenting, your children will not make it through your home unscathed." (Kandy Jackson quote)  Don’t wallow in guilt.  Cling to God's mercy and grace.  There’s no way you are going to do it perfectly, so show yourself and show your husband the same mercy and grace.   And surround yourself with Godly moms that can encourage you and pass on all their wisdom to you!
1) Child birth advice:  Our moms did it all natural.   They didn’t have a choice.    You get to pick.  Not by choice, I've had to do it both ways (you know I have no tolerance for pain, so I was certainly not a likely candidate for natural child-birth.)   There was no award for going the natural route--even though you do feel like Super Woman for a couple minutes afterward.   And then you feel like Super Woman who has just been hit by a truck.    Don't feel bad if you want an epidural.  Let's face it, Chris will thank you FOREVER if you get one.    Either way, the baby is the award...not the method by which you deliver.        

2)  Grace abounds during delivery.    Anything you do or say will not be held against you while you are birthing a child.   Even if you turn into Satan for a period of time.  But also know, your husband will remember and it will become part of his “labor story” to share with your mom and friends later.   

3)  Nursing…try it…it can be really precious time.  But please, please, please don’t be one of those women that wears around shirts that say things like, “Breast:  The New White Milk.”   Some things should just be done and enjoyed without making a public statement about it.   I'm not saying you shouldn't nurse in public---nurse anywhere you want---BUT for goodness sake, don't wear a t-shirt advertising it. 

4)   Be ready for the first time Chris wakes up in the morning with total joy and exclaims with bright, rested eyes, “The baby slept through the night!”    “No, Chris, no, she didn’t. Daddy just slept through the night, but baby and mommy were still up four times.”   Good for the dads that they can sleep through anything.   Must be nice...(there's a bit of the martyr mom syndrome coming out)               

5)   Hold loosely your baby’s schedule.   She will not be eternally messed up if she doesn’t eat every day at the exact same time or if her nap is an hour later than it was yesterday.   A schedule is to help you…not to enslave you…

6)   If you want to make all of your own baby food, do it!   That’s for the over-achievers and I’m pretty sure you do get an award for that.   You’ll have to talk to someone else about that because I couldn't even find my food processor until last year.  It has never once been used to grind up baby food. (Judge away.)  If you don’t want to make her food, think of all the time you’ll save by just buying the baby food in jars.  It even comes organic if you are so inclined, but I’m almost positive your baby will not grow a third eye if you just buy the normal baby food in jars.         
7)   Don’t feel guilty if you don’t want to rock your baby to sleep!  Your baby will turn out just fine.   

8)  BUT…don’t feel guilty if you DO want to rock your baby to sleep.    There might be some days that the only part of the day you enjoy is the moment the baby is quiet and you are rocking her to sleep.  If you want to rock her--enjoy it--don’t let your friends or a book tell you how to put your child to bed.  Do what works for you and Chris!

 9)  I hope you are a mama who loves to play with their kids.    I’m not really THAT mom.   I just don’t really like playing much of anything.   So, play away if you love to, but if you don’t like to play either have six kids so they all have a built-in playmate, or take them to grandma's house.  Because grandmas can play all day long without getting tired. 

10)  Beware…your children will do all those things you always said your kids would never do…and then some…

11)  You will never again judge the mom in the grocery store with the little one throwing the fit…instead you will walk by in relief knowing that today is her day to be “that” mom…yesterday was your day.

12)   Kids have sketchy memories.   I learned this one from my mom. She used to always talk about “pulling taffy” on snow days.   Finally, my brother and I looked at each other and said “Do you have a memory of this?”  No.  Neither one of us had the memory aside from our mom's stories.   “Mom, did we really ever pull taffy?”   Once or twice.   She admitted once or twice.   So, play games one Friday night and a month later begin talking to your kids about the tradition of how you always played games when they were growing up on Friday nights.   Is there really harm in planting the memory to your advantage?

13)  Forget about going to the bathroom by yourself.  Even shutting the bathroom door will not keep your little ones away.   They will sit down outside the door and just keep talking to you through the door.   You really need a safe room if you want to ever have silence again.

14)  Be careful what you say at home.   It will be repeated loudly in public.     

15)   Make sure your kids feel free to question you or ask you to clarify something they don’t understand.   I have a daughter who misunderstood something that she overheard and for days thought that before Preston and I got married, that her father actually preferred men to women.   What she misunderstood was a discussion I was having with someone where I had said, “Before Preston was engaged...” She thought I said, "Before Preston was gay..." (That's probably an important rumor to squelch.  Here's where you need to get started on the counseling fund.)

16)   Don’t give your kids a choice about what they want to eat when they are toddlers.    They are 3.  What do they know?   Fix their plate…put it in front of them and say, “Here’s lunch.  Let’s eat.”   If they don’t like it, “Better luck next meal, Kiddo.”    I gave my oldest the choice on which part of the plate I even put the food ("Where should the ketchup go?"  "Where should the nuggets go?").  Is there any doubt, I created a food monster for a couple years.    It all came to a head when my mom put some delicious smelling soup in front of him and he looked at her and arrogantly stated, “I’m not eating this crap soup, Grammy.”  They don’t need a choice on what to eat.  Nothing good will come of it.        

17)   Bless you if you want to cut the crusts off the sandwiches and apple peels off the apples.   Don’t feel bad if you don’t have time for that nonsense though.   Just tell them that in your home for ten years they get to eat the crusts and apple peels, but when they turn ten you will gladly give them use of a knife to do whatever they want with the edges of food.  By that point, you aren’t going to care what they eat.

18)  Don’t spend too much time fretting if your preschooler teaches her friends, “We’re Sexy and We Know It.”  Clap, clap, clap, clap.    Your child will come home with plenty of things that other kids have taught her that make you cringe.   But if they slip and say an inappropriate word or phrase, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER ask them where they heard it in front of other people…because the answer may be YOU…and that’s always embarrassing.

