In The Garden

In-the-Garden-thumbnailLately I’ve been feeling bad for whoever sits next to me in corporate worship. I never used to. For years, I came to church and sat and stood at the appropriate times and even sang quietly with the rest of the congregation. Somewhere along the line though, it stopped becoming simply singing and became worship. I don’t know how it happened. Really, one day I was reading the words off the screen, keeping my volume to a very respectful whisper and my hands and emotions nicely contained. Then, the next thing I know, I’m standing in the front row, swaying to the music, eyes closed, arms up and “singing” like no one is watching. You see what I did there with the quotation marks? That’s because I can’t sing. This is not me practicing humility. This is me confessing. I can’t sing. At all. Which is why I suddenly feel rather sorry for the people close enough to hear me. This is also why I’m thankful for our more modern service with it’s music equipment that drowns out much of my noise. But, as my family will confirm, my concern for the ears around me hasn’t discouraged me much. Why? Because I was made to worship. I know, it may not SOUND like I was made to worship, but I was. You were too! I understand your confusion as this truth had once eluded me too. I’ll direct you to my first glimpse for a more detailed explanation but here’s a condensed version if you’re short on time.

There was once this fiesty, fire cracker of an old woman that used to walk barefoot through her acre large “garden”, her hair in militant rows of tiny curlers and her apron pulled up as a make shift basket. house-and-rowsBut it wasn’t her appearance that would puzzle me. She seemed to fit in that garden like she was born there. Her first toddling steps squishing dirt up in between her toes. Even at her advanced age she seemed to sway along with the stems as she threaded herself between the rows. And the fruit of her labor gathered in the folds of her apron seemed to bare witness to the fact she belonged there. What seemed to me to be at odds with the whole scene was her “singing”. It was how one could locate her among the produce. You certainly couldn’t miss it. In fact, I’d venture a bet that dogs on neighboring farms a couple miles down the road could lead you straight to her. It was less like singing and more like high pitched yelling. But as long as she was in that garden, she was singing her favorite hymns. When asked, it has been reported that she said, “If God didn’t want to hear me, He’d have made me mute.”. It’s taken me a few years but I’m finally starting to understand. That brilliant lady knew a thing or two about worship. She had figured out that it wasn’t the quality of the voice raised in praise, but the heart beneath it.

“There are some who cannot sing vocally, but perhaps, before God, they sing best. There are some, I know, who sing very harshly and inharmoniously – that is to say, to our ears. Yet God may accept them rather than the noise of stringed instruments carefully touched…When praise comes from the heart, who would wish to restrain it?”

Charles Spurgeon 

I don’t wish to restrain it. Not only because it pleases God but because I’ve found it’s as close to the garden as I can get here. (Now, I don’t have an actual garden. I may have inherited this sweet lady’s voice, but not her ability to make things green. Also not humility. It is a well known fact in my house that the only things I can keep alive have heart beats. Which really, I think should count for something??)

I play worship music in my van, in my kitchen, in my closet before prayer and as I “sing” the rest of the world kind of melts away. It’s just Him and I, walking through the garden. In the garden I’m free to rejoice in His presence, sing His praises and focus solely on Him. And in this place full of distractions, trials, pain and loss, I don’t want to waste a precious second of these opportunities to worship. My soul longs for His presence!

So here is my apology. Sorry, not sorry! And my best advice. Lift your voice and arms like you were made to worship (you were) and dance like no one is watching (or for an audience of One). Because, like a wise woman once said, if God didn’t want to hear you, He’d have made you mute.

Here, try it with this song. You’re welcome! 😊

Plans, Preparation, Predictability… and Purpose.

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I just made an appointment for our sixth surgery in eight months. “Our” meaning our family.  More specifically, there have been two for oldest son and this will be the fourth for baby girl.  I’m not really digging it. Once again, this wasn’t part of my plan.

I really like plans.

