My Favorite Planner in the History of Ever

For about the past month I have been on a new journey spiritually.  Raised in the Church of Christ, I surrendered to Jesus at the age of 21 after attending a Baptist church for just a couple of months with my boyfriend…who eventually became my husband.  Over the course of our marriage we have attended various non-denominational churches and one precious Presbyterian church.

Of all the churches we have attended, some of my sweetest memories have been of my first experience with Liturgy in the Presbyterian church which we attended in Pennsylvania. Continue reading

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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.

 

 

 

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

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

 

The Long Haul

Endurance has not always been my strongest virtue.  I have a long history of unfinished projects and half-read books in my wake.

I remember when my oldest child was born.  In the joy and anxiety that surrounded his adoption I had the realization that this was for life.  There was no bowing out and handing off to someone else to finish.  I was going to be a mother and motherhood is forever, for better or worse, through teenage years and beyond.

And here we are.

He just turned 16.  He just got his drivers’ license.  As I was warned would happen by so many well-meaning strangers, time flew.  Now, dinner at home with all seven of us together is a treat because it is no longer the norm.    When he comes home after watching “the game” at the local wings joint with his buddies I am often lying in bed, glasses on, book in hand.  “Give me a kiss,” I smile and inhale his scent as he leans forward.  This boy, this ornery, funny, stubborn, sweet boy is almost a man.  Part of me is so excited for him, part of me grieves the beautiful childhood he had and wishes it could have lasted longer.

We have endured some hard days, he and I.  Hard days are fewer now, but still part of our story because he IS a teenager.  The younger ones coming up behind him are watching closely and there are those days when my endurance fails and I am just so tired.  Just want to check out.  Just want someone else to DEAL with whatever the drama of the day is.  But the drama passes and peace returns and I find myself contemplating this season of parenting.

It is hard.  The hardest season I have ever lived.  Two teenagers live in my house and they stretch me in ways I didn’t know were possible.  I stink at parenting them at least half the time (I was SO great with toddlers, y’all.  SO great.) and yet they forgive and even give me a side hug on occasion.  The age in which we live does not lend itself to raising Christian kids and the battle we fight is an uphill one to say the least.  But fight, we must.  There are so many things I would change if I could (like when social media was introduced into their lives…totally would have put that off for a  few more years) but introduced, it was and it is part of their experience for better or for worse.  My younger ones will suffer (or enjoy, depending on your perspective) the consequences of our first and second-born guinea pigs’ teen years because there are just certain things we will do differently with them.  I guess, in a large family, that is probably not abnormal.

So…endurance.  Where was I?  Oh, yes.  So once-upon-a-time I ran a few half-marathons. This turtle learned a lot during those years of training before I hurt my dumb knee.  (But I digress.)

When you are running long distances, you don’t start out at top speed.  If you try that, you will never finish.  No, you start steady.  You pace yourself and reevaluate as you go.  You take in water when needed in order to accomplish the goal of crossing the finish line and getting that shiny medal.  Sometimes, as the race drags on and the miles tick by, you realize something is not working the way it should.  Maybe your shoelaces are too tight or a muscle is trying to cramp.  Maybe the elastic on your shorts is rubbing and chafing or your headphones are irritating your ears.  You may have run this distance in these exact clothes with this exact equipment many times but, today, something is off.  So you make adjustments.  You take out the headphones or retie your shoes or hitch up your shorts a little to relieve that sore spot.  The goal for those of us who are not elite athletes is to cross the finish line and be able to live to tell about it, not kill ourselves in the process.

Such is raising children.  I have five of them.  I went into parenting with all the right books, all the right methods, all the right “influences” in place around my children.  For years things were very smooth, but then we started hitting bumps.  Mama’s shorts were chafing, if you will.  (Ok…I think panties in a wad is more accurate. YOU KNOW where I am coming from, right?)  Burnout is around the corner and peace at home is elusive.  Chaos creeps into the home because something just isn’t working the way it used to. In these seasons we have a choice:  Keep doing what we have always done or make changes.  Plod forward on the bumpy path (because this philosophy of parenting worked for “them” and, therefore, it should work for us, right?) or seek the Lord for MY kids, MY situation, MY race.

Here’s the deal:  When I seek Him, He is so faithful.  He shows me where we need to make changes.  He reveals mistakes and gives grace to cover them.  He reminds me that producing godly kids is NOT MY JOB, but HIS.  I am a tool He may use, but my job is to love them.   That is all.  Everything I do as a mother, when done from the overflow of the love of God in my heart, will produce spiritual fruit that brings glory to him.  (This does not mean my kids will do everything right! Far from it!). He lets me see what bears repeating with my younger ones and what should be done differently with them.  This marathon of parenting is for the long haul and “fair” is not always an option.  Sometimes a kid will get away with something for the sake of peace, sometimes not.  But the final result is all on God if I will just back off and stop fretting and get on my knees and fight.  I must choose to step back and give the Holy spirit full reign of everything I do as a wife and mother.  My decisions may appear crazy or unwise to my peers but only God knows the hearts of my children and only God can give me true wisdom in raising them.

