Sunday, May 20, 2018

the royals...

I vividly remember watching the royal wedding seven years ago when Kate and William married. I can't believe that many years have already passed! Truth be told, I am a hopeless romantic. That part of me has been tamed over the years, but I'll admit that I'm a sucker for a fairy tale love story. In fact, I visited Europe in 2005, during my senior year in high school, and I was seriously hoping I would somehow run into William or Harry. I made a point to try and pack all of my most stylish clothes in the event that magical encounter took place, but it didn't. I visited Windsor Castle and stood outside of Buckingham, and not once did I catch a glimpse of any of the royals. I don't know why I thought I'd stand a chance in the first place. I suppose it doesn't hurt to dream, right? Of course, I do think William made a great choice, and I jumped on the Kate bandwagon the first time I learned of her. I think she is the prettiest woman I have ever seen. A real class act! I don't know anything about her personal life, and obviously I don't know her personally, but I was just about as excited for her wedding as if it were my own. She was marrying the prince! I mean isn't that every little girl's dream? She was actually getting to do it, and she did so in stunning fashion.

I spent some time Saturday afternoon watching the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan. I have been excited for these two as well, but not to the same extent as William and Kate. Regardless, I'll never pass up a chance to watch a royal wedding. And I thought about what life must be like to go from being a normal girl to royalty. What a transition! Anyone who has been married knows that two becoming one is a huge adjustment. But you get to adjust as you go. The whole world isn't watching. They don't know every detail. You aren't living with the pressure of your every move being over analyzed and landing on the cover of a tabloid. There's definitely a cost that comes with being a royal. And there is a cost that comes with being married, too.

I think the enticement of the fairy tale is that you live a life of luxury. Don't you agree? The castles, the servants, the cooks, the maids. It is a life of opulence. A life of excess. A life, that although I am sure has it's difficulties, seems so easy. During our wedding shower, Aaron and I played a little game that required us to sit back to back and answer questions without seeing the other's response. I held his shoe in one hand and my shoe in the other. He did the same. We were asked a question about who would do what task after we were married and we'd answer by holding up a shoe. So, for example, "Who will do the laundry?" We each held up the shoe that belonged to me. "Who will mow the yard?" We held up Aaron's shoes. Here were just a few of the questions.

Who will do the laundry?
Who will cook?
Who will wash the dishes?
Who will clean the house?
Who will take out the trash?
Who will pay the bills?
Who will do the grocery shopping?
Who will mow the lawn?
Who will service the cars?
Who will make the bed?

If William and Kate, or Harry and Meghan, played this game, they'd keep their shoes on their feet. Because I bet someone does their laundry, cooks their meals, does their shopping, empties their trash, makes their beds, and cleans their homes. And I don't know about you, but I sure wouldn't mind having someone do all of those things for me on a regular basis. At one time, I did. And then I turned five.

But there comes a moment when we grow up. We aren't children, and we aren't royals, and so we enter into marriage and parenthood and we think, "Woah?! Why am I the one doing everything around here?" Or maybe you think, "Why am I the only one working so hard?" I've discovered that being a adult means you spend the majority of time doing things you don't want to do. If we only did the things we really wanted to do, nothing would get done. Our bills wouldn't get paid, our families would be hungry and naked, and our houses would smell terrible. Yet I often feel as if I'm pouring myself out. Serving. Serving. Serving. Where's my time? How am I being served? Who is doing what for me? And then it hits me, service is what I am called to.

Jesus said, "I came to serve, not be served." The King of Kings, the Lord or Lords. He came to serve. To give. To pour himself out for the people he loved. For you, for me. And at any moment he could have easily said, "Look at what all I am doing for these people! I'm healing them, giving them sight, raising them from the dead, feeding them, providing miracle after miracle, and willingly dying for their sins to give them eternal life and what are they doing for me?" But there was never a prerequisite for his service. It wasn't done out of obligation but love. It wasn't done begrudgingly but with joy. And when I compare how I serve my people to how Jesus served, one of us is in great need of a heart check. One of us needs to brush up on her Serving 101.

"Be shepherd's of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers - not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be... and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. " (1 Peter 5:2 & 4)

We serve our flock, our family, because we serve God. We serve because Jesus set the example that we are to follow. We serve because, as believers and followers of Christ, that is our responsibility and call. That is what honors and glorifies the Lord. And we serve because we know that in true service, and through service, there lies the reward. A crown because of the cross. And, unlike the ones worn by the royals, it's a crown that will never fade away.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

mommin' ain't easy...

