Striving.

We are a people who avoid quiet.  Surrounded by distraction, we refuse to put away the noisemakers.  At least, I do.  Every device I could want is at my fingertips, offering information and entertainment along with education and spiritual encouragement.  I wander aimlessly between them all without an end goal in mind.  The screens glow invitingly as little red drops of blood appear, the tiny numbers reminding me of unread messages, unchecked notifications and, more often than not, unwasted time.

iPhone, notifications, email, gmail, phone, inbox, messages
I remember the year before my first child was born.  I remember the house being so quiet, feeling so sad and empty in my longing to be a mother.  We didn’t have cable TV or cell phones, yet, and the house was usually clean: laundry put away, dishes done, bed made.  I wasn’t a neat freak but I didn’t panic if someone showed up at my door unexpectedly.  I cooked and visited face-to-face with friends and enjoyed deep, unhurried conversations.   I remember feeling so close, yet so far, from being a mother as we waited to be chosen by a brave and selfless young woman and confiding to my husband, through tears, that I was just so tired of our house being quiet.

I can’t help but wonder, if my impending motherhood were happening today, would I have that same problem?

The recent years have found me longing again, but this time it is different.  Now, I long for quiet.  Not in the absence of children but in the absence of haste.  Hundreds of emails to be deleted, most of which will remain unread.  Invitations to this or that online group/party/sale that demand a reply.  Reminders that I have not responded, paid that bill, or kept up with the latest information or update being emailed about the upcoming events to which I am committed and, darn, I missed the attachment because I didn’t scroll all the way down. I was in a hurry and just trying to make that drop of blood on my screen disappear.  Too many televisions allow us to be in too many different rooms, board games are left untouched. Netflix binges suck hours of our lives away and I am sad.  There is noise everywhere…from speakers and screens and headphones and my own weak mind being too easily distracted and then frustrated by the feeling of just not having enough time to get it all done.

I struggle to have what I long for.  Quiet.

Cradle to cross, advent, Ann Voskamp, wreath, candle, flame
But the book of Isaiah says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  (Chapter 30, verse 15)  This was spoken to a people who had been gifted the Sabbath, a gift that we as followers of Christ are offered each and every day.  (Hebrews 4:9-10)  A Sabbath rest for the people of God.  Doesn’t that sound lovely? Freeing?  What does that look like today, in a world screaming, “Check me, read me now, watch me all weekend?”

“Quick, take a picture and post it!  See how many likes you get!”

“Oh, yes, that one needs to be shared.  What a great idea!  It would be a shame to keep that word of wisdom, political opinion, recipe or parenting tip to yourself.”

Is there anything wrong with any of these things in and of themselves?  No, of course not. But when I struggle to find five minutes with Jesus, when I groan as my alarm sounds because I wasted an hour of sleep to read just one more post, then something is very wrong.  In my self-created haste I become weak.  Weak-minded, weak-bodied, weak-willed.  I set my alarm later and later and hit snooze one more time.  I fail to plan meals, leaving us in the unhealthy habit of eating out too many nights each week because of the busyness of sports and dance.  My Bible lays unread on the table next to the sofa because I flipped on Fox News before opening it last night and never actually read the words right in front of me.

Words of life drowned out by reports of death.  How ironic.

In quietness in trust shall be my strength?  What is God trying to teach me?   Here I sit, on my beloved front porch so aware of the singing birds and the bright sunlight filtered down through the tall trees after a solid week of torrential rain and dark clouds.  The Knockout Roses that I planted by the road last summer are blooming.
Rose, yellow, knockout rose, white, bloom, spring
The air is so clean and my daughter sits next to me, in her pajamas at 3:30 in the afternoon, excitedly planning our beach trip for her sixteenth birthday.  Earlier I gently removed the now-empty bird’s nest that had been built to raise three chicks to adulthood this spring, marveling along with my children at the perfect, intricate design with which the mama bird built it. 

