Tuesday, December 24, 2013


I see this hashtag a lot: #winning. Sometimes it accompanies a picture of a chocolate drizzled eclair cake, other times a bottle of unpasteurized green juice. Sometimes I see with an accomplishment: graduating, excellent latte art, a workout. Other times, it's a sarcastic celebration of spilled food or injury or a stupid comment. Whether used seriously or not, the idea of "winning" suggests a prize or an end and its attachment to anything reveals the implied "finish line". We "win" when we enjoy good gifts or make it to the top or get stronger and bigger or get fitter and skinnier or maintain neatness and health and wholeness and intelligence. We "win" when we don't screw up and we get everything right, all our t's crossed and i's dotted.

The new year is coming soon and people, myself included, are making their resolutions. Instead of resolutions, I make a list of goals. I'm a stay-at-home mom so no one hands me progress reports or gives me milestones to achieve. I set them myself and it helps me remember what is important to me and what I want to accomplish with my life. The goals I set determine my actions. I want to read my Bible every day, so I need to get up early. I want to clean up our food choices, so I need to plan my grocery trips strategically. I want to learn sign language, so I need to use nap time to my advantage. I set my sights on what I want and I gear my actions toward that end.

We can't know how to do life until we know what we're shooting for, until we know the end game and our goal and our why. We can't figure out our actions, our game plan, set eyes on our target, until we see the finish line and know what we're shooting for. What is real "winning"? What is the real prize, end, finish line? It is exceeding simple and complicated and altogether Christmas: man with God.

It started out that way, right? Adam and Eve, walking with God, talking with Him. No barriers of shame or fear. No anger or confusion. No one had to take a sick day or make custody arrangements. Just God and His children and love and joy. But then we broke it. Satan broke it. And now we're afraid and pissed off and trying to figure it out. We are orphaned from our Father and we hate Him but also want Him back and that makes us so terribly mad. Man with God -- we had that and we had it easy, but we broke it and all of history has been God moving to get that back.

The plan was so big and took thousands of years, but when it came, it came small. It came in the painful, bloody way we all come. It cried and needed diaper changes and fed from its mother's breast. The plan was a person, is a Person, will always be that Person. The plan was man with God, so with God, that God was man. One and the same, inhabiting the body, being the body. Feeling and hurting and thinking and walking on dusty roads with dirty feet, the same dirt He once used to form the men He walked amongst. The goal is so man with God that God became man to fulfill it.

And men die. We can spend our lives building our towers to God, trying to be with Him, but once your eighty years pass, you die and your tower crumbles. Men die, and God made man -- He died. The squirming, bloody, crying nursling hung and died, obediently bleeding as He cried out to His Father. But then He was alive. Christmas comes and He is born and praise the Lord, there is an Easter! Because man with God did not end with God as man. God as man was just the beginning and because He lives, we can once again achieve man with God.

I will be very happy if this is the year I finally start getting up early to exercise and read the Word. I will be very happy if this is the year that I finally create our household "binder" and read books with my husband and stick to a budget and a cleaning schedule. That would be great and not just because it means I'll get to check off all the little boxes on my chart. But I have only one goal this year (and every year): man with God. Because what once was and then broke was repaired again by a little baby. And the whole end of this is still man with God, me with my Father, you with your Father -- no anger or confusion or pain or brokenness. We have to know this is where we are going if we will ever figure out how to get there.

The miracle of the truth lives in how we get there. We set our eyes on man with God and we do not get there through our wealth or our intelligence or our health or our strong work ethic. We do not get there by crossing our t's and dotting our i's or being bigger or being smaller. We do not get there through a "what" but through a "who". Man with God is achieved by the God as man whom we serve. The baby born is our bridge to the Father and all we do is walk across. We don't have to walk in the straightest of lines. We don't have to race to be first. We don't really even have to walk there because it is God who delivers us home. If the end of it all is man with God, only one way will deliver and that way is Jesus.

#Winning on earth is a lot of things, and trust me, I love a good eclair cake like the rest of y'all. But #winning doesn't end here. Nothing ends here. And the end we're aiming for is higher, bigger, more than all we see here. If we're going to do this right, we have to set our sights right. If we're going to run the right race, we have to set our eyes on the right finish line. The finish line is a reconciliation, a beautiful adoptive homecoming when a Father welcomes His babies home, and everything, every day should move us in that direction. Our lockstep with Jesus, our service to Him, our shining light reflection of His love and His life carries us to where we need to go. We go on a walk in a garden, leave through the gate, visit a baby in a barn, watch a man die on a tree. And we sit and weep outside his tomb until the angel says, "Do not be afraid... for he has risen... Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

God Answers Prayer

Baby girl, today you are six months young! Your half-birthday, your unbirthday, your mid-way through your very first year day. We will celebrate today with a cookie cake that you cannot eat but that your brother will thoroughly enjoy. We will celebrate your birth and your life and your health, but most of all we will celebrate one nearly unbelievable were it not for what we've seen truth: God answers prayer.

Baby girl, I am not the one to explain to you the theology of how this prayer thing works. How an all-powerful, sovereign God who formed the stars, spoke them, and knows the depths of the oceans, commands us to pray, to offer up our petitions to Him, and promises to listen. How Jesus says, "Ask and it will be given to you" and how that matches up with "the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." But I know that the Word says, "Pray without ceasing" and I know that here we are, December come, and God answers prayer.

Baby girl, months and months and months ago, I prayed for this day. I sat with you while you slept and you held my finger and I prayed, wept, for December. Please, Lord, carry us through. Please, Lord, let us see Christmas. Please, Lord, let December come, let all this pass, and let my baby girl still be. I prayed for platelets and pounds and antivirals and appetites. I prayed for nurses and doctors and rest and tests. I prayed for your brother and your ears and your brain and your father. But mostly, most of all, I prayed for December.

Baby girl, today we celebrate a baby unplanned. We were not expecting you, but there you were. (Your mommy even said to your daddy, "Well, this sure is a God thing!" Silly mommy, right? Everything is a God thing.) But you came, and you grew, and I carried you. Then you came and you suffered and we prayed. And sometimes, I could feel the hand of God turn to me, palm out, and say, "Wait, child. Wait while I work." And sometimes I could feel the blessings of God, victories practically raining down on us, and I could see the face of God, beaming with joy, so pleased with His creation. And though we did not plan for you and though when you came, you suffered, now we rejoice. We rejoice for your health. We rejoice for every last ounce you gain. We rejoice that you finally feel well, have room to grow, to become the sweet-souled girl who God knit together in my womb.

Baby girl, we rejoice in all these things, but most of all we rejoice because God answers prayer. Because in June, I prayed for December and here we are. Here we are in December and in ten short days, we will celebrate a baby unplanned (at least to His mother). We will celebrate a baby, given to the world, who came... and suffered. Who bled while His Father held out His hand and said, "Wait, Son. Wait while I work." Who waited to His death. In ten short days, we will celebrate and rejoice with that same baby, grown to a man, who after death, rose again. He lived again and He walked again and He spoke again. And when He spoke, He said, "Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." We celebrate this baby because the Word tells us that right now, in this moment, Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father and intercedes for us. Intercedes. He intervenes, mediates, serves as our go-between, between us and the Father.

Baby girl, God heard each and every one of my prayers for you because of Jesus. Jesus heard my cries, my pleas for your life, and He turned to the Father and appealed for them all. Obedient to God, He sat to His right and delivered my pleas. He prayed with me and waited with me and wept with me and encouraged me. He held my teary face in His hands and hushed, "Ask and it will be given to you." He reminded me in the scariest of times that He was with me, with you, always. We rejoice for your health and your life because we rejoice in Jesus' birth. We rejoice in His birth and His life and His death because all of that made possible His resurrection to new life. All of that made possible His place by the Father, as the One to hear our prayers and hand them to God. In every answered prayer is a baby in a manger, a man on the cross, a Son shining in the glory of His Father. In every answered prayer is the goodness of God, His mercy, and His love.