19)   Don’t feel bad if you love being a mom…but have moments when just hate doing all the things that a mom has to do every day.   Call your mom or sister on those days and have them come help you or take you out for coffee or bring you a Diet Coke.   Don’t call me, Jen, because I don’t like doing all that stuff and I’ll just jump right into your pity party and drag you down.  Call one of the encouragers in your life and make some of those repetitive mom tasks more fun!         

20)   Finally, a dear friend reminded me, "In a healthy family, everyone gets a turn having their needs met.  Our kids need to learn that sometimes it’s just NOT THEIR TURN." 
So Jen, you are going to be a fantastic mom.  All of us are going to love this baby and pray for this baby. I’m super excited to see how your sense of humor explodes into even more hilarity as you deal with kids and mommying.  Like when Chris comes home and asks you in that tone of voice, “So, what did YOU DO all day?” (“Nothing.  I did nothing.  Ate some chocolate.  Watched some Lifetime movies.  In fact, I don’t even know where your kid is.”)  Or when you yell at the kids to get ready to go to the pool for a swim and they yell back, “Do we need to get on our bathing suits? (“Did they lose their brains?”)  Or when your three-year old insists on going into a public bathroom with only his older brother—and he’s like the 5th child so you don’t pay much attention until he tells you he would have been faster, but he had to clean the “mud” off the toilet first.  The slightly pale older brother confirms that the "mud" wasn't really "mud."  (Gag.)  Or when you are walking into the CU/CSU football game wearing CU black and gold clothing and your daughter exclaims loudly for all to hear, “We are the big black family!”  (All you can say is, "Go Buffs!") 
Or in twelve years, when your overly honest/working on holding his tongue pre-teen looks at you and says,
You know, Mom, you really just aren’t that good with kids.”   
At that moment, you realize in relief, that your secret is out...after so many years of parenting, there is still so much you have left to learn.  
Jen, I can’t wait to hear your stories and get YOUR advice in future years!    

Love you always!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Night Before...

Did I really expect to sleep soundly the night before my firstborn goes to school for the first time?  
Ten years after most parents have their first day of school, we are on the dawn of ours.  
I have dreaded...absolutely dreaded this night from the moment the decision to put him in school was made.  
I dreaded the tears I knew I'd cry, the second-guessing I knew I'd do, and the heightened emotions I knew I'd experience as we begin this new season of life.
I was hoping Jesus would come back before tonight.   
There's still time for Him to return and take us home...there's still several hours before the first school bell rings...but as much as I strain my ears for a sound, I don't hear the trumpets announcing my Savior...

Masterfully, I held back tears most of the day.     The torrential build up of emotion became too much as we loaded into the car for back-to-school night.      I ran into my firstborn on the stairs and he quizzically looked into my tear-streaked, vein-bulging eyes, and asked "Why are you crying now?" 

I was adamant that I was going to control my emotions, "Don't hug me.    I have to pull myself together and get rid of these puffy eyes before we get to the school."    

Apparently, he wasn't going to hug me anyway, because he was already in the front seat of the car before I finished the statement.

I lost most of my mascara on the drive there.    
Nearing the school, the freshman firstborn gasps, "Where are my shoes?"  
And we are already late and "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?   YOU FORGOT YOUR SHOES?"
This vision of walking into back-to-school night with my freshman in high school not wearing shoes is enough to instantly dry my eyes and bring color back to my face.   This is not happening.   
Even the toddler brought his shoes this time. 
I'm no longer sad he's going to school; instead, I want to slap him upside the head.    
He exaggeratedly searches around the seat and through his bag before he grins and holds up two shoes, "Just kidding.  You don't really think I'd forget to bring my shoes, do you?"
Gosh, I'm really going to miss this kid.  He somehow has me all figured out.
Maybe it's because we've been together for the last fourteen years.

Later, as he was getting ready for bed, backpack sitting by the door, lunch made in the refrigerator, I kind of wanted to pull out a scene from that book, I'll Love You Forever.   I wanted him to crawl up in my lap and just be five again.   Or better yet.   I wanted him to sneak into our room in the middle of the night, and be five again, and crawl into our bed, just because.   Just because he was little and wanted to be near.   

So, tonight, after he was asleep, I did sneak into the boys' room.    Just to peek at my babies.  I'm always amazed.  Somehow, seeing both my older sons laying in their beds, growing bodies sprawled out and filling the mattresses, grounds me to the very reality that going to school is not what makes me sad.    What makes me sad is the fact that they have to grow up.   Whether they go to school or not, the transition into manhood has already begun.  

Time is no respecter of a mama's feelings. 

The light from the street reflected on my firstborn's face and I saw a hint of baby fat...a hint of the little boy that didn't sleep in his own bed until he was six...but I can't ignore the chin that seems more defined and the shoulders that seem to be broadening.   Why can't he just be five?  His physical body fills a bed in our house for only a season of life and that hardly seems fair.  Next time my kids say something is not fair, I'll tell them what's not fair.    "What's not fair is that I'm going to love you little ones and give my life for you for eighteen years and then you are going to leave and call another place your home.   THAT'S WHAT'S NOT FAIR."
I'm not sure which of the older three children will roll their eyes first at that comment.
But every mom understands.    
Watching your children grow up is such a painful pleasure.  

