- When You’re Ready to Start Living -

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As each year comes to an end, I have found it helpful to reflect on where I have been and what I’ve done.  This year-end meditation encourages me to think of a word that will define my next year, something I can reflect on and strive for, something to keep me in check mid-spring when I suddenly forget all that I’ve been learning.

My word for this past year was “contentment,” but honestly, as I look back I am not sure I actually achieved a new level of contentment.  Yes, I spent a lot of time trying to find it, and many hours worrying about it.  But rarely did I feel an acceptance of our current stage of life, rarely did I feel content.

I believe the word that best defines this past year is “expectance.”  We were expecting, anticipating a lot of changes these last few months.  Much of my time was spent in waiting, asking God what I needed to do to prepare for this next big thing – whatever that thing would be.  And in retrospect, I feel like I missed many moments of living because I was so caught up in the waiting.

This has led me to a word for 2014, “abundance.”  I want to make space for God to move in my life, in ways I didn’t even know were possible.  Too much energy has been spent planning and worrying about the future, rather than sitting at His feet and cherishing the present.

Here it is:  I am tired of living my life in waiting. I no longer want to put off this or that simply because we are not sure what the future will hold.  I can worry about what will happen six months from now, or I can realize that six months from now may never come – so what do I want to do with today?  What does right now hold for me?

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Perhaps if I get quiet and make extra space for Him in my life, maybe then I will see that my existence is about more than just waiting for the next big thing.  It’s possible that in those moments of stillness He will allow me to see that my life is already complete, that I can live it abundantly NOW – not someday.  This year, and for years to come, I want to live life more than I want to wait for life to happen.

I want to spend time doing things that fill my soul – those kinds of things that are like a deep tissue massage for the heart.  I want to laugh hard and sleep deeply.  I want to chase the impossible without expectation.  I want to fill my mind with information that excites me and put effort into tasks that challenge me in the most pleasant way.

I think I am finally ready to spend more time giving thanks for what I have, rather than planning for what I think I am missing.  God has given me this one life and I am ready to start living it!

Won’t you join me?

- A Christmas Promise -

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IMG_9104Sometimes life simply does not make sense.  When things don’t happen as one would have hoped and there are no logical reasons to explain it.  When you have done every possible thing a faithful person can do, but Jesus doesn’t show up. At least not in the hour you expected Him.

Yet, I’m finding more and more than when life doesn’t make sense, I still can trust that God is up to something.  Because time and time again, that’s how He has done it.

Like that night He sent a baby to save the world, and it took thirty-something years before it all came to be.  How many faithful, trusting people looked to the skies during those years and asked God what He was doing?  I imagine there were many.

But in the end, He kept His promise.  And now we celebrate this crazy, unexplainable way He chose to set His people free.  And thus, we are reminded that we can always trust Him to keep His promises.  Even when nothing makes sense.

This Christmas we are fighting hard to hold onto His promises.  And praying for those who I know are feeling the same way.  The Lord offers abundance where beds and hearts lay empty.  May we find joy and peace as we remember the gifts He has given.

1″Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord.
2″Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
3″For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations
And will resettle the desolate cities.
4″Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
5″For your husband is your Maker,
Whose name is the Lord of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth.
Isaiah 54:1-5

- The Courageous One -

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Fall has arrived.  This season fills me with joy.  The colors.  The cooler weather.  The anticipation of Christmas.  It’s all quite magical.

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Fall also brings about a quietness that I have been craving.  I have been waiting for a moment of rest to gather my thoughts and just breathe in the day.

Our current season of life is quite possibly the busiest one I have ever experienced. Interestingly, I can’t even remember why it’s been so busy.  I know there was a lot of traveling, and job planning, and family planning.  Paperwork, to-do lists, packing and unpacking. It’s all a bit of a blur now.  And when life gets full, my mind is messy and I have trouble sorting through my thoughts.

But I need to process and I’m feeling burdened to share what I am learning during this busy time.  I want to allow these lessons to be more than words, to change me, even when that terrifies me.

Courage has never been a characteristic I would use to describe myself.  I am not brave or strong, I have many fears and a lot of anxiety.  But I see courage differently now than I did in the past.  Before, I thought someone who was courageous was someone who was not scared of anything.  They could look my greatest fears dead in the eye and laugh, as I stood there with shaking knees.

I have always thought of myself more as a coward than courageous.  I am not a risk taker, I play it safe, I carefully plan out the routes of least resistance.  To me, it’s practical and even smart.  But it’s not courageous.

Then I started reading stories of people doing courageous things, stories that spoke of their fear and their resistance, and ultimately their submission to a path they would not have chosen on their own.  To me, they are courageous for the things they are doing.  But they were not fearless as they sought out the plans God had.  Some fought and hid, some cried and yelled in anger.  Could this truly be the behavior of a courageous one?