I always imagined having a child was of the hardest things a woman went through. The thought of labor and delivery seemed like a tactic of torture. Why did it have to be that way? So difficult and painful? I get that it's a consequence of the fall, but it seems so harsh. Why that? Why couldn't it be a little more easy and enjoyable? But the thing I've learned about having a baby is that, although labor and delivery is difficult, raising that baby is the hard part.

I don't even know how to sum up motherhood in a short amount of words so I'm not going to try. I could write for a really, really, really long time and I only have 19 months of experience. Just think what my posts will look like after I've been doing this for a few decades. Yikes! But none the less, I wanted to take some time and reflect on motherhood because this is the weekend we celebrate it!

1. Motherhood is messy. I used to have a clean, organized, and cute home. It was a source of pride, honestly. But the moment Annabeth joined us our house was filled with stuff. Brightly colored things that totally clashed with my decor. I could contain the mess, however, because I could contain my child. But the moment she began crawling things changed and now my house is a mess. And so is my car. And so are my clothes. And her clothes. And anything that she can touch or reach is a mess. But that comes with the territory, and it's totally normal. God has placed friends and mentors in my life who are helping me understand this concept and I've begun letting go. I've started to expect the mess, and you know what, when you expect it, it doesn't bother you as much. You aren't upset about crumbs in your car because crumbs can be vacuumed up. And the food stains all over your clothes can be washed out as long as you remember to treat those stains in a reasonable amount of time before you throw them in the wash. The rest of the mess in your house isn't going anywhere, so you can get to it when you get to it. And when you have time to get to it you'll want to take a nap anyway, so you'll probably have a change of heart and realize that it's really not as messy as it seems.

2. Motherhood is tiring. I really thought I'd be less tired once my child started sleeping through the night. Having a newborn brings about a whole new level of exhaustion, but there does come a point where you finally begin sleeping again and feeling like a somewhat normal human being. However, I have yet to not be tired. My child has been a great sleeper, and I still fall into bed purely exhausted every single night. In fact, I have slept harder in the past year than any other time in my life. I can sleep through pretty much any noise these days. I never hear Aaron's alarm go off in the morning nor do I hear him getting ready for work. He can wake up during the middle of the night to take the dog out, eat a snack, write emails and I sleep through it all. But the moment I hear a little peep come through the baby monitor my eyes pop open. Funny how that works, huh? The one thing that wears you out is the one thing that will keep you awake. But it's the one thing you've put all of your energy into. I was never responsible for another person's entire well being until I became a mother, and now I understand the pressure, the weight, and the worry that it brings. But earlier in the year, during a divine moment in Bible study, the teacher mentioned that it's not only okay to be tired but that it is normal and expected. I felt a weight lifted off of my shoulders. And so now I take naps when I need them. I don't try to be superwoman, I just try to be a good mother and wife and sometimes that means a little extra sleep. All I can say is thank goodness for nap time!

3. Motherhood is life changing. I really didn't know what to expect when I became a mom. I had some general ideas and was basically, completely, wrong about everything. Motherhood has changed my life, and motherhood has changed me. The things I once thought important now live on the back burner. The things I once worried about are now a distant memory. It can be easy to feel like you're losing yourself when you step into this role, but I have come to realize that God is using motherhood to transform me, to change me. Because there are many things in my life that need changing. I've been given new challenges, new perspectives, and new opportunities. God has required me great things of me but He has also blessed me immensely. I have had to learn how to adapt, be extremely flexible, and let things go. I have had to lean on Him and draw strength from Him in ways I never had to before. And as I look back on the past 19 months of motherhood, the challenges and the joys and the learning that has come with it, I am so grateful that God has used it to transform me. I needed it, and he knew I needed it, and I have a feeling that this is only the start.

Our families came over to celebrate Mother's Day last night and we ended the evening sitting on the porch talking about mothers. I love hearing my grandparents tell stories about their childhood and even their parents' childhood. It is so different from any life I've ever known. My grandad was sharing about his grandmother who had a bundle of children. He said she worked in the fields through each pregnancy up until the day the baby was born. She'd have her baby and head back out into the fields the next day to keep working. I can't even fathom doing anything but laying in bed a day after having a baby, can you? I joked about how God has placed each one of us into time right when He desired us to live and I was grateful that He chose the 21st century for me because I couldn't have done that. He said, "Well, you would have died giving birth so you wouldn't have gone back to work the next day." And in that moment my heart was so overwhelmed with gratitude at God's sovereignty. Because that's the truth. I hate to dramatize my own labor and delivery story but it came very close to not having a happy ending. But God placed me in a time in history with medical intervention, c-sections, and blood transfusions. God not only gave me the opportunity to have a baby but to be a mother. To be Annabeth's mother. And when I stop and really think through that - that God planned all of this out from the very start, I realize that although mothers can often feel taken for granted, it is a role that we should never take for granted. What a privilege we have!

