Thursday, November 27, 2014

What Giving Thanks in the Midst of a Mess Means

I must have gone wrong somewhere--taken a left when maybe I should have gone right.

I keep taking deep, gasping breaths because I'm running right out of my skin with all these kids fighting and grumbling and spiting each other.

I've lost count of all my mind spinning and mind losing because simply keeping count is enough to send me over the moon. 

I've lost count of all my empty threats because I miss the enforcement window when the carrying them out matters...or because the child in question presents herself for her punishment because she knows she's busted. Or I'm just too afraid that I might regret the consequences I dole out in the flare of all my mind losing.

I mean I can't really lock them outside or lock me inside when all I really want to do is find a quiet, peaceful spot to catch a bit, a piece really, of my mind, my heart, my fortitude, that's whirling straight to oblivion.

I missed that turn somewhere. 
And now I might be lost.
And the only good news--the best good news--
is the Good News:
Jesus who came to save.

I might very well be lost. I've probably been lost before, though there's different kinds of "lost" aren't there. The lost I find myself in now is the one where I feel like very important pieces of me are chipping off in great big chunks leaving a crumbled, worn out, out of ideas mama behind.

It's the kind of lost that screams for a girl to retreat, yet there's no time to retreat and no place to retreat to and the kids still need a mama who follows through and shows up and loves till it hurts.

But Jesus knows right where I am right down to the smallest pinprick on the largest map.

I might feel like I'm losing a piece of me trying to keep all the pieces of me--my family, my kids, my classroom--in a messy free-fall of togetherness. But Jesus knows, and when I'm at the end of my very short rope, He throws me another--longer, stronger, better.

I might feel overwhelmed by a season that's steamrolling me right over,
and then I hear Him:

Quiet. Gentle. Still.

And I know it's Him because in this moment, I am none of those things.

And He says, it's what He always says when I feel this way:
"Be still."

And when I'm still I remember.
I remember what Thanksgiving means. What giving thanks means.
What it heralds. What, even in my frazzled turmoil, I can't deny.
He's coming.

I might be lost and overwhelmed and tired and worn straight to next week.
But He's coming. 
And He's coming for all of us who feel broken and bruised and trampled.
He's coming and He wants me just how I am.
 However I come. And there's so much grace and so much to be thankful for.

The father never asked his prodigal son to take a bath, to get it all together, before he wrapped his son up in all his love. That father was just so joyful that his son had come home, 
and everything else that came before
--the heartache, the betrayal, the despair--
was washed away in an ocean of grace.
The prodigal son was a mess. 
And it didn't matter one bit.

And so He doesn't hold me off because of my mess.
He doesn't ask that I get it all together before I can come and be with Him.
He takes me just how I am. Frazzled bits and all.
And it doesn't faze Him.
Not even a teeny tiny bit.

So yeah,
He's coming.
And I'm waiting.
For His Advent.

Sure, my kids are gonna test me tomorrow and my head will pound like a thousand drums from all that is my kids and sure, my patience will be worn straight to thin and I'll wonder if I'll ever find my mind,
and it's gonna be okay. I'm gonna be okay. We're gonna be okay.

Because He's still coming.

And there's always a hidden grace, a small thing to be thankful for.
And the act of finding that one thing in the middle of all the noise to be thankful for makes the finding easier and the grace flows down.
The quiet hug.
The small giggle
The kind help.
The silly grin.

There's always grace.
There's always thanks.
And thanks and grace always go hand in hand.
And He's coming.
The greatest Grace.

I've just got to keep putting one step in front of the other, taking one deep breath after another, loving one kid hard right after the other because I know that Truth and Hope and Love are more powerful, more mighty, more potent than all that is messy and unkempt and crazy in my world.

And the world desperately needs some Truth and Hope and Love this Season. 
Someone to bind us together, to heal all that's scabbed and scarred and bleeding.

He's coming.
And He knows right where we are.
And He's coming to meet us right here--in our lost, in our broken, in our hard, in our mess, in our overwhelmed, in our anger, in our despair.

He's coming.
Jesus is coming.

And I so don't want to miss Him.

Grace Always Rises,

Monday, November 3, 2014

Because 8 is Great!

I heard her before I saw her.
Her not so little feet tripping up the stairs and into my bathroom where I was brushing my teeth.
Her big, wide, infectious grin came first through my door.

"Did you have a good sleep, Bug?"
"Yes. Except I didn't sleep. I was SO excited!"
"Happy Birthday Addie"
"Thanks Mom. I'm so excited to be 8."

Photos by Sam Ferrand

She's 8 today and I remember each of her birthdays like mile markers on my winding, grace living road. Not that I'm anxious to get to the end, but every year adds to the bounty, the beauty, that weaves its strands into fabric of my life. And I'm so grateful for each of these years, each of these markers of victories and joys and heartaches because what's a life without something to mark it by? Without tales to tell and memories to hold fast? Without grace to sink into and joy to relive? It might not be a life at all.

Today I celebrate that my oldest is 8.
And I admit, there's also the faintest ripple of bittersweet in my celebration.
With every year, every birthday, I can only go forward. I can't ever go back to when she was 1 or 3 or 6. Those years now live in my heart and in my scrapbooks and sometimes I'm just a bit nostalgic about that.

I remember how she was so big when I was pregnant and how she was so late in joining us.

I remember how scared I was when they had to keep her for 7 days in the hospital and how our first pediatrician had no bedside manner and scared this poor, new mama straight out of her wits and I had to lean hard into Jesus because I was afraid. That week is seared in my memory and I know now I wouldn't trade it for a happier, less difficult one.

I remember how she was when she met her sisters in the hospital for the first time. How she held them so carefully. How she would help me feed them and fetch me diapers or burp rags or blankets. How she would throw magnificent temper tantrums in her big sister adjustment.

I remember when she accepted Jesus into her heart at the kitchen counter and my cup ran right over with such grace. 