Things like predictability and preparation are some of my favorite things.  No joke. I really enjoy schedules,  lists, calendars, highlighters, etc. I get super excited when I get to use my label maker. I know,  some of you are totally cringing right now.  You are likely those people that do crazy things like ride in hot air balloons, jump out of FLYING planes or off of perfectly good bridges with rubber bands on your ankles.  It’s okay, I don’t understand you either.

Yup, you can take your mud runs and your “spontaneity” and I’ll be perfectly comfortable with a nice boring day,  free of chaos, reading a great book.  If this life thing were up to me, that would be my plan.

But it’s not.

So my flesh (every extra fluffy pound) often sits in waiting rooms or on route to appointments re-rearranging my mental schedule for the hundredth time and crying out for just a little bit of boredom. A little less crisis.  My flesh wants to be the Mom that’s at home instead doing the laundry, putting together a nice healthy dinner,  looking up birthday party ideas on Pinterest,  volunteering for ALL THE THINGS, welcoming everyone home to a nice, relaxed, stress free house and never dropping any of the balls. (I am constantly dropping balls. Very frustrating.)

I feel like it’s a good plan. I also often feel like I could really do some amazing things with God with this plan. Just think of how big my mission field could be! I could do the mission trips and serve in all sorts of ways I just can’t right now. I could be that child of God that is running around with the Good News in far away places instead of running around chasing my tail, struggling to serve just the few in my reach. I’ve tried to convince God of the brilliance of my plan but either this sounds a lot like bargaining and whining to Him or He is just pretty confident that His plan is still better.

So my faith will keep reminding me that I may have plans,  but God has a purpose.  On days like today when my flesh just really, really, wants a little boredom, I will instead cry out in prayer and ask my merciful Father to show me just a molecule of His purpose in all of this. To help me re-remember that His plans are for my good and His glory.

Because my best laid plan has nothing on His purpose.

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Fighting For Balance

It was the sideways glance and raised eyebrow from the pre op nurse that got me thinking. I can’t really blame her for not understanding because prior to life with medically complex kiddos, I wouldn’t have understood either. That they have medical, spiritual and emotional needs and each are just as important to maintaining some kind of balance in this crazy life of genetic disorders.

So, as they wheeled our oldest son out the door into surgery and I was sitting with our daughter in the same pre op room getting ready for her surgery, I explained to the nurse why I brought my thirteen year old son to see his first concert the night before.

I told her Imagine Dragons is his favorite band and his amazing aunt got the tickets for him for his birthday. I explained that he was very concerned that he not miss the last of soccer season, or the beginning of basketball season so this gave us a very small window in which to schedule the eye surgery. (Because, well, thirteen year old boy priorities.) I tell her that this rare disorder of theirs, Cerebrotendinous Xanthomatosis, comes not only with juvenile bilateral cataracts, but with a lot of anxiety. So, I scheduled the surgery on the only date available in between sports and brought him to the concert the night before. He had a great time and, although tired that morning, he was much less stressed about the surgery.

As the blood pressure cuff inflated and the heart monitor beeped I colored with our daughter and explained that for her, Dad spent the night playing Minecraft to distract her. The decisions aren’t always easy ones to make. Trying to balance all of their needs is hard. They are more than just flesh and blood. In the midst of endless lab work, exams, specialists and testing it has become more and more important that we make all of their needs a priority. Sometimes this means ice cream before dinner rewards for copious amounts of blood work. Sometimes it means skipping homework for prayer, not following that strict diet perfectly so that they can eat what the other kids at the party are eating or taking the injury risk for that activity that they love.

We have two medically complex kiddos and this means we have complex lives with complex decisions. And we’re just doing the best we can to meet ALL of the needs.

And you know what? Much later that day, our son was out of surgery, out of PACU and sitting somewhat patiently with us while we were waiting for our daughter to crack open her precious little eyes and the PACU nurse comments on how easy going and patient our kids are. After 12 hours in the hospital neither one were complaining and both were good naturedly trading jokes with us and the staff.

