Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Stepping Away from the Noise=Hearing from God

Perhaps one of the biggest struggles I constantly admit to battling is HEARING GOD.  I'm a HIGHLY emotional, extremely tender-hearted individual.   It is sometimes hard to differentiate from when God is leading and when my heart is leading.  Many times it doesn't matter because they line up.  Other times, it isn't so good because I can't remove my "heart" from a situation enough to know if God is truly speaking.  The other problem in the way of hearing from God is the periods I think we all tend to go through at times---those times that we feel disconnected and feel like God is so out of reach. 

As a family, we've really been changing our direction in recent months.  Actually we began the journey last fall, but when our world was turned upside down with everything concerning Dad, we somewhat lost track temporarily.  Though we have many various reasons for those changes in direction, two main ones have been our driving force.  One, we realize that our time as a family is LIMITED and we value how those fleeting moments are spent.  Two, I feel like we were missing out on so many "God moments" because our heads were too full of other junk to hear God speak.   Though we began evaluating things last fall and made some initial changes, it's been the recent months that have REALLY brought about amazing changes. 

Attending Hearts at Home a few weeks ago helped to solidify the importance of the direction we were going.  I learned so many tools in reaching our goals, of ways to connect deeper with God (as well as with my husband and children), and most importantly ENCOURAGEMENT on a road that easily gets overwhelming and lonely.  One of the workshops that I attended was "God Infusions" with Michelle Cushatt (I touched on her workshop slightly in this post.)  It was while listening to her speak that I KNEW what we had started as a family, and especially in MY life, had us heading in the perfect direction.

In all of the noises of life it gets nearly impossible to HEAR God.  It's possible, but difficult.  Many of the times that I have felt disconnected from God were of my own doing.  I let his voice get drowned out by the noise around me and that in turn caused me to build walls of confusion, doubt, and even bitterness and anger.  We can't easily hear God when we are rushing around.  We can't hear God when our hearts are hard.  We most especially can't hear God when we don't really know how to listen.   It takes pulling away from the rush of life and it's demands. 

The first step (according to Michelle) has been the most profound for me.  It has been where the real changes were already beginning to take place months ago, but are REALLY taking shape now.  It's all about MARGIN.  Margin was my weak point.  I had not created enough "white space" around me.  It's about simplifying EVERY single aspect of your life.  Basically, get rid of "stuff".  Get rid of the junk that crowds your brain.  Get rid of the the "stuff" that crowds your home.  Get rid of the "stuff" that sucks up your time.  Simplify.  Simplify more.  Toss more "stuff".  Toss even more.  Resist the urge to join the rat race of climbing the ladder or keeping up with the neighbors.  Your kids don't need tons of activities to be well-rounded.  It may feel like you are swimming upstream against the world's expectations, especially in the beginning.  If that is how it feels, then most likely you are heading in the PERFECT direction. 

The other important parts of allowing yourself to HEAR God and having Him infused in your life are solitude, seeing His beauty and practicing gratitude.  Though I believe those are extremely important and I learned many things from them, it was the margin that I struggled with the most.  However, one particular statement struck me when she was talking about solitude.  Many of us are hard-wired to multi-task, ESPECIALLY moms!  Without that valuable skill, we can't keep up with the demands placed on us!  However, you CAN NOT multi-task your relationship with God.  He has to have your FULL attention no matter what that means you may have to give up.  She encouraged us to think of it terms of intimacy.  Physical and emotional intimacy with our spouses can't be multi-tasked and there be a healthy, whole relationship.  It's impossible.  God expects no less of us when we are spending time with him.  WE have to turn off the outside world and the noise around us, whether that is in our own brains and our own voices or if it is ACTUAL physical noise.  Granted, I know how VERY monumental of a task that is but I've seen the rewards begin to happen with each step I take towards the QUIET!

Just yesterday, I had one of those hearing God moments.  I still have those "holy ghost goose bumps"  (I am from the south you know!) just thinking about it.  For the past six weeks or so with the last week having a heavy focus, there has been an issue that was weighing heavy on my heart.  There was something that I wanted to do and I felt like God was supportive of the endeavour.  It was constantly talked about, prayed about, and considered from every angle.  Pros, cons and what-ifs flooded my brain.  This last week culminated in deep stress because "it" was something I really desired, but yet the waiting to see if others were on the same page just about flipped me out.   Patience during decisions is not quite my strong point!  Feeling like God had placed this on my heart and knowing He would work out the details wasn't my strong point either.  I trusted him with my desires, but not so much about the details! 

Because I've been actively working towards silencing the noise and creating margin, I finally had my moment of hearing God.  I woke up yesterday morning literally singing a song in my head that I hadn't heard in probably 25 years.  "Turn it over to Jesus (clap, clap), Turn it over to Jesus (clap, clap), Turn it over to Jesus and smile the rest of the day" (I'm not sure if the last word should be way or day, but day is the word in my's just been too many years!)  It came out of nowhere and it RAN ALL OVER me.  It wasn't just words in my head, it was penetrating every portion of me.  You see, I was a nervous wreck the previous days and suddenly I had my answer.  Not only did those words flood my heart straight from God, He also blessed me with a few more minutes of solitude.  Though Bradlee was snuggled in bed with me, he was amazingly still sound asleep.  I was able to spend much needed time in prayer and solitude and in those moments I completely and thoroughly turned the issue over to Him.  I gave Him my desires and gave Him full authority to accept or reject them.  I no longer was trying to convince Him to make it happen, it was truly a moment of YOUR will, NOT mine.  My prayer continued to the point that I surrendered it all.  I accept the results fully, no matter the answer.  Every emotion, concern, feeling involved was poured out.  It literally was "turned over". 

Later in the day, a situation came up that "tested" that "turning over".  I could have easily become nervous, anxious,or even agitated with worry about how things were going to turn out.  Instead, I was overcome with peace and calm like never before.  Adriana happened to be the one that I was having a conversation with at that moment and she immediately noticed the difference in my response.   I had heard God and even more importantly, I had listened.  Because my ears were open to His voice, I was able to hear him when he talked.  It's not always audible!  It's usually in the quiet recesses of our heart that He chooses to speak. 

It wasn't three hours later that the "discussion" and "waiting" for answers ended.  I received confirmation that He had worked all the details out and the six weeks or so of tossing and turning were over.  The "desire" of my heart was granted.  He answered "YES".  He was just waiting for ME to say YES to Him!  Not just "yes" if you do things MY way, but "yes" to "whatever your WILL is".   He just needed me to be willing to accept His authority and sovereignty.  He just wanted me to turn my control over to Him.  HUGE lesson learned in those moments!

OK---so IF I had any doubt that God had spoken to my heart in the words of a song out of the blue, confirmation came in yet another way.  It leaves ZERO room for doubt.  Just a few short minutes after hanging up the phone from getting my "yes", I picked up a devotional book that a friend passed along to me JUST last week.  It's one of those daily dated ones and it takes just a few seconds to read. 

The entry for March 29th:

STOP TRYING TO WORK THINGS OUT before their times have come.  Accept the limitations of living one day at a time.  When something comes to your attention, ask ME whether or not it is part of today's agenda.  If it isn't, release it into My care and go on about today's duties.  When you follow this practice, there will be a beautiful simplicity about your life:  a time for everything, and everything in it's time.

A life lived close to Me is not complicated or cluttered.  When your focus is on My Presence, many things that once troubled you lose their power over you.  Though the world around you is messy and confusing, remember that I have overcome the world.  I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have Peace.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1; John 16:33)

Coincidence?  No way.  God's voice.  His message was very clear and confirmed.  For that, I'm very thankful.  I'm also very excited about hearing Him speaking again and having my ears open to hear Him.  I think it's almost like a craving now! 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Practicing Contentment

I'm blessed and thankful.  No way around it.  For several months (or longer) we've been actively asking God to change our mindsets from that of the world.  There have been several areas that we've been focusing on, but the biggest one is that He opens our eyes to the blessings sitting right in front of us.  Turn our eyes away from the "wants" and "desires" of the world has been our request of God.  Open our eyes to the blessings that we are fortunate to have. 

So many times I'm guilty of finding myself caught up in the comparison game.  It's dangerous.  Wondering why God has blessed so-and-so with so-and-so blessing, but thinking He has ignored us in that regards.    I can't tell you how many times we've been hurt and it has created a wedge between ourselves and God.   It's really hard at times to see people being financially blessed in tremendous ways while they live their lives in ways that don't seem to regard God as the leader of their home.  We've had the mindset that we "deserved" it more.  Shameful thinking.  Selfish.  Sinful.  Guilty as charged.

Fortunately God began a work in our hearts in recent months and we are finally beginning to see the rewards.  It isn't a battle we have won, but we are moving in the right direction.  There are times we still get caught up in comparisons and worldly desires, but for the most part we have been experiencing peace.  We are in a place of contentment.  It's a calming, peaceful place to be.  It is where God intended for us to be all along. 

