Longing for Home

Eighteen years ago, Christmas was sad. My parents were separated at the time, and I will never forget meeting my dad in a mall food court to give him a present. For various reasons, I was the only family member to see dad that year. I was living in Springfield after college and working in the Assemblies of God youth department, and I considered not going home at all. Even though it was hard, I really wanted to see my dad and let him know I loved him. So I remember bringing him York peppermint patties and a few of his favorite things. I don’t remember much else about that trip home, but by the grace of God, my parents were back together for the next Christmas.

Thirteen years ago, Matt and I were engaged on December 10, 2005. We were only engaged for a few months, so it was a busy and exciting and joyful time in our families.

Six years ago, I had a one month old at Christmas. It was such a gift to nurse and care for an infant while celebrating the birth of Christ as an infant.

Holidays are full of family memories, some wonderful and some heartbreaking. The Christmas season in particular holds so many loved traditions that it is an exhilarating few weeks for some people. It is also a devastating time for others who are reminded yearly of painful events or the loss of someone who will never be here again to make new Christmas memories.

The birth of our Savior was the beginning of a promise fulfilled, of God’s promise to make a way of salvation for His people. It is the beginning of hope realized. The Israelites who watched for their coming King were about to meet Him in a way they never imagined.

You may enter this holiday season with hope realized. You hold a baby in your arms or your belly, you are celebrating new love, a new job, or some good news for which you waited. God is good and He gives good gifts to His children. Rejoice and praise Him for His beautiful gifts.

You may enter this holiday season barely hanging on to hope. Life looks nothing like you expected right now, and it is really hard to see how it could ever be good again. You may feel a huge hole in your heart and the thought of celebrating Christmas without a loved one makes you want to crawl in bed and get up on January 1.

Sweet friend, no matter where you are today, the hope of Christmas is for you. The hope of Christmas is not that Jesus will make life on this earth perfect. The hope of Christmas is that we get Jesus. He is the gift, and He is everything. Hold on to Him, cling to Him when the days are dark and the way forward is unclear. Hold on to Him when joy is abundant and life is full. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17 ESV)

When life is hard, Jesus is the gift, the hope to which we cling in this life and the hope of a life to come where there will be no more tears, no more sorrow.

“Here Comes Heaven” Elevation Worship

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cjdEBdNfCd4

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Things Hoped for but Not Seen

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

Time also flies when you are having no fun at all. I have had no idea what to say here for the past month, so I have said nothing at all. I believe I am rather transparent about my life and it’s challenges, but I also have a pretty consistent pattern of clamming up when life gets really tough. I go to my closest friends in those times, but I am not comfortable letting loose with the deepest hurt and pain of life as it is happening. I’m not sure that a lot of people are, really.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the past month because I could write for much longer than anyone wants to read. One of the things I don’t like to admit about having a strong-willed, difficult child is that it brings me face to face with my own shortcomings in a hurry. I say it regularly, but I am so glad Isabella was born first. I heard on a Dr. James Dobson podcast series recently that many parents have an easy first child, convincing themselves that they have this parenting thing down and can easily handle another one. Number two comes along and blows them away with a much different, stronger personality that challenges them at every turn.

This is not how it worked out for us, and I am very glad. It would have been VERY easy for me to convince myself I was an incredible mom if Jack was my first child. It was very difficult to have Isabella first in many ways, but I am so glad God chose to do it that way. I am much more grateful for Jack’s personality and easygoing nature than I would have been if I thought that’s how all children are. (Now that he is 2 1/2, he is picking up more of Isabella’s stubbornness than I hoped for, but it’s still completely different and not even close to what we have faced with his sister.)

The past month has been incredibly challenging for this mother, and pregnancy hormones are in full effect for me, which means I am easily frustrated, easily brought to tears, and overall feel much less equipped to deal with the challenges Isabella brings. I feel very inadequate for this task right now. I know we all have those moments, but when day after day adds up to week after week of incredibly challenging days with nary a break in the stress, it takes its toll on me. I have been thinking about some of the challenges she presents in her attitude and behavior and what God wants to teach me through it. Today I read a quote that summed it up so nicely (and painfully) for me:

“It is no abstract thing – the state of your heart is the state of your home. You cannot harbor resentment secretly toward your children and expect their hearts to be submissive and tender. Uou cannot be greedy with your time and expect them to share their toys. And perhaps most importantly, you cannot resist your opportunities to be corrected by God and expect them to receive correction from you.” (Rachel Jankovic, Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches)

This is what I have been thinking about this week, but she wrote it so eloquently. God wanted to speak to me about a few things, and I was not really interested in listening. A couple of days ago, I finally heard what He was saying and was convicted that I had been pretty much choosing not to slow down and listen to Him. Reading this today put two and two together for me.