I don't know what kind of mother you had. I don't know what kind of mother you are. But I do know that mommin' ain't easy. It wasn't easy back in Biblical days, in the 1800s, or even now in the 21st century. But God has given us a gift. A sweet, precious, messy, exhausting gift. And if we're wise, we'll let it change us. We'll let the late nights help us better understand the gift and fragility of life, the hand prints on the refrigerator soften our hearts, the temper tantrums and moments of discipline teach us and humble us, the piano recitals and school programs fill us with joy, and the graduations and weddings remind us to soak up every moment while we can. And we'll thank God for it all. For these little people who've impacted our lives in such a great way that we'll never be who we were before we met them. May they cause us to be even better!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

water your marriage...

We're about half way through our home renovations. Almost. I think. I say that but then I start to make a mental list and I'm not so sure anymore. Regardless, we've made and are still making progress. It may not be to the point that we expected, but we have yet to give up and that's saying something. We keep chipping away a little at a time, racing against our own timeline and expectations. When I hear other people's home reno stories that took years, I feel like we're doing pretty good. I've learned that home renovations can really go one of two ways. They can either strengthen your marriage or damage it. I am happy to report that so far I feel we've experienced more of the former than the latter. The first few months were the most challenging as we had to work through our expectations. But we finally dropped those, came to a happy medium, and decided that our relationship was worth more than our house. We want to fill our home with sweet memories, and that includes the memories from renovating it. 

The outside of our house needs some help. Anyone who knows anything about homes knows that curb appeal is a big deal. But keeping up with the outside of your house can often be harder than keeping up with the inside. So we had some grass planted, and we bought ourselves some pretty leafy plans to go in our porch pots. I'll be the first to admit that I've never had a green thumb. I love plants and flowers but I couldn't give two cents about tending to them. And I forget too, which doesn't help in the matter. But I figured we could manage these two, supposedly hardy, pots of plans. The employee at the nursery told us we just had to water them a few times a week and they'd pretty much take care of themselves. Easy enough, right? 

Wrong. 

We had this chaotic weekend that felt like a month scrunched into a few days and the plants went unwatered. I didn't think a thing about them until I would see them as I backed out of the driveway. I'd say to myself, "I need to water those plants" and then I'd totally forget until the next day when I'd repeat this exact same thing. But from the driveway they seemed okay. Wednesday afternoon, as I was backing out of the garage, I noticed a package on the front porch. I hopped out of the car to get it, and as I passed the pots I realized that most of the plants had shriveled up. I was so disappointed. We had just bought them and now they were dead! I made another mental note to water them the minute I returned home. These little guys were in dire need, and if I didn't tend to them soon they would die. I poured water over their sad little leaves hoping that it wasn't too late, and a few hours later I stepped outside to see them standing tall and full. A good drink. That's exactly what they needed. I set the watering can on the porch and decided I'd water them each afternoon during Annabeth's nap time. They are too pretty to lose, and it would be a shame to allow my forgetfulness to let them die. 

We celebrated our fifth anniversary this week and I thought about how much plants and marriage have in common. It's so easy to take ourfocus off of our marriage because we have a thousand other things pulling us away. We're easily distracted with work, extracurricular activities, children, and our daily tasks that our spouse usually ends up on the bottom of our list. "Oh, I'll get to them," we think and then another day goes by and we realize that we never did. Well, there will be tomorrow. Next week. Next month. And before we know it, our marriage is looking like a shriveled up plant because we haven't tended to it. We haven't given it what it needs to thrive and survive. But the unfortunate things is that when we come to that point in our marriage, it's usually after a long period of time. A great amount of damage has been done and we begin to think there's no way it can be revived. We've let it waste away so that there's little to no life left. And then we have to decide, do we even try or do we just give up let it go?

We try. Why? Well, first and foremost because we vowed to God that we would try. And secondly, because we promised our spouse we would. And no marriage is too far gone to be saved when both parties decide to make an effort to save it. Is it going to require work? Yes. Is it going to be difficult? Yes. Might it even be painful? Absolutely. But your marriage is too precious to not save. And so what do you do? Well, you begin pouring water on it. What does that look like? Maybe it's confession and forgiveness. Maybe it's big changes. Maybe it's coming to a realization that you've both got a lot of work to do and no one person is at fault. Maybe it's owning up to you part of the deal and then doing whatever you can to make it right. It's speaking your spouse's love language. It's communicating. It's finding Godly counsel. It's falling on your knees before God admitting that you've messed up and then looking to him for help. And when a little life comes back, you keep pouring on water. And every day, you tend to your marriage. On the days that you forget, you make a point to do something the next day that will nourish your relationship. And you do things along the way to fertilize it. Strengthen it. Give it a boost! And you never stop. You never stop taking care of your marriage because marriage is more than just finding a good spouse, it's being a good spouse. 

