Wednesday, December 12, 2018

when the time comes...

Well Annabeth, I really meant to write you on time this month but the days always get away from me. It's hard for me to believe that we are ending another year together. I think back to this time two years ago when we were just starting out on our journey, and so much has happened between now and then. People warned me that life would go by faster once you showed up. It's true, so I can only imagine how quickly time will pass when we add your little sister to the mix. 

Since my last post we found out you're having a baby sister, we celebrated Thanksgiving, we put up Christmas decorations, we had a record breaking snow fall, and you've continued to do and say a plethora of cute things. You've also used the potty on your own a time or two, so I think you're getting closer to figuring it out. We're going to work on it soon, and I am hopeful it will go smoothly. If there's one thing I really appreciate about you it's that you easily adapt to new things. We've never had to struggle through changes with you, and that has been so helpful considering every change you go through is a new experience to us. 

I've stored up a lot of favorite memories over the past month and figure I better record a few here so that I don't forget. Thanksgiving was a sweet day. You did a great job hosting our company and keeping everyone entertained. You even ate a decent amount of food, which is a big accomplishment for you since you hardly eat. As soon as we finished praying for our meal and headed into the kitchen to eat you yelled, "Yay! It's my birthday!" Of course, a month earlier when we celebrated your birthday we did have a similar set up. I think it's hilarious you assume large family gathering mean we are celebrating your birthday. Luckily for you, you're the center of attention regardless. You'll have to learn to share the spotlight soon. You also enjoyed playing in the snow with your dad. We've had a few small snow storms since your birth but this one dropped around 10 inches of beautiful, powdery snow. I hate cold weather and am an indoors girl, so your dad made sure you were able to experience the fun of snow. He drove you to the store to buy boots and a snow jacket, and you had a great time stomping all over the back yard while eating snow. You two built a snowman, and I got some really cute pictures that you'll appreciate when you're older. I believe you would have stayed out there all day if we would have let you. I love your fearlessness and zeal for life. In fact, I told a friend that all of the traits you have are the ones I wish I possessed. God has given you such a fun personality, and I know you'll be a girl who lives life to the fullest and doesn't miss out on a good time. 

You've really embraced Christmas this year. You've been impressed by all of the decorations, the music, and Santa. You love one of our nativity sets and baby Jesus and the angel (who you refer to as "mommy") are your favorite figurines. Christmas is a precious time of year, and your dad and I are trying to find ways to make this season so special and memorable while keeping our focus on Christ. It's easy to get sucked in to the commercialism, and I know that will be a bigger challenge the older you get, but for now you are enthralled by the simple things and for that I am grateful. My goal is to keep the season simple but full with meaning and traditions that draw us back to the manger again and again. 

I spent a little time looking through your baby pictures last night and marveled at how much you've changed and accomplished since our first Christmas as a family. Truth be told, it wasn't one of my favorite Christmases. There's so much emphasis on "baby's first Christmas" but a two month old baby doesn't really care whether or not it's Christmas. Each one gets sweeter and sweeter, and frankly, I am glad that baby phase is behind us. But you, like me, will probably spend many years of your life desiring to grow up fast. I think we all do that for a good bit of life because there's this great assumption that it will "get better." But then we look back and see that we did have it pretty good because each stage of life brings new challenges. Earlier in the week I told you that each time you sleep you grow and so you need to sleep if you're going to be a big girl. You didn't argue about that and when I woke you up this morning you said, "I grow, Mommy! I a big girl!" And you're getting there, but don't feel like you need to get there too quickly.

I want you to know that you have my permission to grow up in no hurry. You have my permission to live out each stage of life and enjoy it rather than rushing to the next. You have my permission to embrace where you are rather than embracing the pressures of getting somewhere else before necessary. I've been asked multiple times when you'll be potty trained or when you'll be moved out of your crib, and my answer is "when the time comes." I'm in no rush one way or another because you're 2 years old, not 20 years old. There will come a day when you no longer need to wear a diaper. And there will come a day when you no longer fit in your crib. There will come a day when you don't marvel at Christmas lights or scream with zeal, "it's a baby Christmas tree!" when you see a small tree. There will come a day when you can do all the big girl things on your own and you won't need me 24/7. That's how it's supposed to happen. And then there will be moments when you want to hurry up and drive or date or graduate high school or go to college. And then you'll want to hurry and meet the right man so you can marry him and hurry to land that dream job and hurry to have babies. And then you'll look up and say, "Woah! How did I already get to this point in my life? To the point where I have checked off most of those boxes that seemed so far away?" Well, my advice you is that you don't rush. My advice is that you let things happen as they happen because if it's God's will for you, they will happen when the time comes. 

That's how God works. We see it in the Christmas story birth of our Savior, Jesus. His mom, Mary, (not the angel although I'm sure she was a really precious woman) and her husband Joseph went to Bethlehem. Mary was at the end of her pregnancy and by that point, every woman is more than ready to give birth! Being pregnant is magical but when you reach the stage when you can't see your toes or tie your shoes, you're about done being a human incubator. The thing is, people had been waiting on the birth of Jesus for a really long time. An extremely long time. And so the story tells us that when they finally made it to Bethlehem (after an incredibly long donkey ride, I might add), "the time came for the baby to be born." (Luke 2:6) All of that waiting and expectation and it was here. The time had come, and into the night rang out the cries of baby Jesus. He had come! Emmanuel, God with us. Stepping down from his heavenly throne, he had joined us on earth. God wasn't rushing the process. He wasn't trying to get it over quickly. There was a lot of waiting and passing of time and he could have come at any time, but this was the right time. I don't know what was "right" about it, but God brings things to pass at the moment in which He intends for His greater purpose. 