It's waking up and knowing that the pursuit of "stuff" isn't our direction after all.  Actually, we are actively letting go of "stuff" and seeking to simplify EVERY area of our lives.  The pursuit of "stuff" just ends up draining more time and energy.  "Stuff" just requires more work: more upkeep, more cleaning, more space, more of our time.  Now that I am seeing things through a new focal point, my entire perspective has changed.   Instead of feeling distanced from God because I feel like we are getting short-changed in the department of financial blessings, I now am thankful.  I see it.  I see part of what He was attempting to teach us.  I see some of what He wanted me to see.

  • Our eyes were focused on the wrong path.  Our pursuit of "stuff" is what separates us from God. Less TRULY is more. 
  • We're abundantly blessed.  Our house is a home.  It's a safe-haven of unconditional love.  It's filled with joy and contagious laughter.  Christ is actively placed as first and when we lose that focus, we ALL feel it.  We truly love to be together as a family and nothing is more amazing than that.  We don't cringe at the thought of spending hours together.  We see our children as treasures, not hindrances. 
  • Our marriage is a treasure.  The image you see of us in public or the bantering you see on facebook is real.  We don't "act" lovingly in public and then belittle each other in the privacy of our homes.  WE see that happen constantly and it hurts us to witness it.  We don't pretend to have this amazing marriage just for the world to see.  God has blessed us with something truly priceless.   To say we never argue or that we don't have issues to work through, would be a bold lie.  We both have deep wounds from "dark" days, especially of times when we wanted to walk away because obstacles were bigger than we thought we could conquer. 
  • Our blessings are in peace and stability.  There is nothing more peaceful than resting in God.  That is a blessing beyond words and one that I think we were guilty of forgetting.
  • Being content with what we have and less focused on what we don't have or on things that we "think" we need has truly been the place where God has started revealing Himself to us.  By taking our eyes off of the "stuff", we've been able to see him VIVIDLY in the little things. 
  • Finding God in the little things has increased our faith in trust in the BIG things. 
I still find myself "wanting" things, but those wants are changing.  I'm thankful for that!  Instead of wanting more money to buy stuff we think will fill in empty spaces in our hearts, we now realize that it just makes the hole bigger.  I absolutely would LOVE to be able to travel and take multiple vacations.  I would love to not have to budget to the very penny.  I would love to be able to go out and do things with the kids that most people take for granted without having to plan ahead for weeks or even months.  We VERY much enjoyed attending WinterJam 2011 this weekend, but even at only $10 a took planning!  My focus used to be on the "why" can't we have more freedom.  Now it's more of I'm truly thankful for THIS opportunity and THIS moment in time.   I'm content in being where we are right now because it's truly a place of blessing.  It's not a punishment....we aren't lacking and we aren't "less" than. 

Because of where we are in regards to what we can and can not do, the kids have learned valuable lessons about what is important, how to save and plan, and how to say NO!  I heard a statement a couple of weeks ago that really struck a cord.  The speaker said "say NO to your kids" and teach them to gracefully accept that word in their lives.  Here is the profound part:  ESPECIALLY teach the word no to boys!  If they don't learn to HEAR and LISTEN to that word now while they are young, they may not understand that word's meaning when they are a bit older and it may be YOUR daughter that is saying NO to him for the first time.  What if your daughter doesn't know how to say NO and mean it because they've never been given the opportunity to say it?  That touched me deeply because I've been in that position.  I've walked the road that saying "no" didn't mean enough and had to walk a painful road I wouldn't wish on anyone. 

In having to say no to so many things, the kids already have a deep understanding of what has lasting value and what doesn't.  They also value TIME and attention over material things.  I love that.  Perhaps God knew that if he was pouring out financial blessings on us every day, we would have missed that opportunity for growth.  Perhaps we would joined the rat race that so many people seem to be caught in.  Taking us off the path of keeping up with the neighbors or "Jones" as they say, has taught us lessons we may have not learned.  God knows us better than we know ourselves.  Teaching us contentment has had greater value to us than padding our bank accounts. 

With that said, I'm thankful for the "little" things He has been blessing us with lately.  Slowly but surely, we are reaching goals.  We see 100% debt free living happening in the next 18 months or sooner.  We can almost TASTE that freedom.  Saying "no" to so many little things is allowing us to say "yes" to the peace that being debt free brings.  Living on cash only has retrained our minds.  Going against what the world says is normal is NOT easy in the very least, but it has GREATER rewards.  Spending $1 for a movie and watching it at home instead of going to the theater may not always be the way we WANT to do something, but it makes sense.  Rarely eating out (except for the $1 menus) is a treat that we value----not take for granted.  Cooking from scratch as much as possible instead of  prepackaged or ordering take out may not be the most convenient, but it has rewards well beyond the "savings".   Playing board games at home or doing something as a family saves the budget, but brings even greater rewards of family togetherness.  Contentment.  I don't need anything more than what we have.  Priorities and desires have changed and I couldn't be any happier.  Granted, if I could take a trip alone with my husband or somewhere fun as a family...I would gladly jump at the opportunity!!!!!  Some day we will do both.  We have goals and are working towards them one penny at a time! 

Watch what you say!

This blog post is prefaced with a warning:  the following is a rant.  I'm on my soapbox because I've reached my limits on a couple of issues.  I just need a place to vent.  Nothing more.

So here it is....

Children are a GIFT from God.  They are a blessing to be treasured.  They are NOT a hindrance.  They are not a burden.  Yes, there are days I literally want to pull out my hair and I crave solitude to recharge my soul.  This is NOT about staying home or working.  It's not about sending them to school on a bus or having school on your living room couch or at the kitchen table.  God leads you in YOUR direction on those areas and I make no judgment about what the decision is.  What it is about is how you TALK about your children and how you act around them!  I'm sick of listening to how parents refer to their kids.  Guard your words.  Your kids HEAR you.  I'm so tired of facebook status updates that demean or belittle their kids.  Even if they don't READ your words, they feel it in their hearts.  Children aren't stupid----they are VERY sensitive individuals that know whether they are loved or not.  Kids deserve respect.  I'm overwhelmed by the number of parents that refuse to BE parents.  I'm sickened by how many are BURDENED by the idea of having to take care of their kids for a few days because school is out and can't wait to put them back on the bus so they no longer have to "entertain" them.  Having a very harsh winter and just finishing spring break in many areas had me reading post after post that broke my heart.  So many parents REALLY didn't know their kids well enough to know how to interact with them during those few days.  So many parents can't make a road trip without going insane being trapped in a vehicle with THEIR kids.  Come on people-----kids are blessings to be treasured and time is fleeting!  I GET being exhausted and overwhelmed.  I GET not being able to complete a thought without interruption.  I GET how nerves can be shredded with bickering, incessant needs of a toddler, or a colicky baby.  I GET the need to have your own time.  What I DON'T GET is the parents that feel like their kids are in their way or don't want the responsibility of taking care of them.  Did they not realize they aren't puppies-----cute in the beginning but annoying at times later?  Children ARE a treasure.  There is no greater gift that God gives us.  Yes, they take work.  Yes, they at times break your heart.  Yes, they ARE MESSY BEYOND belief.  Don't treat them as the dirt beneath your feet.  Embrace them.  Interact with them.  Love them.  TEACH them values yourself----teachers in the school and even at church should not shoulder that responsibility.  Yes, be their friend---but the parent role comes FIRST, ALWAYS!  Treat them as if you value them and value THEIR presence in YOUR life.  They ARE going to destroy things and make bad decisions.  They ARE going to disrupt YOUR life.  So what?  Don't we deserve love and attention when we make our own mistakes or do something that is an inconvenience to someone else?  What happens to OUR self-esteem and "love meter" when we are constantly pushed out of the way, ignored, or not shown value.  I'll just leave it at that!

Part 2:

RESPECT your spouse!  It doesn't matter if you think they are wrong or are not meeting your needs.  Show respect.  Your kids see how you treat each other and are learning how to either destroy their own marriages someday or how to make it thrive.  Don't belittle your spouse----especially in a facebook status!!!!  I'm so tired of reading "that good for nothing" did so-and-so.  GARBAGE!  Flip it and think how you would feel if you read something similar to that on YOUR spouses page about YOU!   It's OK to be frustrated about an issue in your marriage, but there are HEALTHY ways of dealing with it and working through it.  You loved your spouse enough to give your life to him/her in marriage------treat him/her as such.  There are days that Kevin drives me crazy, and even MORE days that I make him insane, but belittling each other in private or public is NOT the way to heal the wound or solve the problem.  If YOU want respect, SHOW respect.  If YOU want love, SHOW love! 

