Lost things…

I do this thing sometimes.

I lose my Joy.

One minute it’s there, and somehow, in the demands and disappointments of life, I misplace it.

So I start patting my proverbial pockets. I know it couldn’t have gone far. It was here but a minute ago….

Bereft at it’s loss, the first place I check is prayer. Rummaging through that pocket it’s plump full of confession, repentance, and petitions. Because as is often the case when I misplace Joy, I have a deep awareness and grief over my shortcomings and an excessive focus on my, as yet unmet, needs. There is a lot of stuff in here. But not Joy.

I dig next into the Word. This pocket is usually full of treasures. I scan text after text that normally shines bright with Joy and find it dulled. Experience tells me it’s likely not the text that has dulled, but me. The words, instead of Joy, bring with them an aching memory of it. Like the nostalgia of fried clams on a boardwalk mixed with sand, the sounds and smell of the ocean and burning of bare feet, it brings forth a Joy remembered and a desire to return, but the Joy itself… elusive and the more I return to it, the more keenly I feel it’s loss.

And this is where God does this thing.

One last pocket to check.

Maybe it should have been my first, as this is often what God uses to direct me back to this lost thing.

I sit and listen to a message given by a brother in Christ in which the spoken words ring loud enough to hear through the noise of our daily life.

1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

He cares for you.

Then a stop at the church office yields an envelope full of incredible generosity in answer to secret anxiety and one of the many prayers in that other pocket. A need only known to our Father.

He cares for you.

Immediately follows new test results that give some hope and a direction to this gnawing fatigue, infections and insomnia.

He cares for you.

Our pastor’s passionate message on the one lost sheep and His relentless pursuit of … lost things. Lost people.

Luke 15:4

4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

Because He cares for you.

And then as I sit in worry about these kids and the pocket full of prayers seemingly unmet and unanswered I get a slow trickle of response. Texts from a small group, sweet brothers and sisters who join in our petitioning. Emails from specialists who care and teachers and staff from school that are eager to help. Oh, not an answer to all the questions, but a sweet reminder that God goes before all of this too. Whether I can see it yet or not.

Because He cares through them.

And with each reminder from community, from fellowship in the Body of Christ, there is a spark of that which I search for. That I’d thought lost. Each spark illuminating the way back to Joy. I hold each one to my heart and pray for that spark to ignite a flame. Joy unsurpassed and uninhibited by circumstance because it is Joy in the One who cares for me.

The One who breathes stars, pursues and cares for me and though I may misplace knowledge, I will never, myself, be lost again.

Dissection of a servant heart

I’ve always loved to read, though the content has changed significantly over the years. One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis and though I return to his books often, I’ve recently found a new love of biographies and auto biographies. My favorites happen to be of some wonderful old saints like George Mueller, Amy Carmichael, and Charles Spurgeon. I read through the lives of these incredible brothers and sisters in Christ and they both encourage and convict me with their faithful perseverance and joyful service to our Lord. If you don’t know them, for the sake of this blog, you need only know that the size and scope of their ministries was only surpassed by their great faith and reliance on their God. Which resulted in great Kingdom impact.

And it never fails when I close the book for the night.

I want to serve like them. I want to minister to orphans. Great multitudes of them (or maybe more realistically, foster children).

To save exploited children and show them the love of their Father.

I want to tell of the Good News to the masses. The underprivileged, forgotten, broken, hurting, starving masses.

I want to do big things in response to the big Love I’ve received.

Don’t misunderstand. I also think that sometimes the big acts of service are the small ones too. I find great joy in loving chatting, giggling, exasperating teenage girls in my youth group, wiping snotty button noses in my Sunday school class, sorting dusty, dirty cast-offs for a rummage sale and even scrubbing toilets and windows in the house of my Lord.

But as I read these biographies I found myself wondering if these beloved saints ever wrestled with where they were called to serve? It seems to me that they didn’t. And it makes me wonder if this is my own peculiar stubbornness.

I sometimes look at our situation with special needs children as an obstacle to service. How am I to do all of the things I want to do when there is a constant stream of paperwork, medical bills and appointments.

If only I didn’t have one fire after another, Lord, the things I could do!!

