Saturday, June 11, 2016

Look Up

It was 4:00 in the morning when I left the hospital, and as I hit the first traffic light, the dam that had been holding back all of my fear, anger, and desperation crumbled into a million broken pieces. Tears coming from a depth beyond understanding carved slick rivers down my neck and pooled in my shirt.  I was aware my car was drifting between the painted lanes of the empty interstate, and I glanced for blue lights that would assume I was drunk.  My voice scraped raw as I screamed my questions to a moonlit sky, daring His promises to be kept.

Knowing my other little ones were tucked sleeping in a quiet house, and needing to do something tangible that felt productive, I pulled off into the only store open at this desperate time of morning.  Despite trying to slow my heaving sobs in the parking lot, hot drips still occasionally seeped from my stinging eyes as I wandered the empty aisles.  I chose a few items mindlessly, that I thought at the time would bring comfort, and I trudged my way to the lone check out stand with a flickering light.  A slight embarrassment prickled over me as I became aware of the frightening sight I must be with my blotchy face and swollen eyes.

The checker grabbed my things and began swiping them across the counter without looking up.   "How are you today?" he beamed. "I'm ok." "That's good," he replied.  He continued to ring up my things and take my payment without ever making eye contact. As I grabbed my bag and turned to leave, he swung the hammer one last time.  "Have a great rest of your day!" 

If you have spent much time around me, you may have noticed that often when someone asks me how I'm doing, I don't ask the same question back.  It may come across rude.  It is not because I don't care though, it is the exact opposite.  I don't ask because I either know that that person was just asking to be polite, and they don't really want the true answer from me, or because I know that I am not at a time or place I can truly give thought and caring to their answer.  I ask how someone is doing because I sincerely want to hear their heart, and not just the glossed over "I'm fine, how are you" that we all are guilty of giving sometimes.  I've learned to pick out the people who honestly want to hear how the real me is doing, and the people who would be completely uncomfortable if you let them see beyond the surface.

When I am standing in line at the grocery, I know that there may not be the time for me to be a listening ear to someone's bad day, but on the other hand I do not want to ignore the person in need of some encouragement. If I notice a rude or grumpy employee, I will leave them with an "I hope your day gets better."  They didn't have to share what is weighing on their mind that day, but they will know they are seen and given validation.  I will not ask you how you are doing or how your day has been unless I authentically have the heart to hear the good with the bad.  I'm ok with you taking the time to tell me what you are struggling with, and will not make you feel ashamed for not finding the good in a new day of life.  The truth is that life is hard, and we should stop conditioning each other to put on a brave face and pretend everything is fine. 

I challenge you to stop your robotic motion and your scripted lines, and look up.  There is a world out there of hurting people.  People who in the sticky messes of their daily lives may not need you to spend an hour listening to their problems, but need to know that they are not invisible, that their pain is not ignored, and that we are all in this together.



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Thursday, January 28, 2016

When Mama Can't

There is this moment when you first look upon the fresh, new face of your newborn and you instantly know that you would do absolutely anything to protect them, to keep them well and happy. Honestly, in that moment it is hard to believe anything bad could happen to them.


When Jacob was a toddler, he was very sick.  We were young first time parents sitting in the children's hospital in a city far from home, watching the sunken eyes of parents shuffling in and out with fragile, bald children, and we were terrified.  As we checked off each appointment and treatment though, we grew confident in what could be done for our son.  We knew that the hours spent watching him be poked dozens of times, and the flow of medicine that left him cranky and sick was serving a bigger purpose.  We knew that the pain he was going through was helping him, and so we pushed through it to get to healing.


I never imagined there coming a day when we wouldn't know what to do for him, or that there might not be an option to help him get better.  Parenting is a scary venture, but I think to some extent we always believe that with God's grace there will never be anything we can't find hope in.  We believe there will always be some kind of answer, something we can do to protect our children and help them heal. Until there isn't.