Five years ago I hoped for a beautiful and fruitful marriage. I knew I was marrying a good man and my desire was for many good years. But along the way I've learned that if I want a beautiful and fruitful marriage, I can't just hope for it. I've got to work towards it. And I can't do that on my own. I have to seek the Lord, the maker of marriage, to help me. To show me how to love and respect my husband. To help me be humble when I need to be and to humble me when I need it. To give me insight into our relationship so that I don't neglect the things that aren't so obvious to the eye. To show me what needs to change in my own heart so that I can serve my husband in a way that makes him feel safe and loved. To fill me with patience, knowledge, kindness, joy, love, peace, perseverance, and all of the things that are required in marriage. Because there is no way I could ever do this on my own. And neither can you. 

A sweet woman in my BSF group shared a great piece of advice about marriage with me. She's been married well over 50 years and she said, "When my husband is driving me absolutely crazy and I get to the point where I think I can't stand him anymore I get out two sheets of paper and pencil. On one sheet of paper I write down every single thing I can think about him that I don't like or that bothers me. On the other sheet of paper I write down everything about myself that I know isn't so good. When I look at the two my list is usually longer. And so I wad them up, throw them away, and say, "Thank you God for giving me a man who loves me and will put up with me!" 

Water your marriage. It's a gift from God, and one too precious and beautiful to let waste away. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

my portion...

My sweet Annabeth, you have reached your nineteenth month of life and I can't believe that we are now closer to your second birthday than your first. Watching you grow is such a bittersweet thing that I can't really decide how I feel about it. Last night I scrolled through my camera album looking at pictures of you from this time last year and I had this overwhelming feeling to cry. I didn't, and I don't even know why I felt that way. I have loved every single moment of time with you, and I am doing my absolute best to cherish each one.

You are turning more and more into a little girl with each passing day although you'll always be my baby. I still ask you if you're my baby and you usually agree. I think I probably kiss you a million times a day, and I love the moments when I get kisses in return. You really are a kissy little gal, but you love kissing random objects more than people. It's not unusual for me to witness you picking up a little stuffed animal or doll and covering it with affection. You often turn your head to the side to give hugs and say, "awww!" while you're doing it. Quite adorable! You're also starting to put words together. You can follow instructions to a T, and you are smart as a whip! We can't pull anything over on you. I've learned that you possess a great amount of determination and you don't stop until you succeed. My favorite part of the day has become mornings. I don't know when or how we started this, but I began bringing you back to bed with me after you wake up so we can watch TV and snuggle while you drink your milk. It does my heart a world of good to spend that time with you. You are such an independent little spirit, but you've become my shadow and as challenging as that can be at times, I love having you right by my side. Hearing you call out "Mommy" with your sweet little voice is music to my ears! I'm sure I've said this before but I'll say it again. Giving up my career to stay home with you was the best decision hands down and I don't regret it one bit. I hope you feel the same!

I always wonder what I am going to write about each month when it comes time to sit down and share a bit of motherly advice. I don't ever plan ahead but rather let our circumstances or the things God is teaching me be the subject of these posts. And so this one was certainly not one I ever intended to write, but I think it's important to share because one day I know you'll be in the same situation and I want you to have these words to draw from should you need a little help.

My Nana, your great grandmother, passed away last week and her funeral service was on Monday. I am thirty years old and this is the first time I have lost a loved one to death. I've had family members pass away but they were distant relatives that didn't play a leading role in my life from day one. Nana, however, was there from my start. And so when I had friends that lost grandparents I often thought, "I'll be a total wreck if and when that day happens." I wondered how I would be able to deal with such a great loss. How would I cope? The though of losing someone I loved so dearly filled me with great fear. Would I be able to live through something so devastating? Would I be able to handle the grief and sorrow? But for three decades I haven't had to deal with those worries until last Thursday.