Egg, bird, nest, spring, robin, sparrow

It was sturdy yet soft and placed in the top of the Easter wreath on my front door, away from the winds and rain.  The babies have flown off and the nest stood empty except for one, tiny unhatched egg.  (And my front door was filthy!)  As I worked and cleaned and my kids chattered about me God spoke truth to my heart.  Little proverbs gifted to me in those quiet and long moments of wonder.  God has given us such beauty and grace in the everyday gifts of nature and family, yet I frequently allow the noise to throw a wet blanket over them and become numb.

I am weak.

How do I deal with the noise?  How do I find strength and practice this faith God has given me?  It is not going to be in throwing every device into the swimming pool and “going Amish” as I have often threatened to do.  No, it is going to be in seeking Him first.  FIRST.  It is in the discipline of rising early and putting boundaries on the noise.  It is not about self-imposed rules, but seeking relationship.  It is in forcing myself to be quiet and listen when everything in my head screams, “The laundry! The dishes!  Have you not seen the emails piling up?  Don’t you just want a little background noise?”

My goodness, no.  The constant hum of noise has numbed me. It has sucked time away that I will never be able to get back.  I need quiet, even when my flesh seeks to avoid it…especially then.

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

Such power in those words, such conviction to my heart.  But read on…

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  (Heb 4:11-13)

Resisting rest leads to disobedience.  Refusing to be still and soak in the words of our Father in Heaven leaves us weak because we fail to allow God to do Holy Spirit Surgery, convicting us of sin and revealing our weaknesses.  A life of haste and busyness results in my inability to be teachable and my tendency to fall prey to the subtle lies of the enemy.

Strive to enter that rest?  I never really understood why resting would be something we had to strive for, but now I do.  I strive for many things…knowledge, peace in my home, to teach my children well, to keep the house somewhat sanitary.  But rest?  Entering Sabbath rest requires true strength.  It is, in fact, where strength is found.

In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  

Lord, make me strong.

 

 

 

Of Knots and Grace

Last weekend my husband and I flew out to Denver and spent two days loving on Jay and Ashley.  I don’t know what I expected, but what I experienced was more.  More love, more laughter, more tears, more glimpses of God and grace.  We landed on a sunny day and took a rental car across the flat roads leading to Denver where we found the Craig Hospital.  We met precious new friends who have been the hands and feet of Jesus for our dear old friends and walked through the hospital doors.

To holy ground.

They were making cupcakes.  Jay, seated in his wheelchair, surrounded by his four daughters and all the excitement over measuring cups and sprinkles.  Ashley, turning from a conversation and catching my eye and me fighting tears as I finally got to hug my young friend who I have just longed to mommy for the past nine weeks.

Wheelchairs of many shapes and sizes lined the far wall.  An air hockey table was in the corner.  Lots of open space, plenty of room to navigate and play around whether you walk or roll.  And laughter.

I don’t know the spiritual condition of any of the Craig staff, but I can tell you that the Lord is very present in that place.  Everything is so intentional, the goal being independence and life and finding joy again.

But boy, is that journey hard and painful.  Without going in to details, (You can read their words here if you want to know more) Jay fights for every milestone.  Nothing is easy.  Nothing is not accompanied by pain.  Yet he perseveres and fights and gains ground every single day. He laughs and cries and parents and loves and God is honored in it all.  To know the Rapleys is to see Jesus at work and realize that God is good even when we cannot make sense of our circumstances.  His love for us is fierce and He fights for us even when we fight against Him.

We all suffer.  If you have not, brace yourself because it will come.  Some of our suffering is private.  It may be within the walls of our home or in the battlefield of our minds.  It may be from outside sources, people who have determined to pick at you until you fold in defeat or from the vice-grip of trying to survive the bills coming in faster than the money.  It may be self-inflicted because of poor choices or it may be the result of what appears to be a random accident, like in Jay’s case.

He did nothing wrong.  He was just walking his dog.  Yet here he is, navigating this sudden suffering.  But in the midst of suffering the beauty emerges.

