strong tower

God is a strong tower.

That sounds pretty great, huh?  Awe-inspiring, even.    It sounds…well…strong.  Like everything should be okay because I have this amazing defender, right?

Right.

But, maybe, not exactly.

Over and over lately, I’ve been challenged in my idea of who God is, and specifically in this idea of what it means that He is my strong tower.

Because, historically, a strong tower wasn’t where you lived.  It’s where you ran when you were under siege and afraid for your life.  Synonymous with the castle “keep”, it was a refuge of last resort.  If you were lucky, it was well-stocked and heavily fortified, but it was never where you wanted to stay forever.  It was a place where you simply waited…I think most likely with a lot of fear…for your enemy to run out of resources, or interest, and finally leave you alone.  And although the strong tower was a defense against the enemy, it did not fight the enemy. It simply shielded its occupants…held them in (hopefully) security and safety…until there was security and safety to be found outside its walls.

A strong tower wasn’t a place of increase.

A strong tower wasn’t a place of productivity.

A strong tower wasn’t even a place of taking ground against an enemy.

Sometimes, being in God’s will brings about all of those things – abundance, growth, victory – but sometimes, being in God’s will means we are resting in Him as our strong tower.  Safe as safe can be, with impenetrable walls and provision to endure the longest siege (from my brief search, I learned at least one military siege lasted 21 years), but still a place with limited vision, few hopes realized, and always the reality of an enemy trying to bring ruin.

Nobody wants to live life relegated to a protective prison.  But this is the way God chooses to show up sometimes.  He never said we wouldn’t encounter conflict in life.  And the lives of Joseph and King David make it clear that He doesn’t always defeat our enemy the moment conflict does come.  And so, we need a safe place to hide, and rest, and wait so that we are not overcome.

There is peace in that.

I may really, really want to see the victory now, but there is peace in knowing that, while the battle rages, I am beyond the reach of my adversary.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
The righteous run to it and are safe. —Proverbs 18:10

For You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy. —Psalm 61:3

 

sometimes good needs defending

I’m thinking about how thankful I am for my husband today.  I know I’ve written a lot about him on this blog, but I wonder sometimes if those words get written off as just some “things I’m supposed to say”.  You may not know what life has looked like for us the past couple years – and I try not to air the nitty gritty of our struggles on here – but reality has been pretty harsh.  Especially for my husband.  He’s been ridiculed, lied to and lied about repeatedly.  He has been characterized as lacking self-control…dangerous, even.  The plethora of evidence of his good character has been ignored or marginalized, and left some, possibly many, people who never really took time to know him assuming horrible things about him.  And I realize these words of mine may never be read by any of those people, but I feel like I should write them just the same.

First, though, I should note…I am not a flatterer, even to my husband.  I don’t say things I don’t mean, and I don’t commend people who haven’t evoked a strong conviction in my heart that they are worthy of commendation.  I’m stingy, I guess.  But please know, if ever my husband’s character is misrepresented by my words, it would only be such that I have failed to offer adequate praise for the amazing husband, father, and man of God that he is.

I want to make abundantly clear that while he can be verbally persistent beyond the comfort level of many people, he has never lost control of himself, publicly or privately.  He will always walk away from an interaction before he allows himself to be overcome in word or deed.  He has never in his entire life physically lashed out in any way at another person.  Ever.  I can’t even say that about myself.  I think most people can’t say that about themselves.  He is a man of very strong convictions…I think if you know anything about him, you know this.  And one of his very strong convictions is that he will not use physical force against anyone, unless it is necessary to save a person’s life.  I have known him long enough, and seen him in enough provoking situations, to be fully convinced that this is true.  There never has been, nor ever will be, anyone in physical danger from my husband.

He is also an absolutely phenomenal husband.  Committed, patient, kind, compassionate, affectionate, servant-hearted, encouraging…and the list could go on.  He takes the biblical call to lay down his life for me very seriously and he does it every.single.day.  I wish I could explain how really and truly flawed I am as a wife and mom and homemaker. No, my husband has never said or implied anything of the sort, and I’m not just being humble.  It’s reality.  But my insufficiencies help me see so clearly, in nearly every moment of my life, how blessed I am by my husband.  I honestly can’t imagine any person ever loving me more or better than he does.  I’ve said this all before, I know.  But I repeat it because it is true.