I remember her first day of school. Her first report card. Her first soccer game. Her first dance recital.

I love how for the past 72 hours she hasn't been able to utter a thought without referencing her birthday. As if we might forget it somehow--not that she would let us. And sure it might be a little obnoxious, this constant bombardment and reminder of a cake to make and cupcakes to decorate and a party to plan and presents to wrap, but I appreciate her wonderment and enthusiasm for all things birthday and I'm happy to give that to her because you only turn 8 once. And as a friend just told me, 8 is great.

I appreciate her passion and her zeal. Her shamelessness in making sure we are ready for her big day.

Sure there are hard things and difficult challenges and parenting issues. She's the Eldest. I feel like we have cut our teeth, so to speak, learning how to parent with her. Not that those lessons will translate at all to her sisters, but having tactical and strategic maneuvers in a parenting arsenal can only be helpful.

Sure she frustrates me endlessly with her refusal to put her clothes away in the right spot or her inability to remember simple chores or her supernatural ability to micromanage the twins when they don't wish to be micromanaged. But on her birthday, those things seem somehow less important and insignificant.

Her joy over this day has caused me to think (which is sometimes a dangerous undertaking) about birthdays, especially the ones that indicate decades passing.

When was the last time I was so excited for my birthday that I didn't that I couldn't sleep?

When did birthdays become an accumulation of numbers instead of an accumulation of joy? 

In a culture where growing old, or older, is the foundation for an entire cosmetics industry to battle hard against, why don't we mamas stand gracefully and dignified in the gap for our daughters?

Perhaps instead of counting our numbers we start to count our graces. Perhaps we begin this next year teaching our daughters that numbers and years are simply measures, they don't define a mama, a woman, a daughter, a sister; they don't determine worth or value as though somehow we lose our worth by getting older, by racking up the years. Perhaps our ability to really practice gratitude and grace grows exponentially every year as we live deeper and wiser because we know the true measure of a life; we know the true value of a moment, a day, a year.  And that measure isn't a number.

I want my daughters to see their mama turn 40 or 50 or 90 and feel the exuberance I feel from my 8 year old turning 8. I want them to see a mama who's not afraid of a number but who's filled with gratitude and grace for a life; who's filled with bravery and courage to stand grace-filled in a culture that says growing old is unfortunate.

I want them to see a mama who lets Jesus be the true, defining measure of her worth. 

And all this thinking, leads me back to her.

Happy 8th Birthday My Lovely Girl

Grace Always Rises,

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When We Dare to Get Out of the Boat

I'm not sure I know where to start.

I'll start with Peter.
Peter who confessed Jesus as Lord.
Peter who always had questions.
Peter who said "no" to his Lord. Three times.

Yeah. That Peter.

Because there's a little bit of Peter in all of us, I think.

Jesus comes to the disciples in a great storm. He walks on water and scares them shocked silly.
But that Peter says, "Lord, if it's You, tell me to come to you on the water."
"Come," He says (Matthew 14:28-29).

(I love this part)

Then Peter got out of the boat.

Now I know in the next sentence Peter falls to fear and sinks a bit. He takes his eyes off the One who holds his heart and loses faith.

Peter gets a bad rap sometimes because he's a little edgy, a little blunt. A little too real for those of us who want a better ending. He reminds us too clearly of our own humanity--our own weaknesses-- when we come face to face with Jesus.

But Peter was the one who dared to get out of the boat. The only one.

Peter was the one who believed and took the first step.

Peter was the one who, despite the storm and the fear, Got. Out. Of. The. Boat.

I wonder how often the Lord waits for me to ask Him the question: "Will you catch me when I get out? Will you be right here?" Because He's just waiting to show me what He could do if I just got out of the boat.

I wonder if I make His heart sad when He has somewhere beautiful He wants to take me and I cling so desperately to my small, little boat, to my familiar, that I can't open my hand to latch on to something more. Something His.

There can be no hanging on to old boats when Jesus asks us to get out. There can be no looking back. There can be no vacillating. There can only be faith. And faith requires that we believe in what we can't see. It sounds so simple. And simple is sometimes so hard.

We will never know what could happen, what miracles God could do, what storms He would still, what gifts He has to give if we never take that first step in reckless, abandoned trust.

And it's that first step that's always the hardest, isn't it? And the scariest. Because I don't know what will happen when I take that first step. And if I just took that step, my eyes would be opened to the glory and greatness of Jesus. And so often I don't because I'm afraid. Paralyzingly so.

And yes, I'll be honest. Sometimes my fear feels bigger than my faith in Jesus. And I know if I just stepped out, it would be okay. I would be okay. But I don't. I make excuses. I rationalize. I justify. I play the what if game because I seem to excel at that particular game. I stay in the boat because it's comfortable. And comfortable is easy. And comfortable isn't scary. And comfortable will always be, well, less than what God has intended.

All three of my girls walked early and often. But I remember those sketchy beginnings. The weebling and wobbling, the top heavy waddling. I remember that first brave step where she had to let go of one thing and had to believe that I would be right there.

No mama is gonna let her baby take that first step and fall. But she's gonna wait hard until her baby takes one faith-filled step and then she'll swoop baby up in proud mama kisses. So our Father does with us.

But He can't swoop us up in proud papa kisses if we haven't gone anywhere.

When did we start believing that our Father would be any different with us? When did we learn doubt as a way of living because that's not living at all.

I often find myself having a Peter-heart and not the Peter-walk. I want to get out of the boat, but like Peter's friends, I'm cringing against the crashing waves and the voices of reason and rationality. Mostly, though, I'm afraid.

What God asks of us is often not reasonable or rational because it has to be bigger than us. What God asks is God-sized so that what I can't do, God can.  Why would God ask me to do the ordinary? God wants a Peter-heart who's willing to be a vessel for the extraordinary. He wants reckless abandon and dangerous faith.