I am standing in this hard place, wondering what it is that God wants me to understand through what seems an endless season of uphill battles.  I'm looking at myself and wondering if I will still see Him as good if we don't get the answers we are asking for. It's a painful thing as a parent to offer empty hands, to stand knowing that there is nothing you can do to fix this, that this pain they are enduring might be a path to healing, but this time, it might not be.  We might endure this agony and still not get  the outcome we pray for.

I can keep praying for the situation to change, and I may be crushed by the answer. Or I can pray for God's nearness, whatever the answer may be.

Please add your prayers to ours; we will never stop praying for healing, but most importantly let's pray that pain would not be wasted, that the story of grace would triumph in our hard, and we would be gentle and gracious as we are changed.




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Friday, January 15, 2016

The Bottom

"When you think you've hit the bottom, then the bottom gives way... when you fall into a darkness no words can explain... you don't know how you'll make it out alive... Jesus will meet you there."

The words to this song by Steven Curtis Chapman are the groanings of my heart right now.  I fight, claw my way to the light to grasp hope, and still sometimes in the struggle I let my ear be bent that it is hopeless, that the shuddering gape of pain is stronger than the will I have to fight for more.  It is rare that I don't have words to illustrate my soul, but somehow, that's where I'm finding myself right now;  speechless, burning, afloat in a sea that renders me flailing, gasping, waiting for rescue.

We are facing things I never dared to imagine.  We get like that, don't we?  Confident in ourselves that certain things will never touch us.  Thanks for the dose of reality...

How would our hearts even know what to pray?  Mine doesn't, and people don't want to hear that.  I am in one day at a time mode; focusing on the next thing, and then the next thing.  There are promises I am clinging to; I know I won't be left here in this valley alone. I know He will meet me there, but the waiting is tough.   

Please, dear community, pray us through this.  We know in our hearts that beauty comes from ashes, but we have a hard fire to battle first. 



                 Steven Curtis Chapman~ "Jesus Will Meet You There"

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sitting in the Middle

This morning we sat in the plastic folding chairs of our Life Group, which felt suddenly hard and uncomfortable in the ear-splitting silence that had come over the packed room of people.  I tucked my chin to disguise my tears, and the entire frame of my eyesight grew crowded with the feet of the people surrounding our two chairs. In that moment, my emotions were confusing.  Frustration, embarrassment, and because no other word could describe it, resentment.  Not at the people around me, but I felt so discouraged at being the chair in the middle.  Once again, hands were laid upon us as we stood in the middle of tragedy; broken, weary, with the arms of our community holding us up.  I am tired of being the one that needs holding up.  It feels like season after season after season of hard has kept us on the defensive, treading deep waters and relying on the people around us to carry us.  I am ready to be the one who gets to give instead of always being on the receiving end.  It feels selfish, uncomfortable, and humbling.

Humbling...maybe that's the buzzword.  It's not comfortable to be vulnerable, no one likes to be needy.  On the flip-side, isn't that what we are created for?  Community?  Yes, I'm sure of it; we weren't intended to carry our burdens with our own strength.

Perhaps in this long season, God is waiting for me to learn to surrender to being vulnerable, to gracefully accept the help that He provides.  One would think that sitting back and letting others tend to your needs would be the easy part, but we groom ourselves to be independent, self-sufficient, mighty in what we can handle.  It takes grace and humility to learn to receive with open hands.  This is something I first learned from Kara... she implored us all to work at letting people help, at tending to their hearts by letting them do something for us.  Still, it's easier said than done.

We are immeasurably blessed to be surrounded by all the feet in that room.  Right from barely knowing us, this body of believers has jumped in with both feet to love us, pray for us, and fill the gaps that we have needed filled.  They are the gospel in human form, who am I to let my stubbornness stand in the way of letting community be exactly what it is created to be?