My husband is a godly man.  I think some might have a tendency to look at his less-than-emotional exterior and assume there’s nothing going on inside.  But that is so far from the truth.  On the outside, and in his “rhetoric”, he doesn’t fit the accepted image of a strong Christian…he doesn’t cry or jump or dance, he doesn’t use theologically heavy words…but the way he lives his life is always founded in the Word of God.  He believes the Bible to be true and he doesn’t let anyone or anything usurp it’s rightful place as the highest authority in his life.  He acts on what he knows to be true and right, even if he doesn’t feel like it.  He has little regard for whether he has garnered the good opinion of others, but cares greatly to do that which pleases God.

My husband is human.  Obviously, right?  But being human means there are trials.  And there’s hurt.  And there’s wrestling, especially when life gets hard.  He sometimes pulls back.  He sometimes doesn’t have the right words to say.  He sometimes has a hard time trusting others.  He can get overwhelmed, and he can lose confidence, and he can feel like he’s all alone.  And, sometimes, my heart breaks for him because it seems like nobody ever wants to take the time to know him…and it does take time…but people will believe a lie about him without a second thought.  Nonetheless, through it all, he is steadfast in his love for me, in his love and care for our family, in his faithfulness to the Word.

He is the best person I have ever known, without caveat or exception.  I just hope, somehow, I can be there when God tells him well done, good and faithful servant.

a wineskin in smoke

I’ve been reading Psalm 119 a lot lately – for perspective, for reminders, for hope.  It comforts me to be reminded that God’s Word (statutes, testimony, laws, commandments, ways, etc) is true even when the world doesn’t abide by them; it’s true even when life hurts and even when those who don’t live by it seem to be winning.

In reading this Psalm over and over, though, verses 81-83 have gotten stuck in my soul.

My soul faints for Your salvation,
But I hope in Your word.
My eyes fail from searching Your word,
Saying, “When will You comfort me?”
For I have become like a wineskin in smoke,
Yet I do not forget Your statutes.

…I have become like a wineskin in smoke…

Wineskins don’t belong in smoke.  It ruins them.  Tough.  Dry.  Impossible to stretch, to fill.  Unusable.

And it wasn’t that the psalmist had abandoned the Lord.  To the contrary, he was running to the Lord, looking for answers, looking for help, clinging to hope that God would be His rescuer.  But circumstances – a life that was repeatedly attacked and abused by the ungodly – had left him with a brokenness in his soul.

And I’ve felt like this psalmist a lot these past months.  Soul-broken.  Unusable.  Not unwilling, but unable.  A vessel that can no longer hold anything, much less pour anything out in a useful way.

I’m not sure how a wineskin in smoke might become usable again…if it can become usable again.

I’m not sure how a soul becomes usable again.

But I have not forgotten His statutes, and my only hope is in His Word.

another year for my favorite

Today is Tim’s birthday.  He is my favorite person, ever.  And he gives me more reasons every year to be amazed by his character and humbled by his example.  I don’t want to ever pretend to think he’s perfect, or to give the impression that there isn’t occasionally friction between us, but the truth is that there’s never a day that goes by that I am not immeasurably grateful for my husband.

I struggle to put it into words, honestly.  I can’t adequately paint a picture of his heart for you…how he never picks the easier road unless it’s the right road, how he takes so much off my shoulders when what he is bearing already seems like an impossible load, how he can hold up my errors to the truth of the Word without making me feel condemned, how I know he will always choose for himself the worst seat, or the burnt toast, or whatever is the least desirable or the hardest or the thing that will most bless someone else – anyone else.

I’m not like that.  And there are times when it annoys me, ’cause it’s just so much less effort to be selfish and lazy.  I know that’s kind of blunt, but it’s really what is in my heart much of the time, and it shows this disparity – this difference – between Tim and me, that is a constant challenge to my natural bent.  It’s also a regular reminder to me of the grace my husband shows me.  He sees the difference, too, and I’m sure this part of me is anything but beautiful and lovable.  But he loves me still.  He pours out his life for me and for our family still.  I will never get tired of saying how much this has taught me of the depth of Christ’s love.

