All Posts Filed in ‘Learning the Hard Way

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Unfurling

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It’s been quite some time since I wrote anything here. After five years of writing every week, I just stopped writing here one day. This past winter and spring were incredibly hard. Things were hard for those I love. Things were hard for those I parent. While I wasn’t writing here, I was writing out my prayers to God, and I remember telling Him that it felt like everything around me was broken. I feel things deeply, and my heart felt like a bag of rocks.

It was a season where God called us to open our hands and release some of the things we had been white-knuckling. An invitation to hide once more under the shadow of His wings. I fought it, of course, wanting to believe things could all go back to normal. But He gently reminded me that normal might be my heart’s false security, but it wasn’t my heart’s true desire.

Watering my houseplants this morning, I paused next to the fern to observe a few fronds beginning their unfurling. This season has been my own unfurling. That slow surrender that the stories God writes don’t end with a fancy bow or a happily ever after. Everybody wants the feel-good ending, but the messy middle is where God is doing the hard heart work. I want to see the end. I want to know how it all turns out. But God gives manna for the day. And if I try to hoard, I’m left with maggots. A few Sundays ago I walked up for communion, tore off a piece of bread, dipped it in crimson liquid and walked back to my seat. I sat there and thanked God for this manna, this daily provision, His body broken, His blood poured out.

I look at the calendar and each day brings us one box closer to one year. One year since our girls were all under one roof. One year since one journey ended and another began. Many of the days have been harder than I could ever have imagined, but His manna has been certain. And on those days when I wrote telling Him that everything felt broken, He would gently remind me, “I know brokenness. My body broken. My blood poured out.”

This unfurling has led to sweet new friendships and fresh stirrings. God continues to push us out of our comfort zone, and I’m (stubbornly) grateful. For Him to leave me alone would be the biggest disappointment of my life. To be hidden in Him and with Him–that’s the manna. The bread on my lips. The crimson liquid that washes me clean.

 

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Mercy & Help when the world tells you to be Merry & Bright

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They were running through the leaves at the park. Big gusts of wind made it look like Someone from up high was pouring down big handfuls of fall confetti. Giggles and high shrills were in bounty. I hung back just a bit having one of those moments. Four daughters. Me, the woman who remembers being on her knees in her bedroom eight years ago, holding the ultrasounds of my babies who were gone. The same woman who penned in her journal, “Will I ever be a mom who gets to hold her babies?” As my girls ran ahead in the leaves, I pulled my sweater tight around me. But God. 

I know for some it’s hard to be grateful this Thanksgiving and you don’t feel merry and bright as we head into Advent. I know because I’ve walked that same journey. But could I whisper into your heart those two words, But God. Friend, please hang on. I know you wake up with a pain in your chest and you go to sleep with tears on your cheeks. I know you wonder how others can care about Black Friday sales or red coffee cups when your heart is smashed into a thousand pieces. I know you’re afraid to open the mailbox to see a Christmas card of another smiling family when something in your family is broken or someone is missing.

I’ve been digging into Hebrews with a few close friends and God has been etching this passage on my heart as I prepare for Advent.

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. Hebrews 4:14-16, The Message

Take the mercy. Accept the help. We don’t have to come to him merry and bright. He invites us in our snotty-mascara-streaked-mess to come rest in His arms.

As I watched my girls play in the fall confetti fluttering from the maples above, I saw a snapshot of these past eight, nearly nine, years on my journey of motherhood–pain and joy, sorrow and celebration, the broken and the beautiful. Because while these four daughters are miracles, every single one of them, the even bigger miracle is what God has done in my heart. The woman who writes these words today has come face to face with her brokenness. She’s learned the pain and gift of surrender. She can’t make it one day, one hour, one minute without mercy poured on and help received. She needs it to be their mom, but she also needs it to remember that she is His daughter and she can walk right up to Him and get what He is so ready to give (vs. 16). That woman whispers to all the hurting hearts this holiday season, “You aren’t alone. You aren’t forgotten.” Put your arm in mine and join your fellow warriors who will whisper to your hurting heart on the good days and the dark ones, “But God.”

