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.

Seasons

I stepped outside last week and smelled it. That “fall is coming” smell. Even though it was 80° and humid I could still make out the crisp, wet, smell of decay in the slight breeze. This makes some people excited. They start posting on Facebook about sweatshirts and bonfires and pumpkin flavored everything. Usually paired with pictures of pretty leaves. Other people, like Hubby and Mini Hubby look forward to the first frost with eager anticipation to put an end to their allergy induced misery. I am not either of these people.

I hate fall. I know, some of you probably just cringed and gripped your pumpkin latte a little tighter. Bear with me. I’ve really tried to like fall. I have! I’ve tried to embrace the changing leaves but in the Midwest, this is a VERY short window. I’ve baked a gazillion apple pies. I even tried buying some mums. But alas, to me, fall is simply change.

You may remember that I am not a fan of change. Nope. Predictability, sameness and boring. That’s me. So, I do not look forward to daylight that ends at 4 in the afternoon. I don’t look forward to adding twenty minutes to my morning bundling children, heating up the van and looking for the dreaded missing glove. I don’t enjoy the look of bare trees and dead plants. I want sunshine and color.

I like summer. No bulky coats and flip flops every day. I like long days outside in the fresh air, fresh fruits and veggies at every roadside stand, late mornings and later nights. With my kids.

Ahhh… here is part of my hang up this year. I am especially distraught this fall because my last baby is leaving the house for kindergarten. Mini Hubby has been looking forward to it for months. His backpack has been packed, hanging on it’s hook, for a month. His lunch box has been put on the counter at least once a week in preparation. He’s very excited to be heading to school like the big kids. His momma is not.

Seasons.

It’s been fifteen years for me. I have thoroughly enjoyed this season. And, like summer, I don’t want it to end. I don’t want fall. I don’t want my babies to go to school. What I want, is for them to be little forever. I love snuggling babies, sitting in a rocking chair all day and folding tiny socks. I love chasing toddlers with chubby feet, sticky hands and belly laughs. I love playdates and coffee dates. I love baking and cooking family favorites and volunteering in classrooms and on field trips. I love being able to serve my family and my church family in as many ways as my schedule allows. I also kind of like yoga pants and ponytails and worshipping barefoot in my kitchen.

But I’m done with these things. You see, I’ve got a job. Now, don’t freak out, my stay at home mommas, I am certainly not implying you don’t have a job. Remember, I think it’s the best job. But, I’m starting an actual paying job. And it’s a good one, I think. I will be working in the special education department of our High School. So, really, I’ll be even closer to Oldest Son and right across the street from Mini Hubby. Technically, closer to them than I’d be if I was at home. This job has many good things about it. The type of work (really, I’m so excited to meet these kids!), the same schedule as my babies, and maybe the added bonus of keeping close to them during some really tough years. Not to mention a second paycheck for when a car breaks down. It’s going to be good.

Really.

As soon as I get past this grieving over ending seasons.

There are a few things I need to work out. Like, how does one serve God faithfully in a secular position?

I’ve kind of enjoyed singing and dancing and reading and praying through my hard days. How do I do that now? I feel like that might turn some heads at the High School.

Why is it that the first child out the door clings to your leg in tears and the last one practically runs out on his own?

How do I serve my family well when so much of my time will be poured into other people?

How can I possibly love this next season as much as I’ve loved this last one? Will I ever?

This is the part that has had me crying at the drop of a hat this last week. Well, that and probably some hormones and a decided lack of chocolate due to this elimination diet I’ve been on over a month. But those are different blogs altogether.

So many questions, so many unknowns, so many feelings. This last week I have almost constantly reminded myself that God Is faithful, He knows exactly where I’m supposed to be, and He’s got me during this season, just as the last. But, if you’ve made a similar transition, if you’ve struggled through a changing season yourself, feel free to leave me some encouraging comments and/or reminders of Truth! I’d appreciate it!

UPDATED: Approximately four hours after publishing this post, I was curled up in my closet. You know, trying to work through some of these questions. I was listening to YouTube when this song came on immediately after praying for peace with our changing seasons. I’ve never even heard this song before. I can’t even make this stuff up if I tried. Listen!