Don't praise someone publicly and treat them with disdain at home either.  If your husband deserves praise on facebook, make sure you are saying it to him at home.  Don't talk about how amazing he is publicly to give the "world" a happy front, but yet sit behind closed doors and treat each other with disrespect.  It's just like if we talk to the world about how great our kids are, but then act like we can't stand their presence at home.  Praising in public, but disrespecting in private is perhaps more damaging than never praising at all!  I think we probably all have had people in our lives that treated us one way for the world to see and in a much less flattering way outside the public eye.  Think about it.  Didn't it feel like you were waiting for the knife to twist in your back.  Didn't it make you wonder what was wrong with YOU to make you so unworthy of love and didn't it make you question motives?  Our spouses, friends, and families deserve more.   The "love" you see in public, read on facebook (status updates, comments, back and forth bantering) between Kevin and I is NOT fake.   It's for him to see, read, and BELIEVE because he's that valuable.  It isn't just for "the world".  You better believe that what you see and read in public is the same thing that is happening at home.  As a matter of fact, the "world" view is toned down. 

Don't leave your spouse wondering what is wrong with them by treating them one way publicly and another privately.  No Jekyll & Hyde complex.  All three of my kids are STILL talking about an issue they witnessed awhile back and are still trying to process it in their hearts.  Even the youngest one came home upset because they couldn't believe how someone was treating someone else with such disrespect yet claimed to "love" each other publicly.  Even at 4, Bradlee KNEW there was something wrong with that picture.  If a 4 year old can see it and feel it, imagine what the person in the actual relationship was feeling.  Not only have they all expressed hurt for the individuals involved, but it has also trickled down to their level in regards to how they now question that person's motives in regards to themselves.  Can't blame them!  What we tend to forget at times is that children are watching each and every move we make and the attitudes that we have.  It's very easy for them to take that upon themselves since they haven't developed good degrees of margin. 

OK---there is my rant and my soapbox.  It's been a long time coming and I tried for WAY too long to refrain.  However, I reached my breaking point and had to blow.  It happens! 

It comes down to this.  We aren't perfect.  We mess up.  We hurt people.  I don't make it through a single day without saying or doing something that hurts my husband, my children, a friend, an acquaintance, a complete stranger or even myself.  God loves unconditionally.  He covers us in grace and forgiveness.  He doesn't withdraw or shun.  He LOVES.  That's it simply put....He LOVES.  Our children and our spouses deserve that from us as well.  We can NEVER do it as well as Christ, but we should actively be trying to move closer and closer to that ideal every day.  When I mess up, the last thing I want is someone to belittle me or show me disdain.  I want to be immediately covered in their forgiveness.  Our husbands and kids absolutely deserve that.  It isn't easy at times, but they are worth the attempts. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Todd Fields-IT IS WELL

I previously blogged about "It is Well" inspired by attending Hearts at Home. I came home telling Kevin that I REALLY loved the version that Katie Eck lead us in singing. The chorus was slightly different and the "new" twist on the words made the song that much more meaningful to me. "Through the storm I AM HELD". LOVE it! Hearts at Home provided a youtube link for those of us wondering. THANKS HAH. This is a video of the updated version (with Todd Fields of North Point). Beautiful hymn with a slight update of the chorus. VERY touching to my heart.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Letter from Another Time...

For the biggest part of this afternoon, I have spent time finally tackling a much overdue task.  Our master bedroom walk-in closet had gotten WAY out of hand.  For someone that craves organization, this was one place that made me want to scream.  I'm thrilled to report that besides a clothes basket full of odds and ends needing sorting and a few stacks of craft supplies on my makeshift sewing table (haven't even used it for that purpose yet!) purchased at Goodwill for $5----I've about finished my project of the day. 

What I didn't realize would happen was that God would find me smack dab in the middle of the floor of the closet.  I should have expected it by now!  He ALWAYS seems to find me when I'm doing tasks like that!  However, once again, He spoke to me in the oddest way.  I guess He knows that in order to find me and for me to KNOW it's Him speaking, He has to get my attention in unique ways.

I found a letter that literally fell from the sky.  OK so it fell off a shelf.  It really had no business being in an odd location.  I didn't want to take the time to read all of it, so I intended to read just a few lines to figure out what it was and to put it back where it belonged.  Instead I found myself glued to the floor and God speaking to me in a whole new way. 

This letter was a painful one I had written many years ago.  To be honest, I had forgotten I had written it.  Once I started reading it, it didn't take too many lines to REMEMBER.  It was a letter (as you can imagine with me, it was probably better called a novel!) that I had written Kevin a few months after we had received some devastating news.   When Adriana was 16 months old, my rheumatologist sat down with Kevin and I after massive amounts of testing and told us that under NO circumstances should I become pregnant again.  As a matter of fact, that day happened to be my dad's birthday. 

For someone who wanted nothing more from life than to be a wife and mother, it was devastating.  It didn't matter that I already had a beautiful daughter.  Having that daughter made me CRAVE another child.  It was a very dark time in my life to know that I COULD possibly conceive another child, but to do so was GREATLY discouraged.  Dr. Laird delivered that news in a very matter of fact tone of voice and gave us no wiggle room.  She even went as far as suggesting that we BOTH take permanent measures to prevent future pregnancies.  Since I was only 24 at the time, there was no way I would consent.  Fortunately, timing was wrong for Kevin and it just never worked out for him to take the time off of work in those next coming months.  God knew what he was doing when he placed those roadblocks in our way.

Reading that letter reminded me of just how difficult of a time it was for us.  I'm used to pouring myself out in letter form, but even this one shocked me with it's raw emotion.  I sat in the floor just aching for the writer of that letter.  Though I was the writer, it was such a different time and place.  I remember those emotions, but to be where we are now and able to look back.....the view is entirely different.

Somewhere along the line, medical opionions changed.  Medical advancements were made.   God provided us with large windows of time flare-up free (or very mild) that I was healthy enough to conceive and carry a child to full term.  Because of that incredible blessing, Adriana became the big sister to two insanely loved brothers.    I did have a hard time recovering from Peyton's birth and all of the medications I had to be on created problems.  I did have issues while pregnant with Bradlee that put me on bedrest for 4.5 months.  It wasn't an easy road, but the path was worth it.  God provided.  Yes, we've experienced loss since then and though it hurts tremendously, I'm still able to hold onto the incredible blessings of three children.  Knowing that we would only be a few weeks away from holding another child right now does create an emptiness, but my heart knows the timing was wrong and that God knew what He was doing. 

What I realized while sitting in the floor of our closet this afternoon is that there is going to come a time that my heart isn't going to hurt as tremendously as it is right now.  The woman that wrote that letter and the one that read it today are the SAME, but yet incredibly different.  The one who wrote it was in the beginning of a very emotional journey of grief.  The one who read it today is on a rollercoaster through grief again, just from a different situation.  When I wrote that letter, I didn't think my heart was ever going to heal.  I feel those same feelings again as I try to move through the journey of losing Dad and dealing with other situations we have had to face in recent months or are facing now.  Knowing that I read that letter today and now KNOW that God had a plan for us makes me cling to the hope that He still has a plan for me now.  I KNOW that Dad isn't coming back and that his loss is going to leave an empty place in my heart FOREVER, but I am clinging to the fact that in time it will begin to hurt less.  I also am believing that He had a definite plan in place that involved Dad and that His reason far outweighs the hurt we are experiencing. 

I remember that for months after being told "no" to more children, it hurt to see baby things in stores, to touch Adriana's baby items, to see friends pregnant, and to see siblings together.  It was hard.  It just about completely broke me emotionally and it was VERY difficult on a young marriage.  Right now, just about anything and everything reminds me of the harsh reality of Dad being gone.  I ache for myself, my kids, my husband, my stepmom, my siblings, and so many of our extended family members.  The same feelings I had those years ago are similar to the ones that I have now. 

I realize it's much easier to heal from those wounds years ago knowing that I was able to eventually have more children.  However, at the time I didn't know that.  I had to put faith in God and trust His plan.  I had to find ways to deal with the heartache I was feeling and still keep my life together.  I still had a beautiful princess to take care of and that needed me.  That is never more true than right now.  Just as I couldn't give up on life and God then, I can't now. 

The letter that God sent my way (I do NOT believe in coincidence!) reached me.  It was a reminder that when we are going through the most devastating circumstances we just have to hold on to faith.  I had no idea what my path would be like all those years ago just as right now I don't know how to make it through this journey other than one day at a time.  God wrote my story then and He is still writing it now.  I had no idea what the future chapters were going to reveal those years ago, just like right now I don't know what the next chapter will hold.  Part of me would LOVE to skip to the end and read the final chapters (I am guilty of that at times!).  However, there is no need.  I know the ending.  The ending is about ultimate victory.  I just don't know what the chapters say between today and then.  What I do know is that I can trust the author.  I was able to do it all those years ago and I know I can do it now.  I'm thankful for the reminder that even our darkest moments God has a plan.  I wasn't alone then and I'm most certainly not alone now!

Monday, March 21, 2011

What kind of clay are you? (Potter's Hand by Hillsong)

(To watch video, you will need to pause the music on my blog music player).

I woke up this morning thinking about something I very slightly touched on in a previous post.

If God is the potter and I am the clay, what kind of clay am I?

Isaiah 64:8 tell us that "Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."