Baby girl, your life, all six months of it, by usual standards, has been quite difficult. And I'm not here to tell you that all your troubles are behind you, that life won't throw you any more curveballs. Because that is not the promise in the Word. That is not what God says He will give. But I am here to tell you that despite all the difficulties, all the troubles, all the odds that might stand against you... God answers prayer. I will say it again: God. Answers. Prayer. It is not an illusion of your mind, a grasping at straws, an attempt to form conclusions out of confusing situations. It is a truth and a plan and a reality far greater than what we can see. When the fog rolls in and the road clouds out and you get turned around, not sure you're going the right way or are even on the road at all, remember the promise. Remember the promise of December come. Remember the promise of a baby born. Remember the promise of a Father who hears, even when we can't. Remember the promise of a Love that endured all, that you might endure all. Remember the One who waits for you to call and who will answer when you do.

Baby girl, your life paints a picture of faithfulness. Every celebration of you shoots right up to Heaven. Every celebration of you shines light in the darkest, scariest places. You have seen those places and God has been faithful to show you light. In Jesus is life, and the life is the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The darkness did not overcome you, nor will it ever, because pleading for you, petitioning for you, going to God for you is One, December come, who is for you. And when He is for you, nothing can be against you. Happy six months, bitty. And praise God for them all!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A New Name


You know the names you call yourself inside your head. You are a whore. You are a failure. You are an addict. You are stupid. You are lazy. You are obsessive. You are a liar. You are greedy. You are a thief. Maybe you feel ashamed of these names. You feel dirty or vulnerable, weak, out of control. Maybe you are proud of your name, like it's an accomplishment. You are proud of your sexual prowess or your ability to fool people with your words or how you can slick that handbag past the store clerk. You are proud of how drunk you can be without anyone knowing. Maybe you picture your stacks and stacks of cash, visualize yourself rolling in them like Scrooge McDuck, and take pride in how you've provided for yourself, protected your future.

We all have our name. You're thinking about it right now. Whether you're ashamed of it or proud of it, you know what it is. It's not the first thing you tell people about yourself, often times the last. It's what characters in books or movies or TV shows reveal about themselves that makes you feel squirmy inside, like they should have just kept it quiet, but also what you secretly enjoy knowing. Like their Achilles heel or the soft spot that makes them human. It's why PostSecret is so popular. We want to know the dirty ugly parts in others that reminds us we aren't alone in our dirty uglies, even if they're different things.

I read the other day about Abraham. His name originally was Abram, but God chose to change his name. "No longer shall you be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations." (Genesis 17:5) Several times in the Bible, God changed people's names. Abram to Abraham, Jacob ("deceiver") to Israel ("he strives with God"), Simon to Peter ("rock"). Each time, God changed their names to indicate a future state. When God named Abram "father of a multitude", Abram's wife was barren. Father of a multitude? How? His wife couldn't conceive. When Jacob became "he strives with God", he was on the run. When Simon became a "rock", he still had yet to deny Christ, hardly a sign of someone strong and stable. But eventually, God blessed Sarah with a baby and Abraham became a father. Eventually, God used Jacob in the line of generations leading to Jesus. Eventually, Peter would become the mouthpiece of Jesus's ministry, spreading the Gospel around the world. These men weren't fathers of multitudes or striving with God or rocks when their names were changed. These men would become who God said they were.

If you are a Christian, God has given you a new name. "Christian" means little Christ, means "like Jesus". The Word says you are a conqueror, a child of God, an heir with Christ, a new man. "You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone." (Ephesians 2:19-20) You have a new name, Christian. Your name might have been slut. It might have been liar or thief or adulterer or murderer. Whatever it was, it isn't anymore. And your new name? It might wear a little big, like you don't quite fit it and you aren't really sure of it. Who is sure of it? God. He gave it to you and not because He felt bad for you and wanted to give you a self-esteem boost. He gave it to you because He will make it fit, He will make it true, and of that, you can be sure.

What we call ourselves matters. The more we replay the names we give ourselves, beat them into our minds, the more true they seem to us. We often become who we say we are. Our own name for ourselves means much more to us than others' names for us because we are the ones living in our own minds. We know the real truth, despite what others may see or say. But sometimes we get the truth wrong. Sometimes what we think we know isn't at all what is. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17) You are a new creation, right now. The "old"? The not-nice, ugly-awful? It's dead. It may not feel like it. It may not look like it. You may not believe it which is why you need to hear it.

For my children more than for myself, I need to hear this. If I am a mom who constantly beats herself up, my children will learn from me and beat themselves up. If they hear from me all their faults, they will live in that pocket, preach that ugly to themselves. For my daughter, this is even scarier. She faces a future of hearing loss and possibly brain damage. She faces taunts from children who will mock her for being deaf or having strange hearing aids. You know all the names they will call her if she is developmentally delayed and to think of it, to think of a sweet little child being called those names, it makes your stomach hurt. And so for her sake, for her sake, I need my life to preach "Redeemed". I need my life to preach "Loved". I need my life to preach "Precious Child" and "Citizen with Saints" and "New Creation". I need to picture myself not as broken and dirty and discarded, but as polished and clean and cherished. I need to know that I am who God says I am and not what I say I am or what anyone else says I am. My daughter needs to know this too.

As ugly as those names others might call my girl is as ugly as those names you call yourself. As sick as those words make you feel, to think of them being hurled at her, is as sick as it should make you feel to beat yourself up. You aren't those ugly words any more than she is. You aren't, not because you aren't, but because God says you aren't. The God who spoke and there was light says, "Child" and so you are. Says "New" and so you are. Says "Clean" and so you are. Live in that pocket, preach that beauty, become that truth. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death... If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." (Romans 8:1-2, 10-11)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Firm Foundation

Occasionally, I find myself in a funk. I decide that my life is not what I want it to be, and I get all mopey and unfun. Usually it is sparked by an especially messy day around the house or cooler weather that keeps us inside far more than is healthy for our minds or just one of those days when I seem to drop everything, lose everything, forget everything. Sometimes, it seems to come out of nowhere, but every time, it makes me question myself. I start to think things like I'm too smart to spend my days wiping poo and repeating a two-year-old. Or, Every single thing I accomplish today I'll have to do again in a few hours or a few days. What is the point? Or, I can't see what any of this is doing for me. Or my favorite, I haven't done one single thing today that was just for me or that I even enjoyed.

I flop around for a while (sometimes a few days), feeling sorry for my poor, unchallenged, unfulfilled self until it occurs to me to take action. What do you want, Aleah? That's my next question, the money question. What do I want? What are all my options? Which of them will make my heart sing? What will fix me and make me feel whole and happy? What will make this funk go away and fulfill me so well that I will never feel it again?

Every time I go through this there are a few things happening. The first is that I am fixated, stuck on the "seen". I stare at the week-old dishes and the tumbleweed of dog hair and the spit-up soaked burp cloths and the muddy dog prints on my just-mopped floor. I stare at the pile of books and magazines I haven't read and the diploma in my closet and the unused exercise equipment and the unsorted, loose photographs. All I hear is "A, B, C, D" and "can you tell me how to get" and "twinkle, twinkle". All I smell is stinky trash and lingering poo and regurgitated corn-based formula and whatever random object my two-year-old wants me to smell. I'm stuck in my sensory body and I'm stuck in what I can touch, taste, smell, feel, see.