The Other Mothers

This mother’s day is a bit different than the past four. In a good way. Or a mostly good way. It started a few days ago when Oldest Son and Baby Girl had their latest appointment in neurology.

Neurology hasn’t been my favorite. This place of MRI’s, EEG’s, spinal taps, bloodwork and few answers but more questions makes my heart race nervous in the parking ramp. That day though, kids touched noses, hopped on one foot and images stayed the SAME. This momma breathed deep, exhaled grateful and smiled to her eyes for holding steady. Steady hands, steady legs and steady labs. This momma stayed up late overflowing grateful. And guilty. Heart rejoicing and heart weeping. Oh, she sang praises on the floor of her closet, wrapped warm in undeserved grace. Then prayed hard for the other mothers.

All of this mothering is hard. SO hard. But there is some mothering that hurts more than others.

The kind of mothering that happens when you lose a child to mother. I saw that this week. Prayed for that momma and hurt for that momma as she stood in front of a school she no longer had a child at. What does one do when you have a lifetime of love for that child and the lifetime is far too short?

The kind of mothering that happens when a child goes their own dangerous way. Prayed for one of those beautiful mommas this week too as she watches and prays and waits. Waits for that child’s saving, fully aware that she can’t be the one to do it.

The kind of mothering that happens when one does all the things to be a mother, but hasn’t been given the gift of the child. I prayed for one of these precious ladies too. For she has helped mother my own babies. Will continue to pray that she understands the beauty of mothering whatever children God gives you, no matter what that looks like.

And finally, the kind of mothering that happens with a special needs child. These other mothers weighed heavy on my heart this week. Because not all of them get to hear good, steady, news.

These other mothers stare fiercely brave into the hardest things. Things they won’t tell you. But I will. So you can pray for them too.

Their sleepless nights last far longer than those infant years. These warrior mothers navigate hospital halls, insurance denials, government paperwork and medical equipment. Always advocating, always fighting. They have grieved a diagnosis, mourned a prognosis. And if it’s a degenerative condition, they’ll grieve the loss of each ability, one by one, over and over again. And at the end of their hard days, their want to give up days, they might break a little knowing the only break they’ll get is when their heart breaks.

Or, they don’t have a diagnosis at all. Oh, I’m hurting for these other mothers too this week. You see, our diagnosis is CTX. And after years of research, I know about all the mommas before me that knew something was wrong. That did all the things to find the answers. And lost their babies before they found out what they were. I also know that there are likely hundreds of mommas out there right now, praying for this diagnosis and might not get it in time.

You see, I know I’m the momma that’s had a few hard years. But I’m also the one that gets the diagnosis, the treatment, the good doctors and the steady news.

So this Mother’s Day, I’m rejoicing and grateful for good news. And I’m praying for all the other mothers. That they know The Good News. That they find their rest in the only One who can give it to them. And that they know that there are mommas praying for the comfort and strength they need to persevere.

Birthday Suit

Trigger Warning!

If you fear aging, or vague references to female anatomy, this blog post may not be for you.

If, on the other hand, you are brave and have a sense of humor, forge ahead!

Today I’ve turned 38. I’ll wait for the applause to die down.

I know, big stuff, right?! Believe you me, I’m as surprised as you are. (This is even more shocking for anyone that spent time with me as a teenager.)

Unlike some people, I’ve always really enjoyed my birthday. Even as I’ve gotten older. Maybe it’s the cake and presents. Maybe it’s because I value life a little more than I once did. Kind of strange, but I even love the lines by my mouth and eyes that prove years of laughter. Even my many scars come with great stories. I truly desire the wisdom gained by experience.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t take both the 18 year old body as well as the wisdom if given the opportunity, but since I live with a teenager it is very evident to me that one cannot have both a youthful body and wisdom. What I am saying is, that normally I’m very content with the trade off.

Now, all this to say that this is the first year I may have freaked out a little as my birthday approached. I believe it’s completely warranted but I’ll let you decide what you think.

For the past several months I’d been experiencing pain on my left side. As there was a lull in the kids’ medical care, I decided it would be a good idea to get it checked out. After a couple ultrasounds, a CT scan and plenty of bloodwork, it was determined that I had a cyst that needed to go, along with some girl parts that were no longer required (Congratulations, you survived the vague female anatomy reference). After some watchful waiting and discussing and a lot of sitting on the couch with a heating pad we decided laparoscopic surgery was necessary. I’ve had a few surgeries over the years so this was less upsetting to me than it was to Hubby. (Maybe because he knew he’d be mom for a bit?)