It is in the friends back home, happily packing up Jay and Ashley’s belongings to they can move into their new, wheelchair-accessible, house when Jay is discharged.  It is in the community of faith, Kristin and Mark taking on a huge supportive role and thousands of believers backing them in prayer, gifts, texts and love.  It is in Jay’s brother, Eric, who consistently encourages him and faithfully makes the drive to visit and be a support to Jay and their parents.

Their parents….There are no words to describe these precious people.  They have dropped everything for their son and his family.  They have walked away from retirement, taking on the role of parent and teacher for their four little granddaughters in order for Ashley to be by her husband’s side and for their girls’ lives to be as normal as humanly possible.  They have done this so beautifully and fight through the fatigue and grief in order to serve their family.  I can only imagine the treasure being laid up for them in Heaven at this very moment.

As I process what I saw over the weekend, I remember a conversation we had about how God is weaving a beautiful tapestry out of Jay’s story and right now we are all on the back side.  We can’t see the picture.  All we see right now is a tangled mess of knots.  It makes no sense.  But the Weaver is at work.  He is carefully and lovingly creating a picture, a huge and intricate work of art, that will be fully revealed in eternity.  He is using His people as instruments, needles and thread and the stretching loom, to construct a garment fit for a King.

Our King.

Jesus, who suffered for us and identifies with Jay’s suffering.  He walks with Jay now, today, giving him strength moment by moment and reminding him of who he is and whose he is.  He is not surprised nor shaken by Jay’s accident because He has shown over and over again that He had everything lined up, positioned perfectly, to provide for the needs of Jay and Ashley and their family.  He surrounds them with grace in the midst of the knots, promising that when He returns and makes all things new,  it will be worth it.  Nothing is wasted.   He will, one day soon, flip over the finished tapestry and, in the center, will be His masterpiece…Jesus holding Jay by the hand as they walk together into Glory.

Pray for Jay.  Pray for a miracle.  Pray for strength and joy and protection over their minds and bodies as they all work so hard to learn this new way of living.  For more specific prayer needs, you can visit their Caring Bridge site.

 

Phillippians 3:8-11  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

 

 

 

Unspeakable

The phone call came as I drove through town, shuffling kids to various appointments and running errands.  I struggled to focus as the words, punctuated by the quiet sobs and broken sentences of my mother-in-law, assaulted my ears and broke my heart.

It was a moment that made me long for Heaven.

How do I make sense of the news that one of the most loving, Christian men I have ever known lies in a hospital bed unable to move?  That his body is broken and he is in need of healing that can only come from God?  That his wife and girls who absolutely adore him now face weeks and months without his smile at the dinner table?  Why did God allow this?  To him, of all people?

Then the days unfold.  Updates trickle in, texts from my sweet friend giving me the privilege of knowing how to pray for her, the realization that in the midst of the unspeakable tragedy God is working, unshakable.  I remember the days before Jay had Ashley, how he was so impressed with Sam’s Lasagna and my homemade stuffing that he ate it cold, right out of the fridge…announcing that I had “outdone myself.”  The days before he was a daddy and he would come over, revving up my toddlers and ensuring bedtime would be far, far away and my kids loving every minute of their time with “Uncle Jay.”  How he stood for Jesus in every operating room, refusing to cave and lower his standards and getting the “preacher boy” award at the end of Residency.  Jay loves Jesus unashamedly, showers his family with that love, and  is now being given a new voice, a new platform, and new way to shine the light of Christ in this dark and desperate world.

Yes, we serve and unshakable God.   Because of this, the suffering my friends endure begins to make sense.  When a hospital room becomes a mission field, when the name of Jesus is lifted and spoken and prayer warriors are mobilized from all over the country and husbands are challenged to love better and daddies are moved to be more intentional because this man, from his hospital bed and in constant pain, continues to love well it makes sense.  That he can be faithful and allow God to use him in this, the darkest season of life is why he has been chosen to suffer.  The truck did not see Jay in the fog, but God did and my goodness, how He protected his life.  His body is broken, yes, but the Holy Spirit in him is alive and well and fully at work.