I'm also projecting my inside onto the outside. I'm pointing to the clothes I wear and saying, "These don't fit me right." And I'm pointing to my children and saying, "You drive me bonkers." And I'm pointing at my husband, saying, "You don't fulfill me." And I'm pointing at my every day, do-it-all-over-again life and saying, "You make me hate myself." But none of these things are true. I have clothes that fit. My children are people, needy little people, but that isn't a bad thing and it isn't what's really bothering me. And my husband is loving and caring and consistently seeks to bless me and wash me in the water of the Word. And a lot of the time, I go about my Sisyphean life with a whistle on my lips and a laugh and a tickle ready to engage. I'm pointing at the trappings and yelling at them like they're all wrong when what's really wrong is my heart.

I could change everything tomorrow. I could find a job, put my kids in day care or at a babysitter's, start waking up early to exercise, take a long lunch hour to read books and get my nails done, use my extra income to hire a house cleaner, buy all the Baby Einstein DVDs to teach my kids and sing to them. I'd still have to deal with the occasional poo and bed time and the dogs, but at least a lot of the problems would be fixed. I'd be all happy again and then my marriage would soar and I would love my kids more and the hills would be alive with the sound of music. Can't you see it? Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it so much better than this?

Until 2 pm rolls around and I start to ache because I haven't seen my little boy all day and I've missed out on at least ten kisses. Until I can't bear to wake up early to exercise because I hate the morning. Until I get bored with books and just want to sing along to Sesame Street. Until I fire the house cleaner because she loads my dishes wrong. Until my kids don't care about learning letters with Mommy and just want to watch TV. Until I start to hate my job and think, Man, I really had it good when I stayed at home. Why did I change everything?

This isn't a post about staying at home versus working. This isn't a post about how letting your kids watch educational DVDs is bad or having a house cleaner makes you lazy or how getting up early will make you a new person. It's not about any of those things which is exactly the point. It's not about those things. Life... Life is not about those things. It's not about what you do. It's not about what you do every single day. It's about who you are. Where you rest. Why you breathe.

At the very end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus paints this little picture, "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it." (Matthew 7:24-27) When I want to throw in the towel, start my life over, change everything, I'm letting my house be washed away in the flood. My sandy foundation -- the one based on my feelings and my direction for my life, my master plan -- can't support the weight of life, of all my questions and desires and longings and needs. The support I long for, the foundation that can hold the weight of life, that will build something permanent in a world that is wasting away, that support is found in Christ.

I can focus on the piles and the dirt and the insignificance and my fickle heart. Or I can focus on the words of Jesus. "You are the salt of the earth." "You are the light of the world." "If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." "Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth." "You cannot serve God and money." "Do not be anxious about your life." "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." "Judge not, that you be not judged." "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." "Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them." (Matthew 5-7) These truths anchor. These words of Jesus form a way, a path, a direction for life, these words fill in the broken places and heal wounds. These words lay down a way that weathers all of life's storms and will never wash away.

You can be salt and light and forgiving and loving and restful and God-centered and searching and golden in anything. You can be these things as a teacher. You can be these things as a stay-at-home or work-at-home mom. You can be these things as an accountant, a barista, a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon. You can be these things as an air conditioner repair man and a trash man and a nuclear physicist. You can be firm and grounded and safe from the storms wherever you are because wherever you are is not what grounds you. Where you are and how you feel and what you wear and do for a living are all secondary. The foundation of Christ is primary and necessary for fulfillment in any of these things.

Jesus never promises that if we build our house on His foundation that we will feel full and satisfied and happy. He can't fix my bad mood or my brooding moodiness. He can fix my eternity, however. This life will never fulfill me; it's just a fact. And I can spend my days brooding... Or -- I can soak in all the joy; that's a choice I can make, and while there is a better choice, and joy will bless me and the people around me far more than brooding, ultimately, it isn't what matters. What matters is the reward in heaven, the salvation of souls, Christ's fulfillment of the law, the harnessing of anger and lust and retaliation and the unleashing of truth and love and charity, the honoring of God, the preeminence of God, the rest we have in Him, the blessings He pours out on us, the grace we show one another, and ultimately, our standing before God. All these things Jesus preaches in His sermon. But just before His sandy foundation picture, He says this, "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"

Look what I did, Lord! Look! Look at it all! No. No, what matters isn't my job or my feelings about it. It isn't my hopes and dreams and capability, my intelligence or organizational skills or passion for learning. It isn't where I see myself in five years or ten or how many loads of laundry I will have done in that time. It isn't your job title or your relationship status or your college diploma or your life plan. What matters is doing the will of the Father. But, Aleah, what about this gem? "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Remember how you told me I'm all broken and stuff? How do I do this one thing that matters? How do I do the will of the Father? We'll keep reading: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." (Romans 3:23-24) This is the will of the Father. That instead of hanging your hat on your job and your accomplishments and listing out all your incredible abilities, instead of poking holes in your day-to-day, demolishing your importance and lamenting your life choices, instead of all that, God offers you grace. He offers you a grace that withstands the beating, crashing waves that threaten to destroy your house. He offers you a grace that washes you clean of every single time you yell and smolder inside and blame your spouse for your bad attitude. He offers you a grace that meets you in the boardroom and the bedroom and the classroom and everywhere in between. This grace was built for a life of failing and succeeding, winning and losing, feeling satisfied and feeling empty, joy and sorrow. This grace only depends on one thing: the victory of Jesus which has already been accomplished and could not depend any less on you.

I offer this up because it presents a unique opportunity. If you build your house on a foundation of grace in Christ that does not depend on your success or life plan or capability, you are free. You are free from your bad moods and your dissatisfaction and your jealousy and your pettiness. You are free from your title and your label and your job and your hobbies. You are free from who you are and how far that is from who you think you should be. You become a grace-receiving, Jesus-shining light always, in all things, in every way. Your life is important and it matters, not because of what you do, but because of who you are in Jesus. That has lasting worth. That builds treasure that isn't eaten by moths. That builds a glory to come. I may or may not fold my laundry today (or put away the laundry from last week). I might spend all my free time cleaning up toys and cooking dinner. I may not do one single thing today that is just for me. And that's okay. Not because it fixes my mood or because I'll put on my rosy glasses and be Miss Cheery Happy Mom. But because in Jesus, I am free. I'm free from my mood and my job and all the things, all the trappings, all the doings. I am free to love and give and forgive and offer a hand because I am new in Christ. I can get stuck and burrow and down and hide my head, but I'd be missing many beautiful opportunities to sprinkle salt and shine the very same grace I am shown every single day.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


I wanted to share a few of the resources that were helpful to me as I worked through this process in November and also as we survived the two months in the hospital and two more months of crazy once baby girl came home. God prepared me very well for what we went through and I had an arsenal of tools at my disposal. My prayer is that someone else struggling, still stranded in the waiting and watching phase, can make use of the great things that God blessed me with.

The most important resource I used was my family, both spiritual and physical. God blessed my husband and me with each other, amazing parents and extended family, and an incredibly supportive church family. We aren't meant to do life alone, especially the hard parts. My advice is to find a community to plug into, one that has the power to recharge you and allow you to use your gifts. A good church is best suited for this, but ultimately, when things get rough, you need to be somewhere you feel comfortable. Plug in. You may need that support one day or be able to provide support for someone else in need.

While writing my posts, I used ESVBible.org and the ESV Study Bible. It's actually my husband's Bible, but the notes, explication of passages, and references to other related passages were invaluable to me as I sought to understand how the Word was speaking into our situation. I also spent a lot of time listening to the music from Seeds Family Worship. Their music is designed to teach kids scripture passages so it's basically just the words of scripture put to music. And pretty good music at that! I found it very encouraging to listen to, and I loved getting it stuck in my head. It lifted me up when I needed it and helped me to meditate more on the beautiful passages. Honestly, I've just listened to the featured songs that loop on the website! I definitely want all the CDs eventually, though.

