Thursday, September 27, 2012

Birth Pains

I don't know quite how to explain what I've been feeling lately.  There is an ache inside of me that just plain hurts.  It is so strong it is almost a physical sensation. 

I have felt it before.

There was a season in my life when God called me to intercession, in a labor of love so personal, so raw, that my very being ached every time the Holy Spirit called me to pray.  I remember it felt like I was the instrument of the Holy Spirit praying, and I could feel in my flesh and bones the groans of God's Heart weeping over and with my friend.  Those kinds of prayers one doesn't forget.

But this ache that I now feel is so keenly personal.

It is my own. 

It is the ache of commencement, one journey over, the new one yet to begin.  I feel I am caught in the threshold of having left one life, waiting for a new one.  There is pain in what is left behind.  In a perfect world, that life would be over and done.  Yet there are constant reminders of what I used to be.  And people who knew me then seem to look at me with questions in their eyes:  "who are you now?"

What is hard is that the seeds of who I will be were planted firmly in the soil of my being way back then.  I carry them with me now as planted hopes, as yet, unrealized. But the questions people ask, and the only answers I can give right now, leave no room to even see her, that woman God created me to be. 

In the last few weeks a song I haven't thought of for a long time has come to mind.  It was my favorite song when my last child was born.  We were so thankful for his birth, because it seemed to go well for him.  After all, when the first baby wouldn't eat, and the second baby wouldn't breathe, we didn't know what to expect with baby number three.  He just seemed to arrive on the scene happy.  But my experience was difficult, for all kinds of reasons.  I would lay in the bathtub at night and listen to the words of that song over and over--
All who are thirsty
All who are weak
Come to the fountain
Dip your heart in the stream of life
Let the pain and the sorrow
Be washed away
In the waves of His mercy
As deep cries out to deep (we sing)
Come Lord Jesus Come
Come Lord Jesus Come

Today that song was in my heart, all over me.  My thirsty weakness washing through me in waves. 

Desperate for  answers and encouragement, I was so happy a few moments ago when I saw my favorite blog's title for today:  "What God Really Promises in Pain."  I click over, ready to drink in words of comfort and wisdom.  I'm astonished when I get there and see there are only 12 words on the page.  Twelve.  But here is what they say:  "God doesn't allow pain unless He's allowing something new to be born."  In smaller print, down the page is the scripture reference Isaiah 66:9 NCV.  How could I not look it up?  Here is what I found:
In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born," says the lord.  "if I cause you the pain, I will not stop you from giving birth to your new nation," says your God.  "Jerusalem, rejoice.  All you people who love Jerusalem, be happy.  Those of you who felt sad for Jerusalem should now feel happy with her.  You will take comfort from her and be satisfied, as a child is nursed by its mother.  You will receive her good things and enjoy her wealth."  This is what the Lord says:  "I will give her peace that will flow to her like a river.  The wealth of the nations will come to her like a river overflowing its banks.  Like babies you will be nursed and held in my arms and bounced on my knees.  (Isaiah 66:9-12)
 The ache eases.  I read those words of scripture and they feel so personal, like the Holy Spirit has woven this story together in such a way that I know where the pain is coming from.  It's not about mourning a death  as much as it is the pains of something new being born.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Buried Treasure

It's not exactly how I mapped out my life when I was a young woman.  I thought for sure I would follow in my mother's footsteps, work full-time, be a professional, wear power suits and panty hose.  I had a plan.

And then God implemented His.

Again and again.

Because each time God changed the direction of my life I adjusted my plan to give His plan a well thought out trajectory.  I got real good at living into those.  But what I found is that each time I got comfortable, the Plan would change.  And now I am at a place I would not have recognized as mine twenty years ago.

I am 40.

I have three young sons.

I work part-time as a pre-school teacher, teaching 4 year old's about Jesus and their alphabet.

I come home and I am the domestic diva of my household.

In my pedigree wife and mother come first.  Holy cow!  When did that happen?  The headstrong young woman I was would have balked at that.  And now those titles are more dear to me than any I have ever had, any I could imagine having.  I still have dreams for myself, but being home and making home a place worth being is immensely important to me.

I'm the kind of girl that is riddled with self-doubts.  It was true when I was an associate pastor in a large South Florida church.  It was true when I was a campus minister.  And now as a mom who is home with her kids more than I ever imagined I woud be, I still have them.

I wonder if I'm a blessing to my kids.  I wonder if the good parts of my heart and character are rubbing off on them.  I wonder if the good parts wear too thin when we are together, and they are picking up my impatience and weariness instead.  I wonder if I am seeding their lives with enough of God's Goodness for them to grow into mighty oaks of righteousness, the kind that display His Glory every where they go.