And to Peter's credit, he didn't ask the ordinary of God. Peter asked to walk on water.

Talk is cheap though, isn't it? It's easy and doesn't require anything of me. Faith, much like love, is a verb and requires movement. When push comes to shove and the rubber meets the road, putting my faith in action is scary when there's a mortgage and kids and bills. Faith living is courage living. It's never a small thing to step off a ledge into the unknown grandeur of God's plan. It takes a relentless faith to do it and not just talk about it.

When we live obediently, when we surrender our illusion of security and instead reach for God's greatness, He never fails us. He's never gonna let us sink. He takes us to the edge of us and then takes over.

Even when Peter started to doubt, Jesus "reached out His hand and caught [Peter]" (v. 31).

The first step is always the hardest. There's so much uncertain ground in the terribly short distance between our comfortable and the Hand of God.

God desires for His children to believe in the extraordinary, unconditional love a Father has for us. Because when we know way down deep in all those shadowy hidey-holes where doubt sometimes dwells how extravagantly we are loved, then maybe we will start to live like we are loved that much. When we get how unfathomable God's love is for us, and we start walking that out, living that out, believing that, perhaps the Peter-walk of faith will be less scary.

Let's be brave together and get out of the boat. Let's fix our eyes on Jesus and believe that the Lord of Lords will settle the waves, calm the storm, and hold our hands. Let's believe that He loves us to the deepest depths and to the grandest heights. Let's walk the road of relentless, courageous faith-living together. And maybe when I get afraid, because I'm sure to get afraid, you might gently remind me that He's got me and I don't need to run back to my old boat. I only need to keep my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my courageous faith, and take the next faith-filled step. And we can keep taking those small faith-filled steps together.

And of course, God will swoop us up in proud papa kisses.

What dad wouldn't?

Grace Always Rises,

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

When my kids live out my words...

Today I heard them. Early. Too early.

So I stumble down the stairs, push my glasses up my nose so it's stumbling I do instead of tripping, and shove my wild mane out of my face as I navigate stairs, corners, hallway. Hopefully in that order.

Into their room I go.

"Girls," I whisper, "It's too early to get up. You need to close your eyes and go back to sleep for a little while."

This is not met with agreement from Rye. She is not happy. As in not at all. I sigh. And in my head, I think to myself, Really? It's 6 am. Go. Back. To. Sleep. And it isn't said in my head in a nice way either.

K moans and says, "Mama, my eyes are still tired."
I love her.
I say, "Well, sweet girl, go back to sleep."
Rye is still not happy with my decree. So I give her a kiss. And she pouts.
I love her, too.

And then K sort of sits up and gestures, quite grandly for being half asleep, toward the window with her palm face up and her fingers squeezed tightly together and says oh so matter of factly, "Wyleigh, just because the sky is awake doesn't mean we get to be awake."

How can one argue with that logic?
I, in fact, completely concur.
That's the best news I've heard in the 15 minutes I've been out of bed.

And Rye looks at her, nods her head, raises her arms up for a hug and squishes her lips together for a kiss and closes her eyes.

I close the door behind me, stumble back up the stairs to get ready for work and think how grand it is that sometimes your kids do the mama-job for you.  These are the best mama moments when the little people listen to each other, teach each other, exhibit that 'Golden Rule' we mamas like to instill in our little people. And when the words I have said for eons have sunk down into somewhere deep and true, and I hear them repeated, I admit, my heart does a happy dance.

(Unless of course those words are the not-so-nice-words with that not-so-nice attitude that I hate to admit they heard from me, learned from me, because those moments where those words are flung furiously at me are not proud mama moments and they do not make my heart skip a beat in glee. And my heart sighs sad for all the words that sometimes spill forth from the brokenness of my own life onto the sweetness of theirs.)

But on those momentous and triumphant occasions when my children live out, act out, speak out the good that they've seen or heard from my own heart, I admit there is a moment of pride that swells up from some deep heart nook or cranny when my children help each other do the thing they are supposed to do, without me. 

You know, like I have arrived at this unknown mommy-marker of accomplishment-dom. 
Because isn't that our goal as mamas? To teach our little people in such a way that the truth sinks into a true and honest place so that they can live that out one day without us? Isn't that the measure of all teachers--when our students can complete the task without our input, without our guidance? And we can clap and cheer because what better reason for celebration could there ever be than watching your child, into whom you have spent years planting the seeds of love and honesty and forgiveness and faith, live. that. out. 

These rare and precious moments puff my mama heart up a little and I marvel, briefly, at the lessons I've learned, and the layers I've grown, in my own life, in my own heart. Because the fruit of all those lessons and that learning are embodied, magnified, reflected in three little souls entrusted to me. 

Sure, this particular moment didn't change the course of history, or even alter the course of our family. In fact, this particular moment could have easily been lost in a multitude of other seemingly insignificant moments, but there was something special and eternal about this transaction between two sisters.

And this transaction, albeit small, reminded me that it's the small stuff, the small victories, that lead to the mightier celebrations and the deeper lessons. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the ocean is full of millions of tiny drops and this is one of those tiny drops. This drop matters. This drop is important. Because without it, the ocean would be less. I have hope. 

Still, in those darker moments where I've floundered and failed again, I need to remind myself that the dark moments are not the sum of all the mama love I've poured endless over my little hearts. That those dark, fragile, sometimes ugly moments lead me back, over and over again, to the feet of Jesus. Because He redeems those moments and makes beauty from those ashes which become the swelling crescendos in a symphony that ebbs and flows, just like any ocean, just like any life, just like any heart. And to Him it's all beauty.

And His mercies are new every morning.

Even if it starts at six a.m.

Grace Always Rises,

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When the World's on Fire and the Fire Inside is Smoldering

The smoke plume grows. Every minute. Every hour.
For ten long days now.
The sky is dark with all of it.