Then I went to an amazing conference with Hunter’s Hope. An organization that serves families affected by Leukodysytrophy. It was while sitting in on a prayer meeting, fever raging from a kidney infection, that the Lord began to work on my heart.

The chairs were arranged in a circle with Kleenex boxes strategically placed about the small room, as couples made their way in from breakfast. In varying stages of grief, these beautifully brave parents and caregivers shared their deepest, most authentic, genuine, hurts, fears and even heart breaking anger. Then, they collectively placed their burdens in the hands of their Lord, asked for the strength and wisdom to glorify Him throughout the conference, and closed in praise and gratitude for the fellowship and provision given to make the conference possible.

Then, since I was feeling so ill, instead of making connections and asking questions I was forced to just listen and observe. (I tend to do a “doer”, so trust me when I say this was frustrating and decidedly disappointing. NOT what I’d planned.)

What I SAW was HOPE. I saw these same hurting, grieving, struggling servants shining light into what I’ve experienced to be some of the darkest of circumstances.

Because there were many in attendance who were trying to navigate the terminal illnesses and deaths of their young children… without Christ.

I saw these unbelieving families look upon these other, broken parents and wonder at their peace. At their ability to find joy. Wonder at their belief that their God was still good. And it made me wonder…

Did those parents of the prayer meeting realize how well they served their Lord? In and through the pain and daily struggle for peace. It was then I thought of those who God had used to serve me.

A pastor, who having come to Christ at the grave side of his infant daughter and a friend with a daughter with MD would be the only ones I could hear and believe when, in my own grief, I could not believe or hear God. And I suspect these precious families will one day, if they haven’t already, be given the opportunity to serve in a similar way. To be able to say, with confidence, to the similarly afflicted,”He’s still good. And He still loves you.”.

Then, I saw these same hurting parents present all of the amazing ways God has used and purposed their great suffering to ease the hurts and suffering of future Leukodysytrophy families. Dozens of organizations founded, books written, laws enacted, lobbyists created and activists activated to go out and comfort with the comfort they themselves have received.

And then I think, have I truly been willing to serve where He has placed me? In the relentless paperwork, medications, therapies, insurance battles, waiting rooms and fear filled future. EVERY morning when I surrender these children anew, have I surrendered willingly myself to serve where He obviously wants me. And am I doing it as cheerfully and joyfully as I would serving the next project at church?

And the answer is humbling.

Not always.

These last couple of weeks especially I’ve wanted to serve pretty much anywhere but where He has me.

I still want to serve in ways that are more appealing to me. Would still honestly much prefer serving widows and orphans, the homeless and persecuted. Would even cheerfully welcome the opportunity of a great inheritance to pour into God’s kingdom if you twisted my arm.

I’m far more comfortable serving from a place of my own abundance, than a place of my own great need.

Perhaps I do NOT yet have the willing, servant heart I thought I did.

Star Gazing

We live out in rural Wisconsin. It’s kind of easy for me to get caught up in some of the negatives of Midwest living.

Think subzero, hurts to breathe, snot freezes in your nose kind of winters and two week long summers.

But I’m getting better at learning to stop and appreciate the things I overlook in my hypothermia. Like the fact that our view of the night sky is unobstructed and undiluted. Unobstructed because we’re in the middle of fields and undiluted because we’re a fifteen minute drive from a gallon of milk and subsequently any “city” lights.

We’re currently experiencing our two weeks of incredibly gorgeous summer in which we have defrosted enough to turn the air conditioning on and break out the bug spray for our state bird, (the only one that survives the winter) the mosquito. We often stay up and outside as late as possible to enjoy every moment of it.

So yesterday I got to look at that beautiful night sky, not from behind iced and snow blown windows, but from the patio, reeking of “Deep Woods”.

It was magnificent.

How often do I pass a cursory glance over that expanse and only see those scattered few, bright, blessings shining down?

I sat listening to children bouncing on a trampoline, squealing with mock outrage over an overzealous sibling with a hose full of teeth chattering well water. I sat laughing, as our newly acquired (officially egg laying) chickens squawked over the commotion and ran crazy poultry circles around their coop.

And content, I gazed up. Focused in. To those bright, obvious, stars and then past them. As I panned across that sky, a thousand more came to my attention. These blessings aren’t as bright. They seem to get lost in the vastness in which they’ve been scattered, but the sheer volume of them is breathtaking.

