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 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!**

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Call and Answer

“Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. (Jeremiah 33:2-3)"

I wrote about how the Bible shows us that it's okay both to cry and to cry out to God. He is a loving Father who hears His children. I also wrote about how I struggled with all the "whys" surrounding our situation. These formed the foundation for the next lesson God had for me: calling upon the Lord.

You may have heard the term "prayer warrior" before. Generally reserved for women (at least in my experience), the term refers to people who seem to be constantly in prayer or who spend hours before the Lord every day, petitioning the concerns that plague their hearts. These are the first people you ask to pray because you know they will follow through. You can count on their faithfulness. I know a few women I would use this term for, women who are so faithful in prayer and constantly seek the face of the Lord. I used to think about their devotion and sacrifice of their time and wonder how they managed to spend so much time doing something so static. Don't they have things to do? Responsibilities to take care of? Jobs, husbands, children, homes? How do they have time for this?

We always have time for things that are critical. No one has so much to do that they don't sleep a wink for six days straight. If you don't sleep, you die. Anything you have to do has to wait until you get enough sleep to function. Same for eating and drinking and using the bathroom and all those other basic, necessary, life-sustaining activities. Our "responsibilities" take a back seat to these things and no one wonders, "How can you get it all done when you have all that sleeping to do?" It's just the way it is.

For the child of God, prayer should be the same way. God tells us in Jeremiah that if we call to Him, He will answer us and tell us the mysteries we seek to understand. We have a direct line to the One who has laid our paths and directs our lives; any concern we have, He knows before we even speak it (Matthew 6:8). Yet we are told in the Word to pray, again and again. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)" Pray without ceasing; don't ever stop praying. Sounds like a prayer warrior to me. But it isn't just reserved for the random person with plenty of time on her hands. It is "the will of God" for all His children. Why?

I'm not writing a book on the doctrine of prayer, but there are two distinct things God taught me about a life of prayer. The first is that prayer turns our eyes to the One who is in control. The very act of praying acknowledges God's power and gives Him the glory He is due by recognizing that power. Any time I sent out a petition for prayer, I wasn't just saying, "Please remember our daughter." I was asking people to bring her before the only One who had the power to heal. I have faith in God's power and in His love for us, and through prayer, we are reminded of those things. God isn't a cosmic gumball machine, doling out prizes whenever we put in a quarter. He is our Father who loves us, but He is also the one running the show. In prayer, we say to God, "You, Holy God, in Heaven, bring Your will to completion. Provide for us in this way. You have the power to do what we ask. Please, Lord, do." He gets the glory as the One in control (not me). He has the power (not me). So I ask of Him and ask others to ask of Him: use your marvelous power, Lord.

The second thing is that a life of prayer is a burdened life. This might sound kind of backwards and opposed to my first point, but hear me out. If you live a prayer-less life, you either think a) God has no power, b) God doesn't care or c) nothing is really that important. If you have nothing to pray about, you might think God is very small, that He couldn't do anything about what you're facing so there's no point in asking. If you believe God does have power but still you don't pray, you might think that God is up there in His big Heavenly bubble and doesn't care about your life, that He set the world in motion and has the power to intervene, but doesn't care to or wants us to live our own lives free of His control. If you believe God does have power and you believe He does care about us (check and check, you're on the right track) but still you don't pray... then you must not think there is anything in your life worth praying about. This was me. Go about my day, awake, baby awake, feed the kid, eat, do some chores, run some errands, home, eat lunch, relax during nap time, fix dinner, eat, hang out with hubby, watch some TV, bed time, sleep, do it all again. I was just going and doing and not really thinking about any of it. If someone had said, "Is God all-powerful?" I would have said, "Duh." If someone said, "Does God care about your life?" I would have said, "Of course!" If someone said, "Is prayer critical to your life?" I would have said... well, I might have said "yes" but my actions did not reflect that. I rarely prayed, certainly not "without ceasing". So what was the deal?

