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.

Multiplied

basket-bread-rolls-fish-750x330.jpgI unloaded the kids’ school paraphernalia out of the back of the van to make room for the two black construction size bags filled with clothes that needed to be dropped off at our local clothing center. I was already fighting a panic attack before I’d even left the driveway.

Before you ask, no, I don’t always panic at the thought of being separated from the clothes I’ve dug out of the bowels of my children’s closets. Nope, you see, the donation was a well timed front for my true destination. Which was giving me all the early symptoms of a panic attack.

I pulled into the parking lot at dusk, wishing it was just a bit darker. Shutting off the van I took a deep breath and opened the driver’s side door, right next to a sweet girl I went to high school with. Because that’s what happens when you don’t want to be seen in a small town. All one has to do is not shower, have a bad hair day, or forget to put deodorant on, and you’re guaranteed to run into someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Every. Time.

Except this time I was showered, my hair was presentable and though I was sweating, I was still okay in the odor department. This time, I had something bigger to hide than poor hygiene. No worries! I have my two bags of donations, they’ll never know what I’m up to. It’ll be fine! Until she kindly offers the services of her husband to carry said bags for me. Still okay! I will just drop the bags and they’ll be on their way. As we walked through the parking lot catching up a bit she tells me they’re headed into the building too, for a community education dance class for the adorable toddler holding her hand. My nervous brain finally processes the pink leotard and leg warmers. My too bright smile masking the new panic as I realize they’re headed in the same direction I am.

I drop off the bags, say my goodbyes, and head back to the safety of my van. That’s it. I’m not doing it. I even start the van again before I realize I don’t have a choice. The refrigerator is as empty as our bank account and pay day isn’t for three more days. This is when I start to think I’m suffocating. That someone has snuck up and sucked all the air out of my van and caused this crazy fear to grip my throat. I jump back out of the van, sucking in deep breaths of air. You know the kind. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I stuff all that fear back down to wreak havoc on my stomach instead and jog to the entrance of the food shelf before I can change my mind… again.

That’s right. My super secret, anxiety provoking mission is this tiny little grocery store replica tucked into our community center. I step quickly inside and take a seat with my back to the front door. I fill out the required paperwork and wait for my number to be called. The worst part seems to be over, as far as anxiety goes, but now I’m battling a new fun thing. Shame. I can’t even meet the eyes of the sweet ladies helping me. What I really want to do is curl up and cry. Then, I want to explain why I’m here. Then I start a running dialog with God on why I’m there.

How did this happen?

I did all the right things!

(Whine. Whine. More whining.)

Just as the tears start to win, a lady from the desk comes and stands next to me. It takes me a minute to figure out what she’s saying. And when I do, I’m a little confused. She’s asking about my purse. I think she likes it? I struggle for a minute to remember that I had inherited it from my mother’s closet. I told her I’d considered it a step up from the diaper bag I’d been carrying for what seemed the last 12 years. She laughed. I laughed. And I finally looked into her eyes. Where there was no condemnation, no pity, just kindness. Once she had my attention she started showing me the “ropes”. That it’s just like grocery shopping, only there’s limits listed on the signs. When you’re done, you bring your shopping cart to be weighed to “check out”. And then there’s a very sweet gentleman that will help you carry your things to the car, or you can pull up if there’s room.

As we’re loading my bags, in full cover of darkness now, I still take a few glances around hoping I haven’t been spotted. I thank the volunteer for his help and make a quick exit.

It occurs to me on the drive home that there is something probably wrong with my reaction. That though we’d routinely supported the local food shelf in the past ourselves, I had quite obviously had a few misconceptions not only about the “kind of people” that used it, but the way it was run. As the days and weeks passed, I became more and more convicted of my pride and self righteousness.

As the months wore on it became more and more clear that my faithful, thorough, relentless and loving God was totally committed to purging me of some of these blemishes of my character. Trust me, by the time we’d sold anything with value, come perilously close to losing our house, borrowed from our parents to get our daughter to the latest specialist and still had to dig through the change in the van to pay for the hospital parking fees… all semblance of pride in our circumstances had pretty much evaporated. Everything I have is a gift.