It's hard to believe that so much can burn so quickly and that with all of our technology and knowledge and equipment, there are just some things that can't be fixed or undone or curtailed. You can't harness the flames of fire incinerating a forest.

There's just no stopping a fire raging wild.

The angst of wondering for those who have been evacuated, relocated, reconfigured has been a heavy burden on our little town. I dropped the little people off at preschool again only to find one of the teachers and her family have spent another long night in a random place because they were evacuated early on. The weight of worrying cripples and maims just as well as any weapon.

So many of my own students are living in limbo. They can't go home because the fire wild still threatens. They can't move forward because the fire wild still threatens. They can only wait. And waiting is so hard. And waiting is its own purgatory, filled with what ifs and half dashed dreams.

You can't stop a fire raging wild.
I see where this road leads:

As Christ followers, is our fire inside raging wild? Because if it was, it would be unstoppable. As unstoppable as any wildfire.

I drove to school yesterday and found myself in a long line of fire engines. Apparently it was the shift change. And I cried. Because they drive in to a danger zone every day. They go in when everyone else flees. They risk their lives so others can be safe, so that someone else--a someone they have never met--might be able to go home.

I stopped by the grocery store this morning and the parking lot was filled with fire engines. And one of those heroes came up to me holding stickers, of all things, and asked me if he could give my girls each a sticker. Like he hasn't given enough already.

What do you say when the ones who are giving so much offer to give you one more thing? 
What do you do when the One who gave everything He had offers more than you can fathom? 

I'm struck by this. Profoundly.
Remember that children's song, "This Little Light of Mine, I'm gonna let it shine"?
It's true. Every word.

I wonder if we abandoned ourselves recklessly to the Refiner's Fire, what would happen? If we held our hands up and then held our hands out, what could Jesus do? Not, what would He do...because He's already doing it...but what COULD He do with Christ followers who were burning bright and steady and wild for Him?

How often do we Christ followers seek out the dangerous, dark places?
How often do we go in when everyone else leaves?
How often do we let our fire blaze and burn into the places where Jesus'
light is so desperately needed?
How often do we let Jesus use our little embers to showcase His glory?
How often do seek out a place, a person, a heart that needs Jesus and shine our light bright?
How often are we really living grace and giving love and offering mercy?

In the jails, the group homes, the inner city, the homeless shelter, the orphanage, the next door neighbor, the lady with cancer, the grouchy old widower, the Sunday School class, the group play date, the park, the moms group, the coffee shop on the corner, the PTA meeting, the elementary school, the middle school, the high school, the office, the classroom, the business...where we are is where Jesus wants us to burn bright. 

We don't have to always go looking. 
We can start right where we are.
And watch where He blows the fire.

And if we Christ followers ran into hurting, broken places, into hurting, broken lives, into hurting, broken hearts with our arms held out, what glory might God spread? What healing and restoration and redemption and forgiveness and miracles might we be witness to and then bear testimony to the glory and greatness of God? If we allowed, again, our own brokenness to be the vessel for God's love to spill forth in great waves from all of our cracks and chinks, who could resist and hold off such loving grace?

When we burn with the need, the unquenchable thirst for more of Him, the fire ignites. It's a paradox, really. The more we want of Him, the more we thirst for Him, the hotter the fire burns. The hotter that fire burns, the more light it shines forth, the more who see it and come to know the Light-Giver.

When we are consumed by the grace and love of Jesus Christ, when we know the cost of our redemption, how can we contain such a fire, such a passion? How can we hide our light and let it burn quiet and solitary?

There's a duality to the nature of fire. On the one hand, fire destroys without prejudice, without favor. And on the other hand, fire purifies and refines. As a force of nature, there's no favoritism with fire. We are all on equal ground. We are all at the mercy of a fire that destroys.

Jesus changed that. He took a fire that destroyed, took that destruction upon Himself and sanctified it, changed it, covered it with grace and love and mercy and forgiveness and then offered it to us, to save us, to change us, to refine and purify us.

The reality is that time is short. So many neighbors and co-workers and kids and relatives who don't know, who've never heard about, the saving grace and the unfathomable love of Jesus. When we reduce our purpose as Christ followers down to the lowest--or highest--common denominator, it's to know Jesus and make Him known.

It's so easy to be distracted by all there is to get distracted by. And there's so much isn't there. To deter and distract us from Jesus. We can complicate and confuse the issue. We can make excuses and justifications. We can procrastinate or claim ignorance. But the bottom line is time is short and Jesus' love is great. And there are those who will either be consumed by a fire that destroys or by a fire that purifies and sanctifies.

Which fire will I spread?

With my words. With my actions. With my attitude.

While the fire burns still, I keep praying for miracles. Small miracles. Cooler weather, overcast skies, a downpour that lasts for hours. I keep praying that the fire within me would burn bright while the fire raging through the forest would be contained. I keep praying that even in the midst of an inferno, in the midst of broken dreams and worried hearts, Jesus would be made known. That He would be close to the brokenhearted, a friend to the lost, a Savior to all.

Time is short...

Grace always rises,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When your heart's busted

How do we know if our heart's busted?

There's probably a good chance it's been busted, is busted, or will be busted.

But what I know, is that a busted heart is an opportunity. A grace opportunity.

Isn't it true that life is hard. Most of the time. And isn't it true that we cannot control other people's bustedness. And sometimes all this bustedness spills over and busts us. Breaks us. Brings us low and hurting and broken in bits.

Every day I see kids whose hearts are busted.

The young woman whose family is breaking right down the middle and in the middle is where she's caught. Heart: busted.

The young man whose mom is tired and worn and whose dad is disengaged and unavailable, leaving this boy's heart busted.

The girl whose dad had a CAT scan the other day, whose stomach fills with fluid, who battles hard the cancer. She's struggling to be strong. Heart: busted.

The friend whose marriage is teetering on the edge of gone. Who's tired of battling apathy and complacency. Who sees few options. Heart: busted.

