Full of FORTY years

You guys!! I’m so excited for my birthday this year. Why? Because I’m going to be FORTY! The big 4-0. Not the new 30, but a full forty years!

I’m pretty bummed that this whole pandemic thing will seriously impact any real celebration but I suppose in light of the big picture, not celebrating me is a relatively small thing.

And now you’re wondering if I’m being sarcastic. I’m not. But I wasn’t always excited about milestone birthdays. I vaguely remember impatiently waiting for my 18th birthday and the independence it signified but after that I must have greatly matured in patience because I don’t remember counting down the days until I turned 30? No, this celebrating of years passing is relatively new and I suspect the Lord, and my children, have something to do with it. Or more accurately, the way the Lord has used my kids to teach me the value of years.

When we received the kids’ diagnosis, one of the first things that hit me in the gut was reading the case studies and seeing the lifespan of untreated CTX patients. I think most parents realize, in some remote part of their psyche, that there is a possibility of out living their children but there is something about coming face to face with that reality that takes a parent’s breath away. Whether we consciously think of it or not, we have plans for our children. We might not have planned our daughter’s wedding, or thought of names for our grandchildren, but we wonder if little Johnny with the great fine motor skills will be a mechanic like Dad or if little Jenny with the flare for arguments will be an attorney like grandpa. We at least plan for them to have a life full of years, even if we don’t map out said years. We take if for granted that they will at least see the years we have seen. Or at least I did.

It was when I started thinking about the years my kids could miss that I truly started celebrating the years we have. The years we’ve been given. I started remembering something….

Genesis 25:8

And Abraham passed away and died in a good old age, old and full of years. And he was gathered to his people.

Full of years

I started to think not about the time I’m losing, the things I’m losing, but about what I’ve gained. That the years are full of days and days of minutes and minutes full of moments that have created memories and character and lessons and wisdom that make up…. a lifetime. Which means, the more years I’m given, the more I get to celebrate.

April 22nd, I will celebrate forty years FULL. Full of laughter, tears, new adventures and less fear. I will celebrate gained peace, wisdom, weight and even the lines around my eyes. (Incidentally, I will NOT be celebrating gravity). Because I haven’t lost a thing (Nope, not a pound). Even the moments, days, and a couple of years in which I thought I lost the most, I gained. I might not have been able to see at the time, but even those years of loss were FULL… of hidden blessings.

Now, present circumstances considered, I don’t see much chance for birthday presents. But that’s okay! Why? Because, I already have the greatest gift of all. It’s a gift I open anew every morning. The gift of the Gospel. Every morning I am able to fully embrace the day, yet hold it in open hands. Whether He gives me another forty years, or calls me Home that day, I can rest in the knowledge that because of the atoning blood of Christ Jesus I know there will be no death for me, not even when He determines I’m full of years. I’ll celebrate that gift this Easter Sunday… and will wait to celebrate 40 years when I can do it with cake!

Seeds On The Ark?

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks as a youth ministry leader. There was a Sunday school teacher meeting after church while my family was at home in their jammies recovering from influenza. It actually felt like my couch was calling my name.

Wednesday night was youth group during which teenage boys overdosed on sugar and caffeine and decided to throw Oreos at each other, teenage girls dissolved into tears over the strain of twenty first century adolescence and all of its cruelty, and a myriad of leaders, including myself, did their best to share the gospel with all who weren’t relentlessly poking each other and giggling or braiding each other’s hair.

The next Sunday I stood outside my first grade room, coffee in hand, when little Johnny breezed past me telling me, “I threw up last night, but I’m good now!” and during the twenty minutes of a somewhat focused lesson, little Jenny leaned close to ask if there were fruit snacks today and promptly sneezed in my eyeball.

Immediately following first service I grabbed my bag full of lesson plans, fruit snacks and stickers and headed to our large group space where I, who cannot hold a note to save my life or operate anything with an apple on it, would endeavor to figure out the world’s smallest Macbook and dredge up every last drop of the caffeine I just drank to lead the next service of kiddos in their worship time. Complete with singing and dancing. Me. Singing and dancing. Like a crazy person. For Jesus.

Next was a leader meeting for youth group after which my heart broke into hundreds of little pieces for our community’s middle school and high school students who are burdened with such big, adult, worldly, things and a couple of hours praying about those big things after my own house was quiet and before I went to bed.

I know, I know, what’s not to love about youth ministry, right?! I mean, it’s really a dream service opportunity.

It made me wonder….

If I knew a few years ago (when that sly youth ministry director told me I’d be great with sixth grade girls) what I know now, would I still have jumped in? A million times, yes. Because it turns out that my God has an incredible sense of humor.

Why? Because me, the serious, sarcastic, practical and efficient one that loves schedules, order, reading and writing and cups of tea with quiet time? The me that dislikes germs, bodily fluids, silliness, messes, wasted time, chaos, noise and… glitter?

