While the media screamed “hate” the rains fell.
As our eyes took in the scenes of riots and racism and evil the people of God quietly prepared to rescue His precious ones.
Texas. Continue reading
While the media screamed “hate” the rains fell.
As our eyes took in the scenes of riots and racism and evil the people of God quietly prepared to rescue His precious ones.
Texas. Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I have been hesitant to write. So much has been said already, thousands of article written, millions of memes and status updates shared that I really didn’t know if I had anything new to add to the discussion. But over and over words keep forming. Tears spring to my eyes and my heart aches as I watch this world spin and falter.
But, before I move on, I would like to give you some background:
I grew up in a very small, mostly-white town. The only non-white residents were Hispanic. I also grew up hearing and, unfortunately, laughing at racial jokes. I bought into the stereotypes sold to me by my ignorant little town. Slurs were common and I knew nothing different. It was the norm and no one ever challenged it. But when I was a sophomore in High School the first black family in my lifetime moved to our community.
Their oldest daughter was a grade behind me, so I didn’t share classes with her. But she was nice, smart, and very, very popular. As the only black kid in the entire school, she was fascinating. Everyone wanted to be her friend. But I remember the whispers of the adults around town…you know, the “there goes the neighborhood” discussion. I wonder if she knew. I liked her and would have loved to be her friend. But I was not remotely popular, so that pretty much knocked me out:)
Back then, nearly thirty years ago, if you had told me what kind of life I would be living now I would have thought you were nuts. I was going to have 3, maybe 4 biological kids. My wedding would take place under an arch of pink and teal balloons (It WAS the eighties!) and my husband would probably be someone I grew up with, work in our little town and I’d be a teacher.
So here is my reality. I have five beautiful children, none of whom came from my womb. I married a handsome son of a Colonel who whisked me a good thirteen hour car ride from my hometown and I love it here. I homeschool four of our children. We live in a community that is beautifully adoption-friendly. Trans-racial adoptive families are incredibly common. Interracial marriages barely turn heads. Show Hope and 147 Million Orphans are just around the corner and even the local coffee shops support adoption and orphan care. I go to a church that is not as diverse as I’d like, but we are working on it. (If you are reading this and are looking for a church home, please message me! We need you!) Our church family loves my kids and my kids have a great variety of friends from every race and socio-economic background. We have dear friends on the police force and in the Black community…some of them are members of both. God has blessed us.
So when the horrible events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas took place this past week my stomach knotted up and has stayed that way ever since. The “either-or” camp keeps yelling but a few of us are trying to overcome with our “both-and” perspective.
What am I talking about?
As the white mother of five children of color, I feel like I have a unique perspective. Though I never experienced racism or the fear resulting from being targeted for my skin color, I have had to learn to navigate this issue for the sake of my children. I have had to have the same talks with my 16 year old son who just got his driver’s license as every black parent out there has had. I have had to pray harder while my son drives his brother to basketball practice…praying he doesn’t break any traffic laws or get stopped by the “wrong officer.”
You see, I have had to face the hard, sickening reality that racism is not dead in our country. As a family, we have witnessed very little of it in our community but we have had a few incidents. But now, as my kids near adulthood and are not always with me…don’t always have my “whiteness” to act as a buffer…I have to prepare them, educate them, yet not instill fear. My goodness, that is so hard.
I have spent their entire lives teaching them about how police officers are their friend.
Which they are.
I have taken my beautiful ebony boys and walked up to the police officer in the bank or at a restaurant just to say hello and shake their hand. I have worked hard to teach them that police officers are trustworthy and here to help us and protect us.
Which they are.
But what is making me sick these days is that there are a few that are not. 99.9% of them are wonderful people, but all it takes is one with evil intent to ruin or even end someone’s life.
But isn’t this the flaw in all of society? In any institution there is the potential for corruption. Most teachers are wonderful people, but there are those who have sex with their students. Most truck drivers are good family men working hard to provide for their families, but there are a few who participate in human trafficking for their own sick pleasure. Most people sitting in our church pews are there to learn, to have questions answered, and to serve God. But not all pew-sitters are Christians, much less mature ones. As a pastor I once knew used to say, “Sitting in church does not make you a Christian any more than walking into a gym makes you an athlete.” Our churches have hidden snakes, pedophiles, porn addicts, etc, which is why we have to have background checks on the nursery workers and safety plans in place to protect our children.
The same goes with our police force. Racism exists, even there. It lurks, even there. I have to teach my children that, yes, you must always be respectful to the police. You do exactly what they say and always answer “yes sir” and keep your hands on the steering wheel. I teach them the names of our friends who are in the police department. Why? Because, though, 99.9% of our bravest men in blue are wonderful, selfless protectors of society, we have absolutely no way of knowing which ones are not. So am I teaching my kids to assume the worst? I hope not. But maybe, just maybe, that is what it boils down to when my firstborn son gets pulled over for a busted tail-light or going 5 over the speed limit.