For now, my seat is in the middle. I am weak and struggling and needing the strength and prayers of my people to carry me through. I am confident that one day I will get to stand in that outer circle.  I will get to be part of the army that reaches out to link arms with a wounded soul and helps to carry them out of the valley.  While I'm waiting, I'm learning to sit, to breathe deep in the compassion that is poured over us, to accept with a humble and thankful heart the many blessings that have been extended, undeserving, to see us to the other side of this dark storm.

How does it make you feel to be the one needing help?  Who are the people that are there for you when you're going through something hard?  What stands in the way of you opening your hands to the help of those who offer?


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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hoping for More

A year of dreams and magic and smooth sailing, less struggle and more blessings; that's what we're all hoping for, right?  I imagine we all felt the same at the beginning of this year too; high hopes for 12 months without conflict or illness, but then not too far in, we started facing disappointments and hurts, and before we knew it we were scraping by the months, just trying to survive, determined to make it to the fresh start of a new year. Suddenly we are at the end of a string of long, hard places, clinging desperately to the fray and looking up for a stronger, longer rope, just to realize that our safe passage isn't guaranteed.  That those hopes to slip through unscathed are just that, hopes, and the days ahead of us have just as much potential to leave us burned as the barren months behind us did.



 To be honest, I held my breath for it too.  For the clean slate, the fresh start; the promise of a year filled with goals and newness and such determination for good, that surely this would be the year to whisper about, the one that brought great good.  Well I shudder to admit, but as we rounded the corner of the end of December, 2016 kicked us in the gut before we even crossed the threshold.  Or maybe it was 2015 getting one last punch in. Either way, we already know this year isn't starting with the expectations we placed on it.  In fact, I flat out didn't even want to celebrate it; dreaded this night and the tears and the pain and the reality that once again we stand in a place of reality where we have no control over our lives.



But you know what... hanging onto to our own ability to control our lives is what sets us up for heartbreak.  I have held too long. Even when I know I can do nothing to help myself, I have been hell-bent on self preservation.  That's not what our Father asks of us.  He asks simply, gently for us to open our hands... to surrender our lack of faith and trust that even when the weight of the world threatens to crush us, He will never let go.

There are no guarantees for this year to come; our dreams may crumble, our relationships disappoint, our health fail, our people leave us, but we don't have to be sure of the future to be sure of our security through it.  So lean with me, press into whatever is coming, walk into this new year with a brave heart and a determined faith, because we don't need to know what's ahead, only Who is behind us.



I knew tonight I would be standing at the edge of this new valley, looking out over the unknown, watching from the outside as everyone else was sharing the joyful moments of ringing in their new year, while I stand holding broken pieces.  I know I have a choice to let fear and sadness overwhelm, or to trust that I can free-fall into the unknown with the confidence that I will never hit the bottom.  Never,

I can be thankful for all that has happened, because in the end, that's what my faith is made from.  I know that whatever goes bad in 2016, He will work for good.

So happy New Year, my friends.  Let Him make your broken so, so beautiful.



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Friday, December 4, 2015

The Smile That Broke Me

Yesterday I fought the urge to pick up the phone and cancel, and the afternoon sun found me shuffling across the cement, a small toddler hand tucked into mine to face the day.  The sky burned a brilliant blue, but my legs were heavy, my heart clouded.  We passed an older gentleman and his wife leaving the building, and his eyes immediately met mine as a broad smile flashed across his face. In that instant, a small pool of tears suddenly spilled across my cheeks.  Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe hormones or pain, or maybe it was that this world has felt mighty heavy lately.  Maybe it was anticipating that today we would say our final goodbyes to a man of strong character; a father, a husband, a son... a friend, a brother whose life was senselessly cut short by the suffocating theme of violence and hate that peppers our daily headlines.



Whatever it was, it was a moment of humanity; a reminder that we are all just trying to make it, that we all leave our homes with a swallow of uncertainty in our hearts, and we long for safety, for compassion, for love. 