Surgery was a same day affair and really went off without a hitch. I generally have no issues with anesthesia and have actually been told I’m kind of a good time while sedated. After a little trouble getting my bladder to shake off the anesthetic, I was discharged and sent home that evening. This is when things sort of went downhill.

I was sitting on the couch, propped up with a half dozen pillows a day later when I started to cough. If you’ve ever had abdominal surgery you likely just winced and recoiled a little. And you’d be right. I drained a couple more glasses of water coffee, soda and juice as I tried my best to brace with a pillow for each cough but as the day wore on, the coughing grew worse. At this point, I am mentally cursing every drug addict that has been part of the opioid crisis that has left me without pain medication after surgery. I’m short on sleep and long on sarcasm. Not a great combination when I call the surgeon’s office begging for a cough suppressant. I may or may not have been a bit unkind when the very helpful nurse asked if I’d tried hot tea, bracing with a pillow over the incisions and a humidifier. She called in a cough suppressant.

Fast forward a couple of days and the cough has turned into the most horrible cough you have ever heard. The very helpful nurse calls and gives me the good news that the pathology of the cyst was benign. Yay God! But that endometriosis was confirmed. (Ha! Tricked you with another female anatomy reference! Don’t Google it. Trust me.) This did not make me any more kind.

Now, I’m gingerly “rushing” around the house to get the kids ready and out the door for school when it happens. The most horrible cough starts up. And this time won’t stop. Literally one after another, until I can’t breathe. My chest is actually sucking in as I’m clutching my sides in a vain attempt to stop the searing pain. I’m pretty sure I’m a goner. When I realize I’m going to throw up. I actually do run to the bathroom and almost make it. Almost. While I’m steadying myself to try to get down onto the floor I’m sucking in breath like a fish out of water. I know at least my eyes are bulging. And tearing. And because it can always get worse, my poor little over worked bladder decides it has also had enough.

So, there I am, gasping for breath, shaking, exhausted, in pain and covered in my own bodily fluids. I give up on the idea of getting the kids to school and stick them in front of the Xbox. I climb into the shower and I start to cry and pray and cry some more. When I’m done, I call the clinic for an appointment.

My sleep deprived brain goes right from the city of Molehill to the top of the mountain. I spend the remainder of the day looking around my house at all of the mess. The overflowing laundry baskets, the piles of stuff EVERYWHERE, the stack of unpaid bills, the children going on 6 hours straight of electronics and am certain that I’m worthless. I am falling apart. I can’t clean, cook, drive, do laundry or paperwork. I can’t even hold my bladder! By the time Hubby gets home I’ve just about taken the train all the way to Crazy town. He can’t possibly be attracted to me. Half my girl parts are gone (Sorry!) and of course I’ll just end up losing the rest of them because, well, endometriosis. Sigh. Hubby does his best to annoy distract me and I make it to my doctor appointment the next morning.

Insult to injury, I’ve accumulated another 4 lbs. Apparently even the most horrible cough and the vomiting are no match for my couch and church lady cooking. Feeling bad for myself, I was texting a sweet friend about my body falling apart and feeling a bit worthless when she re-reminded me of something.

“He can ONLY use a broken you.”

And when I got to the exam room:

I started thinking about how He couldn’t use the put together me. The had it all figured out me. The didn’t need anyone else, I’ll do it on my own me. The whole body works well me.

I started thinking about how focused I’d been lately on how the world saw me, instead of how the world would see Him in me.

This very sweet lady came in next and gently reminded me that I’d just had major abdominal surgery, with a complication of bronchitis. That I needed to give myself, and my body, some grace. Not to mention time. She sent me home with instructions to REST.

So, here I am, resting. In God’s grace. In His presence. And thanking Him for the present of a rather damaged birthday suit. He can work with that.

Friends in low places….

There’s this thing that happens when your world gets a lot shaken up. When the ground beneath your feet shakes, gives way, and everything kind of starts to fall down around your ears. Some people are going to run. These same people may have been there from the beginning. May have helped you build all those crumbling things. But when things really got scary, they headed for safer ground. They may have glanced back over their shoulder, hearts in their eyes, but they half jogged away. Now, I’m not blaming them. Really. I’ll explain why later, but first I want to tell you about the others.