There is something powerful in the wondering.  Because I know that I didn't get here, in this season, in this place, on purpose.  I got here by God's design.  If it had been my design, it would have looked so much different.  Yet here I am, and my heart is so wrapped up in the Work my Sweet Jesus has entrusted to my care. 

He led me here, knowing that this is a place where my questions outweigh my answers and my learning curves outweigh my aptitudes.  He positioned me in this time and place, for this moment, when my sons are young, when they are running full throttle with the delight of being a boy fresh in their veins, unharnessed energy and boundless enthusiasm loud in their ears and hearts and bodies.  And God positioned me here, to greet them and run with them and feed them and tend to them and wash them and teach them and train them and discipline them and play with them and rest with them.  These days are the most important ones.  God offers the opportunity to participate in laying the foundation of character and trust for their lives.  The one they will build everything else on, and eventually return to again and again.

I wonder about my role in the chaos.  It's the little things that I hope leave their mark, marking my love for them in ways they probably don't see.  Packing lunches, remembering snacks, making and baking, painting and biking.  Little "I Love You"'s floating gently, landing lightly, unnoticed in their lives.

Oh God I hope it is enough.

And I wouldn't want another doing this.

Thank You for the opportunity.  It is the buried treasure I found, when my plans turned upside down.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


What is it that makes you remember? 

Much of my life is spent as a pre-school teacher where each moment is an exercise in remembering:  where do we put our backpacks, how do we start the day, what are the letters in our name, what are the months in the year, what are the days of the week, how do I use scissors, how do I hold a pencil, what should I do in the hallway? 

To help our little ones remember, we get our whole bodies involved.  We sing, we dance, we move, we cheer.  Every part of our brains and bodies is activated in this remembering process.   Someday these processes will produces writers, readers, artists, singers, movers, shakers.  It is always a joy to see the child whose very being is illuminated by the process, to see her light up when a simple step melts into the wonder of accomplishment and the joy of being alive.  Oh sweet one, you've found it!  That thing that makes you feel alive!

It's so much easier I think to feel alive when your four.  There are no hindrances to singing the song that helps you remember.  And life is so much more fun when it is set to music.  Why is it when we grow up we forget to sing?  Or to play?  Or to dream?  Or to imagine?
We must ask ourselves that question:  where do I feel most alive?  Where do I melt into the wonder of accomplishment and the joy of living?  Why is that feeling so elusive? 

Last week I was with a small gathering of ladies and a couple of them shared about when they get that feeling.  For one it was riding horses.  For another it was being in her garden.  My first thought was about writing, that this is where it comes together for me.  And this is certainly true.  I love to play with words, or when the Word invites me to play, and something amazing comes forth that touches the truest part of me.  I love that.  And I would not be the same person if I didn't write.

But then something else stirs.

Okay, let's be real.  I was doing the stirring.  Literally.  Ten years ago if you told me I would find Sabbath in my kitchen, I would have laughed in your face.  However, it's true.  Last year when my life changed so radically, and dreams I thought I would have forever died overnight, I found solace in the simple process of chopping vegetables.  Today my favorite kind of Sabbath is stirring up something new in the kitchen.  Today I made an apple pie.  First time ever!  Yay!  Tim said it was really good.  Then he said I couldn't start making desserts all the time.  Our waistlines wouldn't be the same.

There is something so healing to me in making a black and white recipe come to life.  First I clean up my working space, washing down counters, putting clutter away.  Then I gather the ingredients, putting them out where I can see them easily, where they are readily accessible.  And then I begin to combine each one until it's ready for the oven.  I even enjoy cleaning up the mess.  Somehow it fills the time of anticipation, as I wait for the yumminess to emerge complete.  Following the steps from start to finish slows me down.  It builds expectation.  It helps me connect with a sense of accomplishment.  And the crowning moment is when one of my boys takes a bite and likes it. 

I don't mind that it takes time.  I believe it is time well-spent.  It is time that helps me to remember who I am and what matters most in my life.  It helps me think.  It's like the order of it orders me too.  I need it so much.  And the sweetest part is that it becomes a language of love as I feed my family.  I love it when the cranky boy sees me in kitchen and puts in a special request.  I don't really consider myself a cook.  But it lights up my whole world when that little man says something like, "Mom, you make the best __________!"  My heart does flip-flops.

I think of that scripture, "O taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).  And I think of God's presence in my life.  Just like I'm tasting this creation, Lord, I taste the goodness of this life You've given me.  Oh sweet Father, You are so faithful!  You are goodness.  In the middle of my difficult moments You have given me a sweet passion that fills me up, even as I pour my own love out.  Only You can do that!