A few other random resources... I listen to A Song for the Suffering at least once a week. It's so beautiful and encouraging and healing for my soul. I also highly recommend the connected sermon! I also follow a blog called Chasing Rainbows. You have to read this family's story for yourself to get the whole picture, but suffice it to say they have seen their share of struggles and mountain-top moments. I actually came across the blog on the day that Kate, the writer, lost her oldest son who was 5 at the time. I was seven months pregnant with my daughter with no idea about what we would face with her. When we were in the most difficult times, Kate's very honest posts helped me connect and deal with my own emotions. It helped me feel connected to someone else who had watched their children struggle and I needed that at the time. Today I am celebrating with her as she meets her newest blessing, Hope Margaret! Seriously, an incredible story. I also recommend A Holy Experience, a blog written by Ann Voskamp. Several of her posts have been picked up by major news outlets and I get why. She is a phenomenal writer and has a unique way of conveying her thoughts. She also has an incredible faith that overflows in her words. She manages to comment on current issues in a way that digs into their root and she illuminates how we can see God in those places. I linked to one of her posts when I wrote about my sweet husband. She inspired me!

I have been trying to feel out a direction for this blog from here on out. I love writing. It is so therapeutic for me, and I'm glad there are people who enjoy reading! My tentative plan is to keep writing at least once a week, share what is going on in our lives and what God is teaching me. I love to think God has a vision for where we will go from here, and I want to follow that vision intentionally, looking for Him in our days. I will continue to share any new posts on Facebook, but I also opened up the blog for people to follow by email or RSS feed. Find the buttons on the right sidebar if you want to make sure you don't miss any posts! Until next time...

Friday, November 29, 2013

November 2013 Recap

At the beginning of this month, I set out to share with you all the many things God had taught us through our experience with our daughter. I knew there were "sermons" that God wanted me to communicate to just the very people who needed to hear them. I have had so many people send me messages or tell me that whatever post on whatever day spoke to them or was "just what they needed to hear". I am beyond thankful that God can use what we went through to grow others' faith in Him or provide the comfort or reassurance or sympathetic ear they needed. I have added many prayer requests to my list and am honored to have the opportunity to lift others up in the way so many lifted us up.

Tomorrow marks the end of November. I plan to post a list of resources -- books and websites -- that were helpful to me. That will make twenty-four posts out of thirty days in November. Not bad for my goal to write every day! I do have a two year old and a five month old to tend to, ya know :) Today's post is kind of just a recap, thoughts on where we've been and where we might go.

If I had to pick one common theme, one message that ties together all the others, it would be that we are not in control. We did not create this world, and we do not run it. We all live in our own minds, though, and that makes it so incredibly difficult to move outside ourselves and recognize the Creator who is in control. Each and every day, we have to remind ourselves of God's power, His omnipotence, and our place in that equation, as the created, as the clay that is formed, not the Potter. When you also remind yourselves of the goodness of this Creator, His love and compassion and justice and holiness, any situation you may face is a new opportunity to grow in faith and grow closer to God. If you accept your lack of control, you receive God's direction for your life. If you put trust in that (instead of throwing up your hands in powerlessness), there is nothing life will throw at you that can knock you down. Your God is powerful, and He loves you. You have nothing to fear.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

The other main thing I hope you all walk away with from this is that your feelings are okay. There were many times I felt like my feelings were a betrayal of my faith, like if I really believed in God's power and goodness, I wouldn't be sad or scared or angry. This is true in a way; the more I preach the truth to myself, the stronger my faith and resolve are. But I think the Bible shows us that our feelings are more than okay, that God cares about those as well. The Psalms, over and over, read like the most intimate parts of someone's journal, confessing fear and anxiety and the fear of God's abandonment. The kicker is that all those Psalms that cry out let out all those feelings and then praise God for His strength and power and praise Him for the work they had faith He would do. Having those feelings, sharing those feelings, within the context of trust and faith in a good and powerful God, brings so much glory to the Creator and shows that powerful peace that "surpasses understanding".

Lastly, I would note that none of these things -- believing in God's power and goodness, having faith and trust despite our feelings -- are possible without the great grace and mercy of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. We are the weak, broken ones; God is the strong Creator. All of these things are possible through prayer. You can try to talk yourself into believing it, give yourself a great pep talk, go in with spirits and hopes high. But without the deep powerful work of the Spirit, we will never truly believe or truly be able to rest. We must trust in God for even the power to trust in God.

The most beautiful thing about all of this is that none of it requires our own strength or faith or stability. Through it all, we rely on the God who molded the stars and knows the number of hairs on your head. We don't have to be strong. We don't have to be faithful. We don't have to have all the answers. We don't have to know how to fix it. We don't even have to be able to form coherent sentences. (Any parent who has ever spent the night in the hospital with an infant can give me an "Amen" to that one! Let's be real, any parent with an infant, period.) God is God is God is God is God. There isn't anything ever that makes that not true. Praise the One who made that great power and amazing love available to us. 

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

The God we serve was yesterday, is today, and will be tomorrow. Each day, He is I AM. I don't know exactly what the future holds for this blog. I do know that the God who walked with us through ambulance rides and feeding tubes and allergies and hearing loss and medications walks with us now through washing bottles and changing diapers and cleaning clothes and hearing aids. To think the lessons will stop now that we're out of the hospital and on the road to health would suggest that God only teaches us in the difficult moments. Every day, good or bad or in between, is an opportunity to meet God and learn and grow in faith. I hope to continue to share that journey with you all. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanking God

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving so the whole internet is all, "Give thanks! Be thankful! Eat turkey!" While I think the general giving of thanks is good -- it turns our eyes to our blessings and off of ourselves -- I'd encourage a more specific phrasing. Don't just give thanks; give thanks to God. Don't just be thankful; be thankful to God. Don't just eat turkey; thank God for that turkey as He provided it. And when we consider what we are thankful for, move beyond just our "stuff" -- food, home, cars, etc. These are all provisions from God, yes, but they come from somewhere so much deeper and our thanksgiving should reflect that. We should truly consider the depths of the Lord's work and how richly we are blessed by it.

Just out of curiosity, I skimmed through several passages about "giving thanks" in the Bible. I just wanted to see exactly what the Word tells us to give thanks for. I noticed four major things: 1) Who God is. Psalm 118:1 says, "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever." Give thanks to God why? For who He is. He is good, His love is steadfast... you could go on: He is just, He is loving, He is all-powerful. Why do we give thanks to God for who He is? Because who He is directly affects us. If He is not a good God, we serve a corrupt Lord. If He is not steadfast in His love, we are at risk of falling outside of His care. If He is not just, He will not reckon for all the injustices of this world. If He is not all-powerful, He is not God at all. We give thanks to God for who He is because by Him, we are all upheld. ("Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life." Psalm 54:4)

2) What God has done. Psalm 145:10 says, "All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!" God's creation and His works give thanks to Him because without Him they would not exist, and because He is good, all things He does are good too. In Luke 17, a healed leper gives thanks to Jesus for making him whole. "Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14) We thank God for the victory we have in Jesus and for the ways He uses our lives to make Him known.

3) What God has given us. This relates some to what God has done, but is more specifically related to the blessings and gifts of God. This section gets the most play around the Thanksgiving holiday. "Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:13-14)" God gives riches, honor, power, might, and strength. Therefore, we thank Him and praise Him. Jesus is seen several times in the New Testament giving thanks for the bread that He multiplies to feed the crowd and for the communion supper served right before He is taken to die. Ephesians 5 tells us to be "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Everything we have, all the time, comes from God.

4) Salvation. Possibly the most important thing we can thank God for is the salvation He offers us in Jesus. "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Christ Jesus." 1 Corinthians 15:56-57) Sin leads to death, and when we are in sin, we are held to the law, the impossible-to-follow law that all of us have broken. We are all condemned to death, save for the grace we are offered in Jesus. We thank God for rescuing us and providing us a path to mercy.

