Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Say Something

One of my favorite music groups (Pentatonix) just released their cover of a song called "Say Something". The song is akin to perfection; sad, haunting, beautiful. The lyrics are vague but emotive. The melody is simple but memorable. You can't listen to it and not feel, even if you're not exactly sure what it is you're feeling. It's about someone who is leaving even though they don't really want to. Who hasn't been through that in one way or another?

For some reason, upon my most recent listen, as I got to this part: "I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you", my mind echoed back to me the refrain from my two-year-old son's Bible: "a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love." It's from the Jesus Storybook Bible, one that reveals Jesus in the whole of Scriptures, from the Creation to the Fall to David and Goliath to Jonah and Ezra. Over and over again, it describes how these stories aren't meant to inspire us to be brave or to obey God or to follow the rules. These stories are meant to reveal Jesus, to show us how in every way, God has been moving the course of history toward the salvation we have in Christ, with a love that never stops, never gives up, never breaks, never ends.

The love in the song? It seems to try, but it fails. It reaches out, but it loses grip. It lays itself down, but isn't enough to hold itself up. Over and over again, the singer pleads, "Say something. Say something, anything." Just one word would have been enough, but instead? Silence. So she gives up. She walks away. She lets go. "I'm giving up on you... You're the one that I love, and I'm saying goodbye."

I think in many of our minds, the voice in this song could easily be God's. "I love you, and if you would just say something, I would stay." What does He want us to say? Say that you're sorry. Say that you love me. Say that you need me. Say that I'm incredible and awesome. Say that you're afraid of me. Say that you can't live without me. Say that I am everything and that you are nothing. Say something, anything, it almost doesn't even matter what. "You didn't come through for me, and now I'm leaving, turning my back. We're done." We failed somehow, and now it's over. It's too late. And how wrong we are. How wrong we are.

God doesn't ask us to say anything. God isn't demanding from us these three little words or those certain phrases or prayers or speeches. God isn't hanging in the balance, waiting on your answer. God isn't suspended and confused and pining.

God is running.

God is running right toward you, while your mouth stays pursed shut, tight, silent. He is running and running and running... to you. "Anywhere I would have followed you." No, everywhere He has come to you. "I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you." No, anywhere He can reach you. "Say something, I'm giving up on you." No, He has never and will never give up... on any of us. "You're the one that I love and I'm saying goodbye." No, Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever.

God is the father, arms open, running toward His son who has finally returned home. The son doesn't say a word. He doesn't say, "I'm sorry." He doesn't spout the speech he had prepared in his head. He doesn't say, "I hate you, dad, get away from me." He doesn't say a word, and "while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)" The father doesn't ask, "Where have you been?" "What are your feelings toward me?" "Why did you leave?" "Why did you say all those awful things?" He runs. He hugs. He kisses. He throws a party. He didn't wait for one word or a thousand words; he loved.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Take the Joy Dare #4&5

I forgot to do this last week, though I can't for the life of me remember why. I struggle to remember yesterday or, well, sometimes even just this morning, much less a whole week ago! Ha, which is why I write it down, numbering the joys so they don't slip away. Here are a few from the past two weeks:

1) Illness-free while my husband was gone

Ever do that anti-prayer thing? Where the thing topping your list is really a not-thing, an absence of a thing? My husband went out of town for a conference and my number one prayer: please, Lord, let us all stay healthy. Him, to present at the conference, me and the kids to, well, spare my sanity and time and sleep and efforts. We did, all of us! Which is a great blessing indeed. But I can feel my faith pushing me to higher heights, ones that say "thy will be done" instead of "please, Lord, anything but that"... one day.

2) Downton Abbey -- my daughter -- bedtime

What do all these things have in common? That day's prompt: laughter. Laughter is vital in our home; we, all of us, languish without it. That particular day I caught up on the most recent Downton Abbey (well, recent for those of us in the US) and of course, laughed with every line Maggie Smith uttered. Hilarious! My daughter spent much of the day giggling at her big brother who couldn't get enough of her "oxygenated grace" as Ann would say. And bedtime? One of my favorite times of every single day is listening to my husband read my son's favorite book (Where's My Cow? if you're interested -- highly recommend!). They both laugh and laugh and it brings me joy on so many levels.

3) Power after 18+ inches of snow

This was after the big snowstorm, and all I could think every time my heat clicked on or I took something out of the oven or I read my book at bedtime was "power" -- we have power, praise the Lord!