I was not burdened. My life was pretty good, nothing really wrong, so I was just whistling along, twiddling my thumbs, doing my thing. I believed in God's power and care but I didn't acknowledge them with my lifestyle. I knew there were things to take care of, but I just did them; I didn't need to pray about them. Until -- I encountered a whole host of things that I couldn't take care of. I couldn't heal my baby. I couldn't place her IVs. I couldn't make her create enough platelets. I couldn't help her hear. I couldn't heal her brain. I couldn't make her eat or grow. I felt like I was drowning. All these things that needed fixing and I couldn't fix any of them. My heart filled with burdens, and I began to pray. "God, this and that and everything! Help!" And God answered prayers, miracles raining from the heavens, y'all. Amazing, amazing miracles.

That time of fervent, unceasing, burdened prayer changed me. I guess it made me a prayer warrior? But that's exactly what all of God's children should be. We should all be burdened with the cares of life. We should care about what is happening around us. We should care about our neighbor's sick dog and our friend's baby and our parents' jobs and typhoons in Asia. We should care about the pain and brokenness of the world, the burdens of daily life, and we should lift those cares up to the Healer, Restorer, Lover of our souls. We should pray because these things are important and they deserve our attention and each and every one of them should be brought before the feet of the Father. Even if your life is great, pray and pray and pray. Even if your prayers are all thanksgivings and especially if your prayers are all pleading petitions, pray and pray and pray.

I'm not advocating that anyone feel like they should carry the weight of the world around with them. But life is weighty. Prayer takes our weights, our very real and important burdens (even if they seem so small to us) and places them on the crucified, risen shoulders of Christ. Prayer says, "God is powerful and He cares for us. This life is important. It matters. Therefore, I take this life and offer it over to Him, and I trust. I trust."

We have moved past our time of acute, daily fear and concern for our daughter. For the most part, she is healthy and happy and life is good again. But every day, I feel the burden of this life. The little things, the big things, our things, others' things, and all day, I say, "Lord, Lord, Lord! Look. See. Heal. Change. Redeem." It's everywhere, in the whole world. From the woman you happen to notice crying in the car next to you at a stoplight to your child who doesn't understand why you won't let him hit the dog to your beautiful friend who you desperately want to know Jesus to your coworker who just found out he has cancer. It all has weight. It all matters. And we are to bring it all to the Lord in prayer. Like the woman in Luke 18 who brought her petition before the judge again and again and was rewarded for her persistence, Jesus longs for us to always pray and never lose heart. "Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" God will hear our cries and He will bring justice. But will Jesus find us praying when He returns?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Letting Go

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

It's one thing to realize that you are not in control; it's another thing to let go. Sometimes things spin out of control for a moment. You throw your arms out and hold on tight and everything calms back down. Whew, that was close. I had been in this position before, and while it turned my eyes to the One who is in control, the situation resolved quickly enough that I still saved face. It was uncomfortable enough to remind me that things happen outside of our control, but not uncomfortable enough to really make me let go.

Giving life to a human who has problem after problem after problem will make you let go. At first, I thought I could just let go of breastfeeding. I talked to myself in my hospital bed while she was in the high-risk nursery at the hospital where she was born. "It's okay, Aleah. You loved nursing your son, but that just may not be possible with your daughter, and that's okay." To give you an idea of how "well" I embraced this "letting go", I pumped for almost three months. Every feed. Pump, bag/bottle, pump, bag/bottle. She took every feed by bottle, only nursed a couple times early on, and still I pumped. I pumped and pumped until God said, "Aleah, let go." She was allergic to my milk. It was literally making her sick. My only option if I wanted to cling to this thing I had supposedly "let go" was to eliminate almost every food from my diet (dairy, corn, wheat, soy, citrus fruits, chocolate, the list goes on). I wept thinking about this, but I felt anguished to consider switching her to formula. It felt like failure. What was it in reality? Letting go. I knew I wasn't in control; I just still couldn't quite let go.