Now, this has been a couple of years ago now and God is continually chipping away at some of these ugly parts of me (which can be depressing) but sometimes I have to look back to see how far He’s brought me.

This week I was reminded of this day when I was feeling enormous guilt. Why? Because we bought new appliances. Like, brand new and delivered. There was a time I wouldn’t have truly appreciated them. A time I would have been the most excited about the way they looked and telling everyone about them (And now, as I’m typing, I realize I’m telling everyone about them. 😅 But in a totally grateful, praise be to God for His provision kind of way, right?).

I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at the invoice or agonized over what this money could do for someone else; where it might be better spent. I wouldn’t have thought long and hard on if I truly NEEDED them or not. I certainly wouldn’t have waited until only one burner on the stove worked and the dishwasher was continuously leaking before trying to replace them. And that crack in the sink? That wouldn’t have lasted a week, never mind three years!

Now, I’m not saying I don’t still roll in the mud of pride and self righteousness. That I don’t still care far too much about how my life “looks”. That I don’t regularly hourly need to be washed clean by the blood of Christ. But, every once in awhile I’m reminded that I’m a work in progress. The key word there being… progress!! I may not be who I want to be, but I’m not who I once was! Praise God!!

ef671dea865e9b7c31e033f5d1df6a7b.jpgIn celebration of the gift of another year of sanctification, 😉 I’m asking anyone that might be considering a card or gift for me to instead support our local food shelf. They were not only there when we needed them, but they showed more kindness than I’d imagined. Let’s help Five Loaves continue to multiply.

5 Loaves Food and Clothing

 

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

On Healing, Laughter and Joy

I wonder when August 19th will pass without me noticing.  Some of you can probably relate to an anniversary of something you don’t celebrate.  Two years ago, after searching over a year for a diagnosis for our daughter, we received a phone call with her test results that turned our life upside down.  Honestly, some days I still feel rather out of sorts.  But, for any of you that might be going through some rug pulling out from under you stuff right now, I want to share something with you on our anniversary.

You will laugh again. And if you continue to trust God through this, you’ll find joy in Him again too.

Oh, two years ago I was certain I would never laugh again without it being saturated in sadness.  That it would never quite reach my heart again.

I was also very unsure that I would ever find joy in my relationship with Christ again. For sure, there was a long period where I sought Him solely for comfort and peace I could find nowhere else. But would I ever rejoice in His presence again? Ever bask in His love for me? I just couldn’t see it.

In case you can’t see it either, here’s a story of healing, laughter and joy.

Last fall I traveled out of state for a meeting with the pharmaceutical company that makes the medication for two of our children.  Because of my past, I had a thing about flying.  Lots of things actually,  but mostly panic attacks and a whole lot of anxiety.  It wasn’t until I had made it to the gate on this trip that I realized I had made it sans attack.  There’s a blog post somewhere about it.  So, naturally, I was praising a healing God and feeling pretty good about this whole trip by the time wheels were up.

By the time wheels were down though, I had already forgotten Who I was traveling with and that I could totally do this thing. I looked at the time on my phone and was already calculating how much time I had to make it through the terminal, to baggage claim, procure a cab, check into the hotel and make it to the first meeting in time.

As I was exiting the plane, I happened to hear the flight crew talking about a certain president, major pop star and local baseball game all in this city over the next couple days. I became less and less sure about my timeframe.

Why did this airline decide they needed MY particular carry on to be checked at the gate?! Nevermind.  I’ll hustle.  Keeping in mind I’m only five feet tall,  my “hustle” isn’t as fast as I’d like.  By the time I make it to the baggage claim I’m sweating and out of breath and that’s only partially because I’m terribly out of shape.  Anxiety has returned.