4) Growing patience

It's weird to feel yourself growing, physically (hello, preggo belly!) but even more spiritually/emotionally. Probably the number one most important used-every-day fruits of the Spirit I need is patience. (Obviously, we all need them all, but my stage of life requires a healthier serving of this one.) I have never been accused of being patient, but slowly, I am starting to see my rope lengthen. Partly, I think it's because I've accepted some of my limits and I keep my eye on them. But I know in part it is a work of the Spirit, filling me with the Word and growing my heart toward others. I'm learning to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19). It hasn't happened over night but over the long run, I can look back and see myself changing. What hope lies there!

5) My grocery list

Next time you make your grocery list, think about what it says of God. You need bread and milk and how did we go through all that peanut butter? You write it down, go to the store, pick it out. Maybe you even price compare and use coupons. You go to the register, let the clerk ring it all up (or if you're Type A about bagging like me, you do it yourself), and then you pay. You walk to your car, load everything up, and go on your way, simple as that. All of these steps? They are blessings. From your access to the store, to the products they carry, to the ability to choose your sustenance, to the friendly (or not so friendly) clerk there to ring it up (or for me, the super nice lady who always helps me to my car when I have both kids with me), to the money to pay for it all, to the car to get you home and the gas to fuel the car. Such a simple thing, going to the grocery store, but it is full -- FULL -- of God. Of His love and care for you. Be so grateful! So, so grateful!

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I've been thinking about anger lately. Only in the last few months would I have said this is something I "struggle" with. I'm not an angry person... or at least I wasn't. Frustrated, maybe. Disappointed, irritated, disrupted. But the little things life brings by -- fumbling mornings, traffic, snarky comments -- they never made me angry. They never lit that little fire in the center of my chest that I feel often these days. That little fire that starts out so small, but that I feed and allow to grow and grow until it bursts out of me.

It always starts small. I'm readying for bed and my daughter starts to cry when she should be asleep. If she settles back down, we're okay, but if not? I start to feel it. My husband makes a stop on his way home from work. I'm fine until I find out. What do you mean you didn't come straight home to rescue me from the children? Fire. My son just needs help. He's two. He just needs help but I'm elbow-deep in raw chicken and he won't stop crying. It burns. I... burn.

I could line up all the reasons, good ones, for why now, why me, why the fire. But what I'm seeing is less that life has put this on me and more that life has drawn it out of me. That my circumstances are not the cause of my anger but rather the window to it. My children, my husband, they don't make the anger within me; it's already there. The swirling around me just nicks my heart, like the tiniest of cuts that just won't stop bleeding. And instead of applying pressure, hard and fast, I watch it bleed. I watch the blood spread and spread until I am covered and I can't deny it then. Look at me! Can't you see it? I can't help this.

The part that scares me is that, in a way, it feels good. It feels good to feed my anger. The bigger it gets, the more justified I feel, vindicated, like this hard, pressured life made me do it and I have every reason for my fire. And maybe looking in, few would blame me. But looking out? From the seat of my heart? I know. I know I'm feeding a monster. I know my hand isn't forced. I know it's what I want.

I think of this and am immediately thankful for the Spirit that speaks into me and reminds me, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)" My heart is broken and bent and wayward. The good feelings from feeding my anger? They are symptoms of sickness. "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)" The same judgment that rests on the shoulders of murderers, those who take precious lives of the children of God, that judgment rests on my angry shoulders. "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)" It's very clear. This hate, this anger, it is akin to murder. And while I want to shrink back from it and downplay it and say, "Never!" ... I trust the Word. And I know that these monsters, when fed, only grow, bigger and bigger than we could ever imagine.

I know that in my own power, I would feed this monster. I may never physically take life, but in my heart and mind, I would slay every day. I have that power inside me. I have that capability. But I am not bound to it. I am not chained to my sick and dying heart or the fire or the good feelings. I am not a slave to myself because I have been set free. "Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin... having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)" Once chained and bound to my sin, I have been set free, and now? I am chained to righteousness. "Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (Romans 6:19)" Just as I can watch the blood spread until I am covered, presenting myself ready and willing to my anger, I can turn away. I can apply pressure, stop the bleeding, and open myself to forgiveness, laying down my indignation and, instead, embracing love. "Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)" 