Like you and me, Jesus grew and experienced life and I truly believe that's what God desires for us. That we enjoy our days while we're here on earth rather than wishing them away. The time will come when these days have passed. They will be no more. You won't be a little girl forever.  It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. And so enjoy it while you can. And enjoy where God has you until the time comes for something else. It all goes quickly, and the more you soak it up and relish in the season of life you're living, the more thankful you'll be when it comes time to move on to the next. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

babies and why they matter...

We found out your little secret, Baby Cakes! Your dad and I went to the 20 week appointment earlier this week full of excitement and a little anxiety. There's great blessing in living in the days of the sonogram. The up side is getting to check in on your growing baby, the down side is that sometimes the sonograms can cause unnecessary worry. When I was pregnant with your sister I had a bad sonogram reading that caused concern. My doctor ordered another one a few weeks later and she was perfectly fine. You are, too! And from what the technician said, you were also very cooperative. You're currently in a breach position. You stayed curled up in a little ball for most of the sonogram and finally stretched out towards the end. I think you were getting a little annoyed by all of the poking and prodding!

We had a "reveal party" for your sister, but we weren't able to plan one for you. Now, before you feel slighted, let me explain. We found out your sister was a girl in the month of June when nothing was going on and everyone had ample amount of time on their hands. Your secret was discovered between Thanksgiving and Christmas when schedules are full and it's near impossible to find a time for everyone to gather. We could have waited until Christmas but your dad and I aren't that patient. I had a feeling you were going to be a girl. And you know what, that's actually what we were hoping for! Every time we asked Annabeth if she wanted a baby brother or sister she replied, "baby sister!" Every time! And your sweet dad even said he was hoping for another precious little girl. I don't have a sister and think the sister bond is a special one, so I was hoping we'd have a sister for Annabeth. So, you are exactly what our hearts desired! There's this idea in America that every family needs one boy and one girl to be complete. Well, we aren't planning on stopping with you and I'd be tickled to have a whole gaggle of girls, but I'll be happy to take whatever God gives us. I don't know what God has planned for our family, but I want you to know that we are glad you are you!

I have always desired to be a mother. Even your sister, at the early age of 2, has turned into a little mother. She's so excited about having a baby in the family. She will adore you and probably smother you. You won't be short on love around here. I've always wanted to have a big family. This may surprise people to hear, but I love the thought of a house full of children. We live in a time and place where big families are "weird." And people are shocked when anyone wants to have more than three children. Because our society doesn't value life. They value jobs, big houses, nice cars, and even cute animals. But life is a different story. Children aren't seen as a blessing and reward. They are viewed as a burden, an inconvenience, and a choice. And so truth be told, I've looked at large families before and said, "I could never do that!" What I really meant was, "I never want to do that!" But the older I get and the more I think about life, and not just the struggles of the here and now that come with small children, I find myself looking forward to what comes with a big family. I don't care how many kids you have, parenting isn't easy. But if there's one thing that the Lord has been teaching me over the past few months, parenting is an extremely important privilege.

Your dad and I have been teaching through the book of Genesis this year and the topic of childbirth and family has come up often. I've always believed God desires life to be lived. I've never questioned whether or not a baby should be born. I believe God has a plan for each person and that it's not our job to interfere with that plan. God is the one who gives life and withdraws it when He sees fit. He can do that since He's the creator. Sometimes we might think God isn't on the side of life, especially when we pray for it to be extended and it's not, but He looks through an eternal lens and we only see in part what he knows in whole. And so that was really my answer to whether or not children should exist and be born. I think it's a good answer and a thorough answer but God has taken me deeper into understanding why babies are so important, and you're included in this, sweet child!

God created Adam and Eve. Adam came from the dust and Eve from Adam. And they lived in Eden, which was this magnificent, perfect place. They had every thing they needed and it was good. But fast forward and we find out that they willfully made a choice to disobey God. There's always consequences and punishment for disobedience. There has to be or we'd never learn and we'd destroy ourselves and those around us. And so God, in his righteous justice, meets up with Adam and Eve and the Serpent (he was the one who tempted them into disobedience) and he says to the serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman; between her offspring and yours; he will crush your head." Now this sounds like an odd punishment because she doesn't have offspring at this point. It's just two of them and so what does that even look like? Well, then God turns to Eve and says, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children." So before we get annoyed with Eve and say, "thanks a lot, sister," we have to see the graceful side of this. There will be temporary pain, but there's a promise to fulfill that pain. That promise is a baby!

And so Adam and Eve have two boys who have this serious case of sibling rivalry and one of them, Cain, kills the other, Abel. And although we don't know a lot about Abel, we know he was a Godly man who feared the Lord and lived his life to please God. That's not the case for Cain. And all of the sudden things look pretty dim as it appears the promise God made (that the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the enemy) has died with Abel. But God's plans haven't been foiled because we quickly learn that God allows Eve to become pregnant again and give birth to a baby boy, Seth. A son who would continue the faith of the family, serving the God of his father, Adam.

In his Old Testament commentary, Warren Weirsby noted that (and I'm paraphrasing) each time it appeared darkness and destruction were about to overtake God's people and the enemy was going to win, there was a birth of a baby. A child who would deliver! And we see the promise fulfilled throughout the entire Bible until the gracious, divine birth of Jesus Christ - the one who has crushed the enemy! That's where it starts. Where all human life begins. With birth. And we sure don't know what God has written out for our days, but He has written each one before it comes to pass. Psalm 127:3-5 says, "Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."