Then, there are the other people. The ones on the outskirts that happen to hear the roar, that even as the ground is giving it’s last rattle, are already calling out to you in the rubble. The ones that rush forward, roll up their sleeves, and start digging through the debris. When the dust settles a bit and the Son starts to break through in rays of light shot through darkness and you start to stumble your way out of the mess, they meet you with open arms. They brush off some of that dirt to clear your eyes and start feeding you living water. You start to catch your breath.

And these people, they stick like glue. Even as remnants of the past are raining down on your head, they drape an arm across your aching shoulders and walk beside you through it. As the aftershocks rumble through what’s left of your life and you’re standing shocked and overwhelmed, they start picking through what’s salvageable, identifying what’s not, and arranging for what’s needed. They work tirelessly to meet your needs, physical, emotional and spiritual. The labor of their hands surpassed only by the labor of their hearts.

They don’t stop there. Remember, like glue. They stand ready to help you rebuild. They point out the defects of the previous structure, and make sure, this time, you’re building on solid Rock. A firm foundation.

We’re rebuilding, from the ground up. It’s quite a process. One, I’ve heard, that takes a lifetime. We’re learning that these people are part of the process. Strategically placed, by a loving Father, to bless us in ways we’d never imagined. We thank God for them daily. For their encouragement, support, prayer and almost constant help.

And here’s why I don’t blame the ones that ran. We can make terrible friends. If you don’t know and follow Jesus, there’s really no worldly reason to stick by us.

What’s happened to us is likely one of people’s biggest fears and something they’d rather not come in contact with. Not that we’re contagious, but we’re a reminder that hard things happen. Could happen to them. Something they’d rather not think about. People who love Jesus tend to have less fear of the unknown and more trust in a loving God to get them through whatever He allows for them.

Also, we often give little back. Put plainly, we’re needy. We have seasons when all of our energy, both physical and emotional, necessitates our total focus on the kids. That leaves little time to invest in others and begs people to invest in us. Unless you are giving of your resources, time and energy to follow Jesus, you will quickly tire of these things not being reciprocated. Frankly, there’s not always much to be gained by caring for us.

And recently, it’s come to my attention, that it’s just plain hard to do life with us sometimes. So, if you ran the other way. I understand. You’re forgiven. Completely. Because I’ve been forgiven. And because I can’t say with all certainty, that I wouldn’t have done the very same thing before I’d been saved by grace myself.

Now, just one more thing….

Dear friends that stick with the power and love of Christ,

Thank you. And stop it. No, not the sticking. We sincerely appreciate that. But the “survivors guilt”. When the ground isn’t actively shaking beneath our feet, allow us to love and care for you in any way we can. This is the truth in love right here. It is a kindness to help us not only keep our gaze up, but out. When our entire focus isn’t absolutely required for some major thing we might have going on, it’s not healthy for us to be focused on ourselves. We welcome those seasons! And we welcome the opportunity to talk about the “normal” difficulties we all encounter in a fallen world. Please don’t let our different circumstances separate us. We are, after all, headed in the same direction. None of our journeys are easy. And we might not be able to help at that moment. But what a blessing for us if we are! And if we can’t help in a tangible way, we’re privileged to pray! One of the greatest gifts God has given us is a community of people who not only grieve and rejoice with us, but the ability to come alongside and grieve and rejoice with them. We want to be part of both. Even if our grief and joy may look a little different. Allow us to be your friend in your low places (and the high ones too). We’re eternally grateful to have you in ours.

Love,

The Blanchards

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! 😊

Love Like A Hurricane

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The blaring music bounced off of slowly filling stadium seats, vibrated the grass beneath our feet and mingled with voices raised to accommodate the volume. Careful to stay on the correct side of the yellow painted line we wove our way among the throng of people jockeying to get a good position to see their favorite players on the field. Even to a non-competitive like myself, the excited, nervous anticipation was a palpable thing. One could almost smell the testosterone mixed in with the concession foods. This was prime people watching territory and for a detail person like me, quite overwhelming. I can only imagine the rush of emotions for Oldest son, the “Wish Kid”.