We like to think we are free. We like to think that we make our own way and choose our destiny and all that. But truly, we are slaves to a master. And that master is either our own heart or God's. We either bend to the whims of our own judgments and feelings and thoughts, or we bend to God's. We don't like being chained so we throw off the trappings of religion, thinking ourselves smart and wise and freed. But really? We've simply enslaved ourselves to ourselves. And when presented with these two options? I'd rather serve the One I know is holy. As for myself? I know that my motives aren't pure, my judgments aren't sound, my heart? It shouldn't be leading anyone. And here's the thing: it doesn't have to. I don't have to listen to my heart because I have been set free. And instead of being enslaved to the fickle, angry wanderings of myself, I am enslaved to God. I am not bound to my anger, but instead to forgiveness and love. I am not bound to death, but instead to life. I am not bound to barrenness, but instead to the fruit of sanctification, the fruit that grows me (and not my anger monster), builds me up, makes me strong. Strong enough to withstand the temptation to lash my fiery tongue. Strong enough to beat back the flames. Strong enough to feel that little fire in the center of my chest and say, "No." Strong enough to choose love.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Take the Joy Dare #3

I love having a week when it's hard to choose my favorite "joys", the best gifts. I read my little scribbles and think, Yes, that one! Oh, and of course, that one. But that one too! Overflowing over here. Over. Flowing. But I managed, not to contain the blessings, but to highlight just a few of the ways God has richly blessed me. Soak it up!

1) Bright nails (OPI California Raspberry)

Sometimes you have an awesome friend who suggests painting your nails bright to combat the winter blues. Said awesome friend's cousin (another awesome friend) loans you some beautiful polishes. And you spend a short portion of your evening brightening up your life! It works, friends. Sometimes all it takes is a bright coat of paint.

Painted nails - take that, winter!

2) My daughter's sweet smiles for her daddy

The other night at dinner, my daughter sat in her high chair with her usual unimpressed resting face (I'm being generous with my description. ha). Then my husband looked over at her and caught her gaze and she broke into the biggest, most beautiful smile! We all started laughing; it was a face of contagious joy. He looked away and she relaxed, looking back at her toys. He looked back over at her and again, her whole face lit up, showing us all of her gums. He would look away and look back and every single time, she shone like the sun. It was such a sweet, incredible moment.

3) Babies!!!!!

No, I'm not pregnant. But I am swimming in a world of life. My friends and loved ones and friends of loved ones are being blessed by the sweetest gifts from God. Life is so precious and each one of those little flutters, bean-sized ultrasounds, gender reveals, and piercing cries is evidence of His great grace and mercy. We are all miracles, friends, every last one of us.

4) Learning sign language

I set a goal for myself this year to learn seven signs a week (basically one a day). My daughter's severe hearing loss qualifies her for cochlear implants (well, so far), but we still plan to use sign language with her. We want her to be able to communicate on her own terms without having to rely on her electronic ears. It seems like an impossible feat, learning a whole new language with two tiny ones underfoot. But thankfully, God has blessed me with a great resource in one of my friends (who knows and teaches ASL... how cool is that?!) and with a strong motivation: my sweet girl. Over the past week, I learned more than 40 signs! I can't wait to learn more.

5) One month of gifts

February 1st marked one month of counting gifts, marked 90+ named blessings. The remarkable thing is how easy it is. I barely have to think to draw up three graces, three joys, three blessings for every single day. When I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed, I remind myself: what were yesterday's joys? What are today's? When fear threatens to creep in, I beat it back with thankfulness. Look at what God has done for you, all the ways He has provided and cared for you. What do you have to fear? My life is so rich and so full. I continue to mark it, leave evidence, show it all around. Look and see what God has done!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Over Our Heads

"Anything that is over your head is under God's feet."

I saw this quote on a church sign the other day as I drove to the store. The immediate picture that came to mind kind of creeped me out. Like floating not far above my head is this clear floor through which I can see God's giant Jesus sandals. Like He might fall in on me at any moment. I continued thinking about it as I drove and I kept zooming out from myself, farther and farther away until I was just a little speck in my own mental picture. I thought about how big and how broad and how massive this world, this universe is, and how teeny, itty, bitty tiny I am. All the things that feel like they might swallow me up? They're not even blips on the world's radar.

I used to have panic attacks in college. I still get small ones occasionally, mostly just ones when it feels like I can't quite breathe in all the way. They are mostly out of my control and usually just mean I need to eat more balanced meals (hello, mom's healthy lunch of chips and cookies), but whenever they hit, I make myself stop and breathe. Here we go, Aleah. Breathe in, breathe out. In. Out. As I start to calm, I can breathe deeper. In... Deeper... Okay, out... All the way. Finally, I will hit a breath that fills my lungs up all the way and my shoulders relax and I'm good. I carry on about my day and don't think another thing of it.