Your Grampy had a lot on his shoulders as he was the primary care giver for Nana. He had to make a the tough decisions and then deal with the day to day challenges that come with a sick and aging parent. I'm going to write about this one day soon because it has been a great lesson to me in honoring your parents and will be to you, too, so be sure you take time to read that one! Anyway, I volunteered to write the obituary for Nana because I felt it would be one weight lifted off his shoulders. It was the least I could do, and since I enjoy writing I felt it was something I could do well. But somehow that request was turned into giving the eulogy at the funeral. I wasn't too keen on the idea but I also couldn't say no. I knew no one else would volunteer, and I did feel that it was owed to Nana to have someone share from a personal perspective about the impact she left on the lives of her family members. And so I accepted the responsibility, which felt very weighty at the time, and prayed for days that God would help me in this endeavor. It was a lofty task and a difficult one, I might add. It's not easy to stand in front of a crowd and speak, much less when you're grieving someone you love and required to stand in front of your family who is also grief stricken. And so my prayer was simple. "Lord, please help me make it through this eulogy without crying. Dry up my tears!" That might sound like an odd request, but I knew I couldn't get through it on my own. Even when I practiced it by myself I had to stop many times. But I wanted to do it justice. I wanted to be able to honor Nana in the best way possible, and I figured it might be hard to do so being a blubbering mess.

The pastor, who preached the most uplifting funeral service I've ever attended, handed the podium over to me. I prayed one last prayer for dry eyes, took a deep breath, and I started reading the words I had written in memory of Nana. I had to make it through three pages of notes, and it was only going to get harder with each page turn. But by a miracle alone, I wasn't crying! I couldn't believe it! The very moment I had been somewhat dreading was going so smoothly you would think I had done this before. And when I finished my heart was filled with gratitude as I realized what an incredible blessing I had just received. I was so grateful for the opportunity to be the one to stand on behalf of my family and share about our amazing Nana who was such a blessing in so many ways! It may not have been the assignment I signed up to do, but given the opportunity I would do it again. Sometimes, the things in life that appear to be the most difficult are the very places where God's richest blessings abide!

Many times in the book of Psalms, God is referred to as our portion. Honestly, I've never really understood what that meant until now. So often we come into the dark and difficult moments in life wondering how we are going to make it through. But God gives us exactly what we need at the moment we need it. Our portion. Because He is our portion. When we need strength, he gives us a portion of His own. We we need comfort, He gives us a portion. When we need help, peace, love, or encouragement, He sends us a portion to gets us through that very moment so we can keep moving forward.

There have been many moments in my life when I thought I'd never make it to brighter days. Moments that were so challenging and hard I really wondered if God knew what He was doing and who He was dealing with. Didn't he know how weak I was? Couldn't he see how scared I felt? Wasn't he aware of how helpless and unprepared I had been? You bet! But it didn't matter because God was right there with me. My portion, giving me the very things I needed at the moment I needed them so that I understood I didn't have to do it on my own. I just to had to lean on Him and He would carry me through. He always has, and He promises He always will.

So, sweet Annabeth, you will face difficult moments in life. There will be sadness and sorrow, darkness and tragedy. You may be asked to do something you'd rather not. You may be paralyzed with fear, wondering how you'll make it through. But I want to remember these words of truth, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:26) He is your portion, too!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Nana

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. O Lord, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant; you have freed me from my chains." - Psalm 116:15-16

You have walked with me through loss. Through joys and sorrows and surprises of all kinds. It's been a long time coming. Death. A subject I have yet to write about. One on which I had little experience. Thirty years of life have passed and I've yet to feel the sting of the grave. But today I write with blurry sight a heart full of both sorrow and gratitude, for God has freed my Nana from her chains.

I met her on the day I was born. Wrapped in a bundle of blankets, she held me for a photo op with an award winning smile and her signature red nails. Beauty. One of the many words used to describe her. Nana. She was stunning, actually, and had she been born near California, instead of in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, I think she could have been a movie star! She certainly had the personality for it. I actually wrote about her a few years ago, so I'm going to pull from that post and give you a glimpse of what life with her was like.

When I was a little girl, my brother and I spent pretty much every weekend with her. We couldn't wait until Friday nights. My mom would drive us to the post office in Smyer and gladly pass us off to Nana. We'd spend the weekend getting spoiled rotten. We soaked up every moment with her, and I know she soaked up her time with us, too. We'd go to dinner, watch movies (ones that we probably shouldn't have watched but Kenlee would convince her they were fine), and stay up incredibly late. And then we'd get ready for bed. I remember watching her take off her make-up at night and rubbing Merle Norman creme all over her face. After she was ready for bed, I'd personally give her her vitamins by hand and then the three of us would crawl into her king sized bed and rest up for Saturday. Saturday morning we'd wake up and she'd fix us breakfast. She had these Mickey Mouse mugs that we loved! I wasn't a coffee drinker, I'm still not, so she'd make me hot chocolate. We'd get ready for our day, which usually consisted of baking 4-ingredient peanut butter cookies, bread in her bread maker, a shopping spree at the Dollar Store (my personal favorite) and then whatever else we wanted to do. It never got old. Our time with her was always anticipated and enjoyed. I could write a good few hours worth of funny memories I have with Nana. She was such a good sport and was always up for whatever we wanted to do. But isn't that the whole purpose of having grandparents? Isn't their job to just spoil their grandbabies and make fun memories with them? She was really good at her job, I'll say! 