You see, Baby Cakes, you are continuing the Lord's heritage. You are His child. You exist for his glory and benefit, not mine. You are a bearer of his image and name. An arrow of light he is shooting into the days ahead to fight back the darkness. You are his masterpiece, his handiwork, and an important part of his strategy to fight the enemy until Jesus returns and all is made perfect again, just like it was in the beginning. And so I want you to know that your life is of extreme importance and value. Every life is of extreme importance and value. Not for what we can accomplish here on earth but because we are made by God, in the image of God, for the purposes of God. And at the end of our life, we'll stand before God and it will all make sense. There will be a lot of question and worries and confusion on this side, but our call is to press on. To keep serving and trusting God with the life He has given us because each life He creates is one that's filled with great purpose!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

still thankful...

This year was my first time to host Thanksgiving. Aaron and I have slowed down the work on our house quite a bit because we made it to a good resting point. It has been months since we've scraped popcorn off the ceiling or painted any walls. Truth be told, I think this pregnancy has been the driving force behind our work schedule. The last thing a nauseated woman wants to smell is fresh paint, and the last thing she wants to do is stay up late rolling it up and down walls when she can hardly keep her eyes open. Once the dining room was finally finished we decided we would wait until after the holidays to renovate the guest bedrooms. The only thing left on my "honey-do" list for Aaron was a farm table. He was pretty certain we could find what we needed at a furniture store, and I was pretty certain he could make it. And so after shopping around and seeing prices, he felt confident he could make one, too. My only request was that the table be finished in time for Thanksgiving so we would have a place for everyone to sit together. As all things go in our house, the table was finished the night before Thanksgiving. 

I ordered chairs for the table with a delivery date confirmed for the day before Thanksgiving. Clearly, we are last minute people around here. Professional procrastinators... or maybe I should say we work best under pressure! As my luck would have it, the chairs were delayed in Fort Worth and didn't make it until the day after Thanksgiving. And so we had this really beautiful, hand crafted, decorated with love table surrounded by folding chairs. I've learned not to let these things bother me. Not having dining room chairs is a real first world problem. Plus, we're all family anyway! I wanted to do something special for Thanksgiving aside from the usual meal and football. We always stand in a circle and give thanks for every meal, but I wanted to come up with a way that we could each give intentional thanks to God. Like all things, Thanksgiving was a holiday that was created with good intentions until America found a way to commercialize it. We all stand around a bountiful table and talk about how much we have and how thankful we are and then head out the next day to spend ourselves into debt buying a whole bunch of things we don't need because they're marked down to somewhat affordable prices. It's a given that I am thankful for my home and for food and for all of the tangible items I have. But those things really shouldn't be the basis of our gratitude, not if we're followers of Christ. And so I wanted to refocus my attention and heart and truly give God the thanks and praise He deserves. 

In 1623, when Governor Bradford issued his first Thanksgiving proclamation, he called "all ye pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones... to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings." And a few hundred years later in 1863, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national observance asking his fellow citizens in every part of the United States to set aside "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." So that is what we did. I found a Bible verse of thanksgiving for each family member to read aloud and then asked them to share what they would like to thank God for. It didn't take long for the tears to begin falling. When I was a child I used to wonder why people would cry during hymns or worship songs or why they would get choked up talking about God. I have arrived, my friends! I now understand why. It's overwhelming to talk about someone who has been so sweet and good and faithful to you through all of life's ups and downs. And as I listened to each family member share what was laid on their heart, I wondered what I would say because it's really hard for me to pick just one thing. 

Daily bread. 

Give us this day our daily bread. 

This year I am extremely thankful for daily bread. For the fact that God is faithful to give me exactly what I need each day to get me through that day. I think about the Israelites in the desert gathering up the divine manna provided by the hand of God, and they were given the instruction to only take what they needed for the day because God would be faithful to rain down more the next. But some didn't listen and stored up for themselves, not really knowing but just estimating what they might need for tomorrow. Of course, Jesus reminds us that no one knows what tomorrow holds so it's best to be fully focused on today. And the truth is, none of us really know what we're going to need tomorrow. But we know we need sustenance to get through the day, and where else better to find it than from the one who faithfully keeps his promise to provide us with daily bread. 

There have been many days in 2018 that I have wondered how I would make it through each day. Not because this has been a bad year or a hard year. And not because I am struggling or burdened. It's been a great year, by all means. But like every year I've lived thus far, it's been a year full of the unexpected and the unknown. I have had to rely on God to give me what I need each and every day because what I need is not what comes naturally to me. I didn't expect to have a miscarriage this year. I expected to have a baby in October. And when it happened very early on, God was faithful to give me great perspective and peace that I probably wouldn't have had otherwise. And I didn't expect to lose my Nana this year. I knew it would happen one day, but I didn't expect it to happen when it did. On the day of her funeral, I woke up and wondered how I would get through the day with the responsibility of delivering her eulogy. I didn't even know how I would write one. But God gave me the words I needed and the comfort and ability to deliver them. I wasn't sure how I would feel about leaving my baby for the first time to take a much needed vacation. I really wanted to but I was also really nervous to be away from her. God gave me the peace and assurance that all would be well and blessed me with rest and rejuvenation. And when I found out I was pregnant and felt constantly nauseous and extremely exhausted for months on end, I wondered how I would take care of my family each day. But God gave me the energy and stamina I needed to get out of bed each morning and do what needed to be done. And each week as I've started at a blank page of paper and my Bible, I've prayed that God would give me a word to share on Sunday mornings with our college students. Each week He has been faithful to draw me in and teach me way more than I can even use in one lesson. When I am feeling unequipped, He equips me. When I am feeling overwhelmed, He rescues me. When I am feeling uncertain, He gives me direction. When the day is mundane and nothing big or noteworthy is taking place, He is still there providing for me exactly what I need, when I need it, and in the right amount necessary. 