I’m embarrassing him completely by taking goofy selfies on the 30 yard line and pushing him at a large group of bouncing cheerleaders for yet more pictures because even though he’s taller and wider than I am, I still have some authority and I take full advantage. As we’re doing our best to match names to faces of men covered in football gear on the field and kicking balls into nets, we turn to see Oldest son’s favorite player. And this momma’s eyes fill and spill over at the smile on my man/boy’s face. All of a sudden there are TV cameras and a circle opens up in which he gets to be the center. He and this player he has memorized stats for, watched countless plays of and whose last name he sports on his jerseys. I’m doing my best to snap pictures of a ball and jersey being signed but in truth can’t see the screen of my smart phone anyway. Instead I’m wiping tears and running nose on my sleeve because I know that this particular man/boy knows that being in the center does not always feel good and I wasn’t quite prepared for the look of relief and joy he would shoot me.

Because I’m his momma I know. I know how much this means to him. Being diagnosed with a genetic disorder in Middle School does not generally place one in a position of acceptance by peers. Missed school does not help one to excel academically. Missed practices and extended periods of restricted activity do not help one become the star player of their team. And the differences in the way one’s mind and body function do not make social interaction any less awkward than they already are at this age.

But because his Heavenly Father loves him more, knows him more, He knew what our man/boy needed. And because He is sovereign, loving, faithful and totally extravagant in His grace, He could provide it. Oh, it wasn’t necessarily the amazing trip, the sideline passes or the meet and greet with a favorite player. Nope. He needed to know just how much he’s loved. That even if he can’t see how God’s plans could possibly be good for him or glorify God in any way, God is still very much for him. Present and active in his life. Because when you’re a man/boy with a genetic disorder that creeps into so many aspects of your young life, it can sure seem like that’s not the case. No matter how many times your momma tells you.

Then there are fireworks at one end of the stadium and it turns out this is the signal to vacate the sidelines. It also means that if you’re not quick enough in the tunnel, the opposing team will, in fact, overtake you. We hustle to seats provided, laden with trays of food and bags of merchandise into rapidly filling stands. Over the next few hours I get to watch Oldest son scream, jump and fist pump his way through four quarters of football. Caught up in his excitement and a new love for a team that showed my baby such kindness I will confess to praying for the outcome of a football game for the first time ever. So, if you’re a Jaguars fan, you’re welcome!

But, there was far more than one victory that night. As we got into the relative quiet of the limo (Yes, his Wish was complete with limo ride), and the conversation centered on the events of the night it hit me. Just as powerful as the hurricane that had recently swept through the lower level of our hotel. God’s love for us just about took the wind out of me. The words to David Crowder’s song came forcefully to mind.

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane
I am a tree, bending beneath
The weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me

Palm trees staked up and stripped bare but still standing flashed by tinted windows and this time my heart turned over with the sheer force of His love for us. All of us. Grateful for every moment on this trip that His love spoke louder than any circumstance, good or bad.
And we are His portion
And He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking
When heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way that He loves us

Tangible reminders of His love for Oldest son litter our entire house. Rather than pick up the tee shirts, water bottles, caps and bags, I am leaving them out. Thanking God for the gifts and praying that each time my confused feeling man/boy looks at them he remembers the Love that gave them to him.

Fierce.

     Relentless.

          Powerful.

 

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/

 

Pray First II

PROGRESS REPORT 2017

**Please see Pray First for last year’s blog post.

5:00 a.m.- Mini Hubby sneaks into bed

5:30 a.m.- I am awakened by a head butt, pajama clad foot, or small fist to the face.

6:00 a.m.- Oldest son is rummaging for breakfast.

6:05 a.m.- Mini Hubby decides it’s time to get up and I stumble into the bathroom to help him get out of footie jammies. Make rookie mistake of squatting in front of him while he does his thing. Change my pajamas.

6:15 a.m.- Remind Oldest Son to match, brush teeth, wash face, put deodorant on, take meds, finish breakfast. Put down the electronic! Pack backpack, get lunch, and put boots on.

6:30 a.m.- Daughter is up, sort of.

6:45 a.m.- Remind Oldest Son of several of above. Have a great day! Kiss your mother goodbye!

