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.

The lumpy, bumpy road…

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

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

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

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

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

In my breast.

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

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

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

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

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

When Psalm 41 flashed insistent through my head.

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

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

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

Psalm 41

1, 2 & 3…

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes I’m wrong…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was also puke.

So.

Much.

Puke.

Strep throat.

A few times.

The loss of my mother-in-law.

A surgery for tonsils and adenoids.

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

The realization that God was sending me home, again.

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

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

And maybe this song. 😉

Twice Saved

I met her twenty years ago, before either of us had met Jesus. Back then she sat in her recliner opposite the matching one her husband occupied, wearing what I would come to recognize as her typical uniform of worn out flannel and faded sweatpants. Hair cropped short and not a stitch of artificial color on it, or her face, she sported twenty year old glasses and a deep, rough, smokers laugh as she told stories of hunting and “mudding” and cleaning fish with her bare teeth. Okay, I made up the last part about her teeth, but she definitely cleaned her own fish, along with anyone else’s. She was “butch” before being butch was cool. She fascinated and scared me in equal measures…and I was dating her son.

Over the next several years, we’d shop together, eat together, smoke together and laugh together. Turned out she wasn’t as scary as she seemed and neither was her son. I married him and gained her.

She liked to tease that she liked me better than him and that there were no refunds, he was mine for good. But she’d prove over and over again that she loved us both the same. She called me her daughter, and he was still her son. She’ll always be my Mom.

We built our home, and our family, right next door to this lady with the men’s size 10 feet. And those feet would regularly make the trek between the houses for awhile. Three grandkids would soften and delight that rough around the edges lady in ways I hadn’t seen coming. They’d light up her face and dull her colorful vocabulary.

Until those work damaged arms screamed loud for pain meds. And the doctors gave them.

And then gave more.

Until that hard working, hard loving, hard living Mom stayed put in that worn out recliner for years. Barely recognizable, she stopped working, stopped loving and stopped living. Sometimes only awake for a few hours a day.

We thought we lost her for good then. That generous lady that sent diaper coupons to distant nieces and nephews starting their own families, dozens of bottles of baby soap and lotion to the ones that were close, paper plates and napkins for every family get together and cards to everyone for every occasion.

Then, just when we were grieving our own personal tragedy…she met Jesus.

Now, when a person taking enough oxycontin to bring down a horse tells you they’ve been talking to Jesus, you don’t take them too serious like. You start believing that this is about to be another personal tragedy. And you start crying out to your own personal Jesus (the One that tends to speak to you through His Word, in your prayer closet, not in the flesh) for some relief.

That’s when it happened. It turned out her Jesus and our Jesus were the same and He told her to dump out her pain medication, that she didn’t need it anymore. So she did.

Because Jesus can reach you even in a drug induced fog and when He tells you to do something….you do it.

Twenty years of narcotic use fell away like as many chains, gone as quickly as those pills skittered and slid to the bottom of the garbage can. And those doctors that gave them to her? Kept her for three days to witness a miracle by the Great Physician. No withdrawal, no pain. Until they finally said they had no reason to keep her and no medical explanation for what just took place.

Her miracle wasn’t without some consequences though. Twenty years of increased doses did some damage to both brain and body but for the next two years she learned to live and love hard again and we enjoyed every minute of learning to live with, and love her, back.

She played BINGO, returned to competitive shooting, watched middle school orchestra concerts and elementary school programs. She went to movies, the town fair (complete with kiddie rides), filled grandkids full of junk food and ice cream, and even learned how to use a debit card. She laughed, and played, and even though she might not have had the capacity to read and study the Bible, I absolutely believe she knew and trusted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.

In fact, she’d tell you He saved her twice.

Today, my greedy, selfish, heart is a little disappointed it doesn’t appear that He’s going to save her a third.

I’m grieving the pending loss of our Mom and Grammy from this world while trying to remember to be grateful for the gift she was. Trying to thank Him for giving her back to us once, long enough to soak up her silly personality and sweet generosity at a time we desperately needed both.

Praising a loving Savior powerful enough to save us from both the grave, and the chains that bind us here.

Rejoicing in the knowledge that no matter what, we will meet again, in heaven.

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!

New Things

I was at a friend’s house this week in the historic part of our little Midwest town. As we caught up over the sound of squealing and under the sound of small elephants racing above our heads, I smiled wide at the memories our kids were making upstairs and the conversation we were having downstairs.

I will admit to being slightly distracted though. Not by the cacophony above our heads, but by the fact that it took a minute to distinguish exactly where each noise was originating from. You see, this house is a plethora of old wood floors, charmingly squeaky and winding staircases, clever little nooks and lots of original cabinetry disguised as furniture. I love it even more for it’s scarcity. One of the things I miss the most about New England is it’s history. The way nothing is torn down, but made new. How old homes change with each new owner. Everything here is new construction. And though I love our own home here, it has not yet achieved the character that this one has.

I’m falling a bit in love with it’s noises when I remember another favorite house of mine. My grandparent’s house when I was growing up. Oh, the sweet memories of racing around that house with little cousins! Laughter bouncing off walls as we bounced down the “hidden” staircase. Screaming scared at having to retrieve something next to that old boiler. The endless circles as we raced and explored every crooked inch of that house. Every corner a hidden treasure.

I think what I love the most is how these old houses have morphed, changed, grown and adapted to their occupants. A wall here, new shelves or flooring there, they evolve with the families they hold.

And over time, as their contents grow, they often do too. An extra room for an extra child. Maybe a garage when Dad’s paycheck grows too. Eventually, they’ll burst at the seams with big kids, big personalities and big future dreams.

And just like a new birth, just when there’s no more room in there, they send forth bright, shiny new (hopefully) adults.

And….now I’m all misty. Forgive me while I have a mom moment. There were lots of big “firsts” in my house this week. Loss of last baby tooth, loss of first baby tooth, etc. Also, I may have just fully comprehended that I am sending Oldest Son to High School.

I’m also sending Baby Girl to Middle School.

And as if that’s not enough for one poor mother to handle…Mini Hubby is starting Kindergarten.

Feel free to send me Kleenex.

And waterproof mascara.

So, I’m waxing nostalgic and thinking of how quickly this time thing goes. About big, old houses giving birth to new generations. Yup, sappy. Maybe more like a brand new car off the assembly line? Except each one completely unique. Boasting a sticker, Hand Crafted, Handle With Care, or maybe, Organic (If you’re considering smell).

Yes, I’m a tad emotional this week. I’m also worrying about our house. About what it will look like someday. And are we making the right choices to ensure the best outcome and best possibility for our kids to be fully independent someday? We have a lot of unknowns. But I’m also grateful. Because as I’m tempted to worry about the future of my own little unique creations, I am reminded that they bear another sticker, SOLD.

They don’t belong to me. They have a Father who loves them more than I’m capable of loving. One who knows exactly what’s best for them and is with them even when I can’t be (like in kindergarten, middle school or high school). They’ve been paid in full. And the cost that was paid for them was phenomenal! You don’t make that kind of investment and then not take care of it. Whenever they leave this nest, I know they’re in good hands.