There's a difference between a broken heart and a busted heart. It's this:

Broken hearts can fill back up, they can mend with time. Broken hearts are coming of age loves that go awry and disappointments that go deep or the path of life that goes bonkers.

But a busted heart. That's different.

It's a very slight connotative change between busted and broken that speaks to the woundedness we all carry. Bustedness is a result of the burdens we end up carrying for others. The woundedness of others that then spills onto us and leaves us wounded.

Busted is harder to put back together. Busted hurts deeper and leaves bigger scars. And needs bigger band-aids. And even when it seems we don't need band-aids, the tracks of all this running and carrying and the burden of all these heavy yokes runs deep and is harder to wash away.

It's overwhelming. All these busted hearts. They walk around me every day. They quietly soldier on while the busted bits swirl and sway and taunt and tease and they soldier on, wounded and weary.

The busted don't volunteer their brokenness. They don't play the victim card or place blame on anyone. They resign themselves to being busted and take one more step. They are the ones life knocks down hard, and though they aren't quick to get back up, they get back up. They are the ones whose souls stoop heavy and weary.

They are the courageous hearts who dare to believe that the next step might be easier than the one they just painfully labored through when there's no reason to believe it. The busted are the ones for whom my heart aches and cheers.

The stats drown us. Teenage suicide, drug use, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, violence in general. It takes courage to face all this bustedness. And sometimes, most times, it's straight up sad.

The world shouldn't be so hard. Life shouldn't be so hard.

But I have to believe that God's grace is bigger than all of this.

I have to believe that He can make something good, something beautiful from all this bustedness. That there's meaning in the madness and God's sovereignty trumps all.

Busted hearts are God's specialty. He's got grace enough for all the busted, broken bits in all of us. And wouldn't it be wondrous, if we grabbed each other tight and true, and together walked all of our bustedness straight to the cross?

And wouldn't it be wondrous if we saw these busted pieces as soul-cracks for God's grace to fill and shine bright through?

And wouldn't it be wondrous if we dusted ourselves off for the umpteenth time and believed that those pieces that went missing, that were smashed to smithereens and then scattered to the far corners, that those pieces God has made new because He won't ever snuff out a smoldering wick and He won't ever break a bruised reed.

I believe God has big plans for our busted hearts. Our bustedness can reach more dark places because really, aren't we all the walking busted? And when God's grace shines through our cracks, we light up the shadows and bring healing to the dark places. When our bustedness becomes a vehicle for God's glory, for God's grace, it suddenly seems different. Like we're not so busted as we were just a minute ago.  

Here's the truth: Our cracks, our bustedness, our brokenness are calling cards for the immeasurable vastness of God's unfathomable grace.

May my life, my bustedness, my brokenness point others to Jesus and shine brightly in dark places. And may we grab on tight to each other and let all that Jesus-glory light shine boldly through the chinks in our hearts.

Grace Always Rises,

Friday, August 22, 2014

When your day goes sideways

Sideways is often a challenging direction.

So my day went Monday.

My twins first day of preschool: I drop them off. I give them kisses. I tell them to be good, to be kind, to be patient. I should've told them to be careful. Silly me.

My day was forging forward. Strong. Purposeful. Meaningful.

I'm talking at lunch with a colleague about life and kids. I see the preschool is calling my cell phone. I answer.

"Hi Jamie, K fell off the monkey bars and there is something visibly wrong with her wrist."

"Wait. What???"

"She fell. Her wrist...something is not right. You need to take her to the doctor."

Sideways. I wasn't prepared for this. At all. I can't say I'm all that surprised, but I'm not prepared.

I'm not surprised because it's K. I have written no fewer than three posts about her antics and the results of these antics. Jesus uses K to teach me. A lot.

So my colleague graciously, kindly volunteers to cover my last class. I call the doctor and get an appointment. I sprint out of school.

I pick her up and yes, something is not right with her wrist. As in there is a bend in her arm that would indicate that something is not right.

And it goes sideways. My day. Straight into sideways.

Off we go to the doctor. He knows us well because I am bringing him my expensive child, again. She operates at Mach 9 all the time and when one operates at Mach 9 all the time and doesn't wear body armor, hard things are just bound to happen.

Dr. W is a nice guy. He looks at her wrist. Confirms it's not right and sends us off to x-ray where the tech also confirms it's not right.

So since where we are can't cast her arm and since the kind of break she has dictates a sedative to set it, we head to the ER.

My sideways day just went sideways.

The ER people navigate us through hallways into our room. K jumps on the bed and situates herself. The Doc comes is and gives us the rundown. Broken radius. Sedative. Precautions with the sedative. Side effects with the sedative. What happens after the sedative.

The Nurse comes in. He's a walking miracle. You'll see why I think this.

He explains to K that he has to put an IV in her wee, little hand for the medicine. I lean close on the other side so I can distract her. He smoothly slides that needle in and she starts to cry and then she's done because he's already putting a bandage on her hand. My only complaint is that this man was not my nurse, putting in my IV, when I was pregnant with the twins and in the hospital on three separate occasions. But I am so grateful he is K's nurse.

The Nurse then proceeds to hook my baby up to every monitor known to man. She's got an IV, 3 sticky things on her chest measuring a variety of bodily functions, a canula, a blood pressure cuff, a fancy band aid thing on her index finger measuring her CO2, the crash cart in the hallway, and the IV in her hand. I am freaking out a little on the inside. And I quietly tell him so. And his response, "You can't get any safer than this." Oh, well then I'll just stop my freak out. And save it for later.