The Daniel of the Old Testament.
For much of this last summer, I wished I could have a little chat with his mom.     
Daniel---the young man (teenager) ripped from his family and his heritage and his land and thrust into the greatest city of those days. Babylon.
Daniel---taken as a slave to be trained to serve the king. He's described as handsome, quick-minded, well-informed, and of noble blood, which qualified him to serve royalty.
He and other young men from Judah were taken to be trained in all areas of Babylonian culture---the language, the literature, and all other areas of life that would be useful in the king's service. This would include being trained in the knowledge of Babylonian gods and worship.
Wealth, glory, prestige, idolatry, excess.
All of it was found within the walls of this magnificent city.  
All of it within reach of these young boys if they would just make some compromises.     
How long would it really be possible for a teenager to hang on to all that he had been taught as a young boy when he was being trained daily in ways that were contrary to his God and his entire way of life? Everything he knew would have been challenged.
How long could he possible stand?

But Daniel did stand. He did stand firm in his faith and did not turn his back on God.
And God lifted him to excellence in all areas of importance to the king.
He and three other young men are the only ones mentioned of ALL the Israelite boys taken who maintained their love for the Lord.
That's not very encouraging.
All good Jewish boys would have been taught Old Testament scripture.
They would all have known about the God of Israel. They would all have known about the one true I AM.
Only four kept the faith?

I'd love to talk to the mamas of those boys, specifically Daniel's mom.      
Interview her. Pepper her with a million questions to ease my worried soul.
Surely, she holds the recipe~the magic formula~ to raising a kid whole-heartedly sold out to the Lord.
How did you prepare your son?
Did you know he was strong enough to stand?
Did you get to whisper any last words to him as Babylonian soldiers were taking him away?
Did you tell him you loved him or did you whisper scripture knowing that a mother's love would never sustain him? Only the Word of God would have that power.
Tell me your secret, Oh Mom of Daniel.

And my frantic soul this summer kept searching for the answer to raising a child that didn't turn away when leaving the home. My soul regretted lost training opportunities, and toiled over future plans and ideas to properly prepare him for a life lived in our very godless culture. I worried. I prayed. I feared a bit. I prayed some more. What I didn't take the time to do, however, was to still my soul before the God, who created my son, and remind myself whose child he really is. Deep down, I think the children in my home are mine. All mine.   I know I think they are mine because I really have a hard time releasing them to God, who might choose to grow them in ways that make them uncomfortable...or ways that embarrass...or in ways that hurt.

Several different entries in my journal talk about this desire to talk to Daniel's mom.     Tell me exactly what you did, Mama Daniel, and I'll do it.  It's not shocking that this woman from long ago didn't talk to me.   In fact, my repeated search for specific information on Daniel's mama hardly turned up any information.  Finally, finally, finally, God opened my eyes to something very important that I was missing in my quest for the specific recipe for raising a son like Daniel.    It was as though the Lord opened my heart to this,   "If I had wanted you to know about Daniel's mother, I would have mentioned her.  The secret doesn't belong to Daniel's mother.  I AM DANIEL'S GOD."  

The God, who lived in Daniel, kept the teenager strong. 
The God, who had a plan that required Daniel to be lifted far above the others, gave this young man the wisdom to withstand the temptations. 
The God, who created Daniel for such a time as that, grew him in knowledge academically and gave him favor in front of kings.          

Daniel's God is my God. 
Daniel's God is my firstborn's God.
I don't need to talk to Daniel's mom.   
I've got the God of the universe living inside me, His written word to guide me, and His promises to hold tight against my aching heart and over-working mind.
My son has that same God. 

The firstborn going to school tomorrow is nothing like Daniel being taken as a slave to Babylon.
Hopefully, we still have several years left with him in our home and under our guidance.   
There won't need to be any last minute profound words frantically whispered as I send him off tomorrow because, Lord willing, I'll be seeing him just six hours later with time left in our season of life together to do more training.
But, now that I think about my last words to him in a few hours, maybe I will steal my mom's old goodbye to me in high school, and use it with my own children as we are slowly releasing them to the world.  
She used to say, "Remember whose child you are."   
The teenager in me would always say back to her, "Yours."  
I knew what she meant, though.   
"Remember, Beloved Michelle, that you are the daughter of the King.   Bought at a price.  Redeemed for all eternity.   You.  Belong.  To.  God."

It would seem God's using that to cushion my heart on the night before my firstborn goes to school for the first time.    
Fear not.  I have redeemed your (firstborn.)  
I have summoned him by name.
He.  Is.  Mine. 
Isaiah 43:1 

I've been writing an hour and the snoring upstairs tells me that everyone else in my family seems to be at peace with this decision.  I guess this first day of school thing is really going to happen.
My ears are still straining to hear the trumpets...maybe there's still some time left, and Jesus will return. 
Instead, I hear the still, small voice calmly reassuring me on this dreaded night before...
Do not fear. 
He.  Is.  Mine.   

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

In Both, God Is Good.

Here is yet another blog that I'm not sure I should publish.  
One that's written in the process of sorting out the false things I've adopted as "gospel" from the one true "gospel" that is found in scripture.      
Yet, I'm compelled to write because, well, that's how I process, and there's a very real tension in my mind that God's goodness is possibly one of the many parts of Him that I will never fully understand on this side of heaven...something I might never be able to write about with absolutely clarity.      My heart might never be able to rest on my own limited understanding of God and His goodness and how that all fits into human suffering.    

God's Word says He is good.
Therefore, He IS good. 
2 Chron. 7:3 "They worshipped and gave thanks to the Lord saying, 'He is good.   His love endures forever.'"
If we don't believe God's word is Truth, we have much bigger eternal issues than just our understanding of His goodness here on earth.
The verses claiming His goodness are numerous in both the Old and New Testament.    
Psalm 34:8 "Taste and see that the Lord is good."
Our God is good.
Luke 18:19 "No one is good except God alone."
No one is good except God alone.
We can boldly make those statements because they echo scripture.   
God.  Is.  Good.      
It seems I have a pretty skewed view of "goodness" though because tragedies often shake me...stir me...rock my earthly world... 
I don't know how to fully mesh His goodness with evil, or tragedy, or hurts, or disappointment, but He is above this world and His goodness is not dependent on the circumstances of this world to make goodness to be true of Him.  
God does not change based on the tragedy of the day.  
Therefore, He is good in the face of sorrow.   