Lord! How I overlook your blessings!

Oh, I see those that are closest at hand, that shine the brightest from here. I see the obvious food on the table, clean water from taps and roof over our heads. I see the ones that are measured biggest from my current vantage point.

But what about the others?

The ones that from here, under the heavens, appear so much smaller and less significant.

The gift of less. Is that a star, or a meteor? I can’t quite tell from here…

The gift of trial. Perhaps it’s a passing plane or satellite? Maybe if I squint…

The gift of the broken AC, water heater and car. The disability denial. The breast lump. The endless special forms that come with special needs. Certainly if I had a better vantage point, I’d see them more clearly?

And I think, someday I will. Someday I’ll look down on them from above and I can’t help but think those stars that wink so small from here, will flare brightest in light of eternity. Those blessings so much harder to distinguish living in the world will be clearest in their proximity to the Light of The World.

But some of them He shows me here. When His telescoping Spirit reveals small glimpses of what it must be like to gaze down on the twinkling blanket of blessings He’s laid over me.

Remember that lump of last month? That sure didn’t shine brightly as my biggest blessing when first I glimpsed it.

Then they told me it was precancerous. That these lesions are only found via mammography because they spread outward, instead of up, without forming a palpable lump. That I was two years from my first mammogram and if I hadn’t had that cyst that prompted the imaging, which found the lesion…..

And that cyst? It disappeared a few days after the partial mastectomy that removed all trace of the lesion with clean margins and no further treatment.

Some blessings sure shine brighter than others…. depending on my vantage point.

The lumpy, bumpy road…

This road we’re on sure has a lot of stones in it. The narrow path can be hard to navigate. Trying not to fall to the left or the right is tough when this road less traveled never seems to stay straight. Instead, we’re full steam ahead on a journey that has more twists and turns than the county fair roller coaster. I heard someone say once that if you’re bored as a Christian, you’re not doing it right. If there is any Truth to that, I have to believe we’re really rocking this following Jesus thing.

But the really cool thing I’m finding about maturity is that my reflexes have greatly improved. Usually, at a new bump or bend at break neck speed, I start with crying out. Right away I know to approach the One Whose stamp of approval has been placed on this detour. I occasionally start with the “Why me”, followed by (a little bit whiney), “What is it about me that requires THIS much correction?” Or maybe “What am I NOT learning?” and sometimes, “How long, Lord?”. This is a much quicker stop than it used to be. Because, well, reflexes. Muscle memory? Practice?

Next, I move on to remembering. Because when I’m nervous or scared or just plain tired, I know that I fail to practice some basic safety measures like looking in the rearview mirrors. Looking at where I’ve been reminds me of how I’ve gotten through, and Who is always traveling WITH me. Over every rough patch, through every close call, I can find strength in remembering that those situations seemed precarious at the time too, so surely there is hope yet for this one.

Then I slow down and remember to check those side mirrors and watch my blind spots. Because, in remembering, I’m reminded that this is when the enemy delights in trying to destroy. Destroy my peace, destroy my calm and destroy my deep breathing exercises. A bit of defensive driving here is absolutely crucial. I grab hold of that manual, that map, that Word of God and speak Truth to myself where lies threaten to sneak up on me.

This last couple of weeks I had some difficulty navigating. We hit a few bumps. The A/C went out in my van. Which isn’t such a big deal unless you have a kiddo that doesn’t regulate their body temperature well. Then, there’s the water heater that suddenly quits. And in the midst of a cold shower, another bump. Or rather, a lump.

In my breast.

And if any of you have experienced this kind of bump in your road, you may know the kind of road I traveled this week. It took a twist at the ultrasound, after the mammogram, when the radiologist ordered the core needle biopsy. Though I’d been in regular prayer over all our bumps lately, I will admit that the big medical words like radial scar and inter ductal carcinoma had me doing more of what would be considered, praying continuously.

I prayed continuously as they prepped for biopsy. I prayed continuously when that room looked more like a crime scene than an exam room. I prayed continuously that I would not lose my lunch, that I would remain conscious, and that they would finish soon. And as it was all over, I prayed for wisdom for the staff that would interpret the results.