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Digging

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Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetI had to take a little break from the blog for another project. That project has been sent off, and there’s a lot swirling around upstairs. The last five months–wow–it’s hard to believe it’s been almost five months since Eve came home. So much has changed, and, yet, it’s hard to remember life before the six of us were together. Her dedication was this past Sunday and our friend Stephen said he had seen a picture of our family from February. He said it looked like there was a big hole in the picture, a gap where our Eve girl wasn’t there.

At dinner last night, Peach asked Matt for a “campfire,” meaning fire in the fireplace. So, after bath times and pjs we all sat in front of the fireplace reading books. Lottie wanted to give Evie her bottle. (Yes, we still do one bottle a day for her because it’s a bonding moment, and we missed 20 months of those.) I looked over at them and thought of this time last year when our first court date was coming up in December. We walked through so much this year. But the gifts throughout this hard year have been beautiful and plentiful.

Saturday, I planted nearly 200 bulbs in our front yard. The big girls helped me while the little girls played in the dirt. The blade of the shovel cut through the dirt and I tucked in bulb after bulb, each one hidden beneath several inches of dirt to protect it through winter. There is nothing to show for my work right now, except a bit of a bruise on my right palm from all that digging. But I’m believing that come spring tulips and narcissus and later in the summer anemones and ranunculus will bloom.

Somewhere around bulb #89 the obvious metaphor hit me. This is what growth looks like. There’s digging, and it’s dirty. There’s planting, and it feels hidden. There’s growth, and it feels slow. But wait. Because the beauty is there already. And in time it will bloom into something that reflects the glory of its Creator.

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Today didn’t go like I was hoping…

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Today didn’t go like I wanted it to. After waiting an entire week to get our court date (longer than usual because of Ethiopian courts being closed Friday and Monday for Easter), we anxiously awaited news of our court date today. Instead, we got word that court had requested a new copy of a form from our daughter’s first orphanage. So, we have to wait a little longer. I cried a lot today. I know it seems like what’s another week when you’ve been waiting for almost five and a half years. But it’s hard. I’ll just leave it at that. I have a feeling a lot of you know what it is to be on the roller coaster of waiting, no matter what your waiting is for. 

We went to IKEA tonight. We needed to get out of the house, and I didn’t want to cook. (And free kids meals. The end.) I got a little pale pink kalanchoe because I need to hold life and the promise of beauty from dirt–green grass, bluebird eggs, worms wriggling in freshly turned soil. When we got home, Matt dug up some dirt around our mailbox and the girls and I planted morning glory seeds by the last light of dusk. Halfway through I remembered we were supposed to nick the seeds before we planted them. Each seed is covered in a hard shell and nicking helps the seed germinate. There’s a gentle whisper there for me. This nicking process, this long wait, this hard struggle, is germinating something in me too. It’s painful, but I’m believing there is beauty ahead. And like the blue morning glories that will soon wrap their way around our mailbox, I’m clinging to that promise that He who began a new work will carry it on to completion (Phil 1:6). 

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Stuck.

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Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetYou know when it’s fun to share something? When you’re on the other side. When you’ve walked through it or trudged through it or even stumbled through it, but somehow you’re on the other side. Do you know when it’s NOT fun to share something? When you’re right in the thick of it. When your feet are muddy, your knees are bloody, and your cheeks are stained with tears. When you feel stuck. But that’s where I am.

If you find yourself, like me, stuck in the middle—of toddler antics or taking care of an aging parent or battling cancer or navigating infertility or still waiting for one piece of paper to bring your long-awaited child home or any of the myriad of journeys our stories take—I hope my brokenness and the hard, messy things I’m learning encourage you.

The reading plan I’ve followed for the last couple years has me in the psalms for much of the year, and there’s a recurring theme throughout the psalms. There’s this ebb and flow between, “Lord, help me everything is falling apart” and “God, you are great and you are good and your steadfast love endures forever.” My own prayers look very similar. Maybe yours do too. Our prayers reflect the way humans feel.

Psalm 5 “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God for to you do I pray … But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.”

Psalm 10 “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? … O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed.”

Psalm 22 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel, In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”

Psalm 78 “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them …so that they should set their hope in God … they forgot his works, and the wonders that he had shown them.”