As a mom of three (with one being a 4 year old),  there has been so much playdough in our home through the years.  If I really think about it, for at least the last 12 years there has ALWAYS been an open can in our house or a homemade batch in a bag on the counter or in a container in the refrigerator.  I know that many people think of clay as in pottery clay and I'm sure that is probably the more appropriate use of the word.....but playdough is what comes to my mind at this season in my life. 

I think about how exciting it is for the kids (we've most recently witnessed this in our Sunday school class with three year olds) to open up a brand new can of fresh playdough.  Popping off the lid reveals a perfect playdough.  It has a recognizable smell, the colors are brilliant, and the texture is just amazingly perfect.  It's soft and pliable with no effort.  Even I can hardly resist the temptation to roll it around in my hands.  It's practically addicting! 

On the flip side, what about opening a can that is dried out.  It's hard as a rock and crumbly.  You can't shape it into any of the shapes you envision.  Perhaps, you MIGHT can get it to soften a bit if you REALLY work hard at it.  You might can add a few drops of water or oil and make it somewhat pliable.  It might even be crusty on the outside, but on the inside you might find a portion of soft, pliable substance.

With a new can, you pop that lid off knowing what color is inside.  With a not so new can, you just may be surprised with what you find.  The color you THOUGHT would be inside may actually be a different color.  Even more likely is the fact that it may be a hodge podge of many various colors. 

The question rolling around in my head the last few days and most especially this morning was what kind of can am I?  When God opens the lid on my soul, what does he find?  When I'm interacting with my husband and children, what do they see?  On an even deeper level, what do strangers see?  What do my "enemies" or difficult relationships see?  Beginning to feel a little toe stepping on going on in my heart.  Ouch---going to have to have some steel toe shoes at this rate!

Just this past week, a sweet friend of ours in ministry at church gave Bradlee a little treat size can when he stopped by to visit her.  We were barely even in the van before the lid was off and he was rolling it in his hands and laughing at all of the things he could make out of it. I even had to squeeze in a few minutes to play with it (though I did fortunately get a chance to play with it BEFORE he began to make a mold of his nose and ears!).

I think our faith is like that.  It's fresh and new in the beginning and we can't wait to share it with others.  We can feel God shaping us and it isn't painful so much.  We are pliable and soft.  However, before long I quickly become like the majority of playdough in our house.  The kind that is beginning to dry out but yet not completely unworkable.

Real life enters the picture and our faith may begin to take a few dings.  We may begin to face struggles we didn't think we would have to face with God by our side.  After all, God loves us and our lives are going to be perfect, right?  Not exactly.  Relationships may be broken.  Jobs may be lost or gasp *downsized*.   Those we love may continuously turn their backs on Christ.  Marriage may be harder work than we expected, Mr. Perfect may walk away from us, or Mr. Perfect may be not so perfect after all.  Our kids may face obstacles we were unprepared for. We may find ourselves in a life we didn't expect.  People may drag us down and hurt us emotionally and physically.  People may find pleasure in trying to knock us down so they can appear stronger and taller.  Death may take away someone we love.  Illness may knock at our door and not go away.  The list could go on indefinitely.  The point is....the lid on our playdough may get left off a little here and there and we can begin to dry out. 

At this point in my life (and I've been here before), I feel like God has taken me and rolled me around and shaped me in so many different ways that the dough is beginning to resist being shaped.  I'm the dough that is a bit hard on the outside, but with work it becomes soft and pliable.  God hasn't stopped shaping me and he hasn't given up on molding me into that image He has in his head.  Though I may not be able to shape a ball of clay into what I picture in my own head, He can.  He's an artist at work and He can do what everyone thinks impossible.  

As long as I let him continue to shape me, EVEN through and MOST especially during the painful rolling out process, I know He can return me to like-new condition.  I just can't resist Him and become like the can that is so dried out and crumbles when you pick it up.   If I don't turn over the hurts, anger, disappointments, bitterness, fear and doubts to God, I will quickly become so hard that I will crumble at the slightest touch of resistance.  Though I may feel broken and overwhelmed many days, those pieces of crumbling playdough can still be worked back into the soft parts under God's hands.  Choosing to turn those little pieces (even though they may feel like BOULDERS!) over to his loving hands full of unconditional love is the only way to turn this clay into a workable, moldable medium.  Once that happens, He is able to mold me (and you!) into the vision He had in His heart when he spoke me into existence.  He had a plan even then and will stop at nothing to see it fulfilled. 

I can NEVER listen to the song Potter's Hand by Hillsong without having to stop and just let the words wash over me.  The words of the songs are the prayer of my heart.

Though the sharing of this last story will make this another really lengthy post, I can't resist because it's weighing heavy on my heart that someone needs to hear it even if they've heard it before.  It's the story of the cracked pot that originated in India.

A water-bearer carries two large pots on a yoke across his shoulders up the hill from the river to his master's house each day. One has a crack and leaks half its water out each day before arriving at the house. The other pot is perfect and always delivered a full portion of water after the long walk from the river.

Finally, after years of arriving half-empty and feeling guilty, the cracked pot apologized to the water-bearer. It was miserable. "I'm sorry that I couldn't accomplish what the perfect pot did."

The water-bearer says, "What do you have to apologize for?"

"After all this time, I still only deliver half my load of water. I make more work for you because of my flaw."

The man smiled and told the pot. "Take note of all the lovely flowers growing on the side of the path where I carried you. The flowers grew so lovely because of the water you leaked. There are no flowers on the perfect pot's side."

Some people have jokingly and perhaps even hurtingly called me a "crack-pot" through the years because of choices I have made or something "crazy" I have done in their opinions.  I may not be a crack-pot, but I am a cracked pot.  However, there is beauty and purpose in a broken vessel.   It's just a matter of letting God use what is broken and let Him take those flaws and make something amazing from it.   I may be at this point feeling like by the time I get anywhere that I have NO WATER left in my pot because it's leaking and I'm drained, but God knows how to turn that into something He can use.  If nothing else, He knows how to refill the pot and patch the leaks! 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nutrition Month

The following is information in regards to National Nutrition Month.  The information is provided by yoplait in connection with myblogspark.  As I'm "back" on the bandwagon of paying attention to what we are eating and watching how active we are...yogurt naturally is one of the first things we add back in!  My kids love it, I LOVE it, and let's just say my husband....ummm....doesn't care for it!  :0

March is National Nutrition Month and there’s no better time than now for you and your family to commit to more wholesome snacking options.

Luckily, Yoplait is here to help! To give Yoplait a hand in expanding its community on Facebook, and to keep up with all the exciting news and offers we have in store for fans, be sure to use this link to “Like” Yoplait on Facebook today. 

Explore the many nourishing options that Yoplait has to offer - with varieties like Yoplait Light, Yoplait Original, Yoplait Fiber One, Yoplait Kids and Yoplait Delight Parfaits. Each product offers different benefits, and loads of variety, to make eating well a no-brainer. Here are five great ways to ‘get your snack on’ with Yoplait this March!

Start spring off right with Yoplait Light’s Two Week Tune Up Plan – Replace breakfast and lunch with a cup of your favorite flavor of Yoplait Light, a whole grain and a piece of fruit and you could lose 5 pounds in two weeks. Go to for full diet details.

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Try the newest flavor from Yoplait Fiber One – Yoplait Fiber One’s new Blueberry flavor yogurt is packed with filling fiber, calcium, vitamins A and D, real fruit and the great taste of blueberries. With only 50 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 0 grams of fat, this deliciously creamy yogurt won’t break your calorie bank.

Stress less over snack time with Yoplait Kids yogurt – With a wholesome and fun snack like Yoplait Kids yogurt in the fridge, you can feel good about what your children are eating at snack time. Yoplait Kids provides an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, and has 25% less sugar than the leading kids’ yogurt. With yummy flavors, and favorite friends like Dora and Lightning McQueen on the packages, Yoplait Kids is a hit with moms and children alike.

End the day with a Delight Parfait from Yoplait – Even with two luscious layers providing a double shot of rich and creamy yogurt, these 100 calorie indulgences from Yoplait contain only 1.5 grams of fat per serving. Now available in two new flavors, Chocolate Éclair and Cherry Cheesecake, you can enjoy a dessert that’s 100 percent guilt-free.

(Disclosure: by posting this information I have the chance to win a prize provided by Yoplait through MyBlogSpark.  Also, please note that there is NO READER giveaway associated with this Spark.)

Here I Am

"Mom, here I am". 

These four words are the first words I hear several mornings a week.  Bradlee is beginning to stay in his bed more and more often and if he hasn't sneaked in the room in the middle of the night and tucked himself under Kevin's arm without him waking up, these are the words I hear when he comes down early in the morning to snuggle with me.  I love how he has chosen to wake me up.  In his way, he's telling me to snuggle him.  Basically all I have to do when I hear those words is lift up my arm and the blankets and he climbs right in.  He is a FULL body snuggler and his little body just molds into mine and he goes right back to sleep buying me another hour or so of sleep (most days!).  If either of us don't get that snuggle time, we both wake up grouchy.  Bradlee is VERY touch oriented and craves his snuggle time.  He often greets me with "Mom, I love you." at random times during the day.  For a mom that realizes that time is ticking by WAY too quickly (just look at the fact that my "baby" starts high school next year! and my other "little" boy will hit double digits this year!), I'm thrilled to have those moments of mom being his entire world. 