As I read through these and considered these "categories" of thanks, I couldn't help but note how closely they resemble the Lord's prayer. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, cautions the people to consider their prayers carefully. He warns against grand displays of faithfulness that are only meant to draw attention to man, instead of God, and instead, encourages His people to pray earnestly. In Matthew, He says, "Your father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name 
[1) Who God is]
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
  [2) What God has done]
Give us this day our daily bread
[3) What God has given us]
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
[4) Salvation]

Your thanks should have a direction. You can generally just throw out phrases of thankfulness to the universe, but they are empty without something to hang them on. All of our thanks belong to God. For who He is, what He has done, what He has given us, for the offer of salvation -- any and everything we could possibly list as something to be thankful for falls into this category. Instead of thanking God for our big screen TVs or the freedom to watch football on them, let's dig a little deeper. These material blessings aren't bad and we certainly should be thankful for them since they make us richer than a far majority of the world. But life is so much richer and deeper than football and your TV. Life is an opportunity to experience the rich power and love of the almighty Ruler of the universe, who loves us so richly that He would set aside heaven and its glories (way better than the best flatscreen), He would become like the ones He created, He would walk alongside us -- weeping, toiling, enduring temptation, sweating, bleeding, living -- and He would give over that life to us. We have so much more to be thankful for than we even know.

As you sit around the Thanksgiving table tomorrow (or serve at a shelter or boycott the holiday all together), thank God for your material blessings. And then look deeper. Thank Him for the sweet, loving spirit He gave your son. Thank Him for the life He preserved for your daughter. Thank Him for the sense of humor He gave your husband, a humor that has the power to lift your spirits exactly when you need it. Thank Him for the depth of compassion in your dad. Thank Him for the tireless steadfastness of your mom who you can always count on to be and do for you whatever you need. Thank Him for the lifelong companionship of your brother, the one person who will always have your back, no matter what. Thank Him for the spiritual family He has brought you into, a family that walks with you and sometimes carries you. Thank Him for the caring love of your sweet friends who always have you on their minds, praying for you, caring for you, thinking of you. Thank Him for how all these things -- love, life, humor, compassion, steadfastness, companionship, commitment, consideration -- point you to Jesus. They show you the love of Christ every day, each in their own ways, and remind you to thank God -- for who He is, what He has done, what He has given you, and most importantly, for salvation through Christ. Now that, my friends, is a Thanksgiving. Eat up!

Monday, November 25, 2013

People Do Change

I hear this a lot: People never change. It's a kind of cynical look at the world that says bad people will always be bad (ever heard it applied to a "good" person? didn't think so...) and that we have to be skeptical of their behaviors, motivations, intentions toward us. Wrong me once, shame on you. Wrong me twice? Shame on me. People never change, remember? I should have known better.

Unfortunately, this is true. People are broken, by their sin, by the world. We start off cute (well, some of us...), but our hearts are bent. Your broken coffee mug will not fix itself and you can't fix yourself either. Even the good people around us, the really stellar people, have vices. Think of your favorite humanitarian, world-changer, peace-maker, do-gooder. They sin, and they cannot stop. Outside, that is, the power of Jesus.

If you knew me in, say, seventh grade, I'm sorry. No, really, I'm sorry. I was just a very not-nice person. (If you're surprised to hear me say this, well, I put on a good show. Maybe.) I was a total smarty-pants and thought myself better than everyone else. Seriously. And let's just be honest here, you all have your high horses too. It only got worse for me into high school as I even offended and verbally back-handed people I called friends. I was broken and I didn't know it. I thought I was perfect, awesome, the best. But Jesus had a new message for me.

My husband was instrumental in my salvation, and one of the key messages he had for me was that I needed Jesus. I didn't think I needed anything, so I thought this was crazy, but he persisted in showing me how there was one way, one faith, one path. God was working in my heart and slowly he thawed my frozen center and peeled the scales from my eyes. "Look at yourself, Aleah. See how far you are from the model of Christ." I didn't become perfect over night. I wasn't suddenly the nicest, kindest, most loving person on earth. But I did change. Through the power and love of Jesus, I began considering others before myself. (Gasp!) I thought about my words more carefully, knowing they had power, and desiring to use that power not to knock down but build up. I started to see people as people, not play-actors in my tyrannical world.

It's been about ten years since Jesus began changing my heart, and I am a new creation. I still carry the baggage and weight of my sin. I still speak sharply and put myself first and make mean, sarcastic jokes that are meant to cut. But over the past ten years, Jesus has taught me how to love. He has taught me how to be kind. He has taught me how to be honest -- in love. He has taught me patience. I about fell out of my chair one day when my husband said to me, "You are so patient with our son." I didn't believe him. I'm not a "patient person". But having kids? It's sanctifying. I have changed, am changing, will change. People do change.

Sometimes God puts us in the fire to show us where we are still weak. I had been bee-bopping along with life until my daughter was born and walking through those flames showed me that I am still a sinful, broken creature. I still think I deserve an easy life. ("Why would something like this happen to me?") I still think I'm basically a good person. ("I didn't do anything wrong! I don't deserve this!") I still think I'm the smartest, most capable person in the room. ("I should be the one caring for her, not them.") I still have mean thoughts in my heart and let them escape through my lips. (Ask my sweet husband who had to spend a lot of time with tired, not-well-fed me.)

My circumstances, stressful though they were, didn't get to be my excuse. It wasn't okay for me to say, "Well, I can say mean things because my daughter is sick." "I'm just really tired so I'm feeling emotional." Jesus was very tired. Jesus saw all manner of illness and death, even among His own friends and eventually Himself, and He still lived a life without sin. That is my measure. That is my standard and I've fallen short.

But God is faithful, and people do change. We rest in the grace of God through Christ; He accomplished the work and we do not have to become pretty perfect people to earn His favor. But because we are children of God, we are being "conformed to the image of his Son (Jesus)" and our lives should start to look more like His. Jesus prays this for his disciples in John: "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth." Jesus prays that when we encounter difficulty in the world, not that God would remove us from the world or remove the difficulty, but that God would sanctify us in the truth. What is truth? God's word. The Bible teaches us what is true, not in relation to anything else or as it's based on anything else. The Word is truth. From that truth, we learn how to grow in holiness and become moral according to God's standard, the true standard. In that, we become more like Christ. God sent Christ to be this example (among many other reasons), and now Christ sends His disciples to be that example. Obviously, we aren't living perfect lives, but we are Christians, "little Christs" meant to resemble Him and be Jesus to those around us. For us, Jesus consecrated, or dedicated Himself, so that we could achieve this sanctification. Hebrews tells us that "Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood." Jesus went to the place where they used to sacrifice the animals required to cleanse the sins of the people, to sanctify them. He used His life as an example of sanctified living and then gave that life that we might have His power to be sanctified ourselves.

This is a life-long journey. We are being put back together, piece by piece, by God, using Jesus as our guide and as our means. Jesus' life was a sacrifice and as a result, we are called to that same standard. "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)" We are called to give ourselves to God as a living sacrifice (not one who will die like Jesus [though He did return to life] or the animals of the Old Testament). This act is an act of worship to God in response to His great mercy to us. How do we accomplish this? By what means will this happen? "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)" We need our minds changed. We need to be changed people. You can't drink out of a broken coffee mug, and we can't live broken lives to the glory of God. "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)" The Holy Spirit has the power to renew our hears, change our minds, make us new creations so that we might stand with Christ in glory, fellow heirs to His rich inheritance. It is a process, a life-long process, that we cannot do on our own. We must walk lock-step with Christ, allow our hearts to open to God and the Holy Spirit.

The mind-changing process is long and by the end of your days, you will not be perfect. But take this promise with you: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)" If you have Jesus, you are a new creation already. You are being changed and renewed by God and the Holy Spirit to look more like the Jesus you proclaim. "In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them." God seeks to reconcile through Jesus, looking to Jesus instead of our cracked exterior. "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." God made Jesus, who lived a sinless life, take on the sin of the world. Why? So that, through Christ, we can be changed people.