So, we will keep fighting for balance. We know our kids and their condition better than anyone else we come across, no matter their degree. Tonight, one day post op, they’re going to youth group. Because they want to, and it’s just as important as the medication they’re due for in an hour.

I’m not saying we make all the right choices. I’m definitely not saying we’ve got this thing figured out. Actually, we really screw it up sometimes. But, what I’m saying is, I’ve learned that our kids’ needs are complex and go far beyond the physical. I’ve learned that not everyone is going to understand that. I’ve learned that sometimes I will get a sideways glance and raised eyebrow at my decisions. And I’ve learned that that is totally okay. Sometimes I’m right.

You are MORE….

She wakes up in the morning short on sleep because of a late night and a restless sleep. Making her way to the mirror in her master bathroom she stares at her reflection and starts to remove the remnants of the night before that haven’t already rubbed off on her pillow.

There’s an uneasiness this morning that she just can’t shake. Looking at the face sans make up that appears in front of her she critically assesses her reflection. Her face has changed subtly over the years as gravity has worked and shaped the angles but it has done little to take away from her beauty. If anything, it has softened sharp edges and made her more approachable. Sometimes to the wrong people.

No, the nagging unease today is not her appearance.

Perplexed, she shrugs it off and goes to work laying the foundation for another day. She leans in closer for finishing touches to emphasize almond shaped eyes and olive toned skin and for a second sees further than herself. Past her familiar face she can see an equally familiar world behind her. In the glare of the late morning sun she sees her beautiful home and family. She smiles and gazes past them to the luxuries she’s worked so hard to acquire. The fun things that she knew would give her happiness. The hot tub, the pool with bar for entertaining, the right cars and boat to enjoy with friends and acquaintances. The right brands hanging in her closet and stamped prominently on her purse.

I’m thousands of miles away and watching and praying for this girl. Oh, not the one with the straight, white smile and flawless skin, the one inside. I love this girl overflowing. The one that radiates energy and passion that spills out onto everyone around her. Whose surprised laugh rushes forth, straight from her belly, genuine and contagious like a toddler’s. As long as I can remember, people have told this girl how beautiful her reflection is. In jealousy, people have passed her off as just a pretty face. In selfishness, people have told her what she wants to hear. I’ve seen her underestimated and valued for the wrong things. Shallow relationships dot her past. So I watch and I pray.

I pray for the breath of God to breathe life into those dry bones. Real life.

And then, he does.

I’m watching from the corner as her face and her reflection change. In grateful tears I look past her confused face into the fringes of her life in the mirror. I can see it too. The mirror briefly fogs up, then refocuses like a camera lens. Suddenly, her world, the people and things in it, look a little different. This world has something wrong with it. Things once bright and shiny have dulled. Things once exciting and new have started to fade. Mistakes once easily justified have become shame. This world is clearly not what she wanted. What she had longed for. In tears, she is wondering what went wrong. How did she get here?

And I’m rejoicing in answer to prayer; a life awakening. Our tears are different because she only sees the potential loss of the familiar. She is grieved by the thought that what she’s always believed has been a lie. My tears are ones of thanksgiving and anticipation. Thanksgiving to a God merciful and loving. Anticipating the joy of watching this girl learn truth.

That she was made for  so much more than what the world can give her.

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That the happiness she’s been chasing so hard after can’t be found in a party, a place or the next exciting relationship, but in the One that made her.

God who sees me

That she’s more treasured, more loved, than she has dared to imagine. And it has nothing to do with her appearance.

That there is relief and forgiveness for the guilt and shame acquired by living according to the world.