The next thing I "let go" of was her life. After I watched her wheeled out in a scary baby transporting machine and leave me, her mother, the one God gave her to protect her, at only three hours old, I cried, a big, ugly, snotty cry, and gave her life to God. As though He didn't have it already. But I needed to let go of it. I needed to surrender her to Him because this was so far beyond anything I could ever fix. I didn't have the power for this. I had to let it go because I had to protect myself; if I got my "hopes up", I would be crushed if I lost her. Here's the thing: I wasn't protecting myself; I was deluding myself. I would have been crushed regardless in ways that I can't even imagine. I wasn't "letting go"; I was building a wall.

Clearly I was not good at this. God still had (let's be real here... has) much work to do with me here. I was discharged from the hospital about seven hours after I BIRTHED A HUMAN BEING. I wanted to be home; I couldn't stare at that stupid baby warmer and crib absent my baby. I woke diligently every three hours to pump and bring in my milk. As soon as I possibly could the next day (remember, the day after I gave birth), I went to see her in the NICU. I spent close to eight hours there. Eight hours. Sitting, holding her finger, pumping, sitting. I couldn't bear the thought of her apart from me. I wasn't in control an hour away. I had to be there. And then I had to leave. Leave. Walk away. The first few times were excruciating. I would walk away from her crib and walk right back, pretending I had forgotten something so the nurses didn't think I was crazy. Although usually I did it three or four times, unable to really feel like it was okay to leave until I checked every last inch of her, read over the monitor again and again to make sure her stats were okay (like the crazy alarms that sounded when they weren't wouldn't draw the attention of the nurses), watched her breathe and breathe and breathe. The I would take a deep breath myself, steel my nerves, barrel down the long hallway like I was running from the scene of a crime, do everything I could not to cry until I got to the bathroom.

Fifty-two times. I had to leave her fifty-two times like this. After about two weeks, it started to feel just like our normal life. I hadn't known her any other way than this way. This was our relationship and it slowly became less distressing. God had also shown Himself to me again and again and was growing my trust for Him. He was growing my heart and giving me faith. Instead of obsessively returning to her bed every time I left, I started praying. When it was time to leave, I would hold her and smell her as deeply as I could so I wouldn't forget. Then I would put her down, get her settled, watch her breathe. I would collect all my things and go stand by her crib and pray. I prayed that God would protect her. I prayed for good nurses. I prayed for divine intervention if something went wrong. "Lord, please let the nurse just feel like she should check on her." I prayed for protection from evil, sinful people who could take advantage of the fairly loose visiting policy. I prayed that she would not get sick from other patients on the floor. I prayed and prayed and then I said "Amen". "So be it." An appeal to God, an affirmation from me, the end. Then I would leave. Walk right out the door. Let the nurse know I was gone. Push the silver button. Walk to the elevators. And be gone.

I learned to let go. I knew not just that I wasn't in control, but that God was in control. I made my appeals, I did every last thing I possibly could for her, and I let go. Just thinking about it makes my heart hurt. For a fiercely protective mom, this is about the hardest thing you could ask me to do. But I was being bombarded. While I had to leave my daughter every day, any time I was with her, I had left my son. Sometimes with my husband, but he had a job, so often with his grandparents. They love him -- love, love, LOVE him -- and were truly delighted to spend so much time with him. And I was glad he got to be with them! But for me, from day one, he was with me all the time. I fed him exclusively for his whole first year of life. I never spent one single day away from him. I became his mom and that's what I was. And here, I was being forced to give him over. To let him go. At first, I drilled the laundry list of what he ate, when, what he liked to do, when he napped, how often, where. I was trying to impart the wisdom of twenty months of study to these other people who were going to care for him. I knew they couldn't possibly do the job as well as I did and I didn't want my son to suffer for that. Here's the thing, though: he was totally fine. Not only was he totally fine, he was great! Yes, he missed his mommy and daddy. He skipped a few naps and went to bed late sometimes. He probably drank sweet tea at some point and ate too many cookies, but he was safe. He was happy. He was doted on, read to, tickled, played with, loved, over and over, every day! You can't replace mom, but no one was trying to. As I let go, I made room for more love. I made room for stronger, deeper relationships for him with others. I wasn't just letting go of him for him to slip away or float off on his own. I was letting go and handing him over to others, those God had placed in his life for just such an occasion. Just like my daughter's nurses and doctors, my son's grandparents were his protectors and providers and nurturers when I couldn't be.