I don't know what 2019 holds in store. I have a few ideas, but I also know that it will be full of unanticipated, unexpected, unplanned events. But the one thing I can count on is daily bread. That God will still be with me each day supplying what I need, when I need it. He is the sustenance, my Sustainer, and I am thankful for each day that He gives me bread. 

"Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things." - Psalm 107:8-9

Friday, November 16, 2018

love and kindness...

I jotted down my grocery list, composed of random items to get us through the weekend, and divided the list between items to buy at Walmart and items to buy at United. I used to despise Walmart and avoid going at all costs, but they've really stepped up their game over the last few years. Plus, mid-morning weekday shopping is much more enjoyable than peak-time weekend shopping. I got Annabeth dressed and buckled in her car seat with the promise that she could take her baby to the store as an attempt to keep her distracted. I drove in front of the store and saw tables set up near both entrances. Each table was being manned by an individual asking for money. "Oh, brother," I thought to myself.  It was a completely ugly and selfish thought, and I knew it. I also knew that I actually had cash in my wallet for once and would be lying if I walked past and said, "Sorry, I can't donate to your cause because I don't have cash on me." And I'd be lying if I said I've only used that excuse at times when I didn't have cash. But I also thought about the fact that I had my daughter with me. My child who watches, memorizes, and repeats EVERYTHING I do. This would be a good lesson for her. I pulled cash out of my wallet and kept it in hand as we walked into the store. The lady asked for a donation and I gave her the bill in my hand. She looked at Annabeth, sitting sweetly in the basket, and said, "Aren't you so pretty? I love your little shoes!" We had a friendly exchange back and forth with the kind woman and I was quickly convicted for being so selfish and petty. We finished shopping at Walmart and drove into the parking lot at United to find a Salvation Army Bell ringer standing outside the doors. "Okay, Lord, I get it. I am hearing you loud and clear. This is a lesson for me." I dug through my spare change, pulling out all of the silver coins I could find. It wasn't much, but the lesson here wasn't really about the amount as much as it was about the willingness to give. Approaching the bucket, I slid the coins in Annabeth's little hands and she dropped them in one at a time. The bell ringer thanked and blessed us, and as we walked inside Annabeth said, "Where'd my money go?" I answered, "You put it in the bucket so that it can help people who need it." 

This is the season of giving and kindness. I think one reason people enjoy the holidays is because our hearts tend to be in the right place for once. (Maybe that's why election season is placed right before the holidays.) We give so much of our kindness and love to people we don't even know, often neglecting those closest to us. The truth is, I don't have a problem giving and being kind to people I don't know. I find great joy in buying gifts for children I'll probably never meet. I am thankful for the opportunity to financially support and donate items causes in which I believe are making a difference in the lives of others. I do my best to remember that from the abundance given to me, I need to be sure to give to generously. And the truth is, it's easy to be kind to a complete stranger for a few short minutes. I have had countless people cut in front of me in lines lately, and I don't care. What's one extra minute of waiting? My kindness to others doesn't require much of me because it's short lived. And a smile and hello is even easier. I'm probably not going to run into said stranger again. And, even if I do, each encounter is minutes long. Anyone can be pleasant and say nice words for a short amount of time. But the kindness I think we're missing isn't necessarily kindness towards people we don't know. It's showing kindness to the people we know best. 

Aaron and I had a difficult first few months of marriage. There were moments when I thought, "Why didn't I just stay single?" Because when you're single, you don't have to put up with anyone else's shenanigans. However, that also means that no one else has to put up with yours. And so our first few months of marriage were frustratingly hard because of how we chose to communicate. When I got upset about something, I would shut down and give Aaron the silent treatment. My justification for doing so was driven by the old saying, "if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all." I don't think that saying was intended to give way to the silent treatment. Truth be told, my silence was saying a lot. And the silent treatment is horribly rude, disrespectful, unproductive, and hurtful. Aaron operated under another tactic. He said whatever came to mind no matter how harsh or hurtful it was. He felt it was better to just get all his thoughts and feelings out in the open and not hold back. As you can imagine, this got us nowhere and often resulted in days of misery. And finally after three or four miserable days, something would give and we'd come to a conclusion and do the necessary repair work. A lot of things were said, and not said, during that time. Some things I remember well, and some not so much. But I'll never forget in the heat of one of our falling outs Aaron told me I was mean. Excuse me? Mean? What in the world? I immediately thought of the "mean" people I knew and figured I was nothing like them. Sure, I had it in me to be mean but I didn't think it was a prevalent characteristic. It was one of those statements that caught me off guard and caused me to dwell on my behavior. How could he say that about me? I thought I was a nice person. Well, to the people that didn't live with me or know me as well as he did, I was nice.  But the last thing I wanted was for the man who lived with me, pledged his life to me, and loved me to think I was mean. 

I realized I could be fuming mad at Aaron and if someone called I could immediately pick up the phone and have the friendliest, kindest conversation as if everything was perfectly jolly in my world. I bet you know exactly what I'm talking about. I could force kindness towards anyone I wanted to anytime I needed to. And I began to realize that if I could be kind to people who didn't live under my roof, share a last name with me, or share the same DNA makeup with me, then there was absolutely no excuse for me to treat my own family any different. Why should they be my punching bags and why did I think it was okay to do unto them as I would never dare do to another? Mother Theresa said, "If you want to change the world, go home and love your family." It was a turning point for me. I used to care so very much about what others thought of me, and I realized I needed to care more about what my own family thought of me. If I couldn't live out the gospel of love and kindness in my own home, then I wasn't really living it out in the world. I was pretending, and pretending doesn't get us any credit with the Lord.