He is my “better half”, without question.  I am so thankful for any chance to celebrate him.

Isabelle at 3

Today, our Sweetpea turns three.

She loves…

…books, right now her particular favorite is Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

…blocks and legos

…pretty dresses

…candy

…helping, with anything and everything, whether requested or not

…singing loudly

…sampling veggies being prepped for dinner

She dislikes…

…the potty

…car seat buckles

…bed-time

…apologizing

…bread crusts

…water on her head

Isabelle is rough-and-tumble, overly silly at times, and a bit too quick to hit and pinch and kick when things aren’t going her way, but she is also tender-hearted, forthright, encouraging, and eager to serve. She is smart and strong and lovely and her smile still melts my heart.  We are so grateful for this precious girl, and are thrilled to celebrate her three years today.

Lucas William

We knew from the start of this pregnancy that we would have to go some distance to deliver the baby if we were to have any hope of avoiding a fourth c-section.  After many phone calls to various providers, we finally determined that a delivery in Burlington would be our best option.  This meant a good amount of nervousness on my part about how to know when we should plan to leave during labor, so when contractions started to come consistently 20 minutes apart about 6pm on May 1st, we wavered back and forth about not wanting to leave too early…especially given previous labors that extended from 24 hours to 3 days from similar contraction patterns…to not wanting to wait too long and, at best have a really uncomfortable 3 hour drive, or worse, not make it to Burlington on time.  We finally decided, when contractions were 10 minutes apart while lying down, but still 20 minutes apart when moving around (somewhere around 2:30 am) that we should get ready to go.  My amazing aunt came in the dead of night to stay with the kids, and by 3:30 am we were on our way to the hospital.

The 3.5 hour drive was a bit all over the map, contraction-wise.  Some came close to five minutes apart, some fifteen to twenty minutes apart.  I was nauseous the whole time, and ended up getting sick about a half hour from Burlington, at which point I became extra-thankful for our emergency bucket that we always have on hand for car-sickness.  When we arrived at 7 am, I felt like it was too early in labor to head to the hospital, so we went for a short walk in a park, then decided to get a hotel room so that I could have a private place to labor while contractions were still somewhat spread out.

After about 3 hours at the hotel, contractions got to be pretty consistently under 5 minutes apart, so Tim called ahead to the hospital, and we made our way there.  Hospitals aren’t my favorite place, and I felt a lot of nervousness about still not being certain about how “active ” my labor really was as the nurse asked all of the “required” questions, got a heplock needle put into my arm, hooked me up to the fetal monitor, and took my vitals.  Around 11:30, the OB resident checked my cervix and said I was about 5cm dilated, but the baby was still fairly high.  While the OB and the nurse seemed to think this was excellent progress, I was honestly discouraged to hear that I was only “halfway” to where I needed to be.  But, I tried to just focus on doing the best I could in the moment and not think about how much longer things might take.

Contractions became fairly regular at this point, and very slowly, grew in intensity.  After a short while, my nurse was able to procure a wireless monitor for me to wear, so I was able to make a couple short trips around the birth center as I labored.  Tim faithfully encouraged me through my contractions, and offered suggestions and helped with anything he could.  Sometime around 2 in the afternoon,  when the contractions were maybe two minutes apart, and – I thought – fairly strong, the nurse asked if I’d like to labor in the shower for a while, to which I readily agreed, thankful that a shower was an option.  While in the shower, I felt a “pop”, and knew that my water had broken – a first for me in labor, and immediately somewhat nerve-wracking since I knew that it meant the contractions would become even more intense.