No worries! My bag is one of the first on the carousel.  Hallelujah! Now, to find a cab. I happen to see a sign as I’m frantically reorganizing my paperwork that says something about this airport only permitting licensed taxis in designated areas for our safety,  blah, blah, blah as I head for the closest exit. I look left, then right, not a taxi in sight. Darn.  Where is this “designated area”? I head back in and down the line of baggage claims further, looking for a sign. I see nothing.

Okay,  I’ll try the next door and then I’ll just ask someone. As soon as I step out the doors a suspiciously well groomed man asks me if I’m looking for a cab.  All of a sudden, I feel like I should not tell him that is exactly what I’m doing.  It must be written on my face though because he then tells me he happens to have a cab,  just there across the loading area,  in that nice creepy parking ramp and if I’d just follow him he’s got great rates. Hmmm… what was that sign about my safety??

After politely and quickly refusing I actually do hustle back inside this time. I am dangerously close to a panic attack when I finally see a sign for the taxi pick up line. I make a dash for the line and put as much distance between me and the potential serial killer as I can. Although once in line, I see he has (suspiciously) disappeared.

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I am safely deposited into a “licensed” cab, give the gentlemen that isn’t so keen on hygiene the hotel name and try to take deep, calming breaths. I say “try” because I am suddenly being whipped around by a cab driver that must be practicing for the Indy 500. Every time he comes to a sudden, neck breaking, stop, I need to brace my foot against the seat in front of me and every time he goes, my empty stomach gets splattered all over my backbone. I am anxious and sweaty and now turning shades of green.  He must be color blind because in an effort to avoid traffic he starts cutting off the exits,  looping around and coming back on the freeway.  The fourth time,  my water bottle breaks free of my death grip and is being slammed all over the minivan and my purse takes a nose dive. I catch most of the contents mid air. I don’t dare close my eyes, but this is when I start praying. That I don’t throw up.  That I can start to breathe normally again. That I would survive to the hotel….

And the driver stops the cab.  In the middle of the freeway,  in rush hour traffic and reaches back and throws open the back door. I am absolutely stunned and my poor brain can’t figure out what in the world he’s doing except maybe throwing me out?

Then he points.  And asks me if I want to take a picture.FB_IMG_1503174027370

Of the brilliant rainbow.

Fumbling for my camera on the floor,  crying and belly laughing like a lunatic I squeal, “Yes!”. And I remember that I serve a God that brings healing.  Who also has an amazing sense of humor that has me belly laughing and rejoicing in His presence again.

Oh, and I made it on time, breathing, without throwing up.

 

 

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,

not enough,

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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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/

 

Let this cup pass…

I know that as followers of Christ we are to expect trial and suffering. But I find that expecting it and being prepared for it are two different things for me. Part of me conveniently forgets this truth until I’m staring at it, blinking in shock because it’s happening again.

A dear friend of mine, who has walked through no small amount of trial and suffering herself, recently was hit with more. Her walk through trial has so greatly encouraged my own and her wisdom, support, and encouragement have been such a huge blessing to me. My heart literally hurt to hear she was facing more. Yet through her pain, I was blessed yet again. This time through a conversation we had about cups (Yes, cups) and the resulting picture I was given.

I’m in a large upscale banquet room filled with tables covered in crisp white linen. Rows upon rows of us are seated. Expectantly waiting. Suddenly, there’s a shifting and murmuring as hands start passing along cups. From left to right and around to the other side, each table passes them one by one. Intrigued, I examine them as they pass through my hands.

Some are fine china, light and delicate with gorgeous, hand painted designs and gold rims. The handles so fragile I hold them on the bottom to pass them along. Others are of sparkling crystal creating orbs of prisms as they move along catching and throwing the light from the overhead lights. Still others are ornate goblets with designs that tell stories and inlaid with precious stones the size of robin’s eggs. I’m in awe of the differences, the uniqueness of each one, as I pass it to my right. Eventually I’m holding an earthen cup, more of a vessel. It’s edges are crude and it’s surface so rough and porous I’m sure that it can’t possibly hold anything.images-31 It’s ugly and it weighs far more than I think it should. In no small hurry, I look to my right to pass it along. Only to find their hands are still full. Looking around, I realize that everyone now has a cup. They aren’t moving anymore. Uneasy now, I glance to my left, hoping to pass it back the way it came. They actually lean away, protectively holding the cup they have. Increasingly alarmed, I look for sympathetic eyes, someone who might be willing to trade. I see pity and judgement in eyes averted. Overwhelmed, unable to bear holding it any longer, I place it on the table. My own eyes overflowing, I think if this is my cup, I don’t want one at all.