In John 13, Jesus spends time washing his disciples feet during the last supper. After Judas leaves, Jesus is left with the 11 men who have been his closets friends and co-laborers. These men have spent a lot of time together and will continue to over their lifetime. And as we all know, sharing your life with others is messy. It's not easy because it requires more than what's on the surface. It requires work and effort, apologizing and forgiving. Time reveals the good and the bad, and Jesus knew the disciples were not coming to the end of their journey. They were going to need one another now more than ever. And so he says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this (your love for each other) everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35) Notice the emphasis here is on the group, not outsiders. They knew they were supposed to show love to everyone, but Jesus reminds them that their love towards each other would be a testimony that they belonged to him. And it's not a "well, you know I love you regardless of how I treat you or whether or not I tell you" kind of love. No, it's an obvious love composed of intentional action. Something that everyone can see looking in from the outside. And something that was obviously on display to all who were on the inside. 

Holidays can be hard. Family relationships aren't always easy and we often take them for granted, assuming we can get away with our bad behavior because we're bound by blood and oath. But God calls us to obviously love one another. To forgive as we've been forgiven. To apologize and seek reconciliation. To be peacemakers, not pot-stirrers. Because it starts at home. It starts with the people who know us the best. And if we can show love and kindness to those whom we've never met, who've never wronged us, hurt us, wounded us, let us down, or disappointed us, then what a testament to the transforming, grace-filled, merciful love of God when we choose to love our own people in the very same way he loves us. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

waiting... and wishing you would have...

Baby Cakes, I have not done a good job writing to you. I write to your sister every month sharing a piece of advice or wisdom, and I promise to do my best and keep that up for you once you arrive. But I also wrote things to her throughout my pregnancy, and I want to do the same to you, too. The joy of being the second child is that you don't have to be the trail blazer. Your sister will probably think her life is harder because she's the oldest and the oldest child is sometimes seen as the guinea pig. What she benefits from is getting to experience all of the "firsts." And so the truth is, no matter where you fall in the line of birth order, there are advantages and disadvantages. But I want to try and keep things as equal as I can when it comes to writing because being a second child, I do know that sometimes the oldest child has the best documented life. And so I am praying and asking God to show me how to parent each of you because I know your needs will be different. And some of the things I write to her may not be as applicable to you and vice versa. But I am feeling compelled to write to you concerning the subject of waiting because all human beings tend to struggle with patience.

God gives each one of us a unique and powerful testimony. The thing about testimonies is that they grow with our faith walk. There will be a moment in time that your faith journey begins, but your testimony will never end. And a testimony can change in an instant. I used to think that a testimony only included the information up until you accepted Jesus as your Savior. I was wrong to think that! We always have a reason to testify, to tell what God is doing in our lives. And so God will give you a testimony that probably looks different than mine. For many parts, I sure hope that's the case. One day, I'll share what all God has done in my life, but for now I want to talk about waiting. Waiting on the Lord, that is. Because if there is a theme that has riddled my testimony, and still does to this day, it's waiting.

I think we're all born with a tendency to be impatient, but some have this tendency to a greater degree than others. Sometimes we think patience only comes to play with things like traffic, waiting on dinner, or standing in line at the store. Honestly, those aren't the things that test my patience. I can accept and handle those tasks without losing my cool or making a scene. What tests my patience the most is waiting on the things I really desire. Things I've longed for and prayed for and hoped for. Things that are, in actuality, good things but the timing is the problem. I want them when I want them, which rarely lines up with God's plans.

And so throughout my life I figured out how to get what I wanted when I wanted it. If you work hard enough, you can usually force things to happen. I didn't really have a tricky scheme or sure fire way of getting said things, but it often involved compromise. It involved ignoring God, plowing through divinely and graciously placed road blocks, and doing what I wanted. The result was always bad. But I never realized what I was actually doing because I was convinced that all I needed to do was ask God to bless it and I would be fine. Isiah 30:18 says, "So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help."  Waiting. That's where the blessing lies. No where in the Bible does it say, "Blessed are those who run ahead of God and make their own plans." Or, "Blessed are the impatient who do what they want anyway." No, it says blessed are those who wait on the Lord.

When I turned 24 years old, my world fell apart. The truth is, it hadn't been in great shape for a long time. For many years, I struggled with peace. It was gone. I didn't have an internal peace about any area in my life, and I remember saying, and thinking, "I can't believe this is my life. I really thought it would get better over time, not worse." And I hated the life I was living. Now, to be clear, I wasn't making deals with devil or running down the path of destruction. I was doing the things I had always been doing. I was going to church, studying God's word, working, and trying my best to be a good person. But I had it all wrong. The problem was that, coupled with my impatience and refusal to wait on God, I was also operating in a way to try and obligate God to give me what I wanted. I assumed that if I could live this perfect life, God would bless me in every possible way, giving me all my wants and desires, and I'd be eternally happy. And all I had to do was go after what I wanted and then pray and ask God to bless it. Easy enough. But that wasn't working because that's not how God works. He isn't obligated to us in any way, and when we run past him, ignoring and living outside of his will for our lives, he can't bless us. He still love us, but impatience takes us right past the blessing.

And so my world stopped. Everything I had worked for and achieved at that point was now gone and all I could do was wait. It was the hardest and richest season of my life. I was completely out of control, and on top of that, I was paralyzed with fear and afraid to make any decision. I realized that my current circumstances were the results of my impatience and disobedience. Because for years, when I prayed about things, God was giving me an obvious red light. I, however, let him know that my prayers weren't so much asking as telling. Forming my demands into questions was really just a way of being polite. Kind of like when moms say, "Will you pick up your room?" That's code for, "Pick up your room!" And so God allowed me to plow past him. He didn't stop me because that's the beauty of free will. He will let us make as many poor decisions as we want. But the beauty of God is that when we come to our senses and realize it, he's still there. I could blame everyone and every thing around me for my circumstances, but the truth is I was the one who foolishly ran past God chasing my own desires and I had no one to hold responsible for my choices but me.