Once I was out of the shower, around 3pm?,  the OB checked my progress again.  When I heard that I was only at 7cm, I was pretty devastated.  Only 2cm in almost 4 hours of what felt like fairly hard labor??  I started to lose my resolve.  Tim was helping to hold me up during contractions now, and I struggled to maintain control.  Occasionally, I just half-sobbed/half-screamed my way through contractions that now only seemed to have seconds between the end of one and the start of another.  I kept thinking that at any moment I would have the urge to push, but it didn’t come.  Instead, this was the time that they had me sign a c-section consent form, and explained anesthesia options to me, and introduced the attending OB…for the record, all things that are NOT helpful to a woman in hard, active labor.  To add to all of that, every time I leaned forward during a contraction, the monitor lost the baby’s heartbeat, so the nurse was constantly trying to adjust the monitor as I did my best to not be overwhelmed by the pain.  Eventually, my nurse strongly urged me to try laboring on my side for a contraction or two.  I protested, knowing that laying down ALWAYS makes my contractions a zillion times worse, but she persisted, so I figured one or two contractions on my side wouldn’t be unbearable, and I laid down.

But it was unbearable.  I can’t even describe the pain other than to say it felt like my back and hips were on fire and being crushed by a thousand-pound weight all at the same time.  Without even close exception, it was the worst pain I have ever felt.  But I stayed laying there through a second contraction, mostly because, for whatever reason, there was a several minute gap between the two contractions and I just didn’t want to move.  After the second one was over my cervix was checked again and when I heard that I was now only at 8 cm, I was convinced that I couldn’t handle any more.

Tim did his best to reassure me that I would get through it, that I was doing great, that I was getting close to the end, but I just didn’t believe it.  I told him I wanted an epidural.  I had asked him to discourage me from an epidural, to remind me of how bad my only other experience with one was, to reassure me that I could get through it.  And he tried, and he prayed for me.  But as he was trying, the nurse and the OB were pretty much arguing against him “she’s so tired”, “it’s going to take a while for her to finish dilating”, “she needs to rest so her body can do what it needs to do”…and after maybe another 20 minutes (?), Tim lost the “argument”.

So, they started prepping for the epidural.  I sat on the edge of the bed, and as they scrubbed my back to sanitize it, I felt – slightly – an urge to push, and I said so.  Tim asked if maybe they could check my dilation before they started the epidural, and was told no, they wanted to get the epidural in first.  For my part, I was beginning to question the epidural, but had no confidence that what I felt like my body was telling me was actually true, so I stayed silent.  They got the epidural catheter in and then told me I had to lay down and that it would take about 15 minutes for the anesthesia to take effect.  Um…what?!?!  I was not counting on having to lay down again and endure more of those horrific contractions before the epidural took effect.  I was fairly annoyed, since both the nurse and the OB knew how excruciating those first two “laying-down” contractions had been for me, and never felt compelled to inform me that the epidural would require more of the same.  But, it was done, so I laid down and now the OB finally checked my cervix…and the best news of the day…I was fully dilated and could begin pushing.

Thankfully, though the epidural never fully “took” on my left side (the same problem I’d had the one previous time I’d had an epidural), the worst of the contractions was done and the fact that I would meet my baby soon made the pain now seem hardly noteworthy.  I pushed through, I think, three contractions.  Once his head was delivered, it took a couple more pushes for his shoulders, followed by the rest of him, to deliver.  Tim announced that we had a boy as the OB handed me our new, beautiful, messy bundle.  9 lbs, 5 oz., 22 inches long…nameless for days, but eventually Lucas William Ruehle…which means “bringer of light, determined protector”.

It always amazes me how, in that instant, the worst pain in the world can seem utterly insignificant compared to the joy of holding a new baby.  The good and the bad, the best and worst choices, are reduced to simple gratitude that the end result of it all is a baby that is healthy and here.  And we ARE so thankful for our sweet boy.  He is a treasure, one more of God’s very best gifts to us.

our girl

Okay…yes…we have more than one now.  But 11 years ago today, she came into the world as our first girl, and remained our only girl for 6 more years.  Raising her has been nothing like raising her brothers, partly because she’s a girl, but mostly because she is entirely unique in her personality, her perspectives, her strengths and her weaknesses.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand how she can be totally unconcerned for whether she has spelled a word correctly, and I remain baffled by her ability to understand the mechanics of things.  She has considerable talent in art and math (quite a combination, huh?) but both can be limited at times by lack of attention and carelessness.  She loves girly things (anything that sparkles or shimmers or ruffles), but wants to be stronger and faster and better at everything than her brothers.  She gets easily distracted from almost any chore, but when she does apply herself, can be extremely detailed and thorough.

And now, she’s entering her “pre-teen” years.  There’s more tears, more attitude, more wonderings of what-part-of-left-field-did-that-just-come-from?  But there’s also a greater interest in just being near me, which I am trying my best to not take for granted.  She is learning patience with her little sisters, too, and I find her randomly snuggled up to them, reading books or quietly playing.  She has a fairly new-found love of baking, and continues to work on developing her skills with the sewing machine.  And I see, albeit sometimes more slowly than I’d like, character traits taking shape in her that I’ve long worried could never be.

This girl of mine continues to be my greatest challenge, but also the catalyst God most uses to humble, and shape, and teach me.  I know that doesn’t evoke much of the sappy sentiment that I so often think should be all that my thoughts of my children evoke.  But she is a gift.  She is precious to me.  I am so very thankful for her – for the unique and wonderful person she is, and for the ways I am forced to my knees (sometimes in petition, sometimes in repentance) because of her.  It is truly with great joy that we celebrate these 11 years that she has been our girl.

I was watching a tv show recently where one of the characters had a nervous breakdown.  Life was overwhelming and the character was losing control of it all…felt like he had to be in control of it all, but wasn’t.

And all I could think as I watched it was I am so thankful for Jesus I am so thankful I don’t have to manage this life on my own.  I am so thankful that when life is overwhelming, I have Someone I can run to who will never lose control of it all.  How can anyone survive without Him?

This past year and a half has been more than I’ve felt like I could bear at times.  Sometimes, my running to God hasn’t looked like it “should”.  My faith has had many moments of faltering.  And I’m sure others have dealt with much harder things than I have.  But whether I just need to find a little shoe when we need to head out the door, or I feel like life is caving in on me, I know that He is there to hear my cry.  I know that His hands are holding me, no matter what.  Even just a few moments on my knees gives me strength to stand.

He is life.  The source and the sustenance.  Nothing can compare.

our teenager

Caedmon is 13 today.  And, yes, I’m more than a little taken aback by the fact that our little guy is now a teenager.  I almost broke down when it hit me as I was walking through Walmart the other day.  I got teary-eyed and suddenly wanted to buy anything I could find to make his day special.  I mostly restrained myself with reminders that “stuff” isn’t really the best way to communicate love, but that momentary perspective shift from the everyday myopia of just addressing whatever the day brings, to the recognition (not for the first time) of how thankful I am for Caedmon and how much I like him, has stayed with me.  He’s really an amazing kid.  He is so genuine, so smart, so funny.  He takes on so many responsibilities without complaint.  He has such an earnest desire to know the Lord and to honor Him in his days.

Yeah, there’s plenty of less-than-perfect in the kid, but for thirteen?  He’s got a lot figured out.

I’m glad for his birthday this year if only for the fact that it forces me to pause and reflect on just how much of a blessing I have in this son of mine.

how I do a project

Last week I decided I was going to start a house project “on my own”.  Our upstairs bathroom – which has been on the re-do docket for years now, but always gets shelved because of more pressing projects – has had wallpaper peeling off for years, and a serious mold issue caused by lack of ventilation, but made worse by the wallpaper.  So, I decided that I would remove the wallpaper and paint.

Tim is in the middle of his own project of redoing a bedroom, but I wanted to find some way to be productive and I convinced myself that this wouldn’t be too bad.  I insisted to him that I could do it all by myself – that since the wallpaper was literally falling off the walls, that must mean that it would be a breeze.  He remained skeptical (with good reason), but I pushed forward in my uncharacteristic optimism.  My willingness to stupidly ignore the fact that, in this house, wallpaper was always used to cover problems is something I will chalk up to the fact that this is the first window of time I’ve had this pregnancy when I’ve felt capable of accomplishing something beyond life’s everyday priorities and I didn’t want to squander it.

But I was dumb.

For some reason, the areas where the wallpaper had peeled off already only had one layer of wallpaper, but the walls I had left to do had three layers…layers that