We can't be righteous all on our own. We can't be right with God by ourselves. We need Jesus. We can't change into sweet, loving, caring, trusting, honest people without the work of the Spirit in our hearts and the example of Christ in our lives. The trials you encounter in your life may be just the thing to show you how broken you still are, how far you are from the picture of perfection in Jesus. But praise God, those same trials can be what breaks you so much that you finally see the light through the cracks. We are not left to try to put the pieces back together ourselves. Christ and the Holy Spirit are doing that work in us and we? We have only to surrender, to allow ourselves to be changed, to truly become the new creation that we already are.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


In my quest to make peace with being separated from my daughter, I reached a point of acceptance when I realized one key thing: at that point in her life, I was not able to care for her. It's a weird position to be in as a mom, having to hand your child over to someone else better qualified. I'm supposed to be the one who can care for my children best. Why would I give her over to someone else? Even as my daughter was so sick, I still felt like I should be the one caring for her needs.

It finally struck me as I was visiting with her one evening. My husband had come up that morning, and after he returned home, I left to have my quiet visiting time. In between our visits, my daughter had pulled out the IV that was in her arm and they had to put a new one in her head. She actually has great veins in her head! But when I arrived to spend time with her, I was distraught at how awful it looked. She had this giant needle in her head. It was just really sad... I arrived for one of her "care times" so I would be able to feed her and snuggle. We got settled in, she ate a little, and then fell back asleep. About a minute after she dozed off, though, she kind of jerked in her sleep and the way my arm was positioned knocked the IV loose. At first I thought it was okay, but then all the sudden, blood started shooting everywhere -- out of her head. It was awful! I started yelling for the nurse who calmly whisked over, removed the line, applied pressure, and added a bandaid. I was apologizing profusely and she told me it was fine; she would just place another. She gathered her supplies and it took her all of 30 seconds to find a vein, place the IV, and tape it down. The whole ordeal lasted no more than five minutes and we were back to our snuggles.

I sat there and thought about that nurse. This was her job. She spent years in school, months in training in the NICU, and every day she came to work, she did just those things. She placed IVs and suctioned CPAPs and changed diapers -- each one weighed -- and froze and thawed breast milk and administered medications and consulted with doctors and responded to the wailing babies and their monitors. I can rock a diaper change with the best of them, but everything else? I'm just not qualified. If you had asked me to fix my daughter's IV, I would not have been able to do it.

I've written already about the body of Christ that surrounded us in this time and the control I had to hand over to the Lord, the letting go I was forced into. We were put in a position where we had to rely on other people, trained, qualified individuals to save our daughter's life. And God was with each and every one of those people. He knew exactly the pediatrician to have on call to come consult when she was born, one who would know the severity of her illness and act accordingly, despite how distressing it was to me. (She is now my daughter's full-time pediatrician. We love our God-send!) He knew exactly the neonatologist to admit her and walk with us through the early times of touch-and-go. (Interestingly, her amazing neonatologist moved to Texas just a week after she was born. Our daughter was one of his last patients at that hospital.) She knew exactly the resident to pair with that doctor to be the one to deliver the hard news, consult with us, give us all the information, and make us feel cared for while we had to make difficult decisions. (Also cool, that same resident who worked with our daughter's neonatologist moved down to pediatrics just a few days after our daughter was transferred there.) God knew the perfect, most caring nurse who needed extra hours to match up with our sweet girl so she could have close to two weeks of uninterrupted care. She also appreciated my sense of humor and commended my efforts pumping and doing my best as a mom.

All of these people were able to take care of our daughter in ways we never could have. And they cared for her in exactly the ways she needed. They met her in her weakness, addressed her failings, and helped to heal her. They were led by God into their professions and placed into our lives exactly when we needed them. They had knowledge, training, and experience we lacked; where we were weak, they were strong. In all their efforts serving and helping, even as they were doing jobs that they got paid for, they were acting as the hands and feet of Christ. They gave of themselves to us, to our whole family. In a time when we were left fumbling, trying to find our footing, these people did what, for us, was the impossible.

These people didn't just spring up out of the ground. They weren't just the ones who happened to be on duty, on call, in need of some cash. Perhaps those were the surrounding circumstances, the immediate events that led them into our path, but the bigger picture involves an orchestrating God. One who is conducting a grand symphony, and at just that moment, cued the trombones. God says this in Isaiah, "For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’... I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isaiah 46:9-11)" What the Lord has purposed and spoken will be. Our own plans, however... "Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? (Lamentations 3:37)" Even the things we set out to do, unless it is the Lord who commands them, they will not happen.

I just assumed that since God had given my daughter to me, to grow and nurture, that I was the one who would always care for her. Instead, He had a whole host of others to come to her rescue, to literally save her life. He didn't will for my daughter to die. He willed for her to live, and for that to be, He used an army of helpers, rescuers, savers, healers to nurse and doctor her back to health. To each of those people, He gave strength to match our weakness. They were all "just doing their jobs", but as a result, there is one sweet, squealing girl on earth who would not be otherwise. And it was all the will of God.

Consider the power of your life through this lens. Sometimes you are down. Sometimes you are weak and broken and you need a rescuer. And God sends you just that beautiful soul. In your weakness, you allow God to shine, to redeem you from the pit. Sometimes you are strong. Sometimes God has equipped you to help another, to be the rescuer, to reach down your hand and get dirty (like that poor nurse who was covered in my daughter's blood) and drag someone back to life. Consider the picture here as this happens. Friends, this is the Gospel. The Rescuer sent from above, down into the mire and murk of this world, not to mock or parade around with His glory, to be crowed king of the empire, or to brag of His knowledge. No, this One through whom "all things were made" used His strength to meet us in all of our weaknesses, no matter what they were, to pull us out of the pit and back to life. He gave over His own life to accomplish this, bleeding that you can be washed clean, dying that you would have life. 

"Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint,and to him who has no might he increases strength. (Isaiah 40:28-29)" This source of strength is our mighty God. He doesn't run out of steam. He doesn't get tired or take a day off or "just not feel like it" sometimes. He has power, always, and He gives that power to the faint, to those who just can't do it anymore. To those with no might, He gives them might, His might, for strength. Why? "Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)" Not for us to boast in our youth or our strength; these things will fail us. He gives us strength because we wait on Him. We turn to Him, rely on Him, put Him in His rightful place in our lives -- the King upon the throne -- and He renews our strength.

We don't muster it up out of our intelligence or physical strength or ingenuity; we are blessed with this strength by God so that we would proclaim the source of our strength and bring Him glory. God's strength is one that allows us to fly as effortlessly as the majestic eagle, allows us to run and not get tired, walk and not need to sit down. This strength is supernatural. And it equips us to do supernatural work, the work of dying to ourselves and serving the Risen Lord. Pray for this strength, my friends, as it is promised to you by the One who laid the foundations of the earth.

Friday, November 22, 2013


When I started this project in lieu of my favorite November challenge (what up, Wrimos!?), I thought it would be about sharing the things God has taught us along this journey with others -- with the brokenhearted, with our dear friends and sweet family, with those who are seeking, those who need encouragement, those who need a kick in the pants, those who just want to hear our hearts. I knew it would be "therapy" for me in a way, to get all these thoughts out of my head and into some concrete, visible form. I felt a real pressure on my heart to share. I know how much the honestly of others has built my faith and given me hope, and if I could be that to just one person, the hours spent writing were more than worth it.

What I didn't realize is how hard it would be. Remembering, reaching back to touch those sore places, the places where we learned and grew so much but hurt and hurt. I have cried while writing every post. It hurts to go back there and it hurts to be honest about myself, how I felt, what I thought. I don't want to think about it, but I can't not think about it, so here I am, figuring out how to deal. This is me, in my grief. Grief I didn't even know I had, but that I am so thankful I have discovered.