I am well aware that much of my child’s behavior is her own choice. I am amazed that I can ask her to do something on different days, same tone of voice and the same situation, and she will respond in wildly different ways depending on…her. On Thursday, I said, “Isabella, please come here so I can finish doing your hair.” She screamed and called me a name. On Friday, I made the same statement, and her response included no screaming or names and she made her way to me after finishing something she was doing. I work hard at not blaming myself for the days when she has a terrible attitude, sassy mouth, and all that goes with it. But I would be lying if I did not admit that I fail at this all the time and deep down, something in me believes I should be able to “change” or fix her. This small passage was so helpful in that it helps me to realize what I can control, my own attitude and my own response to God, can in fact help set the right tone in my home to foster cooperation and obedience in my children. I can in no way control my child, but I can allow God to work in my heart and pray that He would do the same in hers.

It takes a lot of faith to believe in something you cannot see at all. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV) Some days I struggle with hope. Other days, I get a glimpse of something that gives me a surge of hope. Then there are the days when all hope is gone and I turn to despair. I first heard Matt Chandler speak of this passage with the great reminder that we don’t need hope if we can see something. Faith is only necessary when things are not able to be seen. What kind of faith does it take to believe God will provide when you hold the miracle check in your hands? It sure takes a lot of faith to trust in His provision when you hold all the bills and have no idea how they will get paid.

Isabella had a few great days this week. It was refreshing for this mama. I have struggled to enjoy the good when it feels like the bad is coming right around the corner. I am getting better. My focus in prayer is that God would change her heart and use her incredible personality for His glory. I don’t see the finish line yet. I have faith but no idea how He will get us there. I do know that He is faithful beyond what I can imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

It’s the Thought That Counts

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Philemon 1:4 “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers.” (ESV)

As a woman, I am used to a large number of thoughts passing through my brain every day, many at the same time. As a mom, it has risen to a frenzied level. I no longer sit at a desk every day, and I do not currently have a good way of organizing my life or thoughts at this stage. So I hold a lot in my head, but that doesn’t mean I get a lot done.

When I was single, I spent a good amount of time writing encouraging cards to friends and family. I really enjoyed it, and it was so fulfilling to know that I was used by God to bring encouragement to someone in a moment of need. I remember a few times when I woke up in the middle of the night with a specific encouraging word for a friend. When I married my husband, it was a shock to realize how my life changed. I am not sure it occurred to me that he would be there all. the. time. At the same time, I really wanted to be with him, and that limited the amount of time I had to spend on writing cards like I previously loved to do.

Isabella joined our world, and I have barely had a chance to look back. I still spend a good amount of time thinking about the people I love. I have been incredibly blessed with a lot of friends who are scattered across the country, serving in big and small places. I interact on Facebook, I see them on Instagram, but I think so often of the things I would say if I grabbed a pen and paper to write a special note.

I think of those who could use an encouraging word in a tough stage of life and what I would like to say to them (or what podcast I would recommend). 🙂

I think of a friend whose birthday is around the corner, and I promise myself I will get a card during nap time and write that note.

I think of someone who encouraged me and helped me through a tough season in life, and the words of thanks roll around in my brain.

I think of all the fun, thoughtful notes and surprises I used to do for my husband before kids, and I have more great ideas in between putting away laundry and getting glasses of ice water that I hope to work on soon.

I have heard “it’s the thought that counts.” I don’t really believe that the thought counts if no one knows about it. But I desperately hope they do. I hope the quick texts and short Facebook messages can convey the depth of feeling that is behind them. I do my best to not feel guilty about all the things I’m not doing at this stage of life. The list is long, but the time is so limited. One day my children will be more independent, and I will be able to finish a task without being interrupted or maybe write a card or two while they do homework.

If God has placed this longing in my heart, I know He will provide a way to fulfill it. In the meantime, I do the best I can with the time I have and trust that God can use others as well when my time and energy is limited.