And so I find myself re-membered.  I come back to myself.  To remember who I am and Whose I am.  To remember that I don't really belong to myself, but that I must have some moments that belong only to me so that I can give myself away again.   In the middle of a loud, rambunctious house, I pull out the ingredients and get to stirring.  I can't help but think this is how God did it when He created the recipe for me.  For you.  For everyone of us.

How do you re-member?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Little Miracles

Miracles.  We all need reminders that they happen.  It's hard because life gets difficult in so many ways and creates in us a longing for miracles to happen, to lift us out of the heartache and misery.  God always finds a way for working through our circumstances, but it often takes us time to see that God was there in our difficulty helping and holding, just differently than what we imagined it would look like.  But miracles do happen.  I say it knowing full well there are those who are standing in grief, who are trying to reconcile the goodness of God with loss that defies description and cannot be contained.

So here is the story of mine.  I share it because there is a part of me that needs to be reminded too.  I need to remember because it changes how I live today.  I get so caught up in the ordinary hustle and bustle of my family's life that I forget how getting to our ordinary was extraordinary.

Those who remember my younger days would probably say that the desire to start a family was the original miracle.  I was totally focused on my career, very much steeped in the identity of the young professional.  But I remember the moment my heart changed.  It was as if a light came on in my soul, and I discovered a mother-love within that I had not recognized before.  The irony is that my greatest fear seemed to come true:  that I would put off having children so long until one day when I wanted them, I would be unable to have them.

Tim and I tried for three years.

During that time God moved me from being an Associate Pastor at a large church in South Florida to being a campus minister at a state university in a small Kentucky town.  As time passed, I began to believe God gave me the desire to be a mother so that I could be a better minister. But it still hurt so much every time I saw a baby baptism at church.  The desire never diminished; it never went away.

Then one day in September I went for a run.  I was also praying, remembering someone's words that God would do great things at the campus ministry I was serving.  In a Bible study I was involved in at the time, we were studying King Ahaz.  God offered King Ahaz the opportunity to name any sign he wanted to prove God's faithfulness.  Ahaz refused, so God gave the sign of "the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and name him Emmanuel."  I told God that if He offered me the opportunity to choose a sign of His faithfulness to the campus ministry I was serving, that's the one I would choose:  for my husband and I to have a baby.

These thoughts came towards the end of my run.  Soon I reached my stopping point, turned around, and began walking home.  I ran in a popular park where families often gathered, so I didn't think it unusual when I fell into step with a woman pushing a baby carriage.  I recognized her as one of the regulars.  Pretty soon she began a conversation with me. 

She asked me about running, commenting on how fast I was.  I told her I really wasn't that fast, but my husband was.  She asked me how long I had been married.  I said seven years.  She asked me if I had children.  I said no.  She asked me if we had been trying.  I hesitated.

No one knew we were trying.

We had been trying for three years.  Our hearts were raw with the hoping and the hurting, the monthly disappointment.  And our families just thought we didn't want children.  We had been struggling for so long, so alone.  This was a burden of the heart I just didn't share.

Except on this day there was this little nudge.

When I tell her we had been trying, the lady with the stroller asks me how long.  When I told her three years, she stops mid-stride, looks me in the eye, and says, "God sent me to you today." 

Really?  Is this really happening? 

She told me that I would be able to have a baby.  That the delay had to do with God's timing.  That the time had come to tell our family.  That God had sent her to me to give me hope. 

And then in the middle of that park she prayed for me.

That was in September.  On December 31st I found out I was pregnant with our first child, Noah Joseph.  He was born August 20, 2004.  And then on November 10, 2006, we had baby number two, Isaiah Wesley.  And we were a complete happy family.  I gave away all the baby furniture, baby clothes, baby paraphenalia.  And on December 1, 2009 we welcomed baby number three, Jeremiah Allen. 

God's sense of humor is that we now have a boy for each year of trying.  Three years of famine.  A lifetime of harvest.

Miracles each one.

Signs and wonders, and oh I need to remember how much God loves and listens and lavishes all His Goodness onto our barren lives.  I so needed to be reminded that this mothering busyness is Holy Work.  I am so thankful for the Invitation, and oh so needeful of Grace to help me fulfill it.

Miracles do still happen.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Courage to See It Through

The degree that hangs in Tim's new "Assistant Principal" office.