A couple weeks ago, a gathering of old high school friends at my parents' house in Colorado Springs almost turned tragic.   Almost. 
Dozens of kids of all ages roamed the bluffs where my parents' house rests while the adults caught up on old times safe on the confines of the deck and yard.     One side of the house is normal...gentle sloped grass leading to some pretty cool climbing bluffs...a big play set...a basketball hoop and ping pong reason for any kid to need to wander anywhere else.   
The other side of the house is a different story.   Two levels of decks sit resting on the edge of cliffs that tumble straight down to more rocky cliffs below.
All of the kids seemed content on the "safer" side of the house, so no big deal.   
No big deal except for the one kid that decided to venture, unseen by the dozens of adults at the party, to the bottom layers of deck.   
But even that should have been no big deal.  
We hang out on those decks all the time and have never had any issues.    
They are safely built decks.    AND I'm the family safety Nazi with a gift of removing all fun from every situation~or so my family says~because they "claim" I see danger in places where it doesn't exist.  If anyone would have mistrusted the stability of the decks, it would have been me.   I grew up in this house.   It's safe. 

A lone 5-year-old wandered to the lower level to look over at the cliffs below.   She grabbed onto the top of the rail and slipped her tiny feet between the bars of the deck to get a better look.    My mom happened to walk over to that part of the yard at that moment and watched as that entire section of the railing gave way and tumbled down the cliffs below leaving this small child hanging on to the only top bar that remained.   The little girl calmly set her feet back on the part of the deck still standing and ran off to play.  Bouncing with joy, she was completely unfazed by the tragedy she had just been spared.      A huge gaping hole was left with pieces of the deck strewn on the rocky cliffs below.     There is no earthy reason she didn't fall.   

With hearts beating faster, adults peered at this "almost" with praise and thanksgiving and joy at God's goodness.   God's goodness to spare this child's life.     Snippets of our conversation included "God is so good to protect."   "We are so thankful to have been spared."    "Praise Him for His protection."     Those are things that I naturally say when I see God's obvious hand saving or protecting or blessing.  
And the truth is, we are SO thankful that God spared this little girl's life.  
Our hearts DO overflow with joy that He chose to give the family more time with her.  
We praise Him for obviously intervening.   
God is good.  He is so, so, very good.

Gradually, the reunion came to an end and I looked at my phone for the first time all day.   
Numerous texts awaited.
The messages were tragic.  
A dear friend's 3-year-old niece had drown.   
This little one had drown while vacationing with family at a friend's lake house.
The time of the first text was almost at the exact moment the deck was falling out from under a little girl at my parents' house.
The contrasting results still take my breath away.     
On the same day that our good God was sparing a little girl's life in Colorado Springs by holding her back from a cliff, He was welcoming a little one into His Heavenly Kingdom.   
His hands kept a child on this earth at the very moment His arms carried one home.   
The very same good God.
And "God is good" is not what came to my mind or out of my mouth.
I couldn't find that thought anywhere. 
Because how does a good God allow a family to walk through such pain?    

I'm not sure, but we KNOW that God was still on His throne that day.
He didn't turn His head for a second and miss the tragedy.  He's Sovereign.    
He didn't mistakenly allow a little one to be taken too soon from her family.   Even a sparrow doesn't fall to the ground without His permission.     
He didn't forsake this God-fearing family for one moment.    He is close to the brokenhearted.    
And even through this unimaginable sorrow, He is still good.                
With confidence, God is still good.   
He gave permission for something so tragic, yet God reigns supreme and He has overcome all the sorrow of this world.   Somehow, in a way that transcends all understanding, He will get glory in the midst of this heartbreak and He will bring peace through such pain.   Maybe even JOY.          
Because that's who He is.
I'm realizing that deep down my view of God's goodness is often situational.  
I say "God is good" a lot.  A WHOLE lot.   
But there's often an unspoken behind it.    A "because" that I don't say, but imply.    
Because He protected.
Because the money came.   
Because the baby has a heartbeat.
Because my child is safe.
Because the fire didn't destroy their home.  
Because the hail didn't hit the farm.
Because it's not cancer.  
Because the little girl didn't fall off the deck.
God is good...

The Bible says that God is good.  
Period.   Not because.   His character is goodness.   
That goodness is not dependent on ANYTHING.   
God is good when He spares a child's life.  
God is good when He doesn't.
He will be glorified in both.
He can be praised by believers in both.

Two babies to be born within days of each other this upcoming winter. 
The news is shared just a week apart.    
Both families growing in excitement at the upcoming addition to their families.
But God's plan is different than we would have planned.      
One baby is still growing.
One baby isn't.   
One family preparing a room.  
One family grieving a loss.   
Yet, this precious Christian woman, who has just lost the little one in her womb, says to me,
"God is so good."
"This hurts.   But God is SO good." 
The strength of the Lord in this lovely woman through such heartache witnesses to me.      
Her spiritual maturity and wisdom are confirmed in that one statement of faith that allows her to boldly proclaim that "God is good even though this hurts and we don't understand." 
Somehow, I can walk away from this woman knowing without a doubt that God Is Good. 
My heart aches with this family, but I can say in agreement with them, confidently,
"Yes, God is so good."  

This week, I read a news article about a young woman killed on a lake when she was hit in the head by a piece of metal that flew off a water tube.     We had the very same accident a couple years ago, yet I walked out of the emergency with stitches and a concussion, and this woman's family is planning a funeral.    
"God is good," we had said "Because He spared my life."  
Would He not still have been good had He chosen to take my life? 
The hollowness of saying "God is good because..." now seems glaringly insufficient and weak.
Yes, we are so thankful for more days.
Yes, I'm so thankful to be around a little longer for my family.    
But He's good always.    
Not because He spared me.   
He's good even if He wouldn't have.
And He will be glorified in both. 
Let my children never think God is good BECAUSE...
He is good.   Period.  