So, I have a question for you.  It is actually for me, but if you are reading this I assume you are in the stuggle, too.

How many hours have you spent reading parenting books, blogs, and articles compared to how many hours you have prayed and fought spiritually for you children?  How often have you compared your kids to the kids at church who seem to never give their mama a moment’s trouble?  Guilty hand raised high over here. But, let me tell you, when I get to the end of myself and go into my closet and lay it all before God, He comes through every single time.  EVERY. TIME.

I kid you not, something breaks in the supernatural as a result and I am always wondering why the heck I didn’t give it to God sooner.  I am so hard-headed.

What is our goal, as mothers?  To be given all the glory for these perfect kids we raised in our own power?  To be able to retire from parenting with a martini in hand and children who come home for Christmas?  Or is our goal one that is so much more difficult…to partner with God in raising up a generation that has endurance.  A generation who has weathered storms and walked through fire and maybe even fallen away in order to find Jesus to be exactly who He promises to be…a savior, father to the fatherless, and strength when we are weak.  Am I willing to admit mistakes and change my methodology in order to better entrust my children to God?  Am I able to go against the grain of society in raising my kids because the ultimate goal is not kids who “fit in” but kids who know that God is faithful and will see them through the darkest days and hottest fires that life has to offer?

Am I willing to stop and let God do what He does best, ensuring that I get absolutely NO credit for the success and/or failures of my children?  If I want to endure to the finish of this parenting season, that is the only way I can guarantee not to burn out.

And it is the only way I can let my babies drive away. Without me.  

“Jesus take the wheel” has never had more meaning.

teen, driver, babies, letting go, drivers license, car, new car, Nissan, Sentra
…and there they go!

Simple Things.

Her frail hand lay cool in mine as I sat beside her bed.  Memories flooded my mind…

Angel Food Cake always waiting when we arrived.

Apple Pie.

Crossword puzzles.

Dentures popped out to throw us kids into fits of laughter.

Her off-key baritone singing hymns in her tiny little Church of Christ.

That cackling laugh.

A huge block of “government cheese” in her ice-box

My Mema’s life was drawing to a close.  A stroke had robbed her of her ability to walk, talk, and live her life.  I had this one last chance to see her, to hope she could hear me, to tell her what I wanted her to know.

I spoke the words that spilled from my heart in shaky breath and tears spilled down my face.  I swabbed her dry mouth with her favorite Dr. Pepper from a can and she moaned with pleasure because it tasted so good.  Then I sang.

I’m sure it sounded awful, this song sung through tears and grief.  But the song would not be held back.  I wanted her to remember Who held her as she awaited her Savior.  I needed to share this quiet melody with her even though it came out raspy and froggy and I ended up just humming because I was so choked up.

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way.  When sorrows like sea billows roll.  Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say it is well…

it is well with my soul.”

The colorful scarves she always wore to protect her short hair on the way to church.

The house on Hackberry Lane.

The sheet-metal shed full of rusty tools where Pepa parked the Mercury.

“My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought…my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to His cross and I bear it no more.  Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, oh my soul.”

Homemade yeast rolls.

The bulky dining table pushed against the wall so we could walk through the tiny kitchen.

The swamp cooler in her bedroom.

Her quiet strength when she stood beside my Pepa’s casket.

My song trailed off and I wept quietly.  Suddenly her hand, which had laid soft and relaxed in mine, closed tight.  She gripped my hand and I could feel her love, her desire to comfort, her strength that would go with her into eternity and the reassurance that she shared this knowing, this realization that so much better awaited and she was ready to go Home.  I stood and kissed her forehead.  It was cool and smooth.  I walked out of the hospital room and away from my last living grandparent, knowing that an era had drawn to a close when that door swung shut behind me.

And just a few days later she quietly slipped away and stepped into Paradise.

It has been ten years and I remember it like yesterday.  I have thought about Mema a lot lately.  As I get older I realize so much that I did not understand when I was young.  She had such a quiet nobility about her.  She was always ready with a meal, a word, or a visit for the lonely and the sick.  She cared for others selflessly…rarely judging, always giving the benefit of the doubt.  She lived a life of grace and I am hungry for that these days.  Her generation never had to deal with the pressures of today…social media, etc.  Life was much more straighforward and simple.  Right was right and wrong was wrong.  Yes, I long for that simplicity and quiet.

I am thankful for my father’s mother, my Mema.  I am thankful I have memories of her little house and the days of picking thistles and pods beside the gulley and feeding carrots to the neighbors’ horses through the barbed-wire fence.  I am thankful for the hours my brother and I sat, quietly sketching those horses and flowers, because we had the blessing of experiencing sheer boredom in her little house.  And I am thankful for the game shows and the soap operas on her console TV, the way she made my Pepa smoke outside, and the gravel road that led up the hill to the picket fence with the rusty hinges.  My goodness, when I was a child I had no idea how great those simple things were.

Now, I do.

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