It's hard to believe the miracles that our bodies are. What they can do. What they can withstand. What can be measured and how. I'm speechless, really, when I stop and dwell on how God has made us. Our bones break. And He provided for that by allowing them to grow back together. We get sick. He provided for that by allowing our bodies to have immune systems that battle the bad cells and conquer them. We may lose a limb or a sense. He has provided for that by allowing the parts that are well to compensate, grow stronger, and be more adept so we miss the limb or the sense less. And God knows each of us intimately. Our bodies, our hearts, our strengths, our weaknesses. And He doesn't just know our physicality, that knowing also translates to our spirituality. That kind of knowing requires, even demands, a fathomless kind of loving. And this is but a fraction of how deep His love is for us. 

But I digress.

The Doc comes back. She has several friends with her to make sure all is safe and precautions are in place. There's a nurse with her who has a daughter who broke her arm just like K. And she's been in my shoes before and she tells me this. And I want to hug her because she's honest and authentic and doesn't beat around the bush when she tells me I probably shouldn't look when the doc sets the bone because it's kinda rough. And she tells me that K's eyes will probably go funny and they might roll back in her head. And this is normal. I appreciate her wisdom and I take a deep breath.

But I start freaking out again on the inside. Because I'm notorious for what iffing a situation to death. I see the crash cart in the hallway and I know what it's for. I hear the beeps of all these monitors and I know what it means when they beep louder or faster or not at all. And I know she just has a broken arm. And I know it's a just a sedative. But what if....

I am so quick to forget my faith and allow my eyes to dictate the state of my heart.

The Doc gives her okay to the nurse who administers the sedative. There are just a few things more alarming than watching your small child go under...and not even all the way under...only part way under so her eyes don't close. It's disconcerting. And I don't watch the Doc set her arm. But I do watch the Doc and the nurses as they monitor K's vital signs. And the computer hooked to all her vitals is doing funny things and one nurse grabs K's face and kneads it a bit so she will breathe. My heart beats a bit faster. And I work really hard to keep the what ifs at bay. To trust in a Jesus bigger than my what ifs.

This goes on for a few minutes. And so I start talking to her. I am so proud of her. She is such a brave, brave little girl. And her eyes are vacant and wide and staring at nothing. And yet I know she can hear me because her sweet face turns in my direction when I tell her to breathe deep and she breathes deep.

As she traverses out of the dream she is locked in, she starts to cry. Loudly. Uncontrollably. And her cry is not at all soft. It's scratchy and high pitched and hurts my ears and pierces my heart. I move next to her so I can talk in her ear, touch her cheeks, rub her arm. Her eyes are still not focusing and I know she's lost in that scary place between awake and not awake. The medicine is trying to pull her under again and she knows she should wake up so she's fighting with herself. And she's scared. And all I can do is touch her and whisper to her and tell her I love her. Over and over and over.

Her eyes try to focus but they can't. She hears my voice and then panic overwhelms her. She cries for daddy. She cries for her sisters. And then she calms for a moment. We repeat this cycle for an hour. Until I see her eyes focus on me. And she responds when I ask her to look at me and to tell me who I am. And I smile into her big, brown eyes and she crinkles her nose and tells me she wants a hug.

In hindsight, it's almost comical. She comes out of the sedation screaming. An hour later she's laughing and joking and being silly. My girl is back. And my right-handed girl has a huge splint on her right arm and it doesn't faze her. It doesn't slow her down. She takes it in stride. In fact, on the hour drive home, in an hour well past her bedtime, on a day that was traumatic at best, this girl animatedly chit-chatted the entire way. I thought she would sleep. I was wrong.

K with her Grandma, who sat with me the whole time. I am so blessed.
I learn so much from this girl. I am so proud to be her mama. That Jesus trusted me with her. Sometimes, though, she straight scares me, and I admit that I don't know quite how to parent this reckless abandon she has for living. Despite this, she makes me want to be brave and courageous. She makes me want to run through life at break neck speeds, take risks, and take chances, though maybe I'll wear body armor. She makes me realize that sideways is sometimes good.

Sideways stretches us, makes us trust Jesus more. Sideways makes us lean more heavily on Him. Sideways causes us to need Him more. Sideways forces us to surrender our illusion of control to Jesus because as we are sliding sideways, it's clearly obvious we were never in control.

Sideways makes us see life at a new speed, in a new light. Sideways makes us appreciate flexibility and modern medicine and precautions, even if they are scary. Sideways is just a direction, a slight veer on the road to the destination we were headed.

It's just a bump. A little obstacle. A broken arm.

And at the end of the day, as long as sideways leads us all home, I'm good.

Grace Always Rises,

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

For that mama in the doctor's office...

To that mama I saw Saturday. Cautiously, awkwardly pushing that double stroller through the doctor's office...

I remember. How scared I was when my babes got sick--how worried I was.
How my heart froze a little a lot inside my chest and I couldn't draw deep.
How taking two wee babes to the doctor was not twice as hard as taking one--it was four times as hard as taking one. Because you only have two hands and when they're that small, and your mama heart is tired and worn and they are sick, two hands is not enough. 

It was Saturday and so I know it's not a check up that brought you to this second floor. And so it's more. And I just wanted to hug you tight and tell you it would be alright because while you smiled quick and bright when I asked you how old your sweet boys were--and you answered--your eyes were anxious and swift and careful to not catch mine. And I remember doing that too. 

Because I remember thinking what if I saw kindness in some stranger's gentle gaze. What if I saw deep compassion and empathy when I was trying to hold it all together? What if someone who KNEW because she'd been there, was there, saw too much--too deep--and offered me a moment of grace and truth and beauty in just a look? I would've cried. Right there in the second floor doctor's office. Dissolved straight into a puddle of beautiful mess.
And I would've sobbed all my angst right onto that poor stranger's shoulder.
And in hindsight, besides being maybe just a wee bit awkward,
would that have been such a bad thing?

And so this sweet, worn mama has haunted me all weekend.
This brave mama whose boys are sick.

As she rolled that double stroller filled with all her love by me,
I asked her how old they were--her boys.
3 months, she answered. Just teeny tiny people.