I remember sitting with my daughter's neonatologist, trying to figure out how to ask him if my daughter was going to die. I was having one of these small panic attacks, one no one would know I was having. I was coaching myself to breathe while I tried to pull together words that didn't sound frightening. "Is she going to... to be okay?" Whatever "okay" means. "Oh, yes!" he encouraged quickly. "Yes, her autonomic system is functioning fine. We just need to get these platelets under control." Big breath out. I'd been holding it. Forgot to let go. "You know, there are long term concerns and we'll cross those bridges when we get there, but yes, she's going to pull through." In that moment, I just felt washes of relief. I could allow myself to love her and not fear. I could focus on the immediate concerns and not feel like we were teetering on a high wire. I could do this. We... could do this.

Later, I went to write up my report from that day for our faithful prayer warriors when I realized I had no idea what an "autonomic system" was. I Googled it (though I'd been encouraged not to Google things, I felt like this was a safe one) and learned the term for something that all of us take for granted every day. The autonomic nervous system controls what we think of as "automatic" things: heart rate, breathing, digestion, etc. The things in our bodies that just "happen"... they have a control. In my daughter's case, while her platelets were a wreck, her breathing and heart rate and temperature were all holding steady and this was encouraging. This meant she would "make it". Without those things, it gets dicey. But her body was doing it, praise God.

I couldn't help but go back to sitting in that chair with the doctor, controlling my breathing. Telling myself, in, out, in, out. Just for a moment, maybe a minute, max. And then I was back to my life, doing my "thing" while my autonomic system kept going without my reminder. In, out, in, out. My heart, dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum, the blood whooshing in and out. Just going. Going. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for fifty-two weeks, for twenty-seven years and counting. In, out, dum-dum, whoosh. And I couldn't help but multiply myself by all the people who I knew would read my update and prayer request for my daughter. By the people in my family and in my church. All the lungs and hearts and ins and outs and dum-dums and whooshes. Seven billion of us. Nine zeroes of ins and outs and dum-dums and whooshes. And God sees them all.

"In his hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind." (Job 12:10) The breath, the ins and outs, of all mankind. All of us, all seven billion. I have the power to focus on my own breathing... for about a minute. I suppose I could do it all the time, but it would be able all I could do. And eventually I'd have to sleep. God's hand is delivering the breath of all mankind, all the time. This... is a big, big God. A God for whom anything that has me in "over my head" is but a blip, a breath. What a marvelous resource of power! What a great and powerful God! This is not a God we should doubt, but rather one we can turn to, count on, have faith in.

But here's the real kicker: this big, big God, the one who gives ins and outs to the nine zeroes of all mankind... does not stop at giving us life. He offers us Life. Capital "L". "Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'" (John 4:13-14) We all drink the water of life, the water that we will thirst for again. We all enjoy the blessings of life and breath and beating hearts. All seven billion of us. But Jesus offers a living water, one that promises eternal life. The woman to whom Jesus spoke these words realized he was talking about something more. "The woman said to him, 'I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.' Jesus said to her, 'I who speak to you am he.'" (John 4:25-26) This woman who came for water at the well... she is the first person to whom Jesus reveals Himself as the Christ. She was thirsty. Her body needed something and she was seeking to meet that need. Jesus met her there and showed her that while she could address her physical thirst, only He could meet her true needs, her eternal needs, her soul's needs.

My daughter will be okay. Her ins and outs and dum-dums and whooshes are faithfully doing their thing. God has blessed her with the breath of life, as He has all mankind. But my daughter's Great Need, all of our Great Needs, are only met with the living water of Jesus, the true eternal Life. And it is really quite simple. Jesus' disciples, after His resurrection were asked, "'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'" (Acts 16:30-31) The eternal Life comes with belief in Christ, submission to His will, to God's will, the recognition that our lives are not our own, but rather are God's. To see this? I say look no further than your own breath. In... and out. In... and out. For however many hours and days and weeks and months and years you have been here, will be here. Your "autonomic system"? Is God... in you... with you. Every moment of every day.

We already live in the palm of the God who separated light from dark, who numbers the hairs on your head and contains the storehouses of snow. We have already cashed in His promise of life and breath by our simple existence, our very being. We have already tasted the water that sustains us from day to day. We have already breathed in deep the air He has given us and enjoyed the blessing of thousands, millions, billions of heartbeats. So many zeroes of dum-dums and whooshes. The promise of Christ is one of eternity, of a never-thirsting, of a new heart. One that doesn't rely on autonomic systems or daily water glasses, but one that endures forever.