Sometimes it would be so great to be able to see into the future.  To be able to glance into our crystal ball to discern what is coming our way so we could plan accordingly.  Alas, we don't have that ability.  But our God is, and was, and will be.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  And while tomorrow remains a mystery to us, the Almighty has already been there and done that.  Nothing is going to happen to us that will surprise Him.  And whatever comes our way tomorrow, God is already putting help in place today to help us face it.   He has a plan, and He is working it.  I love that about Him.

Beth Moore speaks brilliantly about this concept when she delves into the book of Jeremiah.  She mentions that God has thought it through, every detail of our lives, God has thought about it and is working in it to bring us to a place of hope.  How familiar are the words to Jeremiah 29:11:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (NRSV)
But I love the way the King James Version translates this passage, because it illuminates the very thing Beth Moore is getting at, the thing that the original language is saying:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.  (KJV)
God has already accounted for all the mishaps, mistakes, and mis-steps.  He has already figured out how to guide us to a good and peaceful destination.  No matter how we start out, God has worked out a way to bring our hearts Home.

Yet while God has already thought it through, how often do we have the courage to see it through?  You know what "it" is.  It's that thing that has broken our heart, broken our dreams, broken our spirit.  That thing that laughs at us while we rummage around in what is left of our lives wondering what to do next.

I've had some time now to process Tim getting a new job.  He had been unsatisfied, feeling that he was meant for more challenge, for more purpose and meaning than he was experiencing where he was.  After a principalship certification,  two years of waiting and countless interviews, he finally was offered a position as an assistant principal at an elementary school.  We have settled into this new life, this answered prayer.

Tim saw it through.  He never gave up, he never gave in.  It hurt like hell, wondering if God had forgotten him, struggling with the awful paradox of having a burning passion inside with no opportunity to let it ignite.  Faith told us the fire inside was a God thing.  But it was blind faith because each interview that didn't land a job seemed to be another message saying this was the wrong road.  Only our insides told us it was right.  We hung on to that tender thread.  Then one day God answered our prayers. 

God knew all along.

God had already been preparing a place for Tim.  A perfect place where his gifts and heart and passion would be met by challenge needing his strength.  A place where others would recognize the good stuff in him and send forth gratitude at his presence.  Tim no longer has to wonder what difference he makes.  He just has to look at the six hundred elementary school students in his care.

Tim saw it through. 

Oh he inspires me.  His story encourages me.  When I think of the open-ended-ness of my own story I love thinking of his.  Because it's then that I am able to translate this bit of Good News to my own life.  God has already thought through my own scenario.  And I want to also show the same courage my sweet husband has shown as I live into the Divine Conclusion God has already prepared.  God has expectations for my future I haven't even imagined. 

Goodness me, that rattles my cage!  So much talk of expectations:  mine, yours, the world's, the church's.  But whoever considers God's?  God has expectations for my future!  That thought washes over me like sweet Grace.  Oh sweet Jesus!  Whatever do You expect to come from Your tender work in my life?  In my heart?  In my head?

It is worth it hold out.

To give "it" time.

To allow this story some breathing room.

Courage is a small price to pay for the expected ending God has in Mind.


Saturday, September 01, 2012

Making and Baking a Marriage

In a few hours I will be doing the wedding of Erynn and Tom.  I am filled with joy and anticipation.  I'm sure it is nothing compared to what they are feeling about this special moment in their lives.  As I have pondered over the last few months what words to express the love and hope I feel, the Lord reminded me of bread making.

So often our culture approaches marriage as if it is not worth one's time, or even worse, like it's a piece of cake.  It equates marriage to the party of the year, a beautiful, shining moment that looks glorious and tastes great.  One thing I've learned through my own sixteen years of walking this path:   this ain't no cake walk.

Because making a marriage is like making bread.

I love the process of making bread.  It is time consuming; it takes me all day.  But it is so satisfying, every part of it.  That's how marriage is.  It takes time.  It has seasons and reasons that are beyond our comprehension when we've only just begun.  But as they unfold and we walk together through them, hand in hand, heart to heart, something so sweet and satisfying starts to emerge.

Marriage, like a good loaf of bread, begins with quality ingredients. 

When I bake bread I use both white and whole wheat flour.  Both are so different.  One carries the flavor, the other carries the texture.  But once they are in the bowl, they become something different, better for being together.  The same is true for marriage.  It takes two unique individuals, who are complete in themselves yet come together for a purpose beyond themselves.  It's like God takes the stuff of who you are and combines it with some other good stuff, coming up with something amazing.  I love that.