Head bowed, I rub my hands on my legs to try to rid myself of any remnants of that cup and I feel a hand on my shoulder. A gentle pressure. I look up through blurred lashes and make out an arm reaching in front of me and taking my cup. Startled, I look up into merciful, kind eyes looking straight into mine. “I don’t want it.” I whisper in explanation.

“I know.”

And His understanding kindness undoes me and I weep anew.

“It’s okay. Follow me.”

And because there is hope there, I do. Past curious glances I follow Him through the maze of tables and people and cups and I realize, they don’t even see Him. Puzzled and out of sorts, I follow Him through a doorway, into another room. The light is somehow softer here, but no less bright. There are people here too, but the tables are not covered in linen and they’re seated close together on benches. These eyes look right at me, and shift to my cup. But they’re not afraid. Instead, they shift to make room. Uncertain, I hover behind Him until He holds out a hand, calloused, yet soft, with remnants of clay under His nails. I take it, and my place at this table.

The people here, they lean in close while He dries the tears from my eyes. Through the open doorway I can hear music and too loud laughter. There’s clinking of dinnerware piled high with food and beautiful cups filled with drink. I can smell the abundance and see the chandeliers hanging high and glinting in florescent light. There’s a woman standing in the doorway with one foot in each room, her eyes distracted and pulled to the merriment next door. And I see Him get up, and hold out the same hand to her. Uncertainty and longing flashes quick in her eyes but she remains still.

“When you’re ready, follow me.”

The warmth here is greater than that next door and has little to do with the fire blazing in the hearth. There are no plates piled high with food or waiting in silver warmers. Instead, the fare is simple bread and wine and fills more than my stomach. I watch these people at the table with me as they share what they have and what they know. You see, it’s a work table and they’re looking up instructions in the books at their sides, helping each other. And their cups?

They’re being transformed by a master potter. Expertly washed and painted, they’re made new. Rough lines and crude material are made into the most beautiful of creations. And the fire?images-45 I’m now kneeling with a friend next to it, holding her hand. While He is reminding us that though it burns destructive hot to the wood within it, it’s bringing out incredibly unique colors and patterns. And when our cups emerge they will be more beautiful for the process and hold far more than they did before.

In the waiting, we’ll grow together and closer to Him. And maybe someday, when complete, we will no longer want to pass on these cups?

John 18:11

Jesus commands Peter, “Put your sword away, shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Light Glorious Light

Maybe it’s being immersed in a frigid Midwest winter. Or maybe it’s being a couple of weeks into our current series, Life Giving Light, at church in which we’re walking through the book of John. But as the snow piles up in subzero weather outside, I’m spending a great deal of time inside, thinking of light. The physical need for it, the Creator of it, artificial sources of it, the absence of it, and the reflection of it.

It’s a mix of sleet and snow which will undoubtedly wreak havoc on morning commutes, weigh heavy on power lines, and lay sheet-like on windshields. Scattered, wet, remnants of snowman construction and snow angel creation are littered in the entry and no matter how many times I try to get them to remove their boots before they hit my hard wood floors, dry socks will meet cold puddles at least a couple of times tonight. Rosy cheeks and running noses are now bundled into jammies and watching a movie snuggled on the couch. The overworked, tired, “builder special” dishwasher struggles loudly through another cycle and I can hear the jet engine spinning of the last load of laundry for the day. I, myself, am on the laptop checking things off of a never ending Mom list. As I pay the electric bill I glance up at the wildly blinking, multi colored Christmas tree, the several other strands of lights throughout the kitchen, and the crazy “light show” projection light the kids were sure our house needed. I wonder if they’d notice if I unplugged a couple?