Eight weeks wasn't enough for me to learn this lesson. When I finally got my daughter home, I thought, "This is it!" Boy, was I wrong. We had so many more hurdles to clear, some worse even than when she was away from us. It was awful and scary and I was not even remotely in control. I knew I had arrived somewhere, though, when for the third Sunday in a row, we had to miss church. Why? Her feeding tube fell out. It was so absurd, it was almost like a joke. I seriously saw what had happened, looked up at the sky, and laughed. "Ok, God, this is how you're gonna play it. Well, I'm game. Let's go." And then I cried. But still, I recovered and realized that she was in His hands. This was from Him and I was going to let go and walk the path He had laid out before me. So it included a trip to the emergency room. Oh well, here we go. Wonderfully enough, it turned out to be one of the greatest things that ever happened to her. How do you like that, control-freak self?

I am my children's caretaker, launderer, champion, advocate, personal assistant, chef, teacher,  guide. But I am not their God. And while I know this, I still have to practice working that out. I still have to let go and trust not only God, but the people He has put around me to help me. I won't say I love it. It's still hard for me to let another watch after my precious blessings. But God has shown me that it is more than okay; it is good. It is good for them, and it is good for me. It is good for me to let go and let God. Not because He needs my permission or can't work with me in the way or requires that I do it to pass some sort of test and prove my faith. Rather because He already is in control. My "letting go" is accepting the way things already are and trusting in the Lord's plan and not my own. It is walking out in faith, knowing that God has gone before me and that all things that come are from Him. "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24-25)"

Sunday, November 17, 2013


We face a realm of possibilities with my daughter. At first, we were faced with the incredible gift that is her life. She could have been infected much earlier and miscarried. She could have stayed too long in the womb. She could have bled out at birth. She could have failed to regain her stability after birth. Once she made it past that, though, we were looking at a whole host of scary things that made us see how precious her very life was (and in turn, how precious our own are) and made me evaluate what about life is most important. If my daughter never hears, is that okay? If she never walks, is that okay? If she never speaks or has severe developmental delays, is that okay?

A brush with death gets you thinking. The weight of the unknown gets you thinking. It all got me thinking about what constitutes a life worth living and cherishing. I knew I would love my daughter no matter what. She is my sweet baby and I am her momma. That's what mommas do; they love their babies. But what about for her? What about the scary things she would face? How would I encourage her and lift her up when things in her future looked dim?  It didn't take me long to see that all the trappings of life are fleeting and unnecessary. Hearing, speaking, walking, seeing -- they can all be left behind. They can all fall away and we will still be. All, that is, save one: faith in Jesus Christ. (If you are tempted to eye-roll me here, please hang on and hear me out.)

My biggest hang-up about believing in God, putting my faith in Jesus, was the hypocrisy I saw in the people who called themselves "Christians". I knew what they said they believed and then I saw how they acted and I couldn't stand their lies. It made me hate Jesus and think the whole thing was foolish. Eventually I met a few Christians I respected who charged me to think about the faith, the actual words of Jesus, to give it a real "shot". They saw my hangup for what it was: a mask to hide my real problem with Christianity.

What I really didn't like was the idea of having my life controlled by something or someone else. If I took the plunge and accepted Jesus, then I'd have to follow the rules. God says don't drink, smoke, or chew or go with girls who do. No sex before marriage or you'll burn in hell for eternity. No lying unless it's the little white kind that make people feel better about themselves. No tattoos, no R-rated movies, pretty much no fun. And above all, never, EVER cuss. The unforgivable sin.