Dear, beautiful, friend of mine,

I pray that you will continue to ask, seek and knock to find the truth. Pour all of that beautiful, passionate, energy of yours into finding the joy everlasting. You’ve never shied away from a challenge or given up the opportunity of adventure. I promise this life of following Christ will be the most exciting thing you’ve ever done. Keep looking in that mirror and let Him show you the way.

i love you in mirrow

I need to stop bailing water…

I’m sitting in my favorite place. My feet and hands buried into the soft, warm sand. My head tilted up to absorb sun filtered through wispy clouds, my hair brushed back by gentle winds. I can hear the rhythmic rolling of waves and the distant begging of seagulls somewhere further down the ribbon of beach. The air is rich with the smell of heat radiating off of warm sand and beached seaweed below. This week has been two years since I washed up on these same shores and I’m amazed at the difference those two years make.

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As I’m reminiscing there’s a commotion behind me. A flurry of excitement and a vaguely familiar voice draw my attention to a group of men making their way to a fishing boat not far from shore. I hadn’t planned on going out on the water today but as He looked back I found I couldn’t resist the invitation to join them. I was not the only one. As I gathered Hubby and the kids and scrambled to find a boat of our own, there was a small fleet of vessels preparing to follow those men out to sea. Out on the water, a quick glance observed many from the beach wondering at the procession. Staring at us from behind big sunglasses and under bright umbrellas, holding fruity drinks in fake coconuts they quickly decide to return to their conversations.

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The day progresses and the shore shrinks on the horizon when a storm whips up, seemingly out of nowhere. Two years ago I weathered a similar storm and it pulled me under, depositing me on the distant shore. Today, I am not as worried about the storm as I am the water the boat is taking on. I’m furiously bailing water, trying to keep up. Our storm is one of special needs and each scoop of the bucket is another need.

Surgery, scoop.
Social Security appeal, scoop.
Medicaid, scoop.
Attorney, scoop.
MRI appointment, scoop.
EEG appointment, scoop.
Neuropsych appointment, scoop.
Leukodystrophy Foundation conference, scoop.
Newborn Screening advocacy, scoop.
Prescriptions, scoop.

Even the “normal” needs add to the rising water in the boat.

School supplies, scoop.
School shoes, scoop.
Soccer registration, scoop.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, laundry, scoop, scoop, scoop, scoop….

I know there are many people safely on shore that think there is something different about us in the boats. Still others that believe somehow we have been uniquely prepared for our storm. Even a few that believe we have done something to deserve it.  Or maybe that we have a superhuman ability to withstand this storm on our own.

We don’t.

I don’t.

This becomes crystal clear as the water level increases in the boat until my heart is racing and I’m absolutely exhausted from the fight. I find myself examining my sinking ship. All of the ways I’ve failed. I’m not fast enough, strong enough, skilled enough to keep us afloat, to save these precious souls in the boat.

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So I sit in the rising water, paralyzed with fear, turned so far inward that I almost don’t hear Him. That familiar voice in the middle of the storm. Reminding me that I’m not supposed to be able to do it alone. That I don’t have to. Why do I keep trying to? And despite the storm around me, the storm within me quiets. I stop looking at my own boat and trust the One that calms not only the winds, but the waves as well. I look up and when I see Him I’m reminded why I’m here. I followed Him. No matter what the seas look like, no matter how distant the shore, I need not fear the journey because I know the destination.

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That’s when I see it. I’m reminded of the other boats in the raging sea. Some are much further out into the waters. Some have been tossed ruthlessly and it’s a wonder that they’re still in one piece. I can vaguely make out a much smaller vessel starboard, slightly foreign in its design, it’s battered and falling apart. The screams of the occupants are swallowed by the sounds of the sea as they hold tight to anything close to them that hasn’t been loosened by the ruthless waves.

But it’s their eyes, not their voices, that call out to me. Because I can see it. Beyond the fear, beyond the despair, is the hopelessness. And it hits me harder than any of the waves. They haven’t seen Him! They have yet to hear that still, small voice that calls out to them in the middle of the storm! Suddenly, I’m frantic to get to them. Oh, not because I can save them (no more than I can save Hubby and the kids next to me), but to tell them about the One that can. About the One that can not only make you brave, but fill you with a hope and peace that defies circumstances.