Curled up with a couple of ice packs that evening I was still praying. My busy mind in direct contrast to the stillness of my living room, I made a familiar stop at “Why me”. Because I was feeling a bit…. afflicted.

Why us? Why finances? Why always medical problems? Why SO HARD? Why can’t we have “those” problems instead? You know, the ones those other people have? How much longer, Lord? And this whole pity party collided with gratitude for a Father that tolerates the questions of His struggling children.

So I finished my devotional. I finished my daily reading and I prayed for the ability to hand it all over to Him. For a peace that surpasses circumstances. Because I knew He could provide it, I turned off all the lights and crawled into bed.

When Psalm 41 flashed insistent through my head.

I don’t know Psalm 41. Is that in the first book, or the second? I’ll look tomorrow.

I tossed, turned, fluffed and got back up to take some more Motrin. Then tried again.

Lord, I know You already know those biopsy results and You’re already ahead of our every need. Please help me remember that and rest in You.

Psalm 41

1, 2 & 3…

That seemed rather specific so I picked up my phone and looked it up quickly on Blue Letter Bible.

Psalm 41
Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.
2 The Lord protects and preserves them—
they are counted among the blessed in the land—
he does not give them over to the desire of their foes.
3 The Lord sustains them on their sickbed
and restores them from their bed of illness.

Giggling and crying, because that’s how I roll when the Creator of the universe lowers Himself to not only hear my prayer, but whispers comfort in illuminated text. I shut my phone off and went to bed. And slept.

The air conditioning is still broken, the water heater still needs to be replaced and biopsy confirmed what’s called a radial scar. Benign, it should require no treatment, but will at least need to be removed.

But I have it on good authority that we are being protected and preserved and we will be delivered in our times of trouble. Not to mention being sustained and restored. I’m feeling far more peace about the road we’re on.

Messes and Masterpieces

It was a long day. I sat on the edge of the tub, watching warm water rush and fill the spaces between super heroes strewn about the bottom. Reaching my hand out, exposed wrist up, I was testing the temperature for sensitive skin when I heard the slam of the front door. Followed by six years of energy careening through the kitchen, around the corner, and into the bathroom. The only thing moving faster was his mouth, which immediately updated me on the progress of the Pokemon catching expedition I had interrupted with my call for bath time.

Smiling, I looked up to find the object of my affection covered head to toe in dirt. And as he wriggled and talked and peeled himself out of said layers of dirt I watched, in immediate frustration, the growing pile of filth on my freshly cleaned floors. Freshly cleaned because baby girl was in the room next door recovering from the stomach flu and I’d spent my entire day armed with bleach.

That’s when he reached out one little hand, covered with sweat and dirt and who knows what else… and grabbed onto the (white) wall for balance. And I lost my tired marbles. I scooped him up, still talking, (but now confused) and deposited him on the front step to remove the worst of the offensive clothes. Complete with shoes caked in chicken coop bedding. Great. The floors of the rest of the house would now need my attention too. I proceeded with my lecture of removing our shoes when we come in the house…”and the next time you’ve been playing in the dirt pile you need to take those clothes off outside and let me know so I can bring them straight to the laundry room instead of making a giant mess in the bathroom!”.

With wrinkled brow and confused eyes Mini Hubby asked, “But…wasn’t I supposed to come in to get clean?”.

Now the house is heavy with quiet, the chores have stopped for the day as not to wake anyone and I’m left thinking and praying over all the messes in our house. Because the one threatening the bathroom isn’t the biggest or hardest one.

I’m remembering earlier in the week, when a different child bursts in the front doors and shakes off the world with angry words and angrier tears. Only this mess I can’t sweep and mop up. I can only absorb the words and try to speak Truth to the hurt beneath the anger. Because every day I send this one out and the world lies into young, impressionable, sensitive ears.

And the world isn’t going to change until His kingdom comes.

So how do I combat the rejection, the striving for perfection, that has this one forgetting who they are? Hating who they are?

I’m remembering deep breaths and forced calm while I tried to make sense of a world that doesn’t even make sense to me. My heart breaking for this one that struggles, wanting to fit in a world I don’t want any of us to fit into. Because it’s a mess.