If I walked into that, if I signed on the dotted line and became a follower of Jesus, I'd be accountable to all those rules. I didn't want to feel condemned like that. I didn't want to feel trapped or judged or held down. And most of all, I didn't want to be a hypocrite. I knew that eventually I was going to trip up. I couldn't toe the line forever, and when I did mess up, I didn't want to have myself held accountable to anyone or anything outside of myself. I didn't want to say that I would follow this list of rules and then break one. It was easier to just never agree to the rules and do whatever I wanted than to risk the hypocrisy that I saw around me, that drove me crazy.

I had everything so, so backwards. All my carts were before their horses and it was just a big old mess. The first thing I didn't understand properly were the "rules" themselves. I thought the idea was to get yourself "right", put yourself together, and then God would accept you. That was only the beginning, though, because then you'd have to keep being good to stay in His favor. Like a really high-stakes version of Santa. Thankfully, I had some pretty amazing people in my life who showed me that my understanding was totally wrong. All these outward actions that people seemed to put so much stock in were actually the result of faith in God. Jesus says in John 14, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Don't miss the order there. The love that you already have compels you to follow the "rules". Love for God comes first, and because of that love, your life reflects the character that God desires from His children. The works that characterize the Christian walk are evidence of a faith that already exists: "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? ... So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)" This is not to say, "Get to work! Earn your faith!" This is to say, "If you have faith, you will have works," in the same way that you would say, "If you stand in the rain, you will get wet." The one causes the other (faith --> works) and they always come together, but never, never in the opposite direction. "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)"

The other thing I had so wrong were the "rules" themselves. Many of the things I thought were critical to following Jesus were really just social constructs, things that were important to some people but that weren't really outlined in God's word as important or weren't even there at all. The other thing I had totally out of place was the idea of grace. The commandments God did hand down and that were important, things a follower of Christ was expected to do or not do, were always understood as an unattainable standard. No man or woman who ever lived could follow all the rules perfectly. The whole thing about Jesus is that He lived that perfect life and that our salvation comes through Him, not through our well-lived lives. We are expected to fail; we are sinful and broken. Our response to understanding that is what is important. Our response should be to call upon Jesus and ask God to forgive our failings because of the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. Christianity isn't a commitment to following a list of rules; it is a commitment to following a person. Following Jesus and modeling your life after His will lead you to a different way of life, and yes, there are guidelines and commandments and expectations for that path, but you do not have to perfect that life to follow Him. You are not the one "getting it all together" to be in His favor. In fact, Jesus gives you what you need to follow Him. It's beautiful, really.

The hypocrisy I feared? It's a part of the Christian walk. We are broken people, making our way down a long road and we will fall. Our value isn't found, though, in how well we walk; it is found in Jesus. The condemnation I feared? Ironically, in Christ, I stand redeemed, not condemned. The condemnation I feared exists outside the love of Christ, as I tried to hack it out on my own, doing my own thing. God still exists despite my believing in Him. When I put my faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross, I am washed clean. When I try to play all on my own? I fail and have nowhere to turn.

Life becomes so sweet and so precious in the face of death. We take it all for granted until we see how fragile it is and then we try to scramble and gather up all the pieces and soak up every moment because it's gone in an instant. The oldest living person in the world is 115 (possibly another is 123 but not documented). Say you manage to live until you're 130. Mind-blowingly old. You are still but a breath. Here today, gone tomorrow in the eyes of the Lord. In the eyes of the Creator of the universe who has been and will be for eternity. But your life is the only one you will live and is of vast importance to you. Whether you place your faith in Jesus determines the eternity you will live after this life. Don't let silly hang-ups or misunderstandings like the ones I had keep you from enjoying an eternity with God. Consider what it is that holds you back from accepting Jesus -- whether it's hypocrisy or the rules or why Jesus had to die or why evil exists or lack of "proof" or surrendering your plan for your life. Whatever it is, think about it until you get answers. Ask a Christian you know to explain it to you. Overcome the hurdle, whatever it is for you, because on the other side awaits the most important person the world has ever known: Jesus. And these are His word to you: "'Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!' (Matthew 7:7-11)"

If it's all bunk, what can it hurt to ask? What can it hurt to knock? Seek? If it's all true, what great glory awaits! What great peace is promised! God will not give you a stone or a serpent. He will give you His son. In fact, He already has.