If you have an unfulfilled longing as well, I pray today that God would encourage you in your season of life. He is not finished with you yet, and He still wants to use you today and in the future. Don’t let go of dreams He has placed in your heart. Some are big and others may be smaller, but His timing will bring His plan to pass.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV

Courage Part 2: In the Waiting

courage2aWait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14 ESV)

Moses. David. Joseph. Abraham. I could keep going, and maybe you could, too. The Bible contains in-depth, fascinating stories of waiting that simply amaze me. Forty years in a desert? If you have waited anything close to that, I want to hear about it. Many of you have experienced waiting for something valuable, something amazing. Something that was really worth the wait.

I am pregnant with my third child. I know how this 10 month wait works. It still is not easy, though. Every picture of a tiny newborn, the sweet sleeping eyes, the chubby cheeks…it just stirs up a longing to meet my own baby. Thankfully, my wait has an end date. I am certain I will not still be pregnant with this child in September. That certainty is really helpful on the exhausting, uncomfortable, frustrating days.

What about the wait of the adoptive parents? They fill out paperwork, look through pictures, and they can still wait for months or years in the hope of finding a child to call their own. The single man or woman who longs for marriage has no idea when or if the wait for love might end. I myself have not forgotten the loneliness of waiting for a simple date, waiting through college and then after college, watching while it happened for seemingly everyone else. The parents of a child who is lost in the world, stumbling in the dark with no apparent desire to serve God at all…their wait is excruciating no matter if it lasts for a few months or many, many years. The man who holds close the dream of a career he loves is in the meantime doing his best in work that feels unfulfilling and even meaningless.

David penned the above words from Psalm 27:14. David understood waiting with no idea of what the future might bring. I read David a Man of Passion and Destiny by Charles Swindoll many years ago. I own the entire Great Lives series, and this volume on David was the first one written. I came back to this book as I remembered the time David spent as a cave dweller, hiding from King Saul who wanted David dead. In chapter seven, “For Cave Dwellers Only,” Swindoll says the following:

“David has been brought to the place where God can truly begin to shape him and use him. When the sovereign God brings us to nothing, it is to reroute our lives, not end them.” (pg. 73)

Waiting feels like the end. Waiting is the end. As Swindoll points out, it is usually not the very end, but it is usually an end that also brings about a new beginning. My wait for this baby will end. When it does, our lives will completely change once again as they should when a family grows and welcomes a new member.

I am a mom who stays at home with preschool aged children. I was not always a mom, and for a while I was a mom who worked from home and cared for my daughter. Before I was a mom, I had a “career,” a fulfilling occupation in full-time ministry. I had to leave that career before I was ready to do so. I did not have a back-up plan or an equally fulfilling option around the corner. I spent a couple years working in a job that used some of my skills but was completely different from ministry. I waited, but my waiting did not in something even better than I expected.

I never spent a lot of time thinking about whether I would be a stay-at-home mom or a working mom during the early years of my children’s lives. I now cannot imagine having to leave my kids every day, and I am grateful for this blessing during this short season. However, while many moms may consider this a dream come true or the fulfillment of a great longing, I have not had those feelings many days. I miss my ministry colleagues. I worked with people who were much more like family than friends. I often wonder if I will ever experience anything quite like that again. I am now blessed to have an opportunity to serve at a small church plant with many people who I consider to be my Waverly family. The dynamics of serving as a volunteer, working from home, and squeezing in a few minutes of work here and there after bedtime or during naps are very different from the days of brainstorming meetings, planning retreats, and endless details (yes, I love details).

My life will never be the same as it was 7 or 8 years ago. God chose to reroute me, and I do not yet know how He wants to route me in the future. I believe each season will be different, and I am learning to accept that, to find the ways I can minister and be the love of Jesus wherever I am. It is primarily to my children right now, but I am also thrilled when I can bless others and feel that joy as well.

If you are waiting and unsure of how to find courage in that process, draw near to God. James 4:8 (ESV) says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

I think we usually like to skip over that second sentence. Sinners? Double-minded? That doesn’t feel good. But if I want to draw near to God, that is an essential component to doing so. Cleansing your hands and purifying your hearts will only come from seeking Him.  I have grown the most in my relationship with God when I am the most honest about my sin – my pride and selfishness and jealousy and the list goes on.

Find the courage to be honest with yourself, and you will find God in a deeper way than ever.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)