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

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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.

 

Enough, already.

I had an epiphany today.

The book, The Broken Way, by Ann Voskamp was in my Amazon shopping cart. Unpurchased.  I was debating several things.  First of all, I have 697 unread books on my nightstand.  (I may or may not be exaggerating.)  Second, after the year we have had, do I want to read another book about brokenness?  (As in, life is hard but God is good…yada yada yada.)

So imagine my surprise when it showed up on my kitchen counter.  My man had bought athletic wear for our oldest and didn’t take the book out of the cart so, there it was.

And here it is.

I spend too much time on social media (confession, here) and often have three or four books going at the same time so it takes me forever to get through a book these days.  But this one kept calling my name, so to speak, and I began to read.

Six chapters in and I am just amazed at the depth in Ann’s words.  I was a huge fan of One Thousand Gifts and have read it twice along with listening to it on Audible.  I have a gratitude journal with entries topping four thousand and I believe with all of my heart in the power of giving thanks in all circumstances. The Broken Way is like a beautiful continuum, putting feet to faith and trusting God when everything within me screams “impossible” or “not enough!”  As I have read her words and resonated with her struggles I realize that, for a very long time, I have believed a lie.

I have written blog posts for over ten years, but so many things I have wanted to share I have kept to myself because I felt that you, my dear reader, would think that I somehow have things figured out.  Because of my struggles and nights of wrestling with God I felt unqualified to share my thoughts with you.  It’s easy to write about kids.  I did that faithfully for a long time and did it well.  But I no longer have cute toddler stories to share, I have young adults who are on social media and are not ok with me using them to score readers.

So what’s left?  Well…me.  And what do I have to offer?  The Liar has told me that I have very little.  That until I have my act together I have no right to tell you anything.  I’m an expert on nothing and an authority on little…or so I believed.

But today the story of Peter penetrated my heart.  He is walking on water with the King of the Universe.  He is standing because his eyes were fixed on his Messiah.  Then his eyes shift…he looks around and doubt creeps in and the next thing he knows he is sucking seawater and screaming for help.  Why?  I always though it was because he didn’t believe in Jesus, but after today I think the problem was deeper.  Peter did not believe in himself.  (Page 85)

That is me.  That is my struggle.  Do I believe God can do great things in and though me? Yes, of course!  But I have also, deep down in my spirit, believed that my flaws have held Him back, limited His power because I am so unfocused and inconsistent.  But what if Ann’s theory is true?  What if God believes…in me?

What if God still uses imperfect, cracked pots?  Did He not choose twelve flawed men to bring about a revolution of Grace?  Hasn’t every great hero of the Faith stumbled and fallen and still been used mightily by the King?  When the voice sneers in my mind, “Who do you think you are?  You are not qualified to do/say/write/teach anything.  You are a mess,” does not God remind me that I am a daughter of the King, chosen to do good works before I was even born, qualified because He has called me and it is HE who qualifies the called?

I am enough.  In and because of JESUS I am enough.  Jesus is in me, therefore I am enough. He never asked me to have it all together.  Like Peter, He simply wants my focus.  If my eyes are on Him, He will keep me afloat.

I am most certainly an imperfect, cracked pot.  But I do, with all that is in me, want to be bold for the Kingdom and make a difference in the sphere of influence in which God has placed me.

One of my favorite quotes is by Leonard Cohen:

There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.

Yes and amen.  I am full of cracks so shine away, Lord.  Shine away.

Eucharisteo, cruciform, gratitude, Jesus, Peter, walk on water, enough, Leonard cohen
Thank you, Ann. I’m in.

Autumn

Yesterday I took the garbage down to the curb, as usual on Tuesdays.  In my own world, thoughts and lists swirling, I almost missed it.

Autumn.  

Now, it doesn’t feel like Autumn at all.  Not yet.  It’s hot and sticky and the trees just look so tired.  But this morning I happened to look up at just the right moment when the sun was at just the right angle and the morning mist was just barely hanging on.  The tall trees that line my street took on a sudden magic that caused me to stop and stare.  Subtle oranges and golds overlapped as branches released their bright offerings on the morning breeze.  Dry leaves danced and leapt down the messy road littered with leaf piles and shrub cuttings.  

Autumn in all its glory, clearly evident to anyone with adequate vision…Yet, still, it doesn’t feel like it.  Not at all.