We don't arrive at this time and place in a vacuum.  We are brought to this moment by a whole world of experiences that have shaped us into the people we are.  More importantly, we are brought to this moment by a whole village of important people who have shaped us into who we are.  In the recipe I use, it's called the starter, or sour dough.  This in a sense is the bread that has gone before us.  Our families and friends have written all over our life stories, giving us our character, our values, being the birthplace of our hopes and dreams.  We wouldn't have anything to bring to the table if it weren't for them.

The best bread has a hint of sweetness.  The best marriages are filled with it.  I like to add a little extra to my bread.  While the recipe only calls for a quarter cup white sugar, I also add a quarter cup of brown.  We need the sweetness of joy in our lives, but especially in our marriages.  It would seem odd to have to remind ourselves of this.  But let's be honest.  Sometimes the demands and struggles of life begin to encroach on our ability to simply enjoy ourselves and one another.  We can lose sight of the importance of just having fun together.  We say to ourselve, "Oh, if it's fun and enjoyable, it's not as important as the other big stuff that matters."  And all too often couples forget what it's like to laugh together and to play.  And they begin to go through the motions.  And they forget what it feels like to smile in the other person's presence.  So be liberal with the sugar.  It makes bread and marriage so much better.

In the mix of making bread, it is important to remember balance.  This is why salt is so important, it adds balance to the flavors that are mingling together.  We always produce salt in our tears.  And there are sure to be tears as we walk through life in marriage.  The challenge is to embrace those things that are difficult and challenging, to see them through, to live them well.  This is what adds character and flavor to our marriages.  When we walk through pain together, we are bonded in a way that makes intimacy deeper, our love for one another closer.  Even when we cause those tears, if we can have the courage to work out those differences we find that we come out stronger on the other side.  And we also become a sign of hope and grace to others who are struggling.

There are two more ingredients in this bread making adventure.  In fact, in making bread they begin the whole process of combing ingredients.  I'm speaking of water and yeast.  Before any other ingredient goes in, yeast is added to a warm bowl filled with warm water to dissolve.  Traditionally water has been used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the Great Helper, the Companion, the Wisdom of God guiding and directing and leading us in the journey of life.  Water gives us refreshment.  It is a reminder that we need something beyond ourselves to make it.  There will be days when we are not enough, when we need more than we have to give to make marriage work.  And that is when the Holy Spirit steps in.

Yeast is like that too.  It is the power of breadmaking.  The yeast causes the bread to expand, to rise, to taste just right.  Without it we are left with a dry cracker.  The Power and Presence of God is like that in our marriages.  We need God's Power and Presence to help us rise to the occasions that demand everything from us.  We need God's Power and Presence to make us more than we are.  We need God's Power and Presence to transform us from simple ingredients to something that can feed and nourish.

Of course it's never enough to just dump ingredients in a bowl and stir.  There is a Baker and there is a Process.  God is the one who leads us through this journey.  In bread making there is a lot of waiting.  I remember someone once saying, "Thank God for the grace of unanswered prayer."  I had just poured out my heart with prayers I was praying for my husband.  I was done with waiting.  I thought she was crazy.  But what I've learned is that it is in the waiting that my strength and faith have the opportunity to rise, to be developed.  And in our marriage I have found that the waiting times allow me to see the beauty and strength of the man I married.  Bread just wouldn't be the same without allowing time for the dough and loaf to rise.  We wouldn't be either.

And yes, there is the kneading.  Nobody wants to be stretched and pounded.  Let's face it.  Marriage is hard work.  It stretches us in ways we never anticipated; it demands more of us that we ever thought we would give.  In the kneading God is making us one.  God is taking two separate and distinct individuals and melding their lives together into something greater.  That never happens without having to reach beyond what we already are.

And yes, there is the heat.  There is no way around it.  Marriage is life shared together.  And life always includes those seasons of intense heat when we think we cannot stand it anymore.  If we can just have the courage to trust the One who is leading us through the fire, we can rest assured there is something amazing on the other side.  It is the fire that brings everything together, that forms us  for the purpose we were made for.

Isn't this what we came here for? 

Marriage like bread, has an ultimate purpose.  Bread is meant to feed and nourish.  So too our lives are not our own.  We are given to each other and to the journey to become more than we could be on alone.  And as our lives are shared, and formed, and kneaded, and heated together we become people who can feed others with the love, the joy, the peace, and hope that have come forth from this marriage journey.  Our living is meant for more than just ourselves and each other.  We are meant to make a difference in the world.

So my sweet Erynn, dear Tom, this is my prayer for you:  That God, Who is the best Maker of marriages, will help you to become one; that God, Who is the ultimate Baker, will form and shape you into a family that brings hope and grace to a hurting world. 

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55:10-11

I love you both.