When the cup in front of us is pleasing to us, it's easy to say that He is good.    
Jesus had a cup pass before Him.   One that included the sins of the world being placed on His shoulders.  A cup full of betrayal, physical brutality, and death.   Yet, Hebrews 12 says that "for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross."   There was joy for Him in all of His suffering because of what the end result of the suffering would be.   Could that also be true for our suffering?    

I'm realizing how crucial it is for me to rehearse His goodness and His Sovereignty and His ultimate glory in suffering before I need to fully lean on them.    Rehearse who He is during the calm seas before the storm hits.   Because a storm will hit.  It does for all of us.  The calm seas are the time to build our boat of faith with deliberate Truth because it's pretty tough to build faith during the fierce attacks of a storm...that's when we need to just cling to that which has already been built and cleave to the perfecter of our faith.    Our children need to hear us rehearse God's goodness in ALL THINGS~the giving and the taking away.   His goodness not just when situations end with positive results, but His goodness as part of God's character.   
A character that doesn't change with outside circumstances.     

One of my friends has a son with a lifelong disease that requires constant monitoring.   I've heard her say something like this, "If this illness had passed before me for my son, I would have turned it down and said there was no way this could be good or loving.    But I'm not God.    This disease passed before my Heavenly Father's throne and He said, 'Yes,' to this...and God is good.  And God is love."  This family's constant dependence on the Lord in the face of this daily struggle ministers by pointing me right back to how God can be glorified in the face of suffering. 

The immaturity of how I view the Lord is constantly brought before me as seasons of life change and I find my faith shaken...ummm, more than I wish.   The tragedy of this little girl drowning while another little girl was being spared shook me.  Yet, the shaking draws me back to God's word and reminds me to build my faith on the truth of scripture and not my own personal feelings.  I can analyze tragedy in my own power all day and there is no sense to be found in it apart from God's Word.

My friend came back from her 3-year-old niece's funeral blown away by the strength in her brother's family as they face this unspeakable tragedy.   She said that she went to help and encourage her family, but she was the one who walked away blessed.    Blessing in the midst of suffering?  God's hand moving as a funeral for a 3-year-old is planned?  No Way Possible apart from God.   No way.  There was actual JOY to be found as God's hand was seen in the grief and in the carrying of this family.   The stories she told me of the funeral week testified that God can get glory even when He doesn't withhold the sorrow.     And my friend was able to say with confidence, "God is good."  
That absolutely transcends all human understanding.      

So, I ramble and write on and on and find no outline that can be drawn. 
This seems so incomplete. 
I don't know if this should be deleted or rewritten or saved as a draft until I can write it with more clarity...until the paragraphs flow more naturally together.  It's been in rough draft form now for two weeks and it seems the concept of God's goodness through suffering requires more wisdom than I've been given. 
Maybe I'm just preaching myself a sermon.   Rehearsing over and over and over for my own small faith, God's goodness.  
His goodness no matter what. 
As life changes, I'm constantly having to remind myself of some of the very basic character traits of God.
So, I go back and start with this one...  
God.  Is.  Good.  
The "because" absent from the sentence.   
It means that He is good when He holds back the railing of a deck and saves a child's life.   
It means that He is still good when the unbearable happens.       
He. Is. Good.    
In both circumstances, He is good.   

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


This is long...
I gotta talk this one out...

I picked that number on a whim. 
As a senior in high school, sitting among dear friends---some over-achievers, some average achievers, and a few slackers---I listened as summer plans and future dreams unfolded.   Colleges spread across the country, summer mission trips, exciting jobs like life-guarding and ice-cream scooping, and plenty of talk about what we were "going to be" when we grew up.     At that moment, anything was possible. 
I think I zoned out.
"What are your plans?"
How dare someone try to pull me into the conversation when I was clearly trying to stay out. 
I had a set answer.   Firstborns have to have a plan, so I had prepared an answer that seemed safe months before graduation.
"Pre-Med at CU."  (Who's not impressed with that?   And the CU part was true.)
As an after thought, I added a new twist to my plans,
"Oh yeah, and I'm going to have 6 kids."  (Who doesn't love kids?)
When you are a senior in high school, why not go big?

The pre-med major lasted...ummmm....maybe a month...before I realized that I despised most sciences and maths (and I really wasn't very good at either subject anyway--my dad had tried to tell me this before I left for college, but I knew more than he did.)    Journalism was a better fit.

What do you want to be when you get out of school
I had heard that a thousand times through high school and college. 
I remember being honest once.   Just once. 
And my admission came in the least likely of all places. 
Home one weekend from Boulder, I visited a college group with some friends.  A group of overly confident Air Force Academy students sat near talking about their engineering classes (how boring!)---their heavy academic loads (good for you!)---and their future goals which included crazy things like pilot training, navigator training, and astronautical engineering (who are you people?). 
Talk about being a misfit.  There was nothing intelligent that I could add to the conversation. 
Best to stay silent. 
One guy attempted to bring me into the fold.
Shame on him. 
What are your plans after school?
I thought about throwing out the pre-med major (I mean, I was pre-med once), but I had this serious fear that someone would ask me about it and it would only take a second for them to realize that I was a big, fat liar.
I decided to go the honest route. 
Throw a wrench into their over-achieving boasts.  
Really...I just want to be a mom.    With a lot of kids. 
What could they say to that?   Who doesn't love moms?   
The conversation kind of halted.   No one seemed overly bothered, nor overly impressed.
Except the guy who asked the question.  
He married me 9 months later.