I’ve been doing a lot of bailing water lately. Even though I know where my strength comes from, that I can do all things through Christ, I still occasionally fall victim to lies from the pit. More often than I’d like. It isn’t until my anxiety returns, that I’m in tears and on my knees that I realize I’m trying to do this life alone again. The whispered lies that I’m useless, a failure, not smart enough, efficient enough, organized enough,

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have me convinced I need to appear more than I am. If everything is okay on the outside, I will be okay on the inside. And the enemy has me just where he wants me. Paralyzed, focused on myself.

Then, God reaches down, lifts up my face, and reminds me that I’m His. And because I’m His, it’s my joy to follow Him out upon the waters, no matter what they look like. And it’s amazing what, and who,  I see when I’m not focused on me.

This last week I had the privilege to hear an update and a sermon (which inspired this blog) from some beautiful people from an amazing organization called Tutapona. They provide trauma rehabilitation to refugees from war torn countries in Uganda and Iraq. Widows and orphans. The least of these. These refugees have suffered unspeakable trauma, the most unimaginable storms. They’re left with wounds far deeper than a surgeon can reach. They have reached refugee camps where they’re provided with their most basic needs. Which is amazing. But they’re left with fear, shame and hopelessness that is crippling. Please take a moment to watch the mini documentary below and consider supporting people who are weathering some of the most violent storms. We all need to be tossed that lifeline of hope.

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You, with those walls….

You, with those walls…I see you.  Fear has kept you behind them but I hope love will draw you out.

I hear the exhaustion in your voice from a lifetime of battling alone. I see the anger burn bright in your eyes and fuel the strength for another day. To wake up again and build and maintain all of the walls of defense that tower so high they block out not just the perpetrators of pain, but any light and joy as well.

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I see the protective prison you’ve locked yourself in and I see the hurt hidden deep within the fortress, nearly hidden by all of the anger, resentment and bitterness blowing outside the walls.

All of this fire, brimstone, bluster and force to protect a heart broken, of course.

I know where you are because I’ve been there too. You and me, more alike than you knew. Have you felt it before? That there’s something wrong with this world and you don’t quite belong? That you were made for more than betrayal, pain and suffering? That it’s all just a bit too much and no one seems to be in charge? So we create our own little kingdom of safety, block out the bad and try to control everything within.

Constantly striving to create that one place where everything goes as planned, in the proper order, in its proper place. No surprises, no disappointments, no pain. No light, no joy, no freedom.

But now I’m outside the gates and my heart breaks seeing you still fighting to stay within them. Because I love you, I’m willing to weather the possible storm and share something with you.

You want to know what happens when the walls are built, the gate is closed? You’re trapped inside. It’s lonely and it’s dark. You exhaust yourself maintaining your defenses; going over battle plans. You have yet to realize that safety is not synonymous with happiness. In fact, those wounds unhealed fester and bleed new because you’re all alone with them, picking at them, making them raw and not letting them heal. I know you’re worn out and I pray every day that you are tired enough to stop fighting alone; that you would realize that what you’re doing isn’t working.

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I long for the day that you will realize that all of your seeking, struggling, wrestling and striving to find happiness has led you to a prison of your own making. That you would see your defenses have kept you from not only giving, but receiving love. Worse, in your need to protect yourself from hurt, you’ve inflicted hurt on the very people you love most. How I hope you would learn that safety, rest and happiness are not found in a climate, a location, a bank account, the condition of your house, but a Person!!

That you would know that the way to healing is straight through the pain with the only One with the power to heal it!