It has been a week today.  Today I cannot seem to stop the flow of tears as I wish with all of my heart I lived close enough to be hands and feet for Ashley, and the rest of Jay’s family.  But God has me here, on my knees, begging for healing and praising Him for what He has done so far this week.  And as I pray and trust I know that I am one of hundreds if not thousands who are doing the same.  God is an incredible mobilizer of His army and we are rising up together, carefully lowering our friend through the roof and placing him at the feet of Jesus, his savior and healer.

If you will join us in praying for Jay, go to caringbridge.org/visit/jayrapley.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”  Isaiah 41:13

A Better Word

I don’t know about you, but 2016 nearly did me in.  As much as I wanted to write a perky “Happy New Year” post I just couldn’t.  I just didn’t.  In fact, as the old year died and the new was born I was tempted to tell 2016, “Don’t let the door hit ya’ on the way out.”

It was one of the most difficult years I have ever endured for several reasons, none of which I need to go into here because I know you have had your share of hard as well. Whether my hard looks like your hard doesn’t matter.  Hard is hard.

2016 was hard.

In the weeks leading up to the end of the year, I prayed for the Lord to give me a word for 2017.  This is my fourth year to do so.  The same word kept surfacing in scripture, in song, and in conversation.  So much so that it was pretty easy to single out what the Lord was showing me.  It was a good word, one that made me think that maybe 2017 wouldn’t suck as much as 2016.  So I opened up my Bible to write the word inside the front cover, just below last year’s word.

I had forgotten last year’s word.  In fact, in the fog that had overtaken my brain, I had come to believe that last year’s word was the word given to me in 2015.  Worth.  As in, it will be worth it.  Jesus is worth it.  God is worthy of whatever I have to give in order to follow Him.  It was a good word, but it was not 2016’s word.

Imagine my shock when I opened my Bible and there, written in black ink in my own hand, was the word that I had forgotten…HARD.

A lump leapt into my throat and I wiped away tears.  God had known.  He had seen what was coming and had tried to let me know that He was not surprised or shaken by the difficulties that would plague our year.  But I forgot.  I stumbled and doubted and failed to walk in confident belief in who He is and what He said He will do.  Yet here, in front of me, was His gentle reminder…

“It will be hard, but I am here.  It will be hard, but not forever.  It will be hard, but I have seen this coming and nothing is beyond my control or outside the reach of my sovereignty.”

How I wished I had remembered that word throughout the year.  Then again, maybe He intended for me to forget so that the impact of the word He gave me this year would be more deeply felt. Because, let me tell you, seeing this year’s word written just below the HARD word of one of the most difficult years of my life was balm to my weary soul.

You are probably wondering what this year’s word is.

It is Hope.

HOPE.

And hope?  It colors everything I see now.  It changes the way I see hard (because the turning of the year didn’t make it magically go away) and causes me to look at my circumstances through a much different filter.  Hope.  It gives strength when I am weary and drives me into the arms of my Father, giving me a hunger for Truth and a longing for revelation.  It pulls me up out of the pit and allows me to believe in a happy ending, in a story whose hero is on his way to bring resolution.

Hope changes everything.  In God’s mercy He has promised a turnaround and, though He has not guaranteed the hard will end He gives me Hope as an anchor, firm and secure.  So I’m holding on and determined to thank Him for what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do!  I’m praying I won’t be blissfully relieved when 2017 draws to a close, but maybe I’ll be a little misty eyed and sentimental.

Yes, that would be a nice change!

Did you ask God for a word this year?  If so, I’d love to hear what He revealed to you.  I am always amazed at how He honors our requests when we seek Him and lean in to hear His voice.

cropped-a_plant-new_life

Leaning in to Rest

Ah, Christmas.  My absolute favorite Holiday.  Lit with sparkles and all things glittery, music playing, the smell of pine and cinnamon and the hustle and bustle of shopping for our loved ones.  And if this wasn’t enough to make it lovely, this season also brings my wedding anniversary.  So much to celebrate.