7:00 a.m.- Breakfast for other two. Meds and clothes for Daughter. Wrestle all eight arms and six legs of unwilling toddler into clothes.

7:15 a.m.- Braid four feet of Daughter’s hair. Pack backpack with folder, snow pants, gloves, hat and lunch. Remind her to wash her face, brush her teeth and put deodorant on.

7:30 a.m.- Start van. I’m on the clock now. I have fifteen minutes, give or take, to check in.

7:35 a.m.- Mad dash to my closet! Turn on worship song of choice (Lately, this has been Give Me Jesus **Note: On really tough mornings this is played while I’m hiding under my blankets in the fetal position**) and focus my heart and gaze on the One I’m kneeling for. Thank God for another crazy day, for the air in my lungs and fifteen minutes with Him. Pray for help serving this family with joy and selflessness and for guidance throughout my day. If it’s a really good day, I will finish and have a chance to just rest a moment in His presence. Or, today, my phone will ring.

7:50 a.m.- Oldest Son calls to see if I can drop off his forgotten glasses. Find Daughter with an entire box of crayons emptied onto table and request she get ready for school instead. Find Mini Hubby sans clothes watching cartoons. Retrieve discarded clothes from one end of house to the other and tickle the octopus on steroids into submission (clothes). Who gave him yogurt?!

8:00 a.m.- Coats, boots, hats and out the door!

8:05 a.m.- Run back in for Daughter’s school shoes and Oldest Son’s forgotten glasses.

My day continues the way it starts with more chaos and more prayer. I’m truly grateful for a God that doesn’t require an appointment. He takes walk-ins and is never over booked, or too busy. I pray in the van (a lot), the kitchen, on the floor folding laundry, in waiting rooms, drop off and pick up lines (yes, I’ve been honked at) and at the foot of little beds. Actually, it may have been easier to list where I have not prayed. But though I’m thankful for these moments, they’re not my favorite. Because you see, God gave me another gift this past year….

The foot of closet space I claimed, painted, hung up a cork board and found clearance lights from Target for. My quiet place to pray!

This is my favorite. Though someday I may get that hour in the morning to start my day, for now, He meets me here after the house is asleep. It’s just me and Him. And He uses every minute. Oh, the things I’ve learned this year!

For example. The piece of scripture that has most influenced my prayer life. Psalm 116:2 Why?

Because He bends down to listen!

He wants to hear me, to hear from me! I can no longer imagine God too busy taking care of much bigger things to listen to little insignificant me. Or that He is bending down and checking His watch at the same time! Waiting for me to untangle my thoughts into words, while tapping his foot. After all, He’s never required me to have my ducks in a row before coming to him in the past, why would prayer be different? The best thing though, is sometimes when I’m gathering thoughts and stop talking, He responds! This is so exciting, I have (maybe once or twice) squealed, “Love you, Bye!” and popped up off the ground like a Jack in the box. Like I just got great news on a long distance call from a relative. Then I have to settle back down and thank Him properly.

Not every night is a revelation. He’s also taught me that I need to bring my heart. And to be honest, some nights that’s all I have to bring. Some nights my Bible remains unopened, my prayer journal not written in, and my prayer list forgotten. But I still bring myself. And the knowledge that He knows my heart, my mind, and everything I can’t yet put into words. That’s okay too.

I am extremely grateful for the chance to look back at last year’s Pray First blog and to be encouraged by progress, not perfection. Because at this year’s Pray First I was convicted once again with a growth area for me. Praying aloud. In front of people. Without getting hives or hyperventilating. I wish I was exaggerating. I truly am getting better at this. I can do it. For a short period of time, and not eloquently. But I am still so very aware of the ears around me that I struggle to dig through the complete black hole my mind becomes to find every word. Why is this so hard for me?!

A part of me does not want to share my  vulnerability with anyone but God. My time in prayer is still very private and I cry (a lot), and do things like jump up off the floor in excitement. These are things I don’t particularly want to do in front of other people. So that had me thinking. Is it me being self conscious? Because I don’t want to be. I want to be God conscious. I want to be able to focus solely on Him regardless of who is next to me. So, I think this will take practice and time for me. And a lot of benadryl?

What ways have you grown in prayer this last year? What areas of growth do you have? Come on, don’t be shy! After all, I told you about being peed on!