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, 
you will weep no more. 
He will be gracious if you ask for help. 
He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.
Though the Lord gave you adversity for food
and suffering for drink,
he will still be with you to teach you.
You will see your teacher with your own eyes.
Your own ears will hear him. 
Right being you a voice will say, 
"This is the way you should go,"
whether to the right or to the left."
- Isaiah 30:19-21

I asked God for help. He allowed me to taste the bitterness of my consequences, but he never left. He was there to pick me up, teach me, and guide me. And I realized that it was better to wait on God than to not and later wished I had. It was better to follow his plan, trusting that it's a good plan, than to chase after my own. And I learned that possessing the peace of God is far greater than any other earthly thing I could possess.

I have waited for you. I waited a long time to have children. I didn't have to wait too terribly long for your sister, but God asked me to wait on you. And when I would begin to feel discouraged that you weren't coming sooner and that the process was taking longer than I planned, I would remind myself that there are blessings in waiting on the Lord. That the season of waiting is so rich and beautiful, and once it's over, it's over. And so I have learned to enjoy the wait and soak up the time while I have it. To ask, not tell God, and then wait for a response. And when he gives a green light, then I know it's the right time to move forward and I'll be able to do that without carrying along a suitcase of regret.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

choose wisely...

Another month has come and gone, Annabeth. I looked at your “one month” picture today and could hardly believe you were ever that small. Your first month of life was not the easiest. Of course, being a first time mom is really difficult and confusing, so I am thankful that you didn’t know any different. You were five and a half pounds on the day you were born, and when I took you in for your one month well check you hadn’t even gained a full pound. You didn’t care much about eating, and you still don’t. But even with pictures as proof, I can’t remember you being that small. Your dad and I still laugh about some of our memories from your early days. We had no idea what we were doing, but we’ve always tried our best and we always will.

One of my favorite new parent memories from your first few weeks of life came from your dad. I was so tired, and because he has always been great to step up and help me out in any way needed, he told me to go to bed and volunteered stay up with you until you fell asleep. I don’t know what the “fad” will be when you have children, but currently we are stuck in this “all natural” phase that I hope lightens up sooner than later. I really did try to breastfeed you but it wasn’t working. I would wake up to feed you, give you a little bottle, and then spend way too long trying to pump any tiny bit of milk in order to increase my supply. It was ridiculous and I was wearing myself out. I finally gave in and started giving you a bottle, which saved your life and my sanity. And so your sweet dad would take the middle of the night shift. That way I could get a good few hours of sleep. Anyhow, one night you weren’t falling asleep during your regularly scheduled bedtime. I was ready to sleep, thankfully your dad wasn’t, so he agreed to take the first shift. Around 1:00AM he woke me up and said, “I can’t stay awake any longer, and I can’t get her to sleep.” Now, as an experienced parent, I would have just stuck you in your bassinet in a dark room and not worried as long as you were quiet and content, but we were afraid for you to be awake if we weren’t. I asked him what he had been doing and he said, “I’ve tried to wear her out but it’s not working.” I walked into your nursery to find you sitting in the vibrating bouncy chair. All of the lights were on, toys were all over the place, and you were wide awake. He told me all about how he was trying to physically wear you out but, turns out, he was keeping you awake through every method of stimulation possible. I told him I’d take over so he could get some sleep and hoped that I could come up with a way to bring about a little shut eye. I turned out the lights, sat in the chair, and slowly rocked you as I sleepily hummed a few songs. You were out in a matter of minutes. I suppose it should have made sense, but to a couple of sleep deprived parents, things don’t always click when they should.

I’ve tried to diligently write you once a month since your birth so that you’ll always have these words of advice. I know it’s so early to write about love and boys and marriage, but I want to take the opportunity anyway because I know this will be a conversation we’ll have many, many, many times over the next few decades. One of the things I find myself wanting to worry about, concerning your future, is heartbreak. I know boys can have their hearts broken, too, but honestly, I think girls deal with that more frequently from an early age. The thought of you ever experiencing rejection, humiliation, or heartbreak turns my stomach. I want to shield you from every negative and hurtful emotion because I know exactly how it feels. But I know there isn’t any possible way to do that. You will experience heartbreak at some point in your life. Some little (or big) boy will say or do something that shatters your heart and feelings into a million pieces. But I do think that if you implement and practice wisdom in your choices, you might be able to save yourself from a whole lot of unnecessary heart ache. I know I’m your mom and I’m “old fashioned,” but I’ve learned a thing or two and although times may change, people don’t.

There’s this saying that “boys will be boys.” It’s true and it’s unfortunate that we’ve given them an excuse to act in inappropriate ways because of their gender. But we are seeing a new movement these days that now removes any responsibility from women and places it all on men. Here’s the thing, Annabeth, you are responsible for your actions just as boys are responsible for theirs. A lot of women have been greatly hurt by men. Some were friends, boyfriends, co-workers, complete strangers, while others were husbands, fathers, uncles, or brothers. And so this idea that all men are evil, terrible, liars has surfaced, and it’s simply not true. There are a lot of men who’ve done a lot of bad things. There are a lot of men who’ve hurt women. But there are a lot of women who’ve done a lot of bad thing and hurt men. Pointing fingers gets us nowhere. We all need to take responsibility for our actions. My parents taught me that just as I needed to be aware of my actions, appearance, and words, I also needed to be aware of my surroundings and use good judgement. Unforeseen tragedies happen all the time, and we can’t prevent each and every one. But when we put ourselves in bad situations, bad things are inclined to happen. And when we don’t practice wise decision making, we can be left standing with less than desirable results. And so my first piece of advice is that you act wisely and prudently in every way that you can. That you respect yourself and you show the same amount of respect to men, too. God values men and women, and we need to value one another. In fact, we need one another despite popular opinion. But you’ve been fortunate to get off to a good start. God has given you an incredible father. I mean, he is the best there is! And if that wasn’t enough, you’ve got a whole family full of great men who love you and set good examples for you. Not every girl is fortunate to have so many good men invested in her life. And although you can’t choose your family, you can choose your spouse. And so my second piece of advice to you is that you be sure to choose wisely.