That same me has also been given this incredible love for sharing Jesus with young sinners and saints. Incredible joy in walking alongside them as they learn to view the world and themselves through a gospel lens. I love the privilege of rejoicing with them over each of their victories and praying with and for them in their struggles. This me, that Jesus is growing, loves youth ministry. In spite of all of it’s beautiful messiness.

On these harder weeks, I also remember the seeds. Because even on the messiest youth ministry days, there are seeds, right? My Lord just needs to make them grow.

I have also been remembering, as a non believer, dropping Oldest Son off at a new preschool because he had separation issues. That preschool, Noah’s Ark, happened to have smaller class sizes, and was not in a large daycare, but in a quiet Lutheran church. At the time, the Christian curriculum neither drew me, nor repelled me. It just seemed a better fit.

I remember walking in the entrance at pick up time and hearing the piano playing and little voices singing. Some with the appropriate words at the appropriate time and others… not so much. I could relate to the “others”. I remember descending the stairs would always reveal a handful of children sitting on the rug, a helpful helper with at least one cuddly toddler on her lap, a table full of created treasures waiting to go home and be displayed on the refrigerator and sweet grandma-like Mrs. Klopp playing away on that piano. It never failed. There was always one rambunctious kiddo, too restless for the rug, too upset over hurt feelings, or too ready for nap time, pulled up close on that piano bench. And I’ll never, ever, forget hearing that wonderful saint lean down at the completion of a song and whisper close to the wiggling ear, “Jesus loves you, and I do too.”

I don’t know if there were seeds on Noah’s Ark, but I happen to know there were seeds on Bonnie Klopp’s Ark and I thank God that He so loved my children that He placed them on that beloved piano bench and let her plant the seeds their momma didn’t yet know to plant.

Though I often think I’d give anything to have known about the love of my Savior earlier I can’t help but feel so incredibly blessed with the privilege of planting seeds in other young hearts, so they might know Him earlier. And though I may not be anywhere close to our precious, piano playing, craft with glitter making, saint of a seed planter, Mrs. Klopp; I’m so very grateful for her faithfulness in the messiness of youth ministry.

I can almost imagine the harvest from the seeds on the Ark. Can you? Praying that God will help me be faithful in sowing. Even without glitter.

His hands

We were on our way to dinner at a friend’s, traveling carefully down country roads packed with snow and reflecting headlights off ice that wouldn’t melt until May, when the “highs” climb above freezing and the salt on the roads finally does it’s thing. There were kids bickering in the backseat and Christmas music on the radio and somehow in these sixteen years of family car rides, we had successfully learned to ignore both. And as he’d been doing for the last 21 years, he smiled, reached across the console, and laced his fingers with mine. A couple of miles down that winding road he pulled his hand from mine to turn at the barely visible stop sign and as we rounded the corner he gave me a sideways glance while he absently flexed and straightened the fingers on his right hand, then turned his attention back to winter driving.

And I know what he’s thinking, because, well, 21 years. He’s thinking of the ache in those hands and wondering how long they’ll hold out. About the stiffness after a day of using them and the way they just don’t cooperate the way they used to. Or the way that one finger just won’t warm up anymore since injuring it, and it’s circulation, years ago.

In my mind’s eye I can see the frustration when his fingers don’t grasp and hold what he’s reached for, instead seeing it fall to the floor. I can hear his sigh when he retrieves what he’s dropped and tries again. I know he’s counting those vested union hours and praying hard he can make it until then. That things are still working enough to enjoy some semblance of retirement. That these hands will continue to provide and care for a family of five, six with Auntie Amy, and two with special needs.

So I reached across the console and grabbed that hand again. I see it differently, of course. So much bigger than my own, I have come to love every thick callous and scar. I’ve seen those hands wrestle my tires and my toddlers. Move refrigerators and move me to tears holding our new babies. They’ve moved in incredible gentleness and strength and awed me in both. Those tired hands have worked hard to provide pleasure, comfort, safety and income.

And just within the last couple of years, I’ve had the great joy and privilege to see Jesus through those hands. Seen them do things they’d never done before. I’ve seen them scrape up just enough for bills and be satisfied, sit for patient hours with a pencil doing middle school homework, faithfully hold and study his Bible, fold in prayer over food and friends, placed on shoulders in comfort and serve countless brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve watched as God has somehow made my husband’s hands even more tender, more gentle, and given them greater impact regardless of how well they function. He’s made them spiritually stronger in their physical weakness.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, in the last week alone, they’ve been required to plow, change tires, replace bearings, brakes and turn signals. They’ve worked hard cutting, scraping and lifting at work to come home and shovel out a chicken coop. They’ve brought home the bacon, figuratively and literally. They’re not done yet. I know my Lord has much more work for this servant. I also know He’ll provide the means for him to do it.

During this Christmas season of not enough time, money, patience and health, what greater gift could I ask for than to be able to rest in the loving hands of not just my Lord and Savior, but the God fearing, Jesus following hands of the husband He gave me?

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.