There is freedom outside those walls of yours! A life free of anger, resentment, bitterness and pain. True joy in life! Freedom to remember the hurt inflicted by others but not let it rule your life and keep you from your own peace; to live the life you’re meant to. A life where forgiveness and grace abound. I pray that God would tear down your walls more formidable than Jericho’s. That He would soften the tender heart you’ve worked so hard to shield. I pray that you would see past those walls to the abundant blessings you’ve been given and know that God has been with you all along. That every step of your journey, every heartache, every hardship, every mountaintop and valley has been used to bring you closer to the Father that loves you.

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So, now I pray that the Spirit would reveal to you the God who longs to walk with you through healing and true living. The God who can remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

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Oh! If you only knew the abundant blessings within your reach should you just forfeit your kingdom for His.

**Names of the guilty have been omitted, except myself, which has been one of the greatest offenders of all.

Do you see things unseen?

As Christians we base our eternal lives, our very souls, on things unseen.

2 Corinthians 4:18

18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

We believe not just in God, but every truth He reveals to us through His word, prayer, worship and Spirit. I believe He raised mountains, parted seas and tore down walls; though I didn’t see it happen. I know people who lived thousands of years ago. Their struggles, failures and the way God used it all to reveal Himself to me. I believe His Spirit lives within me to help and guide me, though it is a still, small voice to which I’ve never laid eyes on.

But I struggle with unbelief every day in a myriad of ways that might not be as obvious. Because I have yet to see. I worry about my family’s future because I have not seen it. Though I know His plans for us are good.

Jeremiah 29:11

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I push to the back of my mind the suffering of others because I have not heard firsthand their cries. I have not felt their tears, smelled the smoke, felt the earth shake beneath my feet or the gnawing hunger in my stomach. I have not seen their trauma or felt their particular broken heart and the hopelessness left in its wake.

It begs the question then. Do I believe in God, or do I actually believe Him?

James 2:19

19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

What makes my belief different than that of a demon? Do I believe everything He reveals to me? Do I truly believe it as if I’ve seen it first hand? And if I’m truly believing Him, what does that look like?

To truly believe is to follow. It is to take every God breathed word of the Bible as truth regardless of whether I’ve actually seen or known personally the people within it and to respond in a way that I’ve been instructed to. It is to hear the cries of God’s children whether they are within my own home, in my community, or half a world away.

2 Corinthians 1:4

who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

It is to give freely the gifts of grace showered upon me by a loving, generous Father because I know that He will provide for me. I have received His comfort in more ways than I can count. But have I given it as well?

James 1:17

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

 

It is to take up the great commission and share hope to the hopeless.

Some of us are called to the mission field into our own home, serving in a hundred ways no one but God will ever see. Some of us are called to serve our own communities, neighbors written off by the world. Still others are called to mission fields far away from the comfort and privilege of Midwest America. But all of us are called to believe and live a life broken and given to Christ. To live free of the chains of this world. This is great news! But it takes a commitment from us to live a life of belief. Believing the ultimate in unseen suffering, the suffering of Jesus, and staking everything we know and have on that truth.

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Sometimes I am deeply grieved by the products of my own unbelief. Selfishness, pride, worry and fear can keep me shackled to this world without me even being aware of it sometimes. But thankfully there is no need to despair of the condition of my heart! Thanks to Christ’s willingness to live broken and given for me, this condition is not terminal! In God’s infinite loving kindness, He even gives me a treatment for this condition. A way to help me experience the true freedom of the Gospel and sharing that healing freedom with my neighbors. Both seen and unseen.

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Mark 9:24

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

*emphasis mine

Lord, I believe; help me overcome my unbelief! Please help me listen to and be guided by Your Spirit. Please give me Your eyes to see and soften my heart to feel for all of Your children. Reveal to me these things I’m holding more dear to me than You. Show me how to honor You with the time, gifts and resources You’ve given me. Help me to see beyond me, to hear above the noise and to run hard after You. In Jesus name, Amen.

If you see, and if you are feeling so lead to believe in the unseen suffering in the images above, I’d ask you to prayerfully consider helping! You can find out more about the need, and how you can help by visiting the link below.

http://livebeyondwords.org/