Sometimes it feels like labor. I was induced with my son, and I distinctly remember being so surprised at the weird kind of pain that comes with contractions. Intense, terribly awful pain that lasts for a minute and then is totally gone. There is nothing else like it. It's not like slicing open your finger or breaking a limb. It's not like the dull ache of a sore muscle. It is intermittent but incredibly intense. I wondered if it was just the drugs that made it feel like that, but then I labored with my daughter, unmedicated. I even told my husband to stay at work because I felt fine and wasn't even sure I was in labor, but then a contraction would come and it hurt. so. bad. But then the pain was gone. Intense, sharp piercing. Then complete relief. So weird.

My feelings lately have been like this. Most of the time, I am totally fine, going about my day, singing as I go. And then something will hit me. A picture of a new mom holding her baby. Anything about a hospital or a NICU. Me preaching some truth to myself. The noisy part of a baby toy. And suddenly I'm back there. Looking at my brand new baby and knowing that something was wrong. Remembering all the tubes and monitors and the never-ending beeping. Whatever brought me to learn that lesson, whatever fire we passed through that refined that gold. Knowing that my daughter can't hear that rattling, jingling, squeaking. And I get all teary and usually try to just hold it back because I'm reading a book to my son or buying groceries or talking on the phone. But sometimes the tears just come and I can't stop them.

I'm grieving. I didn't know I needed to, but I am. I'm grieving a life that never was. In my head, I had the picture of how things would be. I even see the picture all around me in the happy families I know and the blog posts that I read and the general "normalcy" that just is. That's what I expected, and it's not what I got. I'm grieving a healthy daughter who would look just like me and love to nurse and sleep like a champ, just like her brother. I'm grieving a newborn photo shoot and passing her sweet self around to visitors in the labor and delivery room and smelling her sweet newborn head. I'm grieving singing her to sleep and enticing her with a rattle and watching her figure out that barking animal. Instead, I got a viral infection and corn-based formula and a cat-napper who was jaundiced and couldn't be held for a week, who lost her newborn smell before she even came home. I got hearing aids that may not work and the possibility of surgery if we ever want her to hear. It's not what I pictured or planned. The distance between when I thought would be and what is marks the measure of my grief, the size of my pain.

Part of me feels weird about having these feelings. Looking at our lives now, things are pretty great! Yes, my daughter is deaf, but really, that's not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Yes, she might have developmental delays from damage to her brain, but the major concerns are behind us. It feels weird to hurt when other people have faced and are facing much scarier, bigger things. But I know what those people would tell me; they would tell me what I tell my friends when they feel bad about worrying about their healthy, typically developing babies. Being a parent is a big, hard job, no matter what. No matter if your kid is four years old and never had so much as a bad cold or if your baby spent 100+ days in the NICU. No matter if your biggest concern is whether to use disposable or cloth diapers or whether to allow the doctors to give your daughter a toxic antiviral. Every parent has to make judgment calls, most of which involve very compelling arguments in favor of both options. Every good parent worries about their child because they care. Every good parent wants the best for their child. And every good parent will face challenges, and those challenges are always meant to grow us and stretch us and make us trust God and rely ever more on Him.

My grief is okay. My feelings are okay. They are normal and human and necessary. Talking about them is good for me. I know it's not for everyone, especially not in such a public way. But it helps me to process, knowing that I'm talking to someone and knowing that there might be someone out there who will benefit from my experience. I don't ever mean to stir up pity or make anyone feel bad for having a happy, easy life. I also don't mean to flaunt our joys and triumphs in the face of people who are still hacking away in the trenches of illness and distress. Our lives aren't measuring sticks to set down next to each other and evaluate. They are journeys. We are all on the road, walking together. We can barrel ahead, knocking each other out of the way like it's Black Friday at Walmart. Or we can lock arms, carrying each other when it gets hard, lifting each other up when we have strength, all the while pointing our eyes ahead and reminding each other of the promises.

"Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." Revelation 21:3-4

God is with us. He cares for us and cares about our cares. He desires for us to turn our hearts and lives to Him, to walk the path He has set before us (not the one we make in our own minds), and to walk that path in joy with faith in Him. This race that we're running, the path we're on, the trouble we encounter and overcome through the supernatural strength of God, it's building us up and creating a glory in Heaven unlike anything we can imagine, unlike anything we can see. One day, though, we will see that glory, and every tear I've cried writing to you, all the pain my daughter has endured, the threat of death and the mourning that follows, will all be gone. And we will be with God, the Creator and Lover of our souls, in the most sweet communion of peace. This is what I desire. Not for you all to know the depth of my struggle or the awful pain my daughter endured. Not for my grief to be a banner for you to watch as I wave it around like some sort of conquering hero. Not for you to learn some trite lesson about embracing the good and shrugging off the bad. I desire for you to see Jesus. I long for you to see Him in the feeding tubes and yellowed skin and seeping wounds and scars. I long for you to see Him in my tears and the empty places in my heart. I open up all of this to you, not so you can see my daughter or me or our family, but so you can see Jesus. So you can see the miraculous healing work of God. So you can see the promise of a Savior who loves you to His death. So that you will turn your eyes and hearts to Him, offer over your own lives, and one day stand beside me in glory, singing great and marvelous praises to the Healer of our souls.

"Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" Revelation 4:8

Thursday, November 21, 2013


I'm a homebody, an expert relaxer. I have twice, maybe three times as many pajama pants as I do "real" pants. I can rock a lazy day with the best of them, and I love those quiet moments at home with my family. While I excel at "relaxing", I am terrible, awful, very-no-good at "resting". With my lazy bum planted firmly on the couch, my mind and heart are still going about a thousand miles an hour, corralling in all the worries and responsibilities of my life and attempting to solve all the problems right then and there. I have to write things down or I will go over and over them in my mind, afraid I will forget, unable to let the thought go until it's somewhere outside my mind. This worked for me for a while (well, kind of) ... until the problems and worries and responsibilities exceeded the capacity of my poor mind and heart. Then, I had to learn to rest.

In Jeremiah 6, the Lord says, "Stand by the roads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls." The way of the Lord brings rest for the soul. Jesus famously said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-29)" Jesus promises a rest, a soulful rest, for the weary, for those who have been trying to work their way into the salvation that God offers. Believing on Jesus is an easy, light burden because we rest our concerns and our trials on the One who has already accomplished the work in our stead.

This is so, so much easier said than done. I found myself unable to rest in the midst of my daughter's struggles, anguished over her pain and trials. I would spend hours trying to fall asleep, all the medical words playing through my head over and over like I was studying for some test. When I was awake, I could never focus, constantly trying to remember to do this or that or caught thinking about everything that happened and everything that might happen. Even when the going is smooth, I have a hard time calming my mind; throw me into a difficult situation and I start to drown, flapping and flailing as I go. So how was I supposed to achieve this rest? How could I get myself to calm down and trust in God?

Well, first, I can't. I don't have the power within myself to give myself rest. I have to turn to the Lord. Jesus promises rest for all those to come to Him. Hebrews tells us that "we who have believed" enter God's rest. Jeremiah says that I just have to ask about the good way and then walk in it. But there has to be more to this whole thing, right? How does this mysterious "rest" help me in the midst of my struggles and suffering? What does it have to offer me?

What I needed was a better understanding of "rest". I was looking for a soothing calm for my busy mind. The rest that God promises His people is far bigger and stronger than that. He promises an eternal rest. Hebrews goes on to connect the rest that we enter with God's rest on the seventh day. He had created the world, "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works." God's rest came in connection with his finished creation, the completion of His work. Our rest, found in Jesus (like he says in Matthew) comes from recognizing the finished work of Christ, the completion of His work in securing our redemption.