This morning when he said those words and I groggily made space for him, I didn't go back to sleep.  I couldn't.  God woke me up instead.   My heart instantly whispered "God, Here I am."  It just happened.  I wasn't intentionally praying and truthfully I was still geared towards sleep mode.  Once I "heard" my soul say those words, I couldn't stop thinking about then.  I begin to just focus on that image.

I thought about the craving and need Bradlee has to be physically and emotionally connected to me.  He stops what he is doing at different times and comes to me to "reconnect".  At times, he is upset and needs reassurance.  Understandable.    Other times, it's completely random.  Whatever is going on in his little mind at the moment, he just wants to share it.  His personality just craves physical connection.

"God, Here I am".  I had just a very visual few moments of picturing myself in the same way saying those same words.  I could just picture God lifting His arm and the blankets, making just the PERFECT spot for me to fit right into Him----wrapping His arms and holding me tight!  The same comfort and acceptance that Bradlee experiences, I could feel in my own spirit.  Nothing but peace.   Nothing but comfort.  Nothing but acceptance.  Nothing but unconditional love!

Usually when I think of the words "God, Here I Am", the first thoughts that I think of are service.  God use me.  God I'm here to do what you ask.  Those are excellent thoughts and are the basis of what drives many of us to serve.  However, today didn't lean towards that.  It was just rest.  It was just peace.  It was! 

As much as Bradlee needs that time with me, I treasure those moments even more.  Perhaps that is what God was trying to get me to see.  Maybe He wanted me to see that He values that time with me just as much as I need it with Him.  Those times I spent with Bradlee are JUST about the two of us.  The rest of the world doesn't matter in those moments.  Maybe God wanted me to see that He values my time with Him just as much.  Time in His word, in prayer, and in praise---are extremely important---but I tend to forget about the "resting" in Him.  Just like those very rare times that Kevin and I don't have to rush out the door or when he doesn't get up before 4, mean so much to us.  Waking up in his arms leisurely restores balance to our crazy lives.  It's healing.  It's craved.  God showed me that time with Him was just as special.

The longer I thought about that comfort, He took me in a different direction.  I thought about all the times I've felt that disconnect from God.  We can all admit to going through those phases.  I remember countless times of calling out "God, Where are YOU!?"  We know the Bible tells us over and over that God never moves, he is consistent, and unshakable.  When we can't find Him, it's usually because WE have moved.  For me, I've usually built up walls and blocked him even though I thought I was seeking Him.  All of that time, He was right there telling me where to find Him.  Hurt. Bitterness. Anger. Sin. Jealousy. Ingratitude.  Doubts. Selfishness.  They were all the building blocks of the wall that caused separation.  All along, He was still right there.  Waiting.  Anticipating. Welcoming.

Perhaps in the future, instead of screaming "God, where are you?" I will instead remember to calmly whisper "God, here I am."  Then I will feel God lift his arm, smooth out the blankets, arrange the pillow and welcome me into just REST in His arms and know that if nothing else, ALL is RIGHT in my world for those few minutes. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thank You

Just this past weekend at Hearts at Home, one of the workshop leaders (Connie Johnson) encouraged creating an affirmation file.  Basically it was a tool to use on those down days that Satan's lies flood our minds.  The days that you don't feel beautiful, desired, loved, appreciated, etc...  The days that you end up beating yourself up with negative self-talk.  In this file you could place cards, notes, favorite verses, poems, emails, written reminders of compliments....ANYTHING that you could physically look at and transform your thought pattern. 

Being the emotional sap that I am, I already have more than one of those.  Mine contains things that my kids have made, cards or note that my husband has written, cards, and PAGES upon PAGES of journaling about things I've read or heard that spoke to me.  I also started a binder with well wishes that people had sent when I began to share the news of Dad's illness.  From that VERY first day, I knew I was going to need every bit of possible encouragement to carry me through the long battle I expected.  Amazing friends sent very heartfelt notes of encouragement and flooded me with beautiful Bible verses and prayers.  Many came in the form of email, so I printed those off and placed them in my binder.  Again, I never expected that battle to end so quickly or in the manner it did----but I can't tell you the countless times I held those in my hands and read them over and over to keep my faith strong.  The binder grew to include notes of sympathy and snapshots of the many facebook messages that came in.  I still turn to that as a reminder of the beauty that has taken place in those dark days. 

Last night, I had another such chance to add to my affirmation file.  Kevin lovingly joked on the way home from church last night that he KNEW what my next blog topic would be.  At that time, I told him he was wrong that I had "other" plans.  I guess my husband knows me more than I know myself at times because here I am!

Last night blessed our socks off!  The woman's ministry of church had been discussing servanthood over the last four weeks or so and decided to surprise all of us that volunteer in the children's program and our AMAZING leaders.   Though I knew "something" was going on just a few minutes before 607 began, I had no idea what "that" was.   We were basically kidnapped from our jobs and for the entire night they did everything in their power to make us feel appreciated.  We were led into the sanctuary and greeted by beautifully decorated tables with spring motifs and candle light.  The night could have ended right then and I would have already felt appreciated.  We were SERVED a fantastic array of hors d'oeuvres and desserts.  (I even was happy to steal both Kevin and Adriana's cucumber sandwiches!).  While we were enjoying our meal, various members of leadership, moms, and kids spoke of their gratitude.  Mrs. Terri, one of our main women's ministry leaders, spoke to us about the role we play.  We were all presented with gift bags containing stacks of handwritten notes specifically to each of us.  The evening ended with all of the volunteers huddled in a circle as the remainder of the women's ministry gathered around, placed hands on us and prayed for God's blessings and continued guidance.

Amazing.  Filling up of our spiritual cups until they were overflowing.  Affirmation file contents in abundance. 

Here is the thing.  It was a blessing.  It was needed.  However, it was needed in a way that maybe wasn't the "norm".  Most of us would tell you that though it is GREAT to be appreciated, we felt awkward.  Or at least I know that I did (and Kevin and Adriana mentioned the same thing in different words).  We already felt appreciated.  Our leaders go above and beyond in showing us that they appreciate us.  I've never felt that so profoundly at any other time in my years of serving in children's ministry.  Burn-out doesn't even begin to enter my mind like it has at so many other times. 

The other thing that really struck me was the teaching that Mrs. Terri did.  She spoke about our gifts and the impact we had.  I believe that we all do have an impact on the children we are with.  Just as JP mentioned...many of us can name almost all of our Sunday school teachers and youth leaders through the years of our lives.  It was the fact that she talked about it being a gift that struck me.  She mentioned that we probably didn't even REALIZE that it was a gift.  She was RIGHT!  I love spending time with kids and I actually look forward to the times that we get to spend in the children's ministry.  I even love it on the nights that we've had over 25 9 year olds in a tiny room and they can't sit still to save their lives!  However, I never had considered "that" a gift.  Thank you GOD for that gift.  I can't imagine my life any other way.  I just considered it fun (though useful!).  I also didn't realize the impact that it had on the mothers in the room.  I guess that being from a Christian home since birth, that I never truly considered the difficulty some women faced in coming to church on Wednesday nights.  I only thought about it from my view point.  Wednesday night church is the "norm" for us....just a "given".  Listening to the stories of marriages that were being restored, healing that was taking place in some VERY broken lives, women finding Christ for the first time struck a cord with me.  I truly didn't realize the depth.  I didn't realize what I was taking for granted.   For me, coming to Wednesday night programming and volunteering is FUN.  It's a passion.  It's just WHO I AM.  Teaching kids the depth of the love Christ has for them and seeking to give them opportunities to mature their faith is just as basic to me as breathing.  I never stopped to think that in spending those few hours each week with them was shaping things OUTSIDE of the classroom.  It was a touching moment. 

Being a stay at home mom (especially a homeschool mom) can be a lonely road many days.  It gets THAT much harder when people talk about how you are wasting your education, your life, and that you are being selfish.  When people have said that you are wasting God's potential because you aren't reaching the outside world or that you aren't fulfilling God's demand to "spread" His word, it scars a soul deeply.  You see, last night was the most vivid realization I've had in a very long time that though I am an at home mom and I do choose to educate my children at home, I still have a ministry and that what I do does matter.  It's evident in the stories shared last night to all of us and it was evident in the personal handwritten cards that Kevin and I poured over reading last night.  It's evident in those that our daughter brought home.  She doesn't volunteer out of a requirement we make of  her; she also does it because it's what is "normal" to her and it's her passion.  It's an extension of our lives at home to the "outside" world. 