The lights flicker, hum low, and go out. The TV shuts off and all of the noise comes to a sudden halt. And, because my laptop is almost as old as the dishwasher and needs to be plugged in, it shuts off as well. Plunged into quiet darkness, my pulse quickens as I reassure the kids it’s okay. To sit still while I find a candle. Eyes unaccustomed to total darkness, the room seems distorted and things much further away or closer than I thought. My stocking foot finds a wet puddle and I know I must be getting close to the table. I fumble to light the decorative Christmas candle. christmas-candle2

It sputters, spits and flickers bright, mellowing to a soft glow that reaches every corner of the room. Relieved faces smile back at me. And we start a puzzle.

I’ve written a lot about my experiences in the dark, and God’s incredible love and grace that shone through the haze of suffering to literally pull me free of it. There is truly nothing more beautiful than His saving light. Sometimes I mourn the years I didn’t see it. How many things did I miss? Opportunities to see His glory? Sitting in the dark, illuminated by a single light and distracted by no others, I realized.

What if I couldn’t see The Light, for the light? Bear with me here. I spent thirty years blinded by artificial light. Think about it. We live in a place of distraction and we’re attracted to bright, shiny, pretty, fun, things.

I can give you a list of mine. Family, money, career, house, cars, vacations, nail salons, restaurants, clothes with tags, shoes with boxes, shopping carts, “perfect” family photos, etc. Things that, plastered all over billboards and websites, shone bright, flashed joy, and fizzled out soon after. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still like pretty things. I am about as “girly” as a girl can get. I have not given away my marbles in exchange for new sight, I will joyfully accept a pedicure any day of the week. What I’m saying though is, these things kept me from seeing that One source of light that would truly bring me joy. The down to my pedicured toes kind. The eternal kind.

Now, here’s the hard part. For me, I did not fully embrace His light until it was the only one left. Until, enveloped in cloying, hopeless darkness, there was nothing I could do to bring myself joy. I couldn’t buy any, I couldn’t eat any, I couldn’t see any.

matches-lightThen there was that beautiful, merciful light….It sputtered, spit and flickered bright, mellowed to a soft glow and reached every part of my heart. Since then, I’ve noticed three things. How incredibly void of true light this world is. How incredibly beautiful that makes every small reflection of God’s glory shining through. And just how desperately I need that grace and joy filled light to live.

Every act of kindness, every gift of generosity, every reconciled relationship, every laying down of self. Whenever I catch a glimpse of His light my heart warms, my eyes spill, and I know a familiar joy. Whenever I am blessed by that joy, I want to reflect that light. What a beautiful design.

What if we were such a bright reflection of God’s glory everyone could see it? Even past all of the artificial light we are bombarded with?

For this child I have prayed

As a young child I longed to know that there was someone in control. My little heart cried out for comfort, security and protection.

When I got a little older I heard mention of God. Surely He would set right a world that didn’t make sense? Small hands asked for big things. That didn’t happen.

With the certainty and independence of adolescence I had decided that God must not exist after all. Convinced my circumstances proved me right, I stopped praying, crying, or hoping for change. I was on my own and it would be up to me to obtain what I so longed for.

It would be years before I cried again. Still longer for me to hope in someone other than myself. And a marriage, a toddler, and another pregnancy before I would pray again.

Twelve weeks into the pregnancy of our daughter I finally waded out of nausea and exhaustion to lunch with a friend. Pale, weary, and chasing a toddler, I was excited for some adult conversation and food that would stay, hopefully, down. Timidly finishing my lunch I scrambled to get our toddler son to the bathroom in time. After our third round of hand drying with the very entertaining blow dryer, I stood up and knew something was wrong. A quick check confirmed my fear. I was bleeding. Too much.