So why are so many of us so dang stressed out?

Twenty-one years and five kids ago, Amazon Prime didn’t even exist.  Can you imagine?  We actually drove to all the stores and physically carried all the gifts out, across parking lots, to our cars.  And gift cards?  They were a rarity.  We bought actual, you know, STUFF for each other.

Christmas is so convenient now with online shopping and gift cards and all the Christmas-hoarding world (of which I am a “proud” member) at your fingertips with the click of a button.  So wouldn’t it be logical for us to be less harried and more rested?

But we are not.

With all the choices and conveniences has come the impulse to add more and more to our celebrations.  More traditions, more decorations, more fancy trim added to the ribbon on top, more variety of everything.  We have Advent wreaths and Jesse trees.  We have devotional books for young and old and each chapter gives us an act of service AND a craft to do along with the appropriate song to sing.  We have matching PJ’s and progressive dinners and white elephant gift exchanges.  We have it all.  Right here.  Screaming at us:

“Do this.  Do it all.  Your kids’ well-adjusted adulthood depends on it.  They need tradition and memories and to be able to look back on their idyllic childhood with joy and wonder in order to be good parents themselves and pass it on to their children!”

Wait, what?

Did I just write that?  Yes, I did.  Because I bet that thought has crossed your mind at some point.  Somewhere along the way we have bought into the lie that our children need a perfect childhood in order to be happy, healthy adults.  Especially at Christmastime.  We believe Christmas should be fabulous.  It should be wondrous.  It should be…(insert whatever you hope your kids experience here.)

The older I get, the older my KIDS get, I realize how ridiculous and impossible this can be.  This year I put up less as far as decorations are concerned.  I got tired of dreading the take-down come New Year’s.  I was trying to put it ALL out, all the kids old creations, all the trees with all the stuff because it all held memories.  But this year I just couldn’t.  I was tired and just. wanted. Jesus.

And guess what?  The stuff I skipped and left in the attic?  They didn’t miss it.  I have learned what is important to them.  There are a few special traditions that they always mention.  A few.  So I stuck with those and we are all satisfied.  The house feels less cluttery and I didn’t hate Santa by the time the decorations were up.  🙂    I put out our Cradle to Cross Wreath and I’m reading a wonderful devotional with my younger kids almost daily.

Almost.  But we skipped the Jesse Tree and I’m letting them take turns moving the Elf because they like to.  I have a grown-up devotional I’m reading almost daily.

Almost.  Because the reality is that never in the history of parenting have we successfully finished an Advent devotional before Christmas.  We just get busy and lose focus and sometimes travel and its just not realistic for us.

And that’s ok!

Really!

Christmas is not about making lists.  It’s certainly not about checking them twice.  It’s not about fabulous decorating or cooking like those calories will not sit, every one, squarely on my hips.  Its about the Gift.  The baby.  The man that was and is the Messiah.  It’s about the FACT that God came down and a virgin miraculously became pregnant with the Son of God and gave birth to Him amongst no earthly fanfare but surrounded by all the glory of Heaven.  It’s about the fact that, though we have shaken our fists and God and told Him “No, thanks” a million times we were not forgotten and He came for us.  He came and lived the sinless life that was impossible for us and died the tortured death in our place in order to atone forever for our sins.  Christmas is about the fact that we have rest, true eternal rest in the depths of our spirit, because Jesus suffered for us.

Rest.

Now doesn’t that sound better than rushing around and trying to make everything perfect?  Because, no matter what traditions we keep or meals we cook nothing will ever come close to the perfection of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.

Rest.  Put aside the unnecessary and focus in.  Light a few candles and sit in their light, in the quiet of an early morning or late evening.  Cuddle up with your kids or your husband (or your kids AND your husband) and just BE.  Don’t let the rush of the season cause you to sweep the whole reason for it out the door.  Lean in to one another, lean in to the Savior, and lean in to rest.  Seek it and savor it when you find it.