We breezed through pre-marital counseling.   
It didn't matter that I had just learned his middle name a couple weeks before, we just knew that we were the perfect match.  No problems in the future for us. (We were delusional.)    
Just marital bliss and a lot of kids.  
We decided not to cancel the wedding even when we found out that we each had a different number of kids in mind.    He said four.   I said six.   Aside from being stubborn, I have no idea why I kept saying six.   That was a random number mentioned one day in high school.   I could have let that go anytime.  And honestly, I didn't really like kids all that much.  I did like the idea of being a mom, though.   
Secretly, I sort of assumed we'd have two. 
A boy and a girl.   

I knew God would give me a little girl first.   
A sweet, candy-smelling, pink-frilly dressed little girl.  
God gave me boy.  
A busy boy.  
A boy that taught other kids lessons because on more than one occasion, I heard parents say, "Just because Zach is crawling under the table doesn't mean that you can too."  "Just because Zach colored on the wall, doesn't mean that you should follow."  
I just love being that parent.

I knew the girl was coming next.  
One boy.  One girl.   My perfect little family. 
God gave me another boy
A calm, obedient little boy who loved to sleep.  (Amen.)
A brother to play with the busy firstborn.  
Would have made sense to stop there.
We had our two. 

But, we were young.
And by this point, I felt like a boy mom, so I knew the Lord was going to give us a houseful of boys. 
And I loved the thought.
So, God gave me a girl.

She was a little more spunky than the boys.  Had a little more attitude. 
She wore dress-up high heels with her diaper hanging out to swim team every day in Las Vegas.
Typical Vegas girl.    Or typical Vegas mom.   You can hardly blame the two-year old for her attire.    
So, I knew when we found out I was pregnant again that it would be a boy.  
Because surely the Lord knew that I could only do one girl and I already had her.  

So, God gave another girl.   
A sister for the spunky one.
Kind of a high-maintenance little girl, but at least the girls had each other. 
Two boys.  Two girls.    
Four.   We hit my husband's number and we were complete.   
Besides, four kids is a lot of work.  

Saying you want a big family and running a big family are two very different entities.  
There's a lot of food to make (ugghh), buns to wipe (yuck), and shoes to find (ahhhh). 
It's a lot of schedules to oversee, tears to dry, and tempers to manage.  
Four kids takes energy, patience, and time, time, time.    
And we were maxed out on all of it.   

And then...
Number five. 
Everyone in our family has their own memory of the night we told the four that they were going to have a new brother or sister.  
It didn't go as well as we hoped.  
Two of the kids were indifferent. 
Number two son was excited.  
The oldest....
Well, he holds my main memory of that night.  
He was 10 and upon hearing the news, he threw his arms up in despair and exclaimed,
"Are you serious?   We've already done this THREE other times.   Come. On.  People."  
Firstborns often take a little more responsibility than they should and somehow he felt personally betrayed that "we" were doing this again to him.   
Yep, we had ruined his life.

But something really cool happened with the entrance of Number Five.  
The oldest was instantly smitten, as we all were, and our love for little Noah became the bridge bonding all our kiddos together. 
Even when they didn't like each other all that much, they all LOVED NOAH. 
Common ground. 
Children are a blessing.  
Number five blesses us all every day.    
We can't imagine life without him.  
He was absolutely, without a doubt, meant to be in our family.
A perfect end to the crew.   

Or not...

As Noah neared three last November, my official grieving of being done bearing children began.
Not that I thought we had the energy for another, but just the grieving of the closing of the door to a stage of life that I enjoyed very much.   
Do all moms do that when they realize they've birthed their last?
Or just the overly-emotional type?      
Mourn a little as they face the fact that their days of growing a child are over and it's all training from here on.    
Knowing that every last that Noah had was really our last. 
And we rocked him longer than the others. 
And we studied him longer than the others.
And we held on to him a little longer than we did the others.  
Because his last was our last.  
And that's okay because there is always a last, but we just wanted to make the memory.
The grieving process had almost run its course.
We were tasting some new freedoms and realizing that this stage of life was going to have it's own list of joys and struggles, and they would also be precious years. 
So we turned our eyes forward to what was ahead.     

Number six.  
I would have probably been excited a year ago. 
But now?    I'll have a freshman and a newborn.  
It doesn't get much weirder than that in my book.
I don't even know what that looks like. 
Clearly, I won't be nursing at my freshman son's football games.   
Can.  You.  Imagine?  
He would disown us.        
Anyway, it took me two weeks to get up the courage to take the test.
Another couple days to tell.   
I prayed that God would fill me with joy, so that when I told people my voice wouldn't catch.   
The joy didn't come immediately, so instead when we told people, we asked them to pray the joy would come.   
Because I'm convinced that you should be excited about a blessing. 

We delayed telling the kids a while.  
We took them away for a couple days and planned to share the news while we were alone as a family.  
One day went by...we decided it couldn't hurt to wait a little longer.   
Let the kids have one more day before we rock their world.  
Finally, time was ticking and it was the moment.  
The moment when I was sure we were going to ruin their lives...or at least fully push the oldest over the edge.  

They gathered around.  
I had no problem at this moment submitting to my husband's lead.  
"No, really Honey, you go ahead and tell the kids." 
Had I not been so nervous, it might have been funny to watch him so carefully gathering his words.
We didn't plan out a speech.    Maybe we should have because he began talking about Sarah and Abraham and how they were so old when they were given Isaac, but Isaac was their promised child. 
We are old, but we aren't like a 100.   Even though I feel like I'm a 100, we're several decades away from being THAT old.   But, whatever.  
Then he looked to me to add something.  
Never put me on the spot.   NEVER. 
I can absolutely NOT think on my feet in stressful situations.   
I expanded on his Abraham example, but then threw in there Ishmael and how God knit together even Ishmael, who was conceived by Hagar, his concubine. 
Now, he's looking at me and frowning.  
What?  Ishmael?    Why mention a concubine in this talk?   
And I was flustered and down the road of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Ishmael we went.  
If you could completely bomb the announcement of a new baby, WE HOLD THE AWARD!   