I asked her if she's getting any sleep.
She laughed--and not a funny laugh, but that laugh that says she really wants to cry and really wants to sleep and this is her lot and she's in it for the long haul and so yeah, all she's got is a laugh--
and said not really.
And she was almost gone by then, rolling her babes, rolling her very heart, down the hall,
but I called after her gently, "It gets better. It gets easier."

And I saw relief as she answered, "I hope so."

It does. Get easier. And harder.
They grow so quickly. Your babes. They grow and get bigger so when they get sick it doesn't make your heart clench as quickly or your mind spin into what ifs. They learn to sleep through the night and so do you. They learn to feed themselves and you suddenly regain the use of both your hands. They learn to use their words and you suddenly find your sanity returning. They learn to walk and hold your hands and sit in chairs. Going to the doctor with twins becomes less a monumental feat of epic proportions that should win all sorts of awards and more of a nuisance.

Time is a swiftly running river that we are swept away on. 
Sometimes we find ourselves hanging on for dear life as we toss and turn our way through rapids
and other times we find ourselves floating through gently swirling eddies.
There are both quiet lagoons and raging waterfalls.
And both have beauty all their own.
And all of it flows by so quickly. so. quickly.
We can spend our moments wishing for the next, easier moment, that next quiet lagoon, 
but then we miss the truth, the beauty, of this moment. 
And even when this moment is ugly and hard because our babes are sick 
or we are sick or sad or grieving and we think we just won't, just can't
make it to the next moment, there's beauty there. Right there. 
 Because sometimes the hardest part of living, of loving, 
is just to be in the hard moment.

This kind of beauty is hard fought and harder won. 
It's the kind that rides out the rapids or the waterfalls. 
It's the kind that springs and blossoms from somewhere way deep inside and 
is rooted fast in the Creator. It's the kind of beauty that weathers 
the scariest storms and age and wrinkles and scars just make it even more beautiful.

But we have to be brave mamas, brave women, to ride that river. 
And we have to weather it together.

To that mama I saw on Saturday--I know. I know. Remember this too shall pass. Hold on tight because they won't always be this small and it won't always be this hard.
But soak in all the beauty of this moment. Because it's right here. And it might be hard.
But it's so worth it. And you won't get this moment again.

And I'm praying for you and your boys.

And one day down the road, you'll be standing with your boys, older now, and you'll see a sweet, brave, river-worn mama awkwardly maneuvering her double stroller through a doorway and your heart will clutch tight for her. And maybe you'll rush to help her through the door because you remember. 
You remember.

And maybe you'll ask how old her babes are and maybe you'll offer her a moment of hope, a bit of grace, a glimpse of beauty.

Because sometimes we just need to know we aren't alone in this river.

And you aren't. 

Grace Always Rises,

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What to do when your "yes-es" aren't enough

I used to be a "yes" girl. If you had a thing and you asked me to help, I said yes. Didn't matter if I had time. I said yes anyway. Because that's what nice people do. Right?
Maybe not always.

It's so easy to forget who we are--whose we are--because we are so busy trying to be all that we aren't.

Somewhere along the path of life we come to believe the lie that who we are is not enough--not good enough, not nice enough, not funny enough, not kind enough, not pretty enough--simply not enough.

Who can possibly thrive and live a life full of grace and truth and love when she believes she is not enough? The lie of the enemy creeps and cripples us so we forget all that we are.

I spent years saying yes to a multitude of things because they were good things to say yes to. And I believed if it was a good thing, you should say yes to it--even if it wasn't necessarily the right thing I should be saying yes to. Because isn't that what good people do? We do good things. Lots of them.

But good and right are not always the same things. Good things are not always good if they are not the good things I ought to be saying yes to. You know what I'm talking about. The commitments, the obligations, the activities, the play dates, the meetings, the groups, the committees--so many things until your calender is over full to brimming and you are spent from all these yes-es.
And all these yes-es become the things that control your days and ways until you are certifiably over-committed and undeniably overwhelmed.
And Jesus is hard to find because He's buried in all this stuff.

I thought that I had to prove that I was enough--good enough, spiritual enough, smart enough--

But I forgot who I was.

I forgot that I was loved simply because I was and not because of anything I could do.
I forgot I was His Beloved. That He called me beautiful. Even in my nothing.

Ironically, I had lost my way saying yes to all the good things. And all those yeses meant I said no to many of the right things.
I believe there are those things that sure, we could say yes to, but maybe we shouldn't. 
We have a check in our hearts, a sense in our spirit that maybe we should pause and think about what that yes means.
In terms of time. In terms of investment. In terms of  family.
Because that yes could mean a lot of no's down the line.

I don't have to say yes to every good thing. Sometimes no is a right answer.

But I had bought into another little lie that the things I was really good at weren't good enough, glamorous enough, fancy enough--or maybe I was selfish and thought that they weren't good enough because they weren't the gifts I would have chosen to give me.
Isn't that the point of a gift, though? It's not what we would have chosen.
It's the gift-giver's prerogative because the gift-giver wants to give it. And often it's what we would have never dreamed of asking for ourselves. And aren't those the very best gifts?
The most perfect gifts?
And the perfect Gift-Giver always gives the most perfect gifts.

But instead of gratitude for my gifts, I said yes to a thing that maybe I wasn't really equipped to complete; but since it looked good, I said yes, disregarding my gifts and simultaneously wishing for another's.

I had no margin, no room for the unexpected, no space for grace or surprise or spontaneity because my life was chock full of all these yeses.

I swallowed a hard pill of humility when I saw how all my striving to do good was really not doing much good at all.

I had to prune back all these crazy branches of yeses and let myself be stripped bare so I could remember who I really was. Whose I really was. So I could be clothed with the gifts the Gift Giver had for me, especially for me.
So I could be wrapped up in all this Grace and Love and Wonder.

Spreading a heart too thin is like walking on thin ice. Spreading a life too thin impacts more than just my life. My kids, the husband, bear the brunt or the blessing of my yeses.