Nana was the epitome of fun! She was always up for a good time, and she was quite entertaining to say the least. She was full of life and vibrant. She was funny, she was witty, and she was incredibly charming. But she was a spitfire, too! I attribute it to her red hair and being the youngest of five. I'll never forget the story of her sharing how she got her name, which was Hellen. She said her mother didn't plan on having more than four children and when she found out she was pregnant again she said, "Aw, hell!" (Her words, not mine.) Is that not hilarious?! According to Nana, that's why she had two L's in her name. I honestly can't tell you whether or not that story is true. Either way, I'll never forget it as long as I live. Anyone who's at the bottom of the sibling totem pole knows full well that they've got to have thick skin and a good defense. Nana's life wasn't a rose garden but you would have never known. She always held her head high, maintained her poise, and carried herself with great elegance and dignity.

Towards the end of my college career, we noticed that Nana was becoming pretty forgetful and repetitive. My dad frequented her house most days for "lunch," which usually consisted of snacks and a coke (her favorite combo) and he could tell things were changing. She and her husband bought a new house and moved, which kicked things into high gear. Of course, she was managing fine but we noticed small things that raised red flags. Things like putting on her shirt inside out or using her lip liner to draw on her eyebrows. She was always so aware and particular of her appearance, so this was very unlike her. These forgetful instances weren't life threatening issues but they were concerning. But as time progressed she digressed. We could no long overlook this forgetfulness or assume it was simply a by-product of her age. It was getting significantly worse. Her mother suffered many, many years with dementia, so it was pretty obvious as to what was happening. And so three years ago my dad and his sister made one of the hardest choices a child must make and moved her into a nursing home.

I don't know what's worse, loosing someone suddenly or watching them deteriorate. Frankly, they're both terrible. Anyone who is familiar with memory loss knows what a cruel illness it is. No illness is a friend, but this one is a slow and a painful process that can last for a very long time. I can't imagine what it feels like to literally forget everything. What it must feel like to not know who you are, where you are, what day it is, or how to do simple things like walk, and talk, and eat. I can't imagine the fear, sorrow, and frustration that may very well be associated with memory loss because there comes  a point when you are faced with the reality that what you know today you may not know tomorrow. Each case is different, and as I have thought about Nana's plight I have seriously wondered often how God was working that out for good. You may be wondering that, too, so let me share some details.

When the decision was made to move her, the goal was to get her the best possible care. Memory care units are very far and few between, not to mention how difficult it is to find an opening. Carillon was the desired place but there wasn't a spot available. The tragic thing is that they only open spots when a resident has passed away, so how do you pray about that? But God, in his kindness and goodness, made room for her at the moment it was needed. And not only did God provide her a place but He provided her love the entire time. Many loved ones are sent into nursing homes forgotten and rarely, if ever, see their family members. But that wasn't the case for Nana. Her husband visited her every single day. And her children came often, too. My dad, the one man who has faithfully loved and cared for her for almost 60 years, checked in on his mother throughout the week. That's proof right there of what kind of woman she was. And what a lesson for us all when it comes to God's command of honoring your parents. My mom did all of her laundry each week and went every weekend to paint her nails. Nana may have never remembered her visitors, or even realized how many she had, but in the moment she knew she was loved and what she knew in part, she now knows in full.

She fell on Sunday. It wasn't her first fall but it was her worst. Hospice was called in and we all know that timelines are short when Hospice arrives. What we didn't know was how short it would be. But on Sunday morning, as I drove to church, I passed Carillon and I felt the Lord saying, "Pray for her." We didn't know of her fall at the time, and I didn't even know what to pray. I said, "Lord, would you cover Nana with your mercy and grace." I talked with my mom later in the day and she informed me that Nana was in great pain and things were looking grim. And so my prayer over and over and over was that God would cover her with His mercy and grace. It's been more than clear that healing on this side of Heaven would not be the answer. And so God, in his grace and mercy, acted on behalf of our prayers and did the most loving thing He could do. He surrounded her by people who loved her as she stepped out of her earthly vessel, not having to make the short trek alone, and into eternity with Him forever.