Finally, this never-ending story needed to end, so he finally just blurted out,
"What we're trying to say is that we are having another baby." 
We each held our breath.  

The girls squealed and danced around, "We're having a baby.  We're having a baby."  
I expected that from them.   They're girls.  They love babies.    
Noah just looked at us and kept playing with his cars.   Nothing from him as expected.   
Number two son maintained his cool.   His eyes perked up a bit as he repeated, "Wait, we're having another baby?   That's fun."   Whew.
One more reaction left.      
The oldest.   The "Are you serious?  We're doing this again!" child had yet to make a noise.      
Was he holding back the flip out? 


His confident little boy grin grew as he looked me straight in the eye and said, "I hope it's twins.I think it'd be really cool if we had twins."
Not at all what we expected.   

"But you were so upset about Noah."

"That was because I had no idea how much fun it would be to have him.   Now I know, and I hope it's twins." 

Exhale.  It's going to be okay. 

And somehow, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about us having a sixth child because our children are excited.   And if they are excited, that's all that matters to us.

I'm still praying for joy for myself.
Because God does not accidently knit.        
And He doesn't choose a womb based on worth.  
If you could read the years of testimony between the lines of Child 3 and Child 4, you would point your finger at us and say, "Surely the Lord will not add to this family anymore."  
If I were God, I would have passed by my womb. 
But He has some sort of a plan that is beyond our comprehension and He often blesses in the least worthy of all situations.
I don't understand why.   It really makes no earthly sense.     
But I'm trusting in His Sovereignty.  
That Number Six belongs in our family because God knows something that we don't.

We haven't heard the heartbeat of Number Six yet.  
It's too early.  
We don't know if it's a boy or a girl or even if this little one will make it out of the womb.
But as of now, there will always be six to us.
That's a house full of children.      
And I sense that this is the last time I'll grow a child.   
There's always gotta be a last.
And let's face it, we are kind of old like Abraham and Sarah.            

Really...I just want to be a mom.   With a lot of kids. 
That's what I want to be when I grow up.

Pre-med might have been an easier route...
But instead, God truly did have a big family in mind...
And He will equip us to raise Number Six...
To God be the glory...

Friday, May 3, 2013

Inside the Journals

I thumbed through the pages of my new journal catching words here and there on each page.    I've only had the journal four weeks, yet every entry seems like a completely different person is doing the writing.   
How is it possible to be this many people?  
One journal.   One pen.   One hundred recorded emotions.    
Waving the journal at my husband, I admitted to him that if anyone were to ever read the pages, they would be convinced that I needed to be medicated or seriously analyzed.   
I waited for his standard comment when I mention my ability to encompass all sorts of varying emotions within a very brief window of time.     
Usually he says something like, "I love all your different personalities.   I just wish I got to pick which one met me at the front door when I come home from work."  
Ha.  Ha.  Funny guy.    
But he held his tongue to his usual comment and offered a new twist. 
"I think your journals are your medication."       
I contemplated being offended by that comment. 
But it's an interesting thought.  
Maybe he's on to something.   

Maybe it's just me, but fully living life can be EXHAUSTING.    
To fight constantly for stability and God's peace against the ebb and flow of ever-changing circumstances.
I'm always cheerful.   Always
Except when I'm crabby. 
Or angry.
Or selfish. 
Or easily offended.
Or greedy.
Or unforgiving.
Or insecure. 
Or bitter.
Or sad.
Or afraid.
Or running late.
Or tired, hungry, and stressed. 
Other than that, I'm always, mostly, usually, sometimes cheerful.   

I remember my mom talking about the gift a woman is to her family when she is the thermostat of her home, set and constant, versus the woman who is the thermometer and constantly fluctuating based on outside circumstances.   My sweet mama is a thermostat.  She's full of peace as a storm rages around her.    If I didn't have some pretty solid proof that I came from her belly, I would think I was adopted.  
Because I can find myself an attitude just walking down the stairs and seeing a pile of shoes.       

Four weeks ago, my journal entries are filled with anger.    Anger at a disappointment.    A self-pity tirade.   A whole paragraph that might resemble that of a martyr.   Except my definition of martyr is a little flawed.  There's no mention on the pages of any persecution for my faith.   It has everything to do with not being "properly appreciatedby my family.   Oh my goodness.    Woe. Is. Me

This rage happened to be written Easter weekend.  In the midst of this dark, scribbled, irritated entry, there's a lovely paragraph on the hope of the resurrection.  I wrote of the disciples--grieving, hiding, and raising their hands in despair--the Saturday following Good Friday.   They didn't know the end of the story as we do.  Two thousand years later, we have the blessing and comfort of knowing that if they just hang on until Sunday morning their weeping will turn into rejoicing.    In my need for dramatic writing, I pen the disciples a little note of encouragement, "Hang on a little longer, Disciples.   He's alive!  You just don't know yet how this is all going to play out."  Lovely little writing of hope.  And then I continue with the irritation of not being "appreciated."         

The Easter paragraph doesn't seem to fit in the midst of my self-focused writing.  How does an appreciation for the resurrection fall in the midst of a pity party?   I truly have no idea how I can make the transition so seamless.   But I do.   Both expressions are written on the same page within the same hour.  I might as well have written, "Hang on a second, Hatred, I've just thought about the beauty of Easter and I need to comment on that before I get back to my rant.  Thank you, Lord, for sending your Son.   I'd spend longer thinking of you, Jesus, but I've got to get back to wallowing. If I focus too much time on the cross, I'll lose my irritated momentum."   And the pouring out of frustration continues.    Pen pressing a little harder on the page with every frustrated word. 