When the roots of my life are too thin, too shallow, too close to the surface, there's no deep roots to keep me grounded and safe when the hard winds blow. Too many shallow roots make it too easy to be uprooted and tossed right around crazy. Thus the pruning. So my life, my heart, could grow deep and strong, so the sparseness now might bear witness to more of Him later. 
So that His priorities would become my priorities.

It's hard--we mamas see how other mamas are doing this or that and we qualify it as more or better than how we are doing it.  
Or we Christ followers watch what she is doing and we measure and come up short when really, you can't measure what's not yours.
All I can be is me.
The loud, clumsy, Jesus-loving mama He has planted and pruned and watered and grown.

I'm not gonna be a quiet, gentle mama like my friend N. I'm not really wired to be quiet or gentle.
I, in contrast, am loud and boisterous and somewhat clumsy. My house is often loud. My kids are often loud. And I have learned to be alright with that. Though an investment in ear plugs sometimes seems very attractive.

I'm not ever gonna be a beloved Kindergarten teacher where the students bring you presents at the end of school because they love you like my friend K.
But stick me in a room of high-schoolers and I thrive.

I am still learning how to say yes to those things that the Lord speaks into my heart, to His priorities. It is not every thing. But they are the right-good things. I have learned to pray for wisdom before making really big commitments.  

And sometimes life happens and the stuff of life has to be shuffled around and I say yes to things because they are people things, and people are eternal so they are eternal things--like taking a meal to a new mama or a sick friend, watching another friend's kids so she can work on her new house, taking coffees filled with caffeine to my friends who are spending sleepless nights at church with the youth group while the youth serve our community.

And that's okay because when I've checked and curbed and pruned all my yes-ing,
there's space and margin and room for the unexpected, for the spontaneous, for the surprise.
And then all these moments, all these spaces, instead of being the last straw or the icing on that proverbial cake, can be wrapped in grace.
And love.
And wonder.

Grace Always Rises,

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How to be enough

Last week was Kids Kamp at church--our church's version of Vacation Bible School.

It was a crazy, beautiful, amazing week!

My friend Miss K and I have been teaming up for the last 6 years to co-lead this week and every year, God does some nifty stuff.

We are so blessed. And so humbled.

We had 134 kids on Monday. A record. We had 143 kids on Wednesday. Another record. We gave away more than 25 Bibles to kids who either had no Bible or who accepted Jesus. That's another record. That's not counting the more than 60 youth and adults we had volunteering their week to love on kids.

I know records aren't terribly important in the realm of eternity. But they are indicators of God's hand at work. They are beacons of hope that He is moving in our kids and in their hearts. And when it comes to little people who have asked Jesus into their hearts, it changes their eternity.

All photos taken by our awesome Kids Kamp photographer Sam Ferrand!!!!
I'm always amazed at what God does in my heart during this week every year.

I'm always humbled by His faithfulness despite my faithlessness. 

I'm always overwhelmed by His grace even when I yelled at my kids to hurry up on our way out the door that morning.

I'm always washed away in His love when my heart soaks up the lesson, even as I speak the very words that are ministering to my heart to the kids.

Every year we have always wondered if we would have enough help. Every year God has brought more than we need right when we need it...most often Monday morning.

Every year we wonder if we are doing enough, if we have forgotten something big, and every year, we have kids decide to ask Jesus into their hearts. And making Christ followers and discipling Christ followers is the whole point so nothing else really matters.

Every year we are astonished by what God does, how He shows up, and our kids are watching and our kids somehow manage to open our eyes wider because they see Him bigger.

The whole theme of our Kids Kamp week was teaching our kids that God has made each of us a masterpiece. We are that special just how He made us. And we don't have to try to be someone or something else. We just have to be who He made us to be. He carefully crafted and molded all of those little things that make us unique and different, and which so often can separate and make us feel strange and weird because, well, we are different.

One of my professors in college equated the body of Christ to a very large wheel. We each have a spoke on that wheel. If I spend my days trying to be the spoke over there because I like that spot better, then my spot is empty and the body of Christ isn't functioning as it should because I'm trying to be like someone else and noone can be me quite like I can. Not only that but I can't be that spoke over there nearly as well as the person to whom that spoke belongs.

I know it seems like such a simple no brainer, but in a world that exalts money and power and physical beauty and materialism and not being different or weird or quirky, it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of I'm not enough.

And I think it's the same on a smaller scale for our kids. Whether it's size, color, shape, or skill sets, kids know when they are different.

They know when they can't run as fast or read as well or throw as far.

They know when they are rounder or taller or skinnier than someone else.

They know when they aren't like everyone else, and their little hearts feel that alienation keener and deeper but they don't have the words to explain it. So maybe they withdraw. Maybe they act out. Maybe they overcompensate. Maybe they misbehave.

All because they feel as though they don't belong.

And doesn't it grieve the Creator's heart when the very nuances that He impressed into us become the things that divide and cause us to measure and cut and come away believing we lack something, or yes, that we aren't enough.

When the truth is He is enough. He's always been enough. More than enough. And when we walk in confidence that He is enough, then suddenly our imagined lack disappears and we move confidently in His footsteps. And we realize we are enough because we see who we are through His eyes. We are enough because we are His.

Last week we celebrated our quirks, our foibles, our idiosyncrasies because that's exactly how God made us. And He calls the very things that make us different beautiful. And when we believe we are beautiful because He has made us beautiful, we make those around us feel beautiful too.

There's nothing quite like the person who, because she is free to be who she really is, unconsciously allows others the freedom to be who they are as well. There's nobody quite so, well, nice to be around as someone who embraces and speaks the truth about the very quirks in me that I feel self-conscious and insecure about. As though she is Jesus with skin on, teaching me what beauty really is and what love really looks like.

Oh, to be that person.

Oh, to live in a world full of those people.

Grace Always Rises,