My eyes were opened to the possibility that having courage was completely different than what I had previously thought.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the act of moving forward in spite of fear.

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This realization washed over me and spoke such freedom to my soul.

Our current life happenings are the exciting kind of terrifying that my mind just doesn’t know how to process.

Because that’s just it, we are terrified.  We got a message that the foster care agency will be finishing up our approval process this week.  After that comes the children.  Children we have never met, who will be dropped off in our living room with few things and little information about where they’ve been.  We will be left alone to parent these children who need so much.

That alone is terrifying.

Yet, what scares me most is the impending change that will come from this journey. The end will be beautiful, we’ll be molded into new people, more like Jesus. But the process will be brutal, as we learn what it truly means to lay down our lives for another.

This may be the closest I will ever come to the labor of birthing a child. I fully expect the emotional pain we will experience to be similar to the physical pain of childbirth. After a time of waiting and anticipating, there will be stretching and ripping and tears and “I can’t do this anymore.”

My fear is that our labor will not last three hours or even 20.  But could last for years and years to come. The question that looms is, “are we enough?”

Can we handle this?

And the answer is no, weren’t not enough, we’re merely human full of flaws and doubts and selfishness. But God is enough and I believe He will make a way if we allow Him to do the stretching and ripping that’s required to bring about new life.

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It was said very well at church a few weeks ago; some people have calm, beautiful adoption stories and that is wonderful.  Some people have broken, difficult, terribly challenging stories and that is also beautiful.  Those broken stories are no less the footprint of God than the other.

And if we find ourselves on a dark, dreary road it does not mean we have taken a wrong turn somewhere and are no longer following the plans He has for us.  It simply means this is how God has chosen to mold us into His disciples.  This is how He has decided we will learn daily to die for those we love.

Jesus, make us courageous.

- Answering the Big Question…Sort of -

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We hear it several times a week these days.  It’s the natural response to our current situation and easy to understand why people keep asking us…

“What now?”

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Two weekends ago, my husband graduated from college.  Four years ago, he decided to go back to school finish his Bachelor’s degree.  Much to my amazement, it all went by very fast.

And with the completion of a big step like this comes curiosity.  Everyone wants to know what is coming up next.  What dreams are we going to chase?  What places are we going to see?

The short answer is, we have absolutely no idea.

If we were to take a “traditional” route, we can see two options:  1)  apply for jobs in his field of study all over the country (because there are zero in our town) or 2)  apply for a job in our town, doing something different than what he’s been training to do for the past four years.

There are some appealing aspects of each option, such as a stable job.  But whoever said life should be stable?  And whoever said we are traditional?

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The problem we face is that we simply don’t have a clear answer from the Lord regarding what we are supposed to be doing.  We know our life should look like the Kingdom and not like the world, but does that really clear anything up?  In many ways we feel like we are staring down a long hallway full of possible doors to walk through, without one single flashing sign to guide us.  There are days I long for such clarity.  For a God who would write it on the bathroom mirror, impossible to miss.

As we have talked and talked and talked, and traveled to conferences, and talked some more, we realized there is only one thing we are sure of right now.  We’re not sure about next year or even tomorrow, but we are sure of what is in front of us today.  And that is, how blessed we have been to find a community of believers who know what it is to love each other, look out for each other, and push each other to be the people God created us to be.

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These are people who gladly open their home for an entire day to host a graduation party.  They allow complete strangers to take over their kitchen, rummage through their cabinets, leave the yard in disarray, and at the end of the night say thank you for allowing them to host.

These are people who drop everything to babysit a child whose sibling is ill, give their Saturday afternoon to cleaning and moving a friend into their new house, rally around those who are hurting to provide comfort and care.  They give their time, money, energy, and every available resource to one another.  All for the sake of the Kingdom.  All because they have allowed God to teach them what it means to live life together.

It may not sound like much.  There are a lot of really great folks out there.  God is doing miraculous things all over the world through His people.  But for whatever reason, we believe God has big things in store for this particular group of people and we’re eager to see what He does through them, and with us.

So for today, we are staying right where we are.

We know that to remain in a certain location in order to be near a group of people who are not biologically related to us sounds strange.  It’s certainly not traditional.  Especially when that choice means taking risks and letting go of stability.  But it feels like the Kingdom.  It feels like trusting God and allowing Him to show us how He wants to use us.  And it certainly feels like something a disciple would do.

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies though.

Slowing down is hard.  It means more waiting.  We have no certainties, no guarantees.  We often feel restless and wonder what exactly God has planned for us.  But what a blessing it is to have a community of people who also wrestle.  Who will wait with us, pray with us, and encourage us.  And these same people will someday send us out into the world, if that is where we need to be.