Friday, November 15, 2013


 Whew. This one, y'all. I'm already crying. I've been waiting on this one because I knew it would be hard. But today, my sweet daughter is five months old, and it just seems like the right time, so here we go.

I've already shared with you that I struggled with understanding why all of this was happening to us. Why my little baby had to be so sick, why we had to uproot our life for eight weeks (and longer) to help her, why we had to be left with so many lingering questions. I never felt at any point that God had abandoned us, but that still didn't answer my questions. God had prepared me (unbeknownst to myself), and I resolved to have faith in facing the unknown, and God strengthened my faith as I prayed.

God knows our hearts, and He knew that I needed a dose of hope. He used one of the members of the community we enjoy to give me just such a dose. I had emailed after a rough morning; my daughter's feeding tube was leaking (and would just days later fall out leaving her with a giant, gaping wound in her stomach), and I was feeling stressed and frazzled. Our church is always so faithful to pray, so I knew when I sent out the SOS, they would respond. One of my dear friends who had passed through her own struggles and sought the face of the Lord in them all sent me a link to a song and a sermon that had encouraged her. She included her own words of encouragement and assurance that she was praying every day for us.

Much like the moment I talked about in this post, the first time I listened to the song, something inside me changed. "Though you slay me / Yet I will praise you / Though you take from me / I will bless your name / Though you ruin me / Still I will worship / Sing a song to the one who’s all I need" The guys who sing the song lost their father unexpectedly and wrote the song in response, as they were grieving their loved one. The lyrics cut me right in two. "I come, God, I come / I return to the Lord / The one who’s broken / The one who’s torn me apart / You strike down to bind me up / You say you do it all in love / That I might know you in your suffering" Ohhh, wow. I return to the God who has broken and torn me apart in love. This is right where I found myself, coming back, over and over again, to the One with the power to heal, but who kept breaking us, over and over again. Why, God? Why? Here's where my heart stopped: "My heart and flesh may fail / The earth below give way / But with my eyes, with my eyes I’ll see the Lord / Lifted high on that day / Behold, the Lamb that was slain / And I’ll know every tear was worth it all" One day, I will know that every tear was worth it all. Why? Jesus. The sacrifice of God for me, seeing the culmination of that in the glories of the heavenlies. "Though tonight I’m crying out / Let this cup pass from me now / You’re still more than I need / You’re enough for me" O Lord, O Lord, please let this be.

To look around at the situation, to see my daughter splayed out in a hospital crib on a warmer because she couldn't hold her own body temperature, to see her have needles in her body and tubes coming out from everywhere, to not be able to hold her for days and days, to not know if she would ever eat properly, to not know if she could gain weight to survive, to not know if her brain would function well enough for her to talk, learn, grow -- it all looked hopeless and it all looked meaningless. To look with our human eyes and see the pain and all the problems, it looked like a giant mess and seemed to have no purpose. She was so small. She didn't deserve this. We are a faithful family. We attend church, serve God, seek to teach our children about Him. Why would He do this to us? We didn't deserve it.

That is what our human eyes would see and our human hearts would say. This song hit me so hard because it spoke the truth of God, not the "truth" of man. The truth of God says this: "Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that." These are Piper's words from the accompanying sermon (which I highly, highly recommend), and they opened my eyes to a truth I had never considered before.

He's referencing 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." He talks about how Paul who as the writer saw so much pain and trial in his life (ending with his own beheading) characterized those trials as "light" and "momentary" -- they were small and fleeting. Compared to what? The eternal weight of glory. The forever-lasting, hugeness of the life beyond this life.