It's bittersweet. No one wants to see their loved one suffer and slowly slip away and yet it's really hard to let them go. But knowing that they'll fall into the arms of Jesus makes it a little easier. And when I thought about the verse in Psalms, and how precious in the sight of the Lord his loved ones is, I get it. Because to be away from this body, this body that is broken and scarred and full of suffering, means we are whole and healed and rejoicing with the Lord. How sweet for those who trust in Jesus. To know that when our final breath escapes from our lips, we are welcomed home. We are complete. We no longer have to face the trials and tribulations that come with living on this side of Heaven. And so we thank you, God. We thank you for creating Nana and giving her to our family. We thank you for who she was to us. For the joy and laughter she brought to our days. For the loving and faithful mother she was to her children. For the doting Nana she was to her grandchildren. We thank you for the peace that comes with knowing that we'll see her again when we are all reunited with you, and we look forward to that day! And we thank you, God, that you have freed her from her chains and that she is experiencing the promise of eternal life with you.




Wednesday, May 2, 2018

gross confession...

"I have a gross confession to make." Aaron slowly looked up from his computer unsure if he really wanted to hear what I had to say. We've been married almost 5 years now, and there's nothing to hide. We've both heard, seen, and witnessed some pretty disgusting things between the two of us that we'd never dare tell another soul. Truth be told, that is the beauty of marriage. That even in all of your gross-ness, you've got someone who still loves and accepts you. "I think the last time I washed my hair was Saturday night." It was now Thursday night. He chuckled, probably relieved that it wasn't as gross as he was expecting, and said, "Well, I guess it's a good thing you wore a hat both yesterday and today."

I remember the day I met Aaron as if it was last week. I scoured my closet trying to pick out an outfit that looked nice and classy but not like I had been trying too hard, either. I wanted to make a good first impression, and I guess it worked. Not that he gave me any inclination then, but he later admitted that I had made a good choice. I'll never forget the look on his face when he saw me for the first time on our wedding day. I had spent months preparing myself. I had a nice, subtle tan, a lovely dress, and had literally spent half a day getting my hair and make up done by professionals. I felt amazing! I looked the very best version of myself, physically. The next morning, I was back to looking like me. And of all the opportunities Aaron had to take a picture of his new bride, he chose to snap a candid photo of me sleeping, mouth hanging wide open, on the airplane to Cancun. Now, tell me love isn't blind. Or, in our case, has a strange sense of humor.

Annabeth came along and my days of spending a good 30-45 minutes on my appearance were cut down significantly. On my good days, I spend maybe 20 minutes. Most days, it's more like five. Not that I don't care, but I have more things to care about. Like sleep. On top of that, it's extremely hard to draw on eyeliner or dry your hair when a tiny person is using you for a jungle gym. And so I've learned how to quickly look acceptable, not exceptional. Some days acceptable means I've brushed my teeth and have showered. And while that may not cut it in the world of beauty bloggers and airbrushed magazines, here's what I am learning. My appearance does not make me a better wife, mother, friend, or disciple of Christ... and it never will.

The danger of social media, or any media for that matter, is that the images we see are not what we think. We look at women with thigh gaps and tiny waists and we immediately beat ourselves up for eating that lone fudgesicle we discovered in the bottom of the freezer during naptime. We see sunkissed skin and bouncy bust lines that knock what little self-esteem we had right back down to the ground. We view images of beautiful homes, free of clutter, sticky floors, and full of spotless white furniture and feel inadequate as we clean the hundredth spot from the carpet in the living room. But I am learning that putting on a full face of make up each morning will not make me a better mother, however, snuggling in bed with my child is creating a sweet bond that I wouldn't trade for all the makeup in the world. And although I've heard that cleanliness is next to Godliness, having freshly washed hair each day will not make me a better disciple of Christ. Sure, forgoing sugar after 7:00PM might aid in my effort towards fitting back into my pre-motherhood jeans, but sitting on the back porch eating ice cream with my husband while talking about our day does a world of good for my marriage. My home may be in great need of a deep clean (and I won't even get started on my car), but I am choosing to look at the mess as evidence of a family that is growing, learning, and loving one another inside these walls. And while appearing as if I might actually have it together may make me feel better about myself, I know full well that outward appearances don't make anyone a better person. Looks are deceiving. That's why we can't rely on them but must take them at face value. God judges the heart. We can't fool him. He doesn't give two cents about our skincare regimen or whether or not our roots are showing. He made us so he knows exactly what we look like anyway. His concern is how we use our bodies. Are we using them for His glory or our own personal gain? And I don't think he's the least bit bothered by the way we keep house, or the way we don't, but rather if we are keeping him as the focus and center of our home.