Launching black children into the world is terrifying. If not for the promises of God and the words spoken over their lives from the time He brought them into our family, fear might just take hold of me. But it will not. I trust God. I trust Him with them. I trust that He does, in fact, have plans for good and not harm. And I trust that any suffering they may endure is filtered through His loving fingers, serving to chip away anything that does not look like Jesus in order to conform them into his image.
And one more thing:
To my precious, priceless black friends…
I need you now more than ever. I need your wisdom, your experiences, your stories. I need you to tell me what to do, how to say what needs to be said, and pray for my kids as I pray for yours. The house of the black community is on fire, and I want to join in the crowd of friends running with buckets of water…running into the fire, pulling out the survivors, comforting those who grieve. I want to hold your hand and kiss your babies and see our kids figure out who they are and what is their role in this diverse community that is comprised of every nation, tribe and tongue. I don’t want to see the news and think “how sad that this is happening to them.” I choose to believe this is happening to “US.” Because in Christ we are one family. Your house is right next door to mine and if yours is burning I will not sit and watch through my window. I will pray for and demand justice. I will speak out in defense of those who are unfairly targeted and, though I cannot understand from the perspective of experience, I will listen and learn and try my very best to pass on to my black children what you are teaching me.
It’s the kind of weather that I’m convinced will be the norm in Heaven: Cool evenings accented by a warm fire and just-warm-enough days that allow us to wear a light jacket when the skies are overcast and shorts when the sun is out. The pansies still bloom happily, peeking their cheerful heads over the rims of pots and dancing brightly around the hanging basket on the shepherd’s hook.
Though the tomato harvest will likely start later because of these cool temperatures, I can’t complain. This is my weather. This cool breeze as I sit alone on the porch swing is what makes me absolutely love life here in Tennessee.
Today I drove out to the farm where my middle daughter has spent the last twelve Wednesdays doing what she loves: Art, sewing, and playing with the colt and the chickens and the lamb. The farmer’s big dog appears to be pregnant and lumbers about in the tall grass as the children run wild and play “Tree.” It was bittersweet for me, as I love the drive out there every week and today is her final day on the farm. Next year she enters the 6th grade and we have found a wonderful tutorial for her and the younger two. It is also out in the country. There are chickens and a garden to dabble in while the children take breaks from learning. They will love it. They would start tomorrow, if they could, but it is always hard to say goodbye to something that has been a blessing.
God is always moving us towards the next thing, isn’t He? I tell my kids He loves us too much to let us stay put, and I believe it. Contentment is good, complacency is not. Change keeps us on our toes and reminds us of our dependency on Him if we will allow it. Change is a good teacher.
Though I am enjoying this Blackberry Winter with all that is in me…this cold snap that I didn’t expect yet am relishing while it lasts…change is inevitable. I know the heat of summer will come soon and we will all be sweating and jumping in the pool for relief from the sun. The trees’ bright green will grow tired and the grass will trade it’s delightful lime hue for a deeper shade in order to toughen up and survive the August that is to come. Some change we expect, some is thrown at us. But, again, if we are teachable we can see the purpose in it.
Am I teachable? As I prepare for this next season, homeschooling 4 of my 5 children (one in HIGH SCHOOL) and diving into a tutorial with the three younger ones for the first time, what is God going to want me to learn? As the seasons of life pass by and my teenagers prepare to grow up and drive away, can I appreciate the good and pick it out from amongst the thorns of the hard?
I struggle, sometimes, to enjoy now. I look back on the years when we were younger and life was simpler and I miss those long, sweet days. Then I remember Paul’s admonition in Philippians 3:13…to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead. I think I sometimes make an idol out of the past, especially the good parts. I want that sweet time to last forever, but it didn’t. It can’t. Like this Blackberry Winter, it was a beautiful season of respite and joy. But the season ahead, though heated and full of struggles and growing pains, is beautiful as well. I have to look up, stop and breathe and take in the sunrises and sunsets of each day and remember that God is on his throne and every part of this season of life is being used to bring about His will, not mine.
Goodness, that is so hard.
So today I did what I have said I would do all throughout this spring but never had. I stopped and pulled over into the parking lot of a little country church and took a photo of my girl with her handmade quilt with a field of wildflowers behind her. I breathed in the scent of spring and didn’t hurry to drive home. Then I planted that white rose by the mailbox and stuck my nose into a magnolia blossom, nearly fainting from the beautiful perfume that filled it. And then I sat here, on my porch swing, to write because I just haven’t taken the time to do much writing lately and tomorrow is our last day of school for this year. There are leftovers in the fridge and my son drove his little brother to basketball practice, giving me this time to do what my heart needed.
My boys, alone in a car. What I wouldn’t give to be privy to their conversations.
Yes, there is sweetness in every season.