So, though last night was supposed to be a night for the women's ministry to say thank you to the 607 volunteers, I think I instead should be saying thank you.  Thank you for letting us love on your children.  They keep us on our toes and they keep us accountable as we attempt to live a "life above reproach.".  Thank you for showing me that we have been given a gift from God that not everyone possesses.  Thank you most of all for letting me see that while I'm doing something that I'm passionate about, lives are being changed in ways that I can't see.  Thank YOU!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Washing away of the Sand...but standing on the Rock!

Again last night I read some amazing healing words in "Lazarus Awakening" by Joanna Weaver.  In the quiet, God is really beginning to get some truths back down deep in this weary soul.

Picture this.  Standing on the beach.  With spring just beginning to show hints of arriving after such a harsh winter, many days have been spent dreaming about the beach in recent months!  Thinking about your toes in the wet sand, digging deep.  In comes the tide and washes away the sand from your feet.  Hold on to that image for a few minutes.

What do we do when God doesn't do what we need?  What if the losses keep coming and our hearts keep breaking more and more?  What do we do with our faith during difficult times?

I have openly admitted to the struggles my faith has gone through after so many recent difficulties, especially in the wake of Dad's sudden illness and death.  It was hard enough to handle the news of nine to twenty four months, but FIVE weeks is still unfathomable at times.  Kevin and I were just talking over the weekend of how it still doesn't seem real.  Don't get me wrong, we are NOT in denial----it's still just hard to make our brains remember!  For him, it's seeing an old car somewhere and wanting to call him and see if he is interested.  For me, it's MANY things on a daily basis but that particular moment came about when I was cleaning.  I had picked up a picture frame that had one of the RARE family photos that he had allowed to be taken.  I happen to have two sitting side by side on the piano and when I picked up the first one I mindlessly dusted it, but when I picked up the second one it hit me....that man isn't here anymore.  That picture is only a memory now, a physical person is no longer connected to it in the sense that I can walk up and hug him, talk with him, or see my kids interacting with him.  Every time something like that happens (which still happens often), I IMMEDIATELY have a pause in my spirit where I have to make the decision to stay strong in my faith.  Doubts can easily wreck a person's faith.  Look around at the world we live in----it's obvious that people have a broken faith.

What do we do with that?  What do I do with the questions, the pain, and the uncertainty?  Difficult times "rattle our convictions and shake the foundations of our faith".  Oh how very true that is! 

It comes down to trust.  I CHOOSE to trust God.  It hurts.  It makes no sense.  The math doesn't line up.  However, I trust.  I have to go against my OWN will, my OWN wants, and what I think are my OWN needs. 

Joanna Weaver seems to have a touch of the same problem I have (and many of us do!). 

I have such good ideas about how my story, not to mention the stories of the people I love, should be written.  I'm quick to provide God with lists with alternative ideas in case my Plan A doesn't match up with His.  "You don't care for that one, Lord?  Well, how about Plans B, C, D, and E?  Why I even have a Plan Z if you'd like more details."

Oh my, that REALLY sounds like me.  I always have a back up plan, to the back up plan of the back up! 

She goes on to say:

Unfortunately, none of my planning and plotting has ever drawn me closer to God.  In fact, it usually does the opposite. 

He gently whispers when I finally call out to Him.  If you want to walk with Me, you have to surrender your itinerary and trust Mine. 

It's about surrendering the "quill of my will".  Letting God write the end of the story.  He does all things well.  He sees the end when I only see the current page. 

God is LOVE---therefore I am loved.
God is GOOD---therefore I am safe.
God is FAITHFUL---therefore it's going to be okay.  For God is incapable of doing anything less than marvelous things.

Believing those three facts is what carries us through tough times.  Because of that, when tough times come (EVEN those that rip you apart in ways you didn't know possible), it leaves you open to trust in God's sovereignty as well.  His right "to do as He deems best, when and how He wants to do it".  In other words, "if you want to walk with Me, you have to surrender your itinerary and trust Mine".  That at times is incredibly hard to do.  Sometimes the hurt is so powerful that you just want to go ANY direction but the one He has taken you on.

We have to come to the realization AND acceptance that God's way isn't always ours, but it doesn't mean that He doesn't love us.  He doesn't have to act according to our every desire to STILL love us.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 that "I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."  Hard times, those that shake our very core, are the times that we have to grow up.  Spiritual speaking, it's time to grow up.  It's time to realize that sometimes God often chooses to say no to our requests.  He has a reason and His reason may not make sense today, but it is impossible for God to do something to us, not allow us something, or take something away WITHOUT it being done in love. 

With that being said, there is another important aspect that I had not focused on so much until I read Joanna's book. 

But please know that while God is committed to His plans, He is not insensitive to our pain.  WE are not pawns in some celestial chess match.  We are His children,  "chosen and dearly loved"  (Colossians 3:12).  Loved, in fact, to the point of tears.

He feels our pain.  It breaks his heart.  Just like it breaks my heart into slivers to see my children hurting. 

We rarely think about how hard it must be for a Father who loves us so much to hold back from running constantly to our rescue.  Yet in His merciful wisdom He does, because He knows there is a greater good and a higher plan at work.

In our darkest moments, in the very circumstances that we believe will break us beyond repair, are the ones that God's real power is revealed in us.  Praising God in THOSE circumstances shows our true love and commitment to Him.  That is the sign of true faith, for it withstands the "refining fire".  Doubts and questions of faith end up just showing God's true manifestation in our lives. 

For when you can't trace God's hand, you can trust His heart!

Now finally back to that image of toes in the sand.  Joanna told the story of a young man, a seminary graduate, that practically lost his faith in God.  He finally turned to a mentor that completely changed his outlook. 

He said "In the last six months doubt has begun to paralyze me.  It's like when the water goes back out to the ocean.  [Doubt] is washing away the sand underneath me, and my feet keep sinking lower and lower and lower.  If this keeps up, there won't be anything left to stand on." 

His mentor's healing words:  "Listen to me when I say this.  When the last grain of sand is finally gone, you're going to discover that you're standing on a rock". 

Those words are the truth of everything.  When everything gets washed away, God is still there.  He is there under my feet and he's under yours.  He IS a rock that can't be moved.  No matter how much we run from it, bury it, or deny it......that rock is still there.  Solid. 

Technology Curfews

Most of you that read my blog with any regularity at all know that we finally followed God's leading in our lives and tossed out the TV.  OK---not literally.  However, we no longer have cable and don't watch "traditional"  TV.  We do, however, watch family shows (REAL family shows----not the world's standard of "family" shows) on the Wii with streaming redbox.  Best part, NO COMMERCIALS!  We have not for ONE second regretted it.  Our lives have been blessed by following God's lead.  I only wish we had listened to His prompting the FIRST time, instead of wrestling with Him over it for so long. 

He didn't leave us right there for long before He started us down another path.  Technology limits.  Ouch---this one hurts.  I am one of those that has my phone out surfing the web, checking in on facebook, reading emails, texting, you name it---ALL BEFORE I EVEN GET OUT OF BED and then into the wee hours of the night.  (Yes, Hearts at Home speaker Michelle Cushatt---I admit to being one of "those"---and hang my head in shame!).  God had already been dealing with me on many levels about making a break from it, but the "God Infusions" with Michelle really pushed my last button and fully got my attention.

You see, I lived with the LIE that because I was getting EVERYTHING done, it didn't matter how much time I spent "connected".  Kevin jokingly laughs that I get more done for our family in two hours than most people can in a full day.  That is actually true----I'm the multi-tasking extraordinaire.  I'm always on the look out for ways to do things smarter and faster.  My time "connected" wasn't preventing me from taking care of what was important.  Therefore, I hooked into the misconception that it wasn't wrong or dangerous.  If I'm taking care of everyone, then what is the harm?  Just this weekend someone visited our home and was CONVINCED we had a maid because of how clean our surroundings are.  We live active, full lives with QUALITY and QUANTITY time together.  What harm was I doing in being connected on hyper-drive? 

The brain doesn't slow down.  I'm in fast forward mode from early in the morning until 2-3 AM.  My brain only was getting a 4 hour shut down most days.  After Kevin and the kids were asleep, my fingers and eyes were GLUED to the computer screen.  Nothing I was doing, looking at, or searching was wrong.  As a matter of fact, it was most often EXCELLENT things---devotionals, encouraging blogs, etc...  Things that I thought were refueling me for the next day.   Much of the other time at night was playing logic/card games to unwind or keep my mind sharp (that was the excuse I was giving myself!). 

But here is the TRUTH.  It was masking.  It was masking the silence I knew I needed.  I REALLY did (and still do at times) have a problem with TRULY stopping and slowing down.  That is a lesson that I'm learning and it won't happen overnight.  My addiction to technology has fueled that immensely. 

So we made a decision to try something different.  ALL technology of ALL types now has a curfew in our home.  That doesn't just apply to the kids.  It's for ALL of us.  That means no TVs, radios, iPods, PHONES, laptops, etc...  When the clock hits that certain time, they ALL go off----no matter what we are working on.  They don't come back on the next morning until I am physically out of bed and going.  Weekends may or may not work differently, we haven't decided.  If I TRULY need to work on something past the curfew (something in regards to the kids education, finances, staying in touch with a family member), then Kevin and I both have to agree that it is important.  Accountability. 