This world isn't going to change.  In fact, it is going to get worse, but when you put on your shoes and your big brave face to confront the moments ahead of you, remember the impact a simple kindness can bring.  Remember that we are all travelers here, facing the fears that lie on the horizon, and longing for our forever home.  I will still drop my kids at school whispering prayers in my thoughts, telling them if I don't see them later I will meet them in Heaven, because frankly these days are dark and uncertain, but I know in the middle of the things going down that something as simple as a well directed smile can bring a warmth to a cloudy soul, a promise of hope and of enduring love. 



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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sixlet


When Mark and I were young in marriage, we had no trouble agreeing that we both would be happy with two children.  We had a strong, adventurous son for our first, experienced a miscarriage when we started planning for our second, and then were elated to bring a gorgeous, healthy baby girl into the world.  The perfect pair, a matched boy/girl set; we had what we wanted.  Then, somewhere down the line, up to our ankles in parenthood, we started itching for another, and joyfully welcomed our second daughter.  Our next baby, we agreed, would be adopted, and we started that journey, which took a sharp right turn and brought us through fostering, and unexpectedly, but joyfully welcoming another biological baby of our own.  We agreed that she would be our last.  That's the thing though, our best laid plans are ever moldable by a God whose plans are better.  Giving our youngest daughter back to Jesus was the most heartbreaking and life-changing moment in our lives so far.  It caused a shift in our paradigm, an about-face in our priorities.  We realized that in the ranking of importance in our lives, our children are one of the most precious pieces of our story, and our hearts are drawn to gather them around us in a big, loud, challenging, loving, fulfilling clan of family togetherness. From that point, we were no longer daunted by the thought of a big family (well, let's be real, MARK was no longer daunted; I grew up in a family of 9, he is an only child, it was more of an adjustment for him). We decided by way of biological children, and adoption, we definitely want to grow.

It's funny how everyone else knows what's best for us, right?  At the mere mentioning of having more children, we've had friends and family who immediately tried to discourage us.  We should be grateful we've made it with the healthy kids we have, we shouldn't risk putting my body through any danger, we should not put our children through anymore big changes, or take on the financial responsibility in such an expensive world.  I hear ya, and I try to see where you're coming from because surely this is you just trying to protect us. I love that someone said it's ok that people don't understand your journey, it's not their journey to understand. I don't have the answers, and I know it seems scary, or even crazy, but I'm trusting God to do it. I truly believe He is the one that has placed this desire in our hearts, and if He called us, He will equip us.  I'm resting in that.  I don't have to know how or when, I just have to believe He has our best at heart.

After some of the responses we have been met with when we have shared our enthusiasm to grow our family, we decided to simply sit back, keep our plan in the hands of the One who knows it best, and let Him quietly take it from there.

With the physical challenges I have faced over the past few years, we had come to a place of accepting that our future children will come from adoption, and not from me.  That was a hard place to reach, not because we don't want adoption, because we absolutely, wholeheartedly want that to be part of the story, but it's a big chapter to finish, and I was still filled with desire to carry another baby of our own.  I spent months wrestling, in fact praying that God would take this desire from me, because it was so painful to hope for something that would never be.  I did not understand why He would let me have such strong desire, but not allow it to be fulfilled.  It was a dark and powerful struggle to come to a place where I could completely submit that, hand over my desire, and trust the outcome would be gentle to my aching heart.  It brought freedom though, and excitement for how He is going to work.

This summer wound down with our minds refocused on the legwork of adoption. We started drawing up plans and timelines and praying for the fatherless that we hope will someday be part of our quiver-full.  Imagine our surprise then, when against all the odds that had been given us, we were staring at the very realness of another little one... of our own

Coming in 2016

As we drove to Kansas to throw a baby shower for my little sister, who was expecting in a few months, I squealed with delight at the thought of finally getting to share a pregnant picture with someone so close to me, something I had dreamed of.  We would get to raise our babies being the same age for most of every year; we were so tickled.  Even Mark, who is usually slower to give to giddiness, was openly excited and marveling at this miraculous blessing that had been given to us. 