So we strive to be present.  To look around us, take a deep breath, and one more step forward.

Tomorrow everything could change.  Five years from now, things will surely look very different than they do today.  But today is all we have.  And today this is what we’re doing.  This is our “what now?”

Your support and prayers would be greatly appreciated! 

- Holding on to a Wild, Merciful God -

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Three weeks ago we attended a service to honor the life of a friend who had passed away, after a two year battle with cancer.  For three weeks I have been trying to put into words what we experienced there.  It was the most tangible encounter of the Lord I believe we have ever been a part of.  How does one describe that moment when God is just there?

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IMG_9585 IMG_9588We met Ryan the first summer Jeff and I worked at camp.  He was the boys counselor at the ranch, the one where we would spend countless hours pouring into the lives of young campers, where we learned about being intentional and what it means to lean on the Lord when you have nothing left to give.  Jeff and Ryan clicked immediately as they both possessed an innate desire for adventure and confrontation.  Many nights they were up late talking about God and relationships.  The wisdom that poured out of such a young yet level-headed man still astounds me today.  He is deeply ingrained in the story of “us”, since it was that summer Jeff and I decided life was better when we were with one another.

Ryan was one of those people we just always felt close to, even from afar.  The journey his family has been on dealing with cancer and learning what it looks like to see life through an eternal lens has been inspiring and humbling.  We love him dearly and it was sad to see him taken from this world.  But the joy that we feel knowing our friend is now sitting at the feet of Jesus changes our perspective on death, and life.

IMG_9594That brief trip to Michigan was equal parts heavy and wonderful.  Ryan’s death brought together a group of friends who have a connection that can only be understood by those who have done the camp thing.  Something magical happens when you spend three months living day in and day out with other people.  You learn everything there is to know about them.  You learn how to encourage them in their strengths and how to confront them lovingly in their faults.  It’s a bond that could allow us to see folks we have rarely spoken to in the past nine years, yet gather and commune like no time has passed.

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What I most readily held onto as we shared memories of camp, of Ryan, and talked about what God has been doing, is the reminder that the battle is won. God has won. He always wins.  It was evident there, in that service.  It was evident in the hearts of the people who came to show their love and support.  Those who celebrated Ryan’s life with joy and gave thanks to the Lord for the things He has done.  Something that Satan tried to use to crush the souls of many people, God made it for good.  God used this heart-wrenching tragedy to bring life to others.

The Lord is unpredictable and wild, yet merciful beyond compare.  Never before have I seen such truth revealed.  Through the life and death of a man, God showed His glory.  Thanks be to God.

The videos of the memorial service are posted on their blog.  I challenge you to take the time to watch.  And to allow yourself to be changed.

How do you trust a wild, untamed, merciful God?  That’s how.

- When God is Keeping Secrets -

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Lately, I’ve been feeling more and more like a child. A child who wants something and refuses to back down until she has it.

An impatient one. Whiny. You know the type.

God’s keeping secrets from me and I feel like I’m going to burst. He’s up to something, He’s planning something, but He won’t tell me what it is.

I feel like a little girl watching my dad walk out the garage every night. He’s making something for me, I know it! I hear saws and drills and see flickering lights. I can’t help but watch through the window, I’m simply too excited. What could it be? A doll house? A table and chairs? Can’t I just have a peek?

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Each time I get near, he laughs a bit and gently sends me away. It’s not time yet.

And the waiting is long. Not because I need this thing, whatever it is. Obviously, I’ve been living my life just fine without it. But the possibility of something new, something sweet to add to the joys in my life. It’s almost more than I can bear at times.

Recently, many doors seem to be closing and it’s all a bit confusing for us. We were created to be parents, right? Surely we were. It’s ingrained in us.

But it didn’t come the way we thought it would the first time around. No clear explanation has been found for that.

So we’ll adopt, we said. Adoption is great and something God surely wants us to do. We sent in our application one day in February 2011 and hoped to have our book together shortly after.  Then we had a fire, things got busy.  We finally had everything done in November, fully expecting to hear something within 6 to 9 months.  And now, we stop to consider the book we made, sitting at the agency, touched by many but chosen by no one. Not so much as a “maybe” phone call in 15 months.

Then we heard about the orphans in Haiti. We love Haiti, we’re connected to Haiti. Surely God wants us to adopt from Haiti. That must be it!  We don’t meet the requirements, but they sometimes make exceptions. Then, just last month new laws were passed, good laws – laws that we hope will take better care of those little ones. The laws said no exceptions.

So, what, Lord? What would you have us do? We have open arms and an open home. What else is there? Foster care, we said! Tiny babies need arms to hold them, to help their brains grow, to show them love. We can do that! Oh, but we can’t work with the state and our adoption agency?  Ok, well then a private agency. It’s perfect!  So we got the paperwork together, only a few more questions to fill out. Then we heard the office we were hoping to work with had closed, just a week before.