Deep down, when I'm obsessing about medications or feeding tubes or balanced dinners for my toddler, I'm trying to get everything right. I'm reverting back to my control-freak ways and taking on all the responsibilities, putting the weight on myself. I'm trying to make it all go right so I can stand back, look at my accomplishments, and say, "That's right. I did that." I fall and fail and flounder because I'm just not capable of this. I'm one little person and it's a big world out there; I can't possibly fight all the battles and win. I find rest not by figuring it all out or having all the answers or "seeking" God's path (when really, I'm just looking for the trigger, the little pill to swallow to make me good enough); I find rest when I look to the cross and see the finished work of the Savior. He makes it all right. He fights the battles. He knows the will of the Father, accomplishes that work, and offers me the reward. "So then there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his." I rest from my works because Jesus has already completed them. I don't have to get everything right or earn favor with God or work so hard that I fall apart. Jesus already did.

But how do I know that's good enough? How do I know that's true? How can I be sure there isn't more for me to do? Because "we have a great high priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God... For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)" Jesus completed the work, but He did so knowing my struggles. He was tempted to defy God, go His own way, work in His own power, in all the same ways that I am tempted to do that. But He obeyed God, stayed the course, and sacrificed Himself. God's plan made room for a fumbling, confused, worry-wart like myself to find rest in the One who completed the work I fail so miserably at. I can be confident in my acceptance with God not because I did everything right, checked all the boxes, succeeded in every way. I can be confident because of Jesus and there at His feet, I find the mercy I could never gain on my own. I also find the grace that I so desperately long for in times when all seems lost.

This is not a medicine, take it once and you're fixed. This is one of those things, like I quoted Piper here, that I have to preach to myself every single day. It is all tied in to my desire for control and my inability to let go. But I remind myself that this rest is not mine to earn, but rather mine to receive. It is not just for this day or this season of life or even just for this life; it is for eternity. It is a rest that brings not just the illusion of calm and happy, but a true peace, one that surpasses understanding. It is a rest secured by the Lord for His people out of a love and devotion that are deeper than the sea. This is a comfort for my weary soul. This is the song that sings me to sleep when I lay my weary head on the pillow. And this is the rest that not only comforts, but heals all the broken places. "Come," Jesus says, "Come... and I will give you rest."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Partners in Life

I'm not sure words can really do this one justice, but I'll do my best.

God knows you far better than anyone ever will -- including you. He knows your heart, the places that ache, the places that soar. He knows your mind, your motivations, your dreams, dreams you never even knew you had. He knows all the places that feel like gold and all the pieces you are missing. And he knows exactly who to put you with to make you whole. Not everyone gets married, but God had that plan for my life. And this is a tribute to my partner in life.

If you had given me profiles of a hundred men and asked me to pick which one would be my husband, I never would have picked the man God had for me. Stubborn introvert with an obsession for books and no innate sense of time. Okay, so maybe the book part would have intrigued me, but I would never have guessed my husband would be so different from me. They say opposites attract, you wouldn't want to marry yourself, blah blah blah, but when you think you are pretty much right all the time about everything, what would compel you to end up with someone who thought differently than you? Who reacted to things and lived life so differently than you ever would?

God used my husband to reveal Himself to me, to draw me to Jesus. God used my husband to motivate me through college, remind me of why I was there and how much I wanted that. God used my husband to support me as I taught, to hear me out when I complained about the public school system yet simultaneously encourage me to keep at it, that what I was doing was important. God used my husband to usher me into motherhood ever so gently, never judging me or schooling me, instead coming beside me to figure the whole thing out -- together. And together is exactly what we needed when life turned difficult.

They say tragedy/struggle/illness/difficulty, it will either build your marriage up or break it down. My husband and I had been together for ten years, married for five to the day before our daughter arrived. We had spent a long time learning each other, giving grace, butting heads, apologizing, changing. I thank God for all the tiny speed bumps along the way because without them, we never could have endured the crash. Instead of flying out and spinning away from each other, we turned in and wove even closer together.

My husband stood beside my hospital bed and caught my tears when they wheeled my daughter away. He drove after her ambulance and waited for hours in the middle of the night to be with her. He came home to be with our son while I chased after her the next day. And for fifty-one days following, he coordinated schedules, shuttled our toddler, entertained visitors at the hospital so that my time with our daughter could be just us, made phone call after phone call (this man who is practically allergic to the phone), listened to me ramble and talk through everything, prayed with me, helped me figure out how to be a parent to two kids who couldn't be in the same place at the same time. He held us together when I couldn't, when most people would fall apart.

God knew to make him my partner. God knew that I couldn't remain stable without his calm, logical hand to steady me. God knew that I couldn't handle all the people who would invade our previously quiet life. God knew that I needed my husband's faith to rely on and lean deep into. God knew that I would get so sucked into everything with our daughter that I would forget the rest of the world, and He gave me a husband who reminded me that there was a place outside her hospital room. God knew all the ways that I would need rescuing, and He gave me my rescuer.

In so many ways, I am not strong. I am frantic and frazzled and overwhelmed. In so many ways, my husband is not strong either. He is disorganized and forgetful and lackadaisical. But in so many ways, I am strong. I am motivated and organized and determined. And in so many ways, my husband is strong too. He is intelligent and logical and passionate about what he loves. Where we are weak, we lean on one another. Where we are strong, we hold each other up. God knows us both so intimately, in depths we will never know one another, and He gave us to each other for this very purpose.

Our disaster months gave us a chance to show each other truly how much we love each other. We died to ourselves and sacrificed every. single. day. We struggled, of course -- communicating our needs, working them out. But we stood together, and we never gave up. We kept working. We kept working because our marriage is important -- to us, to our kids, to our family. We kept working because we have faith in the Great Almighty God who would glorify Himself through us, even when it hurt. We kept working because without each other, we would break. Without each other, we could not stand through this storm.

God taught me two very distinct lessons about my marriage through this time. First, He taught me not to take my spouse for granted. He is not the right-hand-man in the play about my life. He is his own person with his own needs, and just like I never take myself for granted (everything is important when it's about "me", right?), I should never take my spouse for granted. While we were both stressed and hurting, we became so sensitive to each others' needs. I need to be that way all the time, as interested in him as I am in myself -- and more so. Secondly, I am called to open up my heart to trust big and strong. We endured a lot together and I had a lot of ooey, gooey feelings that came along with our struggles. My husband doesn't like ooey, gooey feelings but I just let them rip and shared every last one of them with him. We became vulnerable to each other, admitting our terrible-awfuls and giving one another grace as we did. This kind of vulnerability sets you up for a very big fall, but in the beautiful covenant of marriage, it is necessary. All our cards on the table. Real, real life.

The splendor of the marriage covenant is that it is a picture of something so, so much bigger. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)." The mystery of marriage is a picture of the relationship between Jesus and His people. He left Heaven to be with them, He spent His life teaching them how to live, He gave His life for them, and now He sits at the place of honor beside the Father and petitions on their behalf. "'For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name... with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,' says the Lord, your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:5, 8) The love that my husband has for me, powerful and true and wonderful, is but a glimmer, a reflection in a mirror of the love the Father has for His children. This love will carry you through anything you could ever imagine and will never die. This love will lift you up, fill in all the cracks and broken places, and make you soar. This love, this love that will never die, is exactly, precisely the one thing you will always need, the one thing to make you whole.

God has different plans and paths for all of us. For me, He planned a husband who would love me unconditionally and fight for our marriage and our family. He blessed me with a man who is in it for the long haul, not for himself, but for me and our children, and ultimately, for God. This picture, knowing what we have endured, how weak we are yet how strong we have become, points my eyes straight to the glories of Heaven and of a loving Protector who will love and fight and endure, faithful, until the very end.

**I had this post percolating in my mind and was inspired to share these thoughts today after reading this post by Ann Voskamp, The Real Truth about ‘Boring’ Men — and the Women who Live with Them: Redefining Boring -- highly recommend!**