Here the Israelites who once crossed the Red Sea singing and weeping and playing their tambourines have forgotten His works. They weren’t feeling it anymore.

“My feelings are important for many things. They are essential and valuable. They keep me aware of much that is true and real. But they tell me next to nothing about God or my relation to God. My security comes from who God is, not from how I feel. Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not by what I feel about him or myself or my neighbors.”

Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

I can tell you I’ve been in just this spot many times over the last 63 months and especially the last few weeks. There have been many days I’ve forgotten His works and wonders. Many days I’ve groaned and asked why He stands so far away? But my feelings tell me next to nothing about God. My feelings are a roller-coaster up one moment and down the next. But our God—He is steadfast, everlasting, our Rock, our Firm Foundation, and He never ever changes.

This is what I love about the psalms. While the fluctuating feelings of humans are honestly displayed, the Steadfast nature of our God is always the end. His Love, His Victory, His Justice, His Righteousness, His Sovereignty is steadfast.

“That he sticks with us is the reason Christians can look back over a long life crisscrossed with cruelties, unannounced tragedies, unexpected setbacks, sufferings, disappointments, depressions—look back across all that and see it as a road of blessing, and make a sound out of what we see…Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’s faithfulness. We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us. Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not be probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God.”

Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

How do we stick with God?

We make a MAP of His faithfulness.

Write down every single way God has been faithful. Do this often. Write down every need you have, every prayer request you can think of, write down every way He has provided, every bit of encouragement He has sent you.

A couple weeks ago I found a square card I started back in June when we finally got matched with our daughter. On it, I had written a couple dozen specific needs related to our adoption, some small and others huge. When I found the card a couple weeks ago, I took out a pen and put a check next to every need God had provided for or given clarity about. So many little check marks over that small card. I was reminded how often I forget what He has done.

We are a forgetful people, and if we don’t write it down we will forget. Remember Psalm 78? “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them…so that they should set their hope in God.” We must remember and teach the next generation all that He has done.

We carry each other’s MATS.

Even as a child, you probably heard the story about the friends carrying their friend to Jesus. When the door was crowded, they went to the roof and lowered him down on a mat. They would stop at nothing to get their brother to Christ. As sisters in Christ, we must carry each other’s mats. Sometimes this looks like a kind word of encouragement, a hug, fresh flowers to remind us of life. And sometimes it looks like calling out the enemy’s work and helping our friend say no to the enemy’s lies.

In Gloria Furman’s book Alive in Him, she says this about the community God created us to live in, “Solid doctrine is our building material, love is our disposition, and maturity in Christ is our aim.” And later she says, “Truthing solid doctrine with each other wars against our flesh while it strengthens our souls.”

This very thing happened to me recently. I was out of town for spring break and late in the day I saw on our agency’s FB group that the director who has to sign the one piece of paper we are waiting on in Ethiopian court was going to be out of town for 20 days. Earlier that morning my best friend had texted me a verse Psalm 86, verse 17, “Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” She said she was praying God would give me a sign of His goodness that day to encourage me. When I heard the news of the director’s being out of town, I wasn’t feeling encouraged. I was discouraged. When I texted her the next morning to let her know about the director being out for 20 days and how I was discouraged, she immediately called me and said, “No. We are not letting the enemy have that. We are believing that God is at work even if it doesn’t make sense right now. We will praise Him right now.” Through tears, I said okay. We would find out a few days later that the director left another person in charge and that person has granted approval to 11 families from our agency over the last two weeks. While our family has not received approval yet, and that’s been very hard, God is certainly moving to bring these children to their forever families.

We need friends who can see when we need truth spoken into us and over us. Liz did this for me. And she said it with such conviction that I immediately realized she was right. We must carry each other’s mats. We must speak truth in love to each other. We must build each other up with the Word and call out the enemy’s work with a gentle and loving firmness.

We go to His Word for daily MANNA.

Our God does not show us the entire road before we start down it. Thank goodness. If he did, I’m afraid I would never say yes. Our time in His Word every day is manna, it is our sustenance, our strength to carry on.