But Paul, it doesn't look that way, not even a little bit. He knows that. He anticipates that, which is why he writes, "Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen." I had spent a lot of time looking at the things that were seen: the scabs from IVs, the puckered skin around her tube incision, her yellow skin, her skinny little body. These things made me lose heart. These things kept me up at night and made me hurt for her and question God. But all of these things, even though they seemed so big and powerful and painful -- they were light and momentary, not because they weren't important or painful, but because they were part of a much, much bigger picture.

The picture isn't just this day or this month or this year or this lifetime. The picture includes an eternity at the feet of the Savior of the world. When you zoom out and see the whole thing, this is but a breath. That is not to say it is a meaningless breath; it has great purpose. But the purpose is not found in this moment, right now, tangibly. The purpose waits in the unseen. The glory that our trials in the here and now produce we will meet on the other side. We can't see the glory or touch it or taste it. Piper says our eyes will tell us that our suffering is meaningless. But we have faith that it is not: "Either you see it with the eyes of faith, believe it because the text says it, or you lose heart."

God's word tells us in Corinthians that our trials in this life are creating a glory in heaven that is beyond all comparison. That promise is the "unseen" that we look to, that gives us hope when the seen looks scary and dim. We believe in this promise in faith, not because we can see that it is true but because God has promised it to us. My request to our church included this: "I want to be faithful and trust but my heart and mind get caught up in the problem instead of resting in our Savior." I had spent all my time looking to the seen and it looked terrible. I couldn't see anything happening, any good coming of all this. And here's the thing: in my lifetime, I may never see anything good come out of everything we've been through. It would feel really good to be able to point and say, "I see what God was doing now!" And there have been moments when I've seen Him shine through and I can see the work being done. But the Word never promises that. It never promises that we will see the big picture while we are here living it. It does promise that when we leave this world, all the pain and tears and injustice and struggle and brokenness that we encountered, all the trials of this life, will have built for us a glory beyond anything we could ever imagine. "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)"

In theory, this doesn't feel good. It doesn't answer questions. It doesn't clarify. In the midst of pain and trial? This is sweet, sweet manna from Heaven. It says that this life doesn't have to feel good or answer questions or clarify. This life is spent in the marathon of faith, enduring to the end when we will see Jesus, glorified and sitting at the right hand of the Father and we will rejoice, being showered with glories beyond our imagination. And not only does that beautiful moment occur after we endure the pain; it occurs as a result of enduring the pain. It is not simply a "well done" after making it through the gauntlet; it is being prepared as we trial and persevere.

Finally, finally I could see. I felt like scales had fallen from my eyes and the giant weight lifted from my shoulders. Just as I have faith in the healing sacrifice of Jesus, I have faith in the promise of eternity. I can't see either of those things, but they form a foundation stronger than any physical, tangible, seen experience. Unfortunately, I am a physical, tangible, seen being and it takes me about 3.5 seconds and one little hiccup to have me spiraling into frustrated despair again. The solution? Preaching. Piper again: "Therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for." Every day I have to remind myself of what I know and believe. Every day I have to come back to the fountain of life -- as Piper says, not a fountain where one sip heals, but a continually flowing fountain that we need every single day -- and drink until my thirst is quenched. Every day I have to sit at the feet of Jesus and ask him to teach me, remind me, heal my heart.

Want to know the most beautiful thing? He teaches me and reminds me and heals my heart. Sometimes it comes through the victories we celebrate. Sometimes it comes through remembering how awful things were and how much better they are now, even if they aren't perfect. But most of the time, it comes just because. It comes because I ask for it in faith, knowing that God will heal. Sometimes I ask out of desperation because nothing else offers an answer and I can't fix it. But God hears those cries and slowly, slowly He is teaching me that trust in His almighty hand and His promises and His plan will never leave me empty-handed. I preach that to myself every day; my friends preach it to me. And the glory we will see at the end of this rainbow will be like nothing we have ever imagined.

**Find here A Song for the Suffering and Piper's message, "Do Not Lose Heart"**