The cold snap is coming, though.  According to the weather experts it should arrive tomorrow.  Not a moment too soon if you ask me.  The brightest colors are yet to come, expected to peak in late October and fade quickly.  

“If you plan to drive around and see the Fall colors you will want to do so early because the season will be short this year,” says the DJ on the radio.

Thanks for that.

Always I anticipate this, my favorite season.  Always it teases and finally arrives only to move into the cold of winter too quickly for my taste.  

And there is not one, single thing that I can do to change it.  No amount of watering or pruning or fertilizing will extend the life of Autumn’s glory.  It comes when it comes and it goes when it goes.  

So I have two choices:  I can complain and wish for what I cannot have or stop, breathe in the sweet scented air, listen for the rustle as my children conquer that “epic” leaf pile, and gaze at the beauty of the colors changing all around me.

Bitterness or gratitude.

Frustration or delight.

Envy or acceptance.

Anger or joy.

Autumn comes, regardless.  The glory is there, whether or not I choose to stop and look.  

I choose to stop and look.

Finding Grace.

fog, foggy, smoky mountains, trees, black lives matter, blue lives matter, darkness

It’s a season of life where it is difficult to see clearly.  I easily feel as if I am walking blind, barely able to make out the shapes ahead and, too often, nearly stumbling over something that I once would have seen coming a mile away.

I nearly succumb to fear, my heart pounding and hands shaking as worry sinks its talons into my mind.  I am raising kids in a world that is so different from the one in which I grew up.  Not only is every tragedy easily broadcast from screen-to-screen and phone-to-phone, but so is every embarrassing moment or stupid teenage failure.  There is no room for grace in a world that judges you by your profile picture and the number of likes on your Instagram post.

Or is there?

Hard news came twice this week.  A baby left motherless due to a terrible car accident, her father struggling to figure out how to do this without the beautiful nurturer by his side.  A young woman widowed because of cancer, a father and mother grieving for their only son.  Once again, it is easy to be brought down and doubt the goodness of God.

Where is the grace?  Where is the hope?  We have to search, sometimes, but if we do it can be found…

It is in overhearing my child tell a heartbroken friend they are praying for them.

It is in the story shared of how he saw angels before he passed away.

It is in the gathering of God’s people to be the hands and feet of Jesus for a daddy who is trying to figure out what is next.

It is in the Bible Study where, instead of a bunch of church ladies who are there to showcase their knowledge, there is a room full of women who beautifully admit their brokenness and need.

It is in the answer to my prayer for help resulting in my precious ones who struggle with learning finding a place where they are celebrated and loved and encouraged but never labeled.

It is in the sweet reminder that this is not my home…and neither is it yours, my friend.

We so quickly forget when the stress clamps down like a vice.  Determined to find our way out, we forget that we have no strength apart from our Father.  He stands with His hands wide open, offering Himself in all His fullness, yet we refuse to reach out.  Sure, we like knowing He is near and “He has a plan” but what if there is more?

What if God is not satisfied with our shopping list of prayer requests and is trying desperately to draw us deep, to allow suffering and tragedy to shape us because death is not the end, sin is not the final state of of His children, and we were never meant to become “Church ladies?”

What if, in brokenness and the admission of our desperate need for grace, is found the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the hard dirt of a field that must be dug up with blood, sweat and tears in order to be cradled in our hands and gently polished to shining?

We want it easy.  At least I do.  I hate hard and I try everything I can to avoid it.  So often I want to shake my fist at God and yell “I didn’t sign up for this!  You picked the wrong person!  I am not equipped to handle what you are laying on me!”  If I am completely honest, I don’t just want to say those things, I actually do say them.  But God is not deterred nor is He surprised.  In love, He refines and polishes and will not stop until Jesus is reflected in me.  I didn’t sign up for it, but He did.

One of these days, I pray I learn to stop striving and allow Him to be strong for me.  I pray I quit depending on earthly knowledge and let the Holy Spirit teach me from His infinite knowledge.  And I pray that I stop asking Him to help me do what needs to be done and allow HIM to do it.

I pray that I can be like the young widow, who in an act of incredible faith, will not be wearing black to her husband’s funeral.  She has seen the Lord’s mercy in suffering, she has seen the face of her husband as he got his first glimpse of eternity, and she is going to turn her eyes upon Jesus and celebrate through her tears.

Refiner’s fire, my heart’s desire is to be holy…set apart for you, Lord.  ~Bryan Doerksen