It's true. Anything that is over your head is ... not so much below God's feet, like in my hovering-just-above-me mental picture. It is more that God is in anything that is over your head. Just as He is in the hearts and lungs of the seven billion, He is in and around and over and under all things, wrapping around our hurts and hearts and cries for help. If you think you have to call for Him to come, you are mistaken. He is already there, already reaching, already hearing. And beyond the ins and outs and dum-dums and whooshes, He is ready and willing with living water, pumping blood through our hearts of stone until we open ourselves to Him and welcome Him to turn that stone to flesh.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers,
and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 
(Ezekiel 36:25-28) 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Take the Joy Dare #2

Tuning back in with this week's joys. I'm not sure I've ever done anything in my life more... Well, every time I think about it, I think about the analogy of "rose-colored glasses". If you're wearing rose-colored glasses, the whole world looks pink. Generally, people mean this to be a bad thing. Like you're brushing past all the grey sads or painting over them. But it's a perfect picture of how we see. We are all wearing glasses. We all see the world through our own minds and so often, we choose what we want to see, what we don't, and how. We can't escape this, and while we can certainly strive to examine things through different kinds of glasses, in so many ways, we are stuck with our own. This Joy Dare? Every day that I write down my joys, my gifts, counting to 1000, I'm cleaning off my glasses. I'm ever-so-slowly changing the prescription and making my view of God, of His world, of His presence in my life come more and more into focus. My glasses aren't rose-colored; they are God-colored. And once you start looking for Him? You can't stop seeing Him.

From the past week, my gifts:

1) Dancing with my daughter ("Some Nights" by Fun)

My husband had a song stuck in his head, so he pulled it up on the "tee-bee" as my two-year-old says and he turned that sucker up. I held my daughter and before I knew it, we were spinning around the living room like a couple of crazies. She couldn't hear the pulsing beat and the catchy melody, but she sure could feel my fingers digging into her back as we turned and turned. She could see the whole room moving around her, and she kept locking my eyes and belly laughing. Big, hearty, whole body laughs. It was some of the most fun either of us have ever had in our small lives. I will never forget it.

2) A dead car battery

You know how life is sometimes. Things break and require maintenance and it can be mind-bendingly frustrating. It can also be an opportunity to see blessings. My husband's car battery died in the impossible cold, and I called our garage to see if they could tow it for me. Instead, a nice man came... to our house... on his lunch break and jumped it for me. FOR FREE. He referred me to another place who installs batteries for free, asking only that I remember them if we needed work done in the future. To add to the experience, the employees at the battery place were beyond kind to my kiddos and gave me a discount on my purchase. This annoying, life-interrupting event seemed like a burden, but really? It opened up my day to some very kind, giving individuals.

3) My husband's cheerful attitude

I am the Type A and he is the Type B. I am the worrier and he is the welcomer. I am the planner and he is the free-spirit. We complement each other (and compliment each other), and it helps us grow. But one thing my husband still has on me? His cheerful attitude. It truly seems like nothing gets him dreary. He can find humor in the midst of pretty much anything, and I am so blessed by rolls and rolls of laughter from him each day. He wakes up whistling and laughs in his sleep, and I need that. I so need that.

4) Live Civil Wars (on YouTube)

Oh, man. The Civil Wars. If I could be them when I grow up, that would be a dream. We enjoyed one of their live shows as a family the other night (from the comfort of our living room) and did a lot of playing my son's pretend guitar and leaning into some tight harmonies. Beautiful. (And yes, worth an hour of your life!)

5) Meeting milestones

Our last meeting with my daughter's therapist was... well, not great. She recommended increasing the frequency of her visits. My daughter was (is) falling behind. I was feeling discouraged, but I know (because we've been here before) that it will all come in its time. So we kept on with the exercises, working on sitting up and bearing weight on her feet. I felt like I was seeing some improvements, day by day, little by little. Her therapist's visit this week confirmed that. She was so excited for my daughter, seeing her do things that just two weeks ago, she wouldn't! Victories, friends! Victories!

6) A "normal" morning

I sat at the table, eating my breakfast the other morning, when suddenly, my life just felt very normal. I'm not sure I've really felt normal in... well, at least since June. It's all been upheaval and adjustment and coordinating and busy. But there we were, the three of us, eating our breakfast at the table. And it just... it was normal. I don't normally put pictures of my kiddos on here, but this one is worth sharing:

See that? Yeah, I kinda couldn't believe it either...

If you're interested in last week's gifts, the link is here. Also, check out Ann at A Holy Experience with this Saturday's "Only the Good Stuff" (inspiration for what I'm sharing here). Lastly, I tapped out a little tribute this week to all the cornermoms out there. If you're a mom, be encouraged in your work! Til next time...