I admit I was the one that had the most trouble the first night.  I did it BOLDLY and deliberately to be an example, but it wasn't easy.  However, just like with the TV---by the second or third day I was wondering why on earth I had waited so long.   Last night I knew I had REALLY turned a corner.  I turned everything off EARLY.  The clock hadn't hit the shut-off hour, but because I am paying more attention and being deliberate I hit that "point" well before the clock did.  I listened to myself for once!

The result:  my brain IS slowing down enough at night to go into a much deeper, more refreshing sleep.  In my quiet time with God (which I was already doing on a daily basis) I was able to be more focused and much more able to "listen".  I look forward to that getting better all the time.  Science IS correct in the fact that the "blue screen" does interfere with the production of melatonin. 

What I've discovered is that though my reliance on technology for everything WASN'T harming anyone, it was harming me.  It didn't matter that I was able to take care of everyone's needs while I was hyper-connected.  My needs were suffering.  My brain needed the "off" button, my world needed a slow-down!  I can hardly wait to see what happens in future weeks as the slow down continues!  I anticipate the joy of being able to HEAR God more audibly because the background noise will be less!  THAT is a God-infusion I look forward to.

You know what surprises me most?  All those "things" that I NEED from technology are STILL getting done in the shorter time frame.  I even still have plenty of time goofing off online doing things that AREN'T necessary.  Things aren't being neglected.  It's amazing.  I'm finding MORE time to write blogs and read numerous blogs, communicate with friends & family-----all in LESS time.  The math doesn't line up for me (and I'm a logical brained person that looks for patterns), but I'll take it. 

So tonight, you won't see glowing screens in our home----instead you'll see me curled up in bed with an excellent book and my trusty, favorite pink highlighter (which is running dry these days).  After all, reading has always been my true passion.  Better yet, you will probably even find me tucked under Kevin's chin snuggled in his arms sound asleep (OK----at least until I have to roll him over to stop him from snoring!) and it will be well before midnight these days.  Something else may happen in the future....those curfews my increase to days instead of hours.  It MAY be possible after all!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Yardstick or Cross?

I'm currently reading a book that I'm reviewing for Multnomah Publishing Group.  Though this is NOT my official review, nor have I finished the book, I just had to share something that I have already read in it that TRULY spoke to me.  This is another one of those books that is taking me FOREVER to read since it's so full of GOOD stuff.  It's from the book "Lazarus Awakening" by Joanna Weaver.  Many of you may have read her book "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World" or even attended a women's Bible study on it.

I wonder what would happen in our lives if we stopped resisting God's love and started receiving it.  What if we stopped trying to do the math, stopped striving to earn His favor?  What if we just accept the altogether-too-good-to-be-true news that the yardstick has been broken and the Cross has opened a door to intimacy with our Maker? 

For if we are ever to be His beloved, we must be willing to BE loved.......

Maybe it's time to look in the mirror and start witnessing to ourselves. 

Maybe it's time we stop living by what we feel and start proclaiming what our spirits already know.  "I have been chosen by God.  Whether I feel loved or believe I deserve it, from this moment on I choose to be loved.

Say it out loud:  "I choose to be loved." .....

So say those words as many times as you need to...until the message gets through your thick head to your newly tender heart.  Until you finally come to believe what's been true all along.

Shh...listen.  Do you hear it?

It's LOVE.

And He's calling your name.

Doesn't that just make your heart overfill with joy and soothe the innermost doubts and hurts?  For me it does.  I am one of those guilty of carrying a yardstick.  Sure, I can wrongly use it to see if others are measuring up, but in truth I use it on myself WAY more often.  Constantly measuring myself against others, against my OWN expectations, against the person I am and the one I want to be.  In my mind, I can just see myself marking another notch of failure on it and not measuring up.  I yelled at my kids....whack...there you go down another notch.  I didn't get X,Y, or Z done today...whack.  I let someones hurtful comments go down deep....whack.  I was short with my husband or allowed a very minor disagreement turn into something bigger....whack, whack.  I meant to eat just two cookies or walk that extra mile but instead never put on my tennis shoes and ate five (or more cookies....after all, it IS girl scout cookie time!).....whack, whack, whack.

What if....what if I gave God my yardstick and let him replace it with His cross?  His word constantly reminds us to not become like the Sadduccees and Pharisees that lived by the law.  How would my life change if I truly gave God my yardstick----the dangerous tool that I compare myself to others or find failure in myself with. 

The author wrote about when she was able to finally do that and her words describe it beautifully:

For as I surrendered my yardstick--the tool of comparison that had caused so much mental torment and a sense of separation from God--Jesus took it from my hands.  Then, with a look of great love, He broke it over His knee and turned it into a cross, reminding me that He died so I wouldn't have to. 

Can't you just picture that?  I got a huge dose of Holy Ghost goosebumps wash over me with that picture in my mind.  I love it so much that I see a trip out in the near future to purchase a yardstick.  JUST SO I CAN BREAK IT!  I think I'll then place it in the shape of the cross and put it somewhere that I can look at it when I need that reminder.

For the reality is, no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to explain or deserve such amazing grace and incredible love.  Nor can we escape it. 

It's just too WIDE. (Ephesians 3:18).  We can't get around it. 
It's just too HIGH.  We can't get over it.
It's so LONG we'll never be able to outrun it.
And it's so DEEP we'll never be able to exhaust it.
Bottom line.  You can't get away from God's love no matter how hard you try.  Because He's pursuing you, my friend.  Maybe it's time to stop running away from love and start running toward it. 

Powerful words.  Beautiful words.  Words worth BELIEVING in.  Just as Wendy Pope said in her "The Scriptures are Alive" workshop on Saturday (surely you didn't think I would get through a post without mentioning Hearts at Home!)......."It's time to put that cross down, Someone else needs the wood! "  It's time to let go of our failures and our lack of measuring up in our minds.  It's time to let God's love TRULY penetrate each and every deep, dark crevice.  Those are healing words.  That is REAL encouragement.  THAT is LOVE from a cross, not a yardstick!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Let Love RUN the House

Round 2:  Lessons Learned from Hearts @ Home

These thoughts were inspired from the afternoon main session by Jill Savage.  I have looked to her for "advice" from her books, blog, and Hearts at Home for many years and to see her on stage REALLY helped to cement her words deep within.  She truly is a woman of God and you can't listen to her transparency without seeing it radiate.

This year's theme for HAH was "Mom Revolution".  If you look carefully at the word you can see that the 2nd through 5th letters reverse to spell love!  How awesome is that! 

How many of us REALLY need a LOVE revolution?  Revolutionize means to change and reform.  I will be willingly to stand up and say that MANY times I am need of that reform in my own heart.  Gosh, some days I should just hide under the covers and not come out because I'm not feeling very loving towards anyone, including God or myself. 

The first really strong point that she made is that motherhood IS a valid profession.  I know that, I believe that, I've read that many times, I've heard that countless times.....but my heart was TRULY ready to accept that FOR myself.  It is a REAL job!  Knowing that DEEP down sure changes perspective and brings about a more intentional approach.  I have believed that God placed me in my role for a purpose for MANY years, but it is easy to lose track of that.  When people tell you that you are wasting your potential, your education, that you need to put your kids in "real" school, that you are not doing anything "real" for God and that it's selfish to waste it in your own home, etc... it becomes a bit harder to believe.  It's easy to get lost in what we in our house call "wet blankets".  Thankfully God sends just the right messenger at just the right time to remove those wet blankets and relight the fire that warms you from head to toe and lights every place in between!

Something she also drove home was that MY value is in Christ.  It isn't found in how successful of a job I have (or don't have), my children's good behaviour (and it isn't lost in their BAD behaviour), isn't defined by the number on the scale (in the losses or the gains).  ALL of those things fluctuate or change.  The only thing that is TRULY constant is Christ.  He NEVER changes and my TRUE value comes from being His daughter. 

Though those things were important for me to remember and will really help renew my spirit, it was her message about love that is the most life changing.  I needed to hear her words to encourage me through the hard day (weeks, months, etc...), but they didn't challenge me to CHANGE.  Kevin and I talk about how important it is for us to be encouraged, but it's equally as important for us to have our toes stepped on and for someone to challenge us to be more Christ-like.  Jill did just that.  She warmed my heart and then she stepped ALL OVER my toes!

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 tells us to "Be on guard. Stand firm in faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love." (This is from the NLT version.  You can see a parallel version of NUMEROUS versions by using  thanks goes to Wendy Pope for teaching me how to REALLY study God's word and I CAN NOT wait to put it into action more and more!)  I've heard that verse many times and have quoted it countless times.  However, when Jill read it from The Message and then spoke about it, my eyes were open in a new way. 

"Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you've got, be resolute and LOVE WITHOUT STOPPING."