Then a week later, I've plastered the pages with verses on contentment.   I must have been discontent with something, although I don't write of the situation and I can't remember far enough back to know what was bugging me.   Verses appear from Philippians like, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."  First Timothy 6 is written, "Godliness with contentment is great gain."    The verse from Job 1, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."   In the recorded pages of my discontentment, He shows up through His Word as the Lord over all.   He bestows contentment regardless of my circumstances.   I'm reminded that He gives and He takes away.    Blessed be His name.   By the end of the entry, there's evidence of peace.    

There's an entry with praise.   Followed by an entry of regret.     Then a confession.     A joyful song.    A disappointment.    A hope.   A fear.   A strand of bitterness.   The next day records thankfulness for the same event that led to bitterness.  All capital letters written pleading a prayer.    Tiny letters barely asking God for something desired.   Small initials of someone laid on my heart.  Bold names written begging God to save.  All written within a couple weeks.        

Browsing through my words...the record of my inner journey...I can't help but wonder...
Which one of these people am I? 
The one who praises or the one who is angry.  The one who is joyful or the one afraid.    The content woman.  Or the wanting woman.   The loved woman.  Or the insecure one. 
Which one?   Bitter or forgiving?    Hopeful or apathetic?   Generous or greedy?  
It's all there on cream colored pages written in my own handwriting.   
Which one of these people am I?

Am I the woman at the well needing water that will never lead to thirst again? 
Am I Martha?   So busy serving that she misses the worship.
Am I the pre-resurrection Peter?   Boldly following, but quick to deny.    
Am I the woman cowering at the feet of Jesus with her own set of sins that deserve the stoning of the crowds?
Am I Leah?   Desiring to be completely loved. 
Am I Mary?  Heart aching for the road a child will be asked to travel.
Am I Gideon?   Seeking God's "signs" because of my faithlessness.
Am I Ruth?   Steadfast in her commitment to her family. 
Am I David?   Praising God unabashedly.
Evidence of each of those people are all there...written within just a month.    
So, which one am I?

All of them. 
I guess I'm all of them.      
And every one of them is met on my written pages by a Lord who comes to meet us wherever we are.
That's the beauty of looking back over my journals.   
I don't just see who I am and all of my weaknesses. 
I see who He is and all of His strength.

When I write with doubt that God could save someone with a hardened heart.   Saul shows up.   His heart absolutely unmoved toward Jesus.  Set in his own righteousness.  If I had been Saul's friend, I would have written journal entries about his hard heart.  I would have assured God that he was a lost cause and placed bets that he was one who would never exalt Jesus as Savior.   Never.   Ever.   All evidence pointed to "unsaveable."  But God works in our "never" and His saving power replaces hearts of stones with transformed hearts that serve Him.     There's never someone so far from Him that he or she cannot be found.     As I write with sorrow at the hardness of someone's heart, God's Word points me to Saul and his great transformation to the Apostle Paul.    And I leave the pages of my journal with hope.    

When insecurity fills the lines.  Pages written of my own inadequacy of doing the tasks the Lord has asked of me.    Failure after failure written leading to guilt, shame, and some despair.   How can I love Him and yet stumble in such ways?    Verses of His unconditional love and grace are revealed.   Jesus says to me in Matthew 9:12, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means:  I desire mercy, not sacrifice.   For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."      Then Romans 8, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."  The final words of the entry filled with hope from Lamentations 3:22-23, "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."   And the entry ends with renewed joy.   

When the insecure woman turns into the judgemental woman on the very next page.  The pages filled with anger and unforgiveness about wounds from the past.   When I stand on my pillar of pride and desire to see my version of justice.  The pages hold written words that would throw stones if they only had the power to leap off the page.     I stand ready to judge, and Jesus leads me to the gospel of John where others also stand ready to condemn.  Jesus is standing between a woman on the verge of being stoned for her sins and all of her accusers.      He speaks to the crowd gathered and one by one I can hear the stones of the Pharisees fall.   Sometimes as I write, I wait a little longer than the others to drop my stones.  Fists clenched.   Let me throw just one stone.  One stone.  I want my justice.   But it's impossible to read too far about the grace of Jesus before gradually the stones in my hands loosen.  Who am I to cast any stones?    My stones of judgement finally lay dropped paragraphs later.  Having seen Jesus and all His grace, there's no place for the woman who judges.            

When I'm the mom struggling with watching her kids grow up.    God, the Father, comes and I read about His one and only Son.     The Son who left the glory of heaven, wrapped himself in human clothes, and came to this sin-filled earth.    To be a testimony.   To witness to the world.   To die.  To save.  How could He love us that much?   I can barely stand the thought of sending my firstborn son to school.   The thought of sacrificing him for the salvation of others?   No way.  Not happening.    God the Father understands the heart of a parent.     And He knows how much it hurts.   Reading about Him as a Father brings comfort because I know He understands the way my heart aches.    And I rejoice in partnering with Him as a parent.        
Inside the journals, the pen reveals the extent of the weaknesses.
The evidence that I need a Savior.    
Inside the journals, God's Word written reveals how He works through weakness. 
And demonstrates to me the depth of God's great love for His children.

The healthy don't need a doctor.
The strong don't need a Savior.
We rejoice in our weaknesses because  "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."  2 Corinthians 12:9 
Who am I in the journals?  A mess. 
Who is He? 
The Father.  
The Comforter. 
The Hope. 
The Grace-Giver. 
The Healer.  
The Rock.
The Life-Changer.
The Savior.

When I am weak, He is strong.  
Maybe I need to write that on the opening page of every single one of my journals.  
Just in case someone reads them someday...