Heart sinking, hands shaking, I ushered our oldest back to the table and tried to bravely tell my friend I needed to get to the doctor. Thankfully, she took charge. All calm, reassuring and full of reason she told me to go right there, she’d meet me. Call Hubby and she’d watch the oldest until he got there. On auto pilot, I followed directions and shortly thereafter found myself in an exam room hearing the doctor echo my thoughts. Too much blood.

Sent to the hospital for an ultrasound I waited barely breathing to see the life still breathing inside of me. There it was! The tiny flutter of a bravely beating heart. Exhaling, my own started to beat again. Tears streaming down my face, I watched her bounce around oblivious to the turmoil she was causing outside. The technician did a thorough check and I was told “the pregnancy is still viable”. What she meant to say was, my baby was still alive. I needed to go home and rest and return the next day to check again. To call if anything changed.

As I laid in bed I prayed.

God, please don’t take her from me! I already love her!

For I knew she was a girl from the first.

Then I begged.

God, I don’t care if there’s something wrong, I don’t care if I need to spend the next six months in bed. Please let me hold her in my arms!

Finally, I bargained.

God, I know I’ve complained of the discomforts of early pregnancy but I will never do it again! She is worth every lost meal and I will be so much more grateful for the gift of her! Truly, every little flutter and bump of her exploring has been pure joy! Even when I’m laying on the bathroom floor. Please don’t take her away….

The next several weeks I rejoiced as the bleeding stopped, blood work came back fine and every ultrasound showed her contentedly growing, nestled in my womb. I thanked God, praising Him for His kindness and mercy.

Then, when given the gift of holding her in my arms, my heart overflowed with gratitude. This perfect tiny girl with the delicately arched eyebrows, pouty lips, and beautiful blue searching eyes was my miracle. My answer to prayer.

Several years later, I was still praying. Growing in my relationship with Christ when I found out that little miracle wasn’t perfect after all. How could He give me a healthy child, let me believe all these years that He answered my desperate prayers, and then just pull the rug out from under me? Betrayed and heartbroken, instead of turning away again I would fire off these questions, waiting for His answer.

And it came. Gentle like a whisper at the hairs on my forehead.

This IS the child for which you prayed.

Soft as a caress on the side of my damp cheek.

I formed her in your womb.download-5

Slowly, so that I’d understand.

I know every hair on her precious head. images-33

This child is still my answer to prayer. The same one He placed in my womb, the one I prayed to hold, the one He gave me.images-34

Through this child He’s answered so many prayers I thought had gone unanswered. For through her, He called me to Him. And through my journey with her, has taught me comfort, safety and security can only be found in Him.

So, for this child, my perfect answer to prayer, I will continue to pray.

When I see beyond me

I was barely five years old and I can still clearly see her standing in that old farm house kitchen. My Mom was all sharp angles and over processed 80’s bleach blonde hair. She was turned towards the wall where the worn out rotary phone hung. One hand with glossy red fingertips worrying the cord stretched and kinked from years of users trying to gain privacy and the other clutching the receiver and the ever present Misty. Even before she glanced over her shoulder with the miserable, apologetic eyes saturated in tears I knew something was wrong. I was already in the process of trying to hustle my four year old sister into the other room. Maybe it was the still clear memories of the past year or so, or maybe it was a carefully honed survival skill but I could usually sense trouble with just enough time to make a swift exit.

Over thirty years ago and I can hear the tinkle of the bell on the door of the local Ben Franklin the next day. In case you didn’t know, Ben Franklins were the Midwest’s small town one stop shop back then. We passed the register, aisles of fabric and yarn, and racks of clothes to the very back of the store. Down a slight incline and past the reaches of sunlight streaming from the front windows, it smelled of musty old carpeting and even older building. But, it housed tall shelves lighted by flickering fluorescent lights and full of toys! Instead of being excited, this made me suspicious. My five year old senses were ben-franklinscreaming that something was wrong. We did not go to a store and buy toys. In fact, I don’t remember even knowing this area, in the bowels of the store, even existed. And not only was my very quiet mother showing us the treasures back here, but she was telling us we could each pick out one thing. My sister immediately latched onto a My Little Pony play set. I already knew I didn’t want anything of what was going on. Whatever it was. But, Mom insisted. So, I gave in to the lure of the Cabbage Patch stuffed horse. I was relatively certain a stuffed animal would prove more useful than a My Little Pony carry along play set for what was coming and I tried to convince my little sister to do the same with no luck. My stomach dropped a little further as Mom pulled the necessary money, which she couldn’t spare, out of her black fringed leather purse.

I was right. My five year old brain struggled to understand what she was saying but I knew I was right. I didn’t want any part of this. We’d be going to live half across the country with our Dad. Just for a little while. While Mom got “better”.

In the main terminal of the airport in Minneapolis there was a large clock and a large plane. Well, at least they seemed enormous to my five year old memory. Clutching my airplane-in-airportstuffed horse, I was trying to figure out the plane inside the terminal, while I caught bits and pieces of the conversation at the ticket counter. Mom grabbed our tickets and we headed to the gate. In my child’s brain, I can hear the echo of her high heels to what seems the ticking of the second hand on that large clock.airport-clock As we approached it, this is when my little sister started to catch on and start to cry. A sympathetic stewardess with bright red lip stick met us. “Unaccompanied minors”. She’d be responsible for seeing us safely from one parent to the other half across the country. A half hour later, in our seats across from the airplane’s galley so they could keep an eye on us, my sister was still hiccupping and trying to catch her breath. I’d given her my stuffed horse and the stewardesses had done their best to distract us. Including telling us they had a couple of extra first class breakfasts they’d get to us as soon as we took off, and would we like to meet the pilot and see the front of the plane? And look here, we’ve even got some pins just like pilots wear! Throughout the flight they gave us the promised breakfast, blankets, pillows, and headphones that plugged into the armrest. Then, took turns trying to entertain the two scared, heart broken, confused little girls holding hands.

I’ve flown out of that same airport, same terminal, a couple dozen times since then. And every. time. I fight panic attacks and nausea. Just the thought of flying out of there would cause me anxiety for weeks beforehand. As soon as I’d come through the doors, I’d fight to see past the blur the crowds of people would become. To hear more than just the clicking of high heels, my head spinning to try to focus on their source. Is it high heels or that dreaded clock? I’d make my way sweating, through security and to the plane where I’d focus on chewing my gum and disappearing into a book.

This last week I had the opportunity to fly to Chicago to attend a Patient Advisory Board meeting with the pharmaceutical company and an organization called Global Genes which provides support and advocacy for rare diseases. As soon as I got my flight information I heaved a sigh. Terminal 1. By the night before I was to fly out I wanted badly to stay in and hide in my blankets for the night. Instead, I decided talking with my sixth grade girls in my youth group about Jesus was preferable to self pity. Instead, I spent the night worshiping and learning alongside young disciples.

The morning of my flight I was packed and ready to go an hour early. I listened to my favorite worship songs on Youtube and went over my flight information, hotel reservation, and meeting times a couple dozen times. Hubby, my mother in law, and Mini Hubby dropped me off. I cried for missing my babies already and made my way through the double doors. I was at the gate before I realized….nothing happened. No panic attack. No nausea. No flashback. No blurring of vision and weird hearing. Instead, my check in kiosk was at the far end of the terminal, right next to security and far away from the dreaded clock. While in line in security, I was entertaining an adorable two year old protesting her confinement to a stroller and listening to a couple dozen students excitedly anticipating their first flight behind me. A beautiful old woman in a wheelchair was wheeled in front of me at the TSA agent and I was wondering if she would have to take off the couple dozens of bracelets, giant earrings, and matching necklace she wore. I wonder if she’s headed to see family. Her bright pink lips and smile says she’s going to see someone special.

So I’m sitting at the gate, in awe of my calm, and pull out my “Show Them Jesus” book I’m committed to finishing while I’m away. I pull out my earbuds and pull up Youtube to the next song on my “suggested” list.

I can’t even make this stuff up! Thank you, Jesus!