When I first looked at those words on the screen, I immediately had one of those God given aha-moments (you know those goosebump Holy Spirit ones!).  I needed that touch of "hold tight to your convictions, give it all you've got".  He got right down deep and gave me the encouragement to stay on the path we are on even though it feels like we are swimming upstream many days. 

However, it was those NEXT words that started the toe stepping on. "Love without stopping".  I truly love my children and my husband.  There is zero doubt about that.   I don't withhold my love from them when they fail.  I don't love them any less when they mess up and I don't love them any more when they do something great.  I don't love myself less when I mess up and I don't love myself more when I do something right.  Oh wait......if I'm going to be transparent and honest...maybe I should back up.  Maybe I should admit that I may LOVE them (or myself) unconditionally but do I ALWAYS ACT like it?  Ummm perhaps, I don't like the answer that I would have to give.   Wow---that is some serious toe stepping on right there. 

Do I act with love when the kids are bickering, when they've messed up something that I JUST picked up for the 5th time in the last hour, when they've made me late getting out the door because they couldn't find THAT item, when they've struggled with something that I think should be easy, etc...  that list could go on indefinitely! 

Do I act with love when my husband forgets to do something I've asked him to do MANY times, when he makes the mistake of saying "what did you do all day?", when he doesn't treat me as romantically or tenderly as I need, when he doesn't appreciate something I've done, etc....  that list could ALSO go on indefinitely. 

Love without stopping.  Love isn't stop and go. Do we really only love when life is going easy or when things are going our way? It doesn't depend on whether you are making me happy and meeting my needs.   Isn't that what is wrong with so many failed marriages?  Isn't that why we think we are no longer in love with someone?  If they aren't meeting OUR needs than we think love has flown out the window.  Going a step deeper, do I only love God when I think He is meeting MY needs and answering MY prayers the way I want them to be answered?  That's some pretty deep stuff right there.

Love IS a CHOICE.  Love isn't a feeling.  Love is a DECISION.  It just doesn't happen. 

Love is a VERB.  It is an action.  Mature love knows that love takes work and action.  Immature love is a noun.  Mature love is about US.  Immature love is about ME.  Love as a noun demands, serves US, and thinks that it has to always be warm & fuzzy.  Love as a verb knows that feelings ebb & flow, understand differences, and serves others. 

Love is TRANSFORMING.  Sometimes love IS tough love and has to be grace-filled. 

Love is COUNTER-INTUITIVE.  Admit it.  We sometimes don't FEEL like loving.  Sometimes it IS hard.  However, REAL love is pushing through those feelings and behaving with the right actions.  Kevin and I have used the phrase for many years and as the years have gone by with their ups, downs, and obstacles it has meant more and more.  "I may not LIKE you right now, but I LOVE you."  How very true is that! 

Love is UNCONDITIONAL.  It may mean we have to say (to our child, to our spouse, to a friend, or even to ourselves)..."I love you enough to tell you the truth, but I won't withhold my love from you."  Loving like God loves is unconditional. 

Isn't that a powerful way to look at mature love?  I loved it!  Love to me is also being the first to say I'm sorry and meaning it.  Jill talked about revolutionizing our relationships one choice at a time.  Sometimes the greatest growth comes in the wrong choices we make.  In those moments we have to stop and say,  "I'm sorry" or "Forgive me".  Victory comes in those moments.  Own your mistakes, seek forgiveness, and move forward. 

Something very important to note (and it was mentioned many times in many different ways, but the premise was the same).  You can't give what you don't have.  You can't teach what you don't know.  You can't impart what you don't possess.  YOU CAN'T TRULY LOVE if you don't first accept God's love.  God is dumping it on us, we just have to accept it and soak it in. 

A couple of last points that she made that "stuck" in my head.

Mothering is more about US growing up, not just our kids!
Marriage FIRST, children SECOND.
More HIS way, less MY way.
Jesus is the potter, I am the clay.  Am I dried up playdough or am I a fresh can that is moldable?  (Sounds like a blog post waiting to happen!)

Why do the choices I make today matter?  Because they affect generations to come.  Even if you didn't have an ideal situation growing up, CHANGE it NOW.  We deliver a message to a time that we don't see, one child at a time. 

Though this post is longer than I expected (imagine that....that tends to happen REALLY often with me!!!), I have one last thought.  It's the wish I have for my home and the wish I have for every aspect of my life.  Once again, reading the verse from The Message really lit a fire in me.  1 John 4:17-18 NLT (And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.  So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels fear.)  The Message words it just slightly different.....

God is love.  When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.  This way, LOVE HAS THE RUN OF THE HOUSE.....

Lord, may LOVE have the RUN of this house every moment of every day and let it begin with me.  Can't you just picture it?  Oh, I can and I LOVE what I see. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"It IS Well"

Yesterday I had an amazing opportunity to attend Hearts at Home's National Conference.  I have wanted to attend for so many years but various reasons excuses kept me from attending.  I planned many months ahead to save up for the registration fee and was determined to not miss out on another year.  I almost backed out of going because I wasn't comfortable going alone.  However, God wanted me to step out of my comfort zone and do it.  On the very last day of early bird registration, I gave in and registered.  I will NEVER regret making that choice and I will move heaven and earth to attend the FULL conference as many of the coming years as possible. 

There is nothing like being in an auditorium filled to capacity with Christian moms worshipping God freely, seeking to find ways to connect with their husbands on deeper levels, recharging their spiritual lives, and finding effective ways to embrace motherhood as a God-given blessing.  It was beyond uplifting to sit in workshops, main sessions, and hear conversations in passing that ENCOURAGED.  There was no shame in having tears rolling down your face----it was actually expected (which is why there were a package of tissues placed in every tote bag!). 

Let's face it---as a Christian stay-at-home, homeschooling mom----adversity finds us on a daily basis.  Swimming upstream in a world as ours is discouraging MANY days.  There are people that literally can break you down at a moments notice.  My heart and soul was MUCH in need of being surrounded by other moms that TRULY get the kind of mother I seek to be.  Hearts @ Home isn't ALL about staying home or's just about being a mom seeking to love her children as thoroughly and unconditional as Christ loves us.   NO one looks at you strange when you tell them your "job" or that you seek to put Christ first in your home.  It's embraced.  Oh how my heart needed that. 

Back when I registered, I had to choose my top ten choices of workshops to attend.  I love how God directed that.  Though I chose a variety of topics that would strengthen my marriage, help me connect with my children at their different ages and with their different needs, and provide spiritual growth....God placed me right where he needed me to be.  Three out of four of my assigned workshops fell under the category of spiritual growth.  I was hesitant to choose all of them as my top choices because I was riding such a roller coaster of emotions with my grief just beginning.  After all, did I STILL believe God was all of those things I had claimed Him to be?  Would I end up being a basket case and have to be carted out as the psycho woman having a mega break down?  God planned it perfectly and placed me in JUST the right workshops.  I'm sure I'll be blogging in the coming days about the amazing God-direct "aha" moments.  Right now, it's just purely OVERLOAD.  I'm uplifted beyond even what I had hoped, but it is SO much to take in. 

However, the recurring theme that seemed to just come from EVERYWHERE was the point that main session speaker Jennifer Rothschild spoke about.  "It is WELL".   She is a 47 year old mom that has been blind since the age of 15.  She KNOWS about difficult circumstances.  She KNOWS about heartbreak.  She KNOWS about asking God tough questions.  No matter our circumstances, it can still be WELL.  It's isn't always well with our circumstances, but it IS WELL with my soul.  Life CAN be hard and we can be broken hearted, but it is STILL well.  God doesn't always change our circumstances.  Cancer still may take someone we love (or we may have to fight it ourselves), we may lose a job,  we may feel like we can't keep our heads above water in regards to finances, we may feel abandoned by someone we love, our children may make wrong decisions.....the list goes on.  It is STILL well.  Just because God doesn't change our circumstances, doesn't mean he doesn't love us.  What happens is the change that He makes in us.  Deeper contentment can come in the face of trials and heartache.  We have to learn to embrace the difficulty because that is where we find God the closest to us.  It's where our needs and brokenness are exposed.  I can't be the mom, wife (or any of the other roles in my life) without falling into the arms of a God that offers abundant grace.  My circumstances may not be well, but I AM WELL because I have Christ to meet me RIGHT where I am.  He doesn't love me any less when I mess up and doesn't love me any more when I do something that is pleasing.  His love is unconditional and knows no bounds. 

Another beautiful point that Jennifer made was pointing out the words REST and RESIST.   If we want to REST in God's arms we HAVE to take the "I" out and stop resisting Him.  When I take myself out of the picture and let him take over, THAT is when TRUE healing comes.  That is where PURE contentment comes in.  God CAN change our circumstances and He can provide miracles, but sometimes he chooses to have us just REST in Him.  I always love hearing the statement that "sometimes he calms the storms and other times He calms His child".  How very true is that!  Paul asked for God to take away his burdens, but yet God told him that "my grace is sufficient".  Liberty comes from taking the "I" out of resist and resting in the peace, stability, and loyalty of God.  I should never settle for less.