My ideal love story for you would go like this: when you reach an appropriate age of dating, you chose a really stellar, Godly, respectful man who would not only be your first boyfriend but your only. He will be the love of your life, you’ll get married and grow old together, never experiencing pain or heartbreak. And then, like in the Notebook, you’ll both pass away peacefully in your sleep at the same time while holding hands. I seriously doubt this will happen, but a mom can always hope, right? However, being a realist, I am certain this love story is pretty farfetched. And so I want to use your father as my example of choosing wisely. I want you to marry a guy just like your dad. He’s got all the good qualities a girl could ask for, and trust me, it’s worth it to hold out as long as you have to for a man like him.  

Choose a man who will choose you. This sounds like a no-brainer, but trust me, this is a pitfall many women encounter. We can easily find ourselves settling for someone who places us on the back burner for meaningless things. The only person a man should place above you is God. That’s it. It should be God and then you. And if God isn’t at the top of his list then you’ve got an even bigger issue. But assuming that God is truly at the top of his list, then it shouldn’t be sports, friends, work, video games, hunting, golf, etc. next on the list. It should be you. You should not have to compete with anyone or anything for the love of your husband. Your dad is a hardworking man. He puts in many hours at the office, but when he comes home, he’s home. His evenings and weekends are devoted to his family. And even when he is overwhelmed with work, he always says, “If you feel like I’m placing work ahead of you, just let me know. You’re more important than my job.” You don’t need to live on the backburner or spend your days competing for space in the life of the man you love. If it’s clear that you’re not number 2 on his list, then becoming his wife is not a wise choice.

Choose a man who serves. Your dad’s servant heart was one of the first things I noticed about him. Not only was he actively serving at his church, but he served those around him. The moment that this really stood out to me was the night he met my family. We had a huge family gathering and he bravely accepted the invitation to come. I noticed that he would do little things like pick up other people’s plates when they were finished or refill their drinks. He stayed behind to clean up dishes, put up tables and chairs, and take out the trash. And this wasn’t just good manners because he was trying to make a good first impression. He would do this every single time. Even today, he is the first to jump into action and help rather than sit around and let others do the work. This trait has been on display our entire relationship. He’s never adopted a mentality that he should be served because he’s the head of our home, works long hours, or is the provider. If he can help, he’ll do it no matter how big or small the task. So look for a man who serves. A man who is a servant leader. When you find one of those, you know he has the heart of Jesus and he’ll love you and serve you in the way Jesus calls us to.

Choose a man for whom you have to make zero exceptions. I think this one is my most important pieces of advice. With every single boy I ever liked or dated, I always found myself making exceptions for him. Again, something many women are very guilty of doing. We notice red flags and overlook them. We naively think that “they will change” once we’re married. Or we say, “Well, it’s not that bad. It could be worse.” Your father is the first man I have ever met, known, or dated for which I made zero exceptions. I didn’t have to make excuses for him or justify any behaviors. Listen carefully, what you marry is what you marry. Marriage does not magically change a person and what you allow in dating and engagement will still be present after you say “I do.” And so you need to love and accept the entire person before you get married. If you’re hoping something will change, or you know something needs to change, then you are not choosing wisely by getting married. I knew what I was getting with your father, and he is exactly what I hoped and prayed for. There was nothing I wanted to change about him. And if you find yourself with a list of issues or problems that need to be changed or fixed, then do the wise thing and break off that relationship. Second to making the decision to accept Jesus as your Savior, marriage is the most important life decision you will make. It’s a sacred covenant and a good marriage is a beautiful gift. But it starts with acting wisely. With choosing wisely.

No man will ever love you in the same fashion that you receive from your dad. You are his daughter, and he is crazy about you! But one day, there will be a man who will love you in a different way. A man who will choose you, serve you, and be the right one for you. Hold out for him, however long it takes. When he arrives, you'll be thankful you waited. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

a long time coming...

I vividly remember the night I felt God leading me to write. The idea came from far left field. I really knew nothing about blogs. From the appearance of my blog, it seems I still don't. The only experience I had with blogs consisted of a plethora of photography blogs I followed religiously. But I had been writing. Journaling, really. And they were my prayers so there was no way I would be making that information public. But for some reason God nudged my heart in the direction of a blog, and at the time I wasn't sure why. Looking back, I can see how God gave me a practical outlet to really ramp up the healing process that was slowly, but surely, taking place. I never expected much of anything from it, and I wasn't sure how long I would continue to write after my initial commitment. But writing does the soul good, and I found out that written words hold great power in the lives of others and in our own.