Eternal perspective is the key. Because we know that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, and we also know that people are like the flowers of the field that wither and fade. The Bible warns us about storing up nice things for ourselves here on earth because they'll be destroyed by moths and rust. And I've come to realize that this pursuit of appearances, of looking as if we've got it all together, is run in vain. A pursuit that won't lead us, or anyone else, closer to Christ. A pursuit that only yields rewards on this earth but nothing in Heaven. And so our focus has to shift away from the temporary, from the things that only matter in the here and now. These things change, but there's one thing that stays the same.  God has placed us here with breath in our lungs to glorify His name. To be a light wherever we are. To be a reflection of His love and kindness to the people around us. To share gospel truth, to serve, and to build up His kingdom and make His name great. And the beauty of it all is that we can do that no matter how we look, where we live, or what season of life we're in. We simply need to "turn our eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace."

Sunday, April 22, 2018

love and blue jeans...

"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." - 1 John 3:18

It's easy to say "I love you." In fact, it's too easy sometimes. It takes about a half a second and you can say it even if you don't really mean it. Of course, love is just a word we throw around. I love my family, I love naps, I love getting my hair done, and I love my dog. I love chocolate, clean sheets, rainy days, and vacations to the beach. That's not a complete list by any means. I love a lot of things and that list changes over time. But when I look at my list of what I love and when I look at God's word about what I should love, I realize that one is rooted in selfishness and the other is purely selfless.

"This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another... This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." - 1 John 3:11 & 16

It happened when I was walking through my lowest valley. Thinking back on that season of life now, it honestly seems like a bad dream rather than a period of time lived out in reality. There are parts I remember really well and there are many that I have forgotten. Each one, I believe, put into the right category by God's grace. Because the things I need to remember show me the love and grace of God, and the things I have forgotten do the same. But there was a weekend in December that I still remember as if it was yesterday. It's one of those memories that God has and is and will continue to use for the rest of my life.

I survived that dreadful fall and winter by the hand of God and God alone. People were constantly telling me that they were lifting me up in prayer. Some people avoided saying anything all together but I knew they were praying, too. I had so many friends who said things like, "Please don't hesitate to call me if you need anything." I knew they would make themselves available if needed but the last thing I wanted to do was feel like a burden to those around me. And, frankly, I didn't know what I needed half of the time anyway. God met so many of my needs through my family members who were a great blessing. That's the beauty and the gift of having a good family. But my family couldn't meet all of my needs. Neither could my friends. Only God had the capacity to do that and He knew exactly when to provide what I needed in the very way I most needed it.

I met Gale as a college student. I was placed in her mentor group by divine intervention, and the first time I met her I was sold. She had signed up to take on a group of girls and minister to us each week, which is no small task. She invited us into her home every Wednesday night, cooked us dinner, and made us feel incredibly loved. I continued my relationship with Gale after I graduated and she was one of those faithful women who continued ministering to and encouraging me through every season. I never once felt judged by Gale. She never acted odd around me or gave me a lecture to tell me what I should have done or could have done better. She never treated my any differently from when I thought I had my life together and when I clearly didn't. And so that first Sunday in December she called and asked if I would like to go shopping. It's never easy to go through life's valleys, but the holidays made it about a hundred times harder. Much of my time was spent alone in misery. I was at my lowest, feeling rejected, alienated, unloved, and unwanted. And although I had always enjoyed Sundays, they become the hardest day of the week. Fitting that she would plan our shopping trip then. And oddly enough, although Gale didn't know it at the time, I actually needed some new jeans due to my loss of appetite. We spent a couple of hours at the Gap. It was long enough to lift my spirits and to find a pair of jeans. Of course, I knew Gale loved me without a trip to the mall, but those few hours were proof that I, in fact, was cared for and loved - not just by Gale but by God.

Actions speak louder than words. We can tell people we love them all day long but if our actions don't show it they aren't likely to believe it. Jesus' actions and words lined up so that one could not be separated from the other. He didn't simply speak of love, he lived out love. And love is a sacrifice. For Christ, it was his life. For us it may be our time, agenda, money, desires, or shifting our focus from ourselves onto those around us. There are a million and one ways we can show love, but we've got to choose to do it. And if we want a hurting world to understand the love of God, it won't come through convincing arguments, facts, debates, or judgement. It won't come from telling them how wrong they are, how right we are, what they could have done, should have done, or need to start doing. It begins with love. And when people feel loved, true love - God's love, they begin to change because it's God, not us, who changes hearts. It's God who removes hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh. He is the one who opens blind eyes and binds up the broken. It's God who transforms and renews. And God asks us, flawed and imperfect as we are, to be a part of this process. To love those around us as He loves them. To care for them as He cares for them. Not just with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.