Pregnant Together
I am terrible at keeping surprises, and t was difficult for me to wait until we thought it appropriate to share with the other kids.  They eagerly shared our enthusiasm and excitement. You can watch that hilarious conversation here:


We began to shift our thoughts to planning for the big changes we would find in 2016, with Mark retiring from the Air Force at the beginning of the year, and then welcoming the little one we affectionately began referring to as "Sixlet."

Being pleased that I actually felt better during early pregnancy than I had in a very long time, I was a bit alarmed one day when my hot flashes came back with a vengeance, and I started cramping. I already had an appointment with my OB the next day though, and she eagerly assured me everything looked great, and shared excitement that this truly was a special gift.  I was happy for the good report, but something still didn't sit right, and I couldn't shake a feeling of unease.  I whispered prayers through the moments of my day, praying protection and health over our little one. 

The deep of that night woke me with excruciating pain in in my back and legs.  Terrified, I ran to the bathroom, but besides the pain, nothing seemed unusual.   I was awake most of the rest of the night, unable to lie still or get comfortable... moving from room to room trying to relax the pain away.

The next morning, Mark was away early, in a mandatory course preparing him for retirement.  It was in the early hustle of breakfast and packing backpacks that the crimson slashed through the hopes of my future.  Somehow the kids knew.  They read the shadows of my eyes and the sigh of my spirit on the drive to school, and one of the oldest asked the brave, unanswered question... did our baby die?  My heart knew, but I kissed them away and told them to pray, and reminded them that no matter what, Jesus would walk with us. 

The only communication I could have with Mark was by text that day; he couldn't escape his class, and for the second time, I sat alone in a cold room staring at a dark ultrasound, void of the flicker of life.  While I waited to be taken back to my room, they sat me in a hallway outside the ultrasound rooms.  I sat in paralyzed agony, watching woman after woman stroll to the exam rooms, plump, ripe, life-bellies cupped beneath pregnant hands.  I bitterly scowled inside, already hurling the questions that I knew I probably wouldn't get answers to on this side of eternity.


Hours huffed by, as it seemed everyone was avoiding being the one to tell me what I already knew.  I grew restless and frustrated, and by the time there was nothing left to do but tell me, there was no comfort, no apology, just facts, and all I wanted to do was run.  I texted Mark the words that spilled his glass half-full, and drove mindlessly into a gray afternoon to gather up my little people and begin a life without Sixlet.

I was having an impossible time sorting out my emotions, knowing that if I dwelt in anger, bitterness would take me places I didn't want to go, but finding it very hard to accept that another loss, another shattered dream was part of a great, good plan for my life,  Knowing I had to take a stand against letting this destroy me, I sat alone in my car and loudly starting repeating, "I trust You.  I know You are good.  I know there is a reason beyond my understanding.  I trust You." I hoped the enemy could hear me, but not see my heart, because in fact I was preaching to my own battered soul, trying to convince myself.  That's when the song "Blessings," by Laura Story came on the radio, and I turned the corner to see a brilliant, color blocked rainbow streaked across the gray horizon.


Watching precious life bleed away, tiny footprints slid from safety, never to grow bigger, is a soul-stopping grief, but my God has not forgotten me. He has promised not to abandon me, and to give me the future I hope for.  It's inexplicably hard, and some days, I hear the lie that it's only fitting that my story end with loss, but I refuse to believe that. If this is the journey I have been called to, then I am going to walk it out, and I choose to believe that what He has for me is greater than any of the pain.

It was so hard to tell our little people that the little brother or sister they had been waiting for had gone straight to Heaven.  There was much sadness and questions we couldn't answer, but we did what we do, we celebrated.  We worked together to make cake and special balloons and thanked Jesus for holding our hearts, for holding our babies, for making us stronger than ever through our weakness.  We celebrated for the reunion to come, because friends, it is going to be amazing.


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