And have a simply beautiful Christmas.

christmasball

I love Jesus but…

lawWhen my kids were little, I was crazy legalistic about language.  Potty language was a no-no and we sure as…heck…didn’t say “shut up” or anything vile like that.  Sweet words come out of sweet hearts, right?  And woe to the fool who dared throw out the “D” word, the “S” word or, as referred to in “The Christmas Story” as the mother of all cuss words, the “F” word in front of my babies at Wal-Mart!  Oh no.  Just no.

And you know what the result of all that careful filtering was?

Nothing.

My big kids have the same tendencies toward bad language as anyone’s kids.  In fact, I have one in particular who has written the book on how NOT to be respectful to your mama.  And this one used to be the most rule-making AND rule-following of them all. Why is that?

The Bible has the answer.  It is because the law breeds sin.  In Romans 8:9 Paul describes this phenomenon…

“I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”

Think about it.  How many times, when you kids were very small, did you use reverse psychology to get them to do what you wanted?

“Hey, don’t you smile.  Don’t you smile at Mommy!  I mean it!  Don’t you even think about it…hey, I see your mouth twitching!  You better stop!” As that sweet one who had been scowling moments earlier dissolved into giggles you patted yourself on the back for your parenting genius.

Well, the same principle applies to when you don’t want your kids to do something.  I have realized after countless failed attempts at sin-preventing parenting that…get this… my parenting cannot prevent sin.

Isn’t that groundbreaking?

“Don’t touch that.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Don’t hit.”

“Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal…”

Has any of my children, or me for that matter, responded to a list like this?  Or are we all like Paul who, “when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died?”  Because I would venture to guess the truth is when we are told “do not” our first reaction is, “Oh, really?  Why shouldn’t I?”

Then what does work?  If a list of rules fails to bring about obedience and godliness, then what make me want to do what is right?

The Bible gives us an answer to that as well.  Romans 2:4 says that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.”

Wait, what?

Walking across a busy parking lot with my little boy, I learned that, rather than tell him not to run out in front of cars, I would sweetly request, “Hold mommy’s hand!” with a big smile and he would happily place his little hand in mine and let me lead him safely into the store.

This was easy when they were toddlers, but it is much harder now when the kids are bigger and the sins have more potentially serious consequences.  But if I draw near to them, establishing clear boundaries (after all, we cannot have an “anything goes” mentality or our house would be full of little anarchists) but giving them freedom within those boundaries, maybe the relationship that results will cause them to have a desire for the things that are beneficial to them long-term instead of the short term pleasure the world has to offer.  It doesn’t mean they will not sin.  In fact, the odds are they are going to sin and some of them will probably sin big.  Am I going to scream and rant at them or am I going to look them in the eye and declare my love and commitment to them and their well-being?  Am I going to make a longer list of rules, or offer wise and carefully worded counsel in order to foster trust and build a bridge between us?  I tend toward the lists of rules, if I’m being honest.  I love to tell my tribe what they should and should not do, thinking they will tow the line and march like good little soldiers.  But that is a terribly flawed methodology and, now that they are older, I realize how much time and energy I wasted on battles that just really weren’t worth fighting after all.

God has given me one job as a mom.  One.  Just be kind.  Just love them.  It’s not my job to fix them, only God can fix people.  Show grace, don’t freak out over sin…because that is kind of a common problem in humanity.  Expecting perfection will only result in frustration and broken relationship.  Forcing an outward show of godliness when the heart is not in the game is useless and a complete waste of time.  But zooming in on their heart? Not lecturing every time a kids says “shut up” or teases a sibling?  Realizing that a nearly grown teenager is going to test the waters and be “all over the place” until they truly realize who they are and why they are here will help me to relax a little and just enjoy the good moments.  (And pour a glass of wine after the bad!)

In other words, I love Jesus but…

I’m not Jesus.