Somewhere along the way the idea of a book was brought up and I didn't think it was something I needed to pursue. This began a great inner struggle in my heart that I continue to wrestle with today. Because the idea of a book sounded very appealing (still does) and I was highly flattered. I honestly didn't think my content was that great, but I appreciated the confidence others had in me. I'm not an author and I didn't know where to start, but I did know that the book writing process isn't easy and, from what I could gather, is overwhelming. There are so, so, so, so many books in the world. And to make it anywhere near a shelf, I would have to make some sort of name for myself and, again, how does one even begin that journey? Plus, aren't believers supposed to make more of God and less of themselves? I wasn't sure how to successfully accomplish that through self-promotion. But as the inner dialogue continued, I asked myself if this was something I really felt compelled by God to do or if this was something I selfishly wanted. I still don't know the answer, but I know myself. I spent a few decades of my life making sure I got what I wanted and pushing my will over God's, and well, that never ended up working out for me. That was the last thing I was going to do with a book. Psalm 127:1 says, "Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain." I don't want to labor in vain. I want God to build the house. I know it probably sounds like I am being super lazy and entitled, as if I am expecting God to drop a fully written and published book with my name on it out of the sky, but my driving force is the fact that I didn't want to run ahead of God chasing my own desires if that is my real underlying motive. I've learned not to trust myself because I can do a great job of making a big mess. It really is best to wait on the Lord.

But my prayer, over and over and over, has always been that God would use my words and the gifts and abilities He has given me to point others to Him. I never knew how he would, but I began asking and just leaving it there for Him to work out. That's kind of how I landed Aaron. I literally quit trying and scheming and just trusted God, and low and behold, out of the blue I meet the man of my dreams. I did nothing to make it happen other than pray about it. The same goes for my last job. I was so frustrated with my career and felt like I was stuck in a dead end with no direction. I prayed about it and decided I would quit trying to come up with some sort of solution, and out of the blue I got a call and was offered my dream job. This has happened quite often in other areas of my life, which has  caused me to be cautious and not jump into big commitments and decisions but to wait on God to bring things to pass. None of these things were a coincidence. These were acts of God that only He could do. And so as I was praying for God-given opportunities, I was offered a few. My heart was overjoyed that God was entrusting me with these precious opportunities to teach His word through writing and speaking. And just when I began feeling a little momentum and motivation in my sails, I found out I was pregnant.

There are a lot of super moms out there. I'm not one. I am a mom who is just that. A mom. I have focused solely on motherhood and am giving it all of my energy - well, what little energy I have. I'm not trying to be a mom-trepreneur, and I have great admiration for women who are. But God has cut me from a different cloth, and He knows what I can and can't handle. I'm an all or nothing kind of gal. And although I know in my head that this is such a rich season of life that will pass so quickly, I don't always feel it in my heart. And so I felt like my time was up. The opportunities were over. It was short lived, but it was fun while it lasted. It was my fault for letting the momentum die and not continuing to push through and make something happen. I should have been more like so-and-so who has a bundle of kids and somehow, miraculously, still cranks out books and blog posts and has really clever Instagram photos. But my heart had zero desire to learn the tricks of the trade.I had been praying for so long and asking for opportunities outside of my blog, but it seemed like God didn't have a spot open for me and so I just decided to let it go. I would keep writing because that's where it all started, and God wasn't going to stop teaching me things I could write about.

But then out of the blue, after a long dry spell, I received a message in September that said, "I need an amazing speaker for Phi Lamb's retreat this semester, and you were the first person I thought of....". My heart began turning cartwheels. I couldn't believe I was being asked to speak at retreat. Not only was this a special request because I'm a Phi Lamb alum, but because I had literally prayed and asked for this opportunity for years - many years ago. When Aaron and I started serving the college ministry, I met so many Phi Lamb girls and made sure they knew I was an alum. I hoped with all my heart that they would ask me to come back and speak at retreat. I prayed about it, assuring God this would be a really great opportunity, but they always found someone else. I hadn't even considered this for the past few years, so you can imagine my shock and surprise when the request came my way. And I didn't hesitate to say yes, because if there's one thing I've learned, you always say yes when God gives you the opportunity you've been praying for no matter how good, or bad, the timing may seem.

I shared for about an hour and half with a group of 180 girls on Saturday, and I felt like I could take on the world. In Psalm 18:29, the Psalmist says, "with my God I can scale a wall." I could have written those words myself! I felt energized and alive. I spent so much time pouring over God's word in preparation and it created such a unique sense of fulfillment in my heart that I haven't had in a while. I know I have a purpose and that I'm living it each day, but this opportunity gave me a different sense of purpose. And as I drove to the ranch that morning, my heart was overjoyed. I was so grateful God was answering this long-time coming prayer in this manner. It really was perfect timing, too. But God has used various methods as of late to show me that He gives us seasons of rest to help us learn and grow and to give us experiences that we need. These seasons are gifts. It's like a moment on the bench for a player who needs to catch their breath and rest before stepping back into the game. The coach isn't calling the player out mid-game because he doesn't want that player on the team any longer. He's making sure the athlete isn't running the risk of being overworked and is allowing him a moment of refreshment. That way, he's energized and ready to step back in and play his best. He doesn't have to be on the field the entire time in order for the team to win. The coach will put the right player in the right position to ensure the team's success and victory!

And so maybe, like me, you feel like a bench warmer. Maybe it seems like your opportunity to go in has passed and it's not coming back around. Well, take heart in knowing that God hears your prayers. Sometimes he answers quickly, and that's always nice. But some answers are a long time coming. They'll come at the right time. And so wait. Wait on the Lord and trust that He will put you in the game when the time is right and when you're best prepared. The bench is a powerful place to be. It's a place of opportunity. A place where you can learn and grow and develop. You get to watch, listen, and you have some relief from pressure. But your time will come. The game is long and it's not over. Bench warmer or not, we're all part of the team. And God will use each one of us as He leads us towards victory.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right path for his name's sake." - Psalm 23:2-3