As I sit, remembering, I hear the slow ascent of world weary feet on the stairs and wait for the settling onto the couch. For the sideways glance that says, “I’m ready to talk”. And with the lights turned low we talk quiet and calm about Truth. We start what, I think, will be a continual cleaning up. Washing in the Word, purposeful prayer, and trusting Jesus to guide us through waters of anxiety and depression that are much too high for us to navigate.

Now, I sit here, grateful. Praising God for the gift of being mom to these three. For getting to be even a small part of what He is making them to be. These little messes into masterpieces.

And I’m praying, that He’ll help me embrace the messes they bring for what they are. The tools He’s using to create who He means them to be. And may they ALWAYS know they can come home messy. That they will never have a mess so big, I won’t be ready and waiting to help point them to the One that makes all things new and promises to work all things for their good and His glory.

Sometimes I’m wrong…

Have I ever told you I never planned to be a Stay-At-Home mom? It wasn’t what I thought my family would need. I thought my future family would need things like reliable vehicles, family vacations and savings accounts. It turns out my family would need a mom that could devote hours a week to paperwork, phone calls and appointments for a couple of medically complex kids so they could get a diagnosis in one year, instead of the average fifteen. They would need a mom that could stay home and research, fight for answers and fight insurance companies until she got them. Thank God, He knew I was wrong about the career and making money thing.

I was wrong again when we finally got our first diagnosis and I decided to bring Baby Girl shopping for school clothes. At Justice. We don’t normally shop at places like Justice. Because shopping at Justice falls into the same financial category as family vacations. If you don’t have a tween daughter, just take my word for it. But somewhere in my sleep deprived, grieving mind, spending a ludicrous amount of money on Baby Girl seemed like… justice.

So we walked in the door and I said the craziest thing, “What do you like, Baby Girl?”. Two hours later I had agreed to a pile of clothes that not only exceeded our clothing budget (for the year) but also some hard and fast rules I had on 8 year old modesty.

Then there were “the shoes”. Because of Baby Girl’s deteriorating coordination, footwear had been limited to Velcro laces and flat, functional shoes. She did not find flat, functional shoes at Justice. She brought me a pair of the most ridiculous, sequined, flashy, silver platform sneakers… with tie laces.

And I took one look at her hopeful little face, thought of what that doctor had said two weeks before about her being in a wheelchair within ten years… and placed the shoes on the growing “keep” pile. Three years later, we do not believe that first diagnosis is what God has for Baby Girl. And I’m absolutely sure that she didn’t need “the shoes”.

I was recently wrong again. I know, I’m as shocked as you are. I was sure once the kids were all in school, I would be able to go back to working outside the home. We would have things like savings accounts and there would be vehicles we could at least afford to fix. And bless sweet Hubby’s heart and broad shoulders, maybe he wouldn’t have to keep taking all that overtime…

Oh, I knew I wasn’t going back to a career in IT with long hours and longer commutes, but when Mini Hubby started kindergarten this year I was pretty sure a job in the school where Oldest Son was starting High School would be a perfect fit. It almost was.

These last several months my heart grew for kids in tough situations, with big obstacles and even bigger attitudes to overcome. I learned how to better support Oldest Son socially and in academics. And because I had the opportunity to see what he sees of the world on a daily basis (trust me, their world is far bigger, scarier and less restricted than ours was) I know what kind of conversations we need to be having regularly. I also had the chance to work among adults again. I won’t lie, it is far more entertaining than working with myself. I found a whole bunch of new people to love.

There was also puke.

So.

Much.

Puke.

Strep throat.

A few times.

The loss of my mother-in-law.

A surgery for tonsils and adenoids.

Some problems with some crucial labs for Oldest Son and Baby Girl, and finally….

The realization that God was sending me home, again.

Usually when I’m wrong, it feels a lot like… failure.  I’ve made the wrong choice, my plan didn’t work. It can feel like I’m giving up, letting go or making emotional decisions (“the shoes”). Because I can’t see the full picture. My vantage point is far more limited than God’s. But, in hindsight, it is a joy to see how He purposes my missteps. Redeems them all and uses them for my good and His glory.

Right now though? I still can’t see what He’s doing. And that’s hard. So I’m holding tight to a few of these Truths.

And maybe this song. 😉