He weaves His Word together in such a way that it will leave us speechless if we are faithful to keep coming back to His Word. We need ALL of His Word just like a body needs all of its parts to function. And how He brings together different parts of His Word to give us the manna we need that specific day—y’all, it blows me away. Last week in my reading, one of my passages was Nehemiah 9:20-21.

“You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.”

There I was exhausted because my best friend had had surgery the day before to remove melanoma cancer. Exhausted because another week had gone by with no approval for our adoption. And this passage. I want to grumble and complain but the truth is that He has sustained me. For 63 months, He has fed me manna from His Word every day. He has clothed me in His armor and kept my feet moving step by step forward. He has given me water, deep and soul-quenching water. Has it been hard? Yes, so crazy hard. But He has and He will sustain me. And He will sustain you. I decided to look up the word sustain in the concordance on my phone. It is the Hebrew word “kuwl” and in its description it says, “to sustain, maintain, contain, nourish, support, endure.”

After doing that little word search, I finished the last of my passages for that day and opened my prayer journal. I stumbled upon a little verse at the top of my page to pray for my husband and, of course, it was from Psalms, “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (55:22). When I saw the word “sustain” again, I had to check my concordance to see if it was the same Hebrew word. It is. The concordance said this Hebrew word “kuwl” can also be used for our word measure or provide. Here I am obsessed with measuring another day with no approval, counting up the days we’ve been waiting instead of counting up the days He has SUSTAINED me.

We humans can be a fickle bunch, especially the human writing these words. I am so grateful that perseverance is not the result of my determination but the result of God’s faithfulness. I love the words of old hymns, and during morning basket time each day, my girls and I will sing one together. One of my favorites is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I especially love this part because it is so true of my life.


Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”  Ephesians 1:13

This is what the Psalms and His Word at large remind us of over and over again. Though prone to wander, we have been sealed. Though prone to leave the God we love, we are chosen. We are rescued. We are redeemed. We can persevere.

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If your household is too small…

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I stumbled upon a little something this morning. Right there in the middle of the Passover directions in Exodus 12, God told Moses and Aaron to tell His people to take a lamb for their household. But then He said this, “And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.” 

All throughout the Bible we see how God knits together his people, how he created us with a need for community, to be poured into and to pour ourselves into others. This is just my own wondering, but it seems like right here in the Passover directions, we get another hint of that community He craves for His children. If the household was too small–maybe because of loss or infertility, maybe because of sickness or poverty, maybe because of waiting and more waiting–God guided Moses and Aaron to have that household reach out to its nearest neighbor and band together with them for their Passover lamb. It seems He didn’t want waste because later God gives directions that they are to let none of the lamb remain until morning.

There’s this quote I keep seeing around. “When you have more than you need, build a longer table not a higher fence.” There’s something there, don’t you think? And, if we’re being honest, who of us doesn’t have more than we need?

It’s only taken me eleven years to start looking at my neighbors as I think God sees them. Instead of being exasperated when their yard needs its weeds whacked (because, hello, who are we to talk?!?) or hurrying in to close the garage so I don’t have to let them see the fact that I basically wore pajama pants to take my child to gym class, I can see the person. I can smile. I can leave a happy on the door or plant bulbs they’ll get to look over and enjoy. And maybe I can even get up the courage to spread my Mamaw and Papaw’s table out far and wide with all its extra leaves and have them over to eat, to share, to break bread together.

No matter where we are–country or city, suburbs or downtown condominium–we can seek out our nearest neighbor, and perhaps during this Lent season we can share the Lamb.

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The Moment Before

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In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment. ~Frederick Buechner

I’ve been thinking a lot about the silence of those 400 years between Malachi and Matthew. Especially about what it was like at the end of that 400 years. Those days right before the angel appeared to Mary. The dark nights leading up to the star that led to the King. What were those like? After four centuries and many generations had come and gone, were God’s people desperate? Were they still clinging to hope? What astounded Mary more–the news that she was going to carry the Savior or the news that her Savior was finally coming?

Why would our God who has the power to speak a word and cause the seas to gather and the bush to burn and the stars to splay–why would He ever wait?

What if the wait is for us?

“Then Jesus became explicit: ‘Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.” John 11:14-15, The Message

For those of us in the wait, we’re about to be given new grounds for believing. We are in the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent.