This week

Monday mornings are notoriously bad for me.  The thoughts of what needs to be accomplished in any given week tend to overwhelm me before I even get started.  This week is Thanksgiving.  This Monday greeted me with all of the usual stresses, plus a few more.  I could delineate them.  I could explain precisely why I was overwhelmed this morning.  They all ran through my head countless times before I really even got my day going.  I was afraid of what this day, this week, would look like.  I noted to myself, rather cynically, how it would be this week of Thanksgiving that I find especially undoing to any sense of thankfulness that I might otherwise feel.

But I prayed.  Really, desperately, prayed for a different perspective.  Being grateful is a struggle for me on my best days, and I know that it wears on my soul – having only problems constantly filling my vision – and it robs me, and those around me, of peace and joy and hope.  I know it does.

And today, I didn’t want to be okay with it.  I wanted to find some way…or, rather, I needed God to help me see some way…to change my outlook.  At first, there was a gentle admonishment to see my problems in light of the struggles many other people face.  Um, yeah, petty might begin to describe my issues.  Then, there were reminders of provision – recent, tangible ways that God has brought peace and hope in the midst of what I felt were hopeless circumstances.  And there was Psalm 91 – my random opening-my-Bible-and-hoping-God-will-show-me-something act of desperation this morning – where I was reminded that God’s provision, protection and deliverance often come in the midst of difficulty and distress.

I want to be a thankful person.  Not in the sense of trying to wring some kind of good out of something obviously bad, but in the sense of knowing that I have a God who can get me through the bad, who can bring victory in spite of circumstances, who can save me from the snares that life may put in my path.  I want to be a hopeful person, to be able to recognize, confidently, that there is an all-powerful God who is going to take the worst pieces of these days and work them together for my good.

I’m sure it’s a process.  But today, He helped me see past myself, past circumstances, past fears, to glimpse His face, to adjust my perspective, to have hope, to realize how much in Him I have to be thankful for.

6 months, or the blink of an eye

It’s been six months since our happy, smiley Isabelle was born.  Realizing it’s been six months doesn’t phase me much, but then when I think that it’s been half a year, I’m taken aback.  Maybe because life has been only, well, life.  No holidays or special occasions.  No finished school years or new endeavors.  Just the everyday that somehow slips by in a blur of normalcy.

And we end up here – with memories and moments and changes that all tell me that the newborn days really are over, but a heart that feels like this sweet girl in my arms should still be content to just sleep long hours, with head close to my heartbeat.  Instead, she wants to go.  Nevermind that she can’t take herself anywhere yet.  But she can (and does) grab at anything within leaning and reaching distance.    Her legs and arms move non-stop, as if the motion alone might be enough to will her to that amazing spot across the room she can’t stop staring at.

She talks in her own adorable but completely incoherent baby babble whether there’s anyone around to listen, or not.  She puts most things in her mouth, but by far her favorite are her ring and middle fingers, stuck in at once with her index finger and pinky splayed out beside her mouth…a pose which is kind of quirky but incredibly cute all the same.

She certainly isn’t an always-content baby, but she does love to smile at people, and she loves to have people smile at her.  She is very particular about having completely undivided attention.  Try reading a sibling a book while holding her and she’ll be sure to express her disapproval.  It still surprises me how quickly these little ones gain understanding and try to impose their will on a situation.

Nonetheless, I am aware of how fast these days are going, and I desperately want to communicate to her that in this house of loud and demanding others, that she is valuable and precious and so, so loved…and that it’s okay for her requests of undivided attention – that merely require me looking at her and nobody else for a few minutes – to be heeded with the same seriousness as if they were requests for more tangible needs.

So we sit, and we smile, and we dance, and I let her wipe her spit covered hands on my face and get my hair tangled up in her fingers, and I remind myself of how quickly these days are going and how much I will miss them when they’re gone.

It’s funny, sometimes, the places that pride shows up.  Unexpected.  Maybe carrying even more sting than usual because some of those places are areas where we think we’ve really got God’s Word in our hearts, areas we’ve considered secure, solid, able to stand against whatever attacks might come.

In this case, this time, it’s in the area of provision.  Worry about provision isn’t recent, for me, but I am recognizing more and more that pride is the source of that worry.  Because for a long time, I thought God and I had an understanding – we would be faithful in giving, we would (ostensibly, anyway) hold loosely to our material possessions, we would prioritize God’s working in our lives and the lives of our children over monetary gain, and God would always make sure we had enough money in the bank to never fear for provision or want for more.  I thought it was a fair deal.  I became comfortable with it.  I began to think I had this whole faith-for-provision thing nailed.down.

I would have espoused my philosophy as biblical truth, and while it may be in some contexts, it wasn’t really in mine.  Because my faith ends at the point our bank account drops below a certain figure.  My faith turns to fear whenever our income doesn’t quite meet our projected outflow.  And when that still, small voice asks the question but do you have enough right now?, I don’t want to answer yes.  When our bills are all paid, but there isn’t extra, I feel like God’s not keeping His end of the bargain.

Because didn’t we put Him first?  All the times that Tim turned down jobs paying more because they promised a 60 hour work week, or days and weeks away from home, we were choosing to reject material wealth so that we could honor God in our family.  We thought (or maybe just I thought) that meant God wouldn’t let things get hard.  I thought we would never be in the position of looking at the future and just having to trust that God would make a way where we weren’t seeing one.

You know, like having faith

Believing when we can’t see.

It seems like the refrain of my life these days.  I don’t like it, honestly.  I want a break.   I want to breathe a sigh of relief at seeing something work out right.  But God doesn’t seem too interested in what I want.  He’s not content to let me continue on with misplaced faith and a prideful heart.  I’m sure I’ll be thankful someday.  But right now I just want to kick and scream about how unfair life is.  Obviously, God’s work in this area is far from done.

I sit here with a squirmy four month old.  My kids are [mostly] folding laundry.  And this is how most of my days have been going lately.  Me, holding my girl who does not like to be put down – or really even let me do anything else while holding her, my kids doing the lion’s share of the household chores.  I get to the end of my days and feel guilty.  Shouldn’t I be able to accomplish something other than just keeping a baby content throughout the day?  I mean, yes, she naps and I get some basics done, but not much.  She is not a fan of the Ergo, and there are limited things I can do one-armed…especially given her growing propensity to throw her weight around.  So, this is where I end up – feeling like I need to make excuses, wondering if my kids have too much responsibility, failing to get some things done that really should get done.  I sometimes wish I cared enough to put pictures on this blog.  I think I would like to show all of the imperfection.  But, really?  I’m embarrassed by it.  The messy table, the potato peels on the kitchen floor, shoes everywhere, toilets that were supposedly cleaned, but actually weren’t.  They all scream at me that I’m making the wrong choice, to sit here with my baby.  And it’s ludicrous.  As horrible as I am at maintaining order and cleanliness, I have somehow bought the lie that the work necessary to accomplish those things is a more noble, more godly effort than the, perhaps less taxing, effort of just being there for this little one snuggled in my arms.

(from 10/2/2014)

A year and a half ago, or so, God told me you’ll have to go back to [church in] Madrid.  I said I didn’t want to.  He said I needed to trust Him.  I asked why.  He gave me an answer.  I said I was going to wait until Tim brought it up.  He said fine.  Even though it wasn’t technically leaving the church in Potsdam, it sort of was.  It had been a hard decision to begin with, whether to stay in Madrid, or to attend the new location in Potsdam.  There wasn’t clarity one way or the other.  But, in the end, it seemed our hearts were more drawn to Potsdam, so that’s where we went.  As much as we knew how, we served.  We prayed.  We showed up, which may not mean much to some people, but the point is – church was a priority, over sickness, over schedules, over everything else in life.  It was far from ideal, though I think idealism carries with it a lot of unwarranted expectations, anyhow.  We never really fit.  Which, I guess, isn’t so much of a criticism as it is just a statement of reality.  I mean, we wanted to fit.  So much so.  But since my desire to belong has never quite been able to overcome my desperate wish that I could just be invisible in groups of people, going out of my way to converse rarely happened and was easily discouraged, and, after a while, seemed kind of pointless.  Nonetheless, I became fairly certain that there was a reason to be there, and not somewhere else.  For praying, mostly…which, for me, is pretty much the only thing I’ve ever felt certain God has called me to do.  So, when God said we would have to leave, and go to a church that, while not bad in any regard, I had otherwise sensed no leading to be at, I hoped I’d heard wrong.

But over the course of the next year, there were circumstances that made Tim think that maybe we should switch to Madrid.  I never mentioned what God had said to me until Tim brought up the possibility.  Even then, I was careful to say that I might have heard wrong, and I don’t know that what I had heard influenced Tim much in his decision, other than to make me willing to support him in whatever decision he made.  That decision, eventually, was that we should go to Madrid.  It wasn’t a forever decision, but a for now decision.  In all honesty, neither of us saw it as a good fit – we both held out hope for God to move in such a way that we would be able to revisit our reasons at some point and possibly see that they had become moot points.  But at that moment, Madrid was the choice.  Whether it’s coincidence or causal that my relationship with God seemed to take a nosedive over the next few months, I’m not entirely certain…maybe a bit of each.  But I found myself  overcome by apathy.  I attended Sunday morning services, but I couldn’t sing or pray, not anything more than what little I could muster to try to hide the ache in my heart.  I just couldn’t find God.  I was vacillating between searching with all my heart, and running away as fast as I could from a God I, occasionally, felt certain had abandoned me.  I think the worst of it is over now.  I think I’m pretty firmly standing on the searching with all my heart ground right now.  And I think I’ve learned something (maybe more than one something) valuable over the past several months, and that is this:  the only thing that really matters is God.  I have spent a good portion of my adult life praying for God to help me form strong, godly friendships.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  I’m certain it is something that is often declared to be a necessity of a growing walk with Christ.  Having never had anything of the sort, save for my relationship with my husband, I would get incredibly discouraged at feeling left out, overlooked, neglected and forgotten all.the.time.  Until we started attending Madrid.  People are friendlier – actually talking to me, and even occasionally offering to hold my baby (seems silly, right?  but as much as everybody always seems to want to hold everyone else’s babes, nobody has ever offered to hold mine).  I haven’t felt totally isolated.  But the truth is that none of it matters to me.  I’m not trying to sound callous or heartless or ungrateful, but I would give up every conversation in a millisecond to feel the nearness of God.  I would gladly spend this lifetime feeling invisible if I at least had the knowledge that God sees, and loves, and uses me.  Don’t get me wrong – it would be great to have it all.  But if it’s one or the other?  There’s only one option.  I’ll take Jesus every time.

(from 9/22/2014)

 

Divided

I pulled out 6-9 month clothes for Isabelle today.  And my throat tightened and tears came to my eyes as I held up the still-tiny dresses and sweaters and pants.  It wasn’t only because Isabelle is growing too fast, though.  It was seeing those clothes and feeling like Ava was just wearing them.  Isn’t she still my baby girl?  Honestly, I’m not sure I’m entirely ready to be passing them on to our newest baby girl, yet.  This is a first for me.  I’ve not had two girls (or two boys) so close together.  Elijah and Nathanael were more than two years apart.  Isabelle and Ave are eight months closer together.  And Isabelle is longer than Ava was, and so is growing into clothes at a faster pace.  I feel like both of them are getting the short end of the stick…Ava with far less attention than I would like to give her at only two years, Isabelle with divided attention as I try to read books or help with meals or get extraneous things done while holding her, when she is clearly wanting someone to just sit and smile at her for long stretches of time.  Everyone always says that there’s enough time and attention to accommodate as many children as God gives.  My heart doesn’t agree.  Every direction I turn, I feel like there is one of my children missing out on my attention and affection and direction.  God help me.

The hope that I have

I’ve always been a “good girl”.  I prayed to accept Jesus as my Savior when I was somewhere around five, and though I’ve had countless moments of choosing sin over righteousness, I wouldn’t say I’ve ever lived in gross immorality.  I’ve gone through my years as a Christian with a polar, almost contradictory perception of my sin.  On one hand, sin and its effects were never overt in my life.  It has been hard, at times, to see exactly what is so bad about me that Christ had to die.  On the other hand, though, I have almost daily looked at myself and seen nothing good, nothing valuable, nothing worth loving, and wondered why on earth Jesus would want to die for me.  I know I’m not perfect, but sometimes, it feels like I’m not imperfect enough to really know what grace is all about.

And I’ve lived my life kind of wondering what my testimony is…what has God really done for me.  I mean, REALLY done?  What hope would I have to offer to someone who is like me, but just doesn’t know Jesus?  Because there are “good” people out there.  People who are trying to be perfect.  People who have acted with some modicum of wisdom.  People who may not think they need rescuing.  I had a thought in church today that that’s what I might be like if I didn’t know Jesus.  I thought, maybe, I wouldn’t recognize my need for a Savior…and someone telling me about how much of a sinner I am probably wouldn’t convince me.

It’s something that has always frustrated me.  I’ve felt like I have no testimony.  In many (not all) ways, I can’t say that my life is any better, or any different even than someone who is trying to be good on their own.  Yes, I can identify blessings in my life, or times when God has clearly answered prayer, but I also know that it wouldn’t be too hard for someone isn’t a Christian to just chalk those things up to coincidence or luck.  I have felt thoroughly unequipped to tell the reason for the hope I have…in large part, I think, because I can’t really remember not having this hope.

But, that’s changed in recent months.  Maybe so I could understand, maybe for some as-yet unknown reason…I’m not sure.  Either way, I have gone through a season of life where God has seemed absent.  For the most part, I haven’t been able to see His face or hear His voice, or find in Him comfort or strength or peace or anything else.  I haven’t become derelict.  I haven’t abandoned my morals.  I haven’t stopped seeking Him.  But it seemed that life lost its meaning.

Because the truth of the matter is that while, yes, I am a sinner, it is the consequence of sin that is the ultimate problem.  And while serving the Lord brings with it blessing, it isn’t a cure-all (on this side of eternity) for sin and weakness and sadness and frustrations and all the other things that I could be tempted to say that the gospel fixes.  Life will always be a mess.  But the reason we need Jesus is because we have lost our relationship with the Lord.  We have been cut off from our One reason for being.  Our souls, saved or not, long for fellowship with our Creator.  No matter how good or not good we are, no matter what earthly, tangible consequences we have seen or not seen for our sin, that one consequence of separation from the lover of our souls, is enough to cause any person’s heart to thrash about in desperation.

We are made to worship Him.  We are made to rely on Him for strength and comfort and peace and guidance and wisdom and purpose.  We are made to find our life in Him.  We just are.  And though there are people who try to fill that void in their hearts with things that don’t look horrendous on the outside, the reality of the void is the same, and the fruitlessness of their efforts to fill it on their own is the same.  The person who has chosen a path of self-destruction, loose morals and aimless pursuits isn’t in any greater need of a Savior than the person who is trying to do everything right in the hopes of attaining some sense of purpose.  Both types of people are missing out on life, because life is only found in fellowship with the God of the universe, and that fellowship only comes through Jesus Christ.

I’m sure I would have said I knew this before, but I didn’t really know how my soul would reel from not having Him intimately involved in my days.  I didn’t know how lost I would feel, how helpless.  I didn’t know how frantically I would be searching for Him.  And this was all while still having a certainty that He had my life in His hands, that my salvation was secure.

So, while I may not be able to easily enumerate all of the sinful habits that I have been redeemed from, I understand so much more clearly now the lost-ness that we are all born into, and that no matter how we choose to try to fill the gaping hole in our hearts, the need is the same.  The yearning is the same.  And the remedy is the same.  It’s a testimony that every Christian shares, no matter what the particulars of their sin have been. Reconciliation to God.  Relationship with our Heavenly Father.  Intimacy with the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Good news.  Amazingly wonderful news.  This is the reason for the hope that I have.

Ava Grace

Our “baby girl”, who is no longer technically our baby girl, but who still will always be our baby girl is two.  Tears well up even as I write that.  I suppose it happens with each child, but it doesn’t ever get easier the next time around.  Time is flying, in ways that wear my heart out the most, and this birthday reminds me of that.

Ava is not gentle or quiet or fragile (for a two year old).  But she has a way of almost demanding gentleness and peacefulness and protectiveness from those around her.  She sits close…nuggles, Mommy?.  She brings a stack of books…read to??.  She looks excitedlywatch dis, Mommy!…then does something fantastic, like falling on her bottom, and looks up with the biggest of grins…see dat, Mommy?.  And I confess, I usually purposely don’t give her the acknowledgement she’s looking for until I hear the “see dat”, just ’cause it’s so ridiculously cute.

She climbs into bed next to me in the morning, and I open my eyes to see her, inches away, looking at me and smiling.  She asks for hugs and kisses.  I put her down for her nap, and she stalls by pointing and saying eyes, cheek, ear, nose, hair – over and over again.  She loves slides.  And tomatoes.  And candy.  And books.  And sand.  And her Daddy.  And chickens.  And Isabelle.  She doesn’t like messes and will wipe her high chair with her napkin and pick up toys and cry if her hands are dirty…none of which stops her from making messes in the first place, however.

She is beautiful and we love her more than words can say.

Happy 2nd birthday to our baby girl, Ava Grace.