Today we’ve stopped. After all that, it’s a good time to stop and look around.  When you don’t know which way to turn, sometimes the best option is to stay put and wait for direction. We’ll spend time asking what the Lord would have us do. Perhaps, for just this moment, we are to do nothing. Just be. Maybe that’s it.

But how does one do nothing, when God is clearly up to something?

And like a child waiting on a surprise, I get restless. I ask tons of questions and guess at what my surprise might be. Sometimes, I ask God if He forgot. If He lost the directions somewhere or can’t find the right tool. Sometimes, I tell Him this or that will do – if I can just have it now. But He smiles and says He has something even better.

For those who are waiting, I cannot offer advice to make it easier. It’s too fresh, too real right now to see in that way. I hope someday to be able to share a gift that might help another pull through. Today, all I know is that the only way to hang on is to trust the One who gives good gifts. My earthly father would not spend hours in the garage and then give me a pile of dirt. He desires to give me so much more, he would give me the entire world. And the hands of my Heavenly Father are extended even further than that. So I know He’ll bring good things, I trust His promise.

One of the great challenges of my deeply flawed human mind is that I always look to the known. I believe that God will only use me in ways I feel prepared for. I may have this gift or that talent or knowledge about this thing. Automatically, I assume this is how He will use me. But I have given my life to the God of Abraham, the One who waited years and years to give him a son, later asked him to slaughter the boy like a lamb, and at the last minute provided the offering. He may have something planned that I have never experienced before, that has never crossed my mind, that I didn’t even know existed!

This scares the life out of me. How could God expect me to do something I know nothing about? I suppose that’s where His grace becomes enough, and where I learn to lean into the strength of His hands. It’s in this place where we would learn to fully rely on God, but do I really want to enter a world where my depravity is so harshly evident? Oddly, I think I do. Because I can trust Him. And His power is made perfect in my weakness.

So we journey on, cautious yet eager to see what is up ahead.  I don’t ask for pain to cease or the path to be made easy.  I only ask that in the darkest moments, He would not allow me to forget who He is.  That I would ever be confident of His presence.

Blessed are those who have nothing.  For to them, God can be everything.

- A Food Update and What it Takes to be Happy -

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Today marks Day 12 since I started this crazy diet.  Honestly, it’s not so bad. Though I miss some foods terribly (like eggs, bacon, coffee, corn…), I still get to eat some tasty things.

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One of the most difficult aspects is that I have not been feeling a whole lot better until recently.  For the first week, I still had a lot of the same symptoms, which was very disheartening.  I am excited to say the last two days have been great though.  And I have begun to add in more foods this week!  I’m hopeful it will be an uphill journey from here.

As would be expected, lessons are being learned through the process.  Not just about health and my body, I’m learning a lot about what it takes to be happy.

In the past, I thought happiness only came when there was something to look forward to.  If the week was just ordinary, what was there to be happy about? This has been a challenge for me.  And even more so without my beloved food, because it’s true – food makes me happy!

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I used to struggle with gluttony when I was younger. Not the “oh wow, I ate too much” kind that makes us a bit uncomfortable after our Thanksgiving meal. It was something I felt strongly convicted about on a daily basis. Something I would pray about at night, asking forgiveness while knowing I was going to fall into the same trap the following day. It was going up to the cafeteria counter for thirds when I knew it was wrong but did not have the self-control to say no.  It may sound silly to some, but this hold on my life tormented me hour by hour.

I struggled with more than overeating, I was obsessed with food. I worshiped it.  I thought about it all day long. The amount and quality of my food often determined my happiness. Many times I would wake up in the morning and the very first thing I would think about was what I planned to eat that day.

For several years now I have not had to struggle in that same way, since cultivating a desire for healthy food.  I have learned to listen to my body, a healthy body craves the nutrients it is lacking.  I believe we were intelligently designed to know exactly what we need for good health, all that is required is the ability to make the choice.

My emotions this week have brought those past memories to the surface, the challenges I faced.  The guilt I felt.  How ridiculous it sounds now that something as simple as food could completely alter my mood.  I allowed my joy to come from circumstances.  And in many ways, I still do.

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This week I have been reflecting on all of that and applying it to my attitude each day.  I have no reason not to be happy, life is good, I can run and breathe and laugh, I am surrounded by wonderful people.  But many times I simply do not make the choice to be happy.  The choice to wake up and decide that this morning, I will be happy.  Even if it’s early, and cold, and dark.  I will still choose happiness.

Happiness can be a choice.  When blessings are hard to see and our problems are bigger than the moon, it can still be a choice.  And the strength to make that choice comes from Him who tells us to find joy in all things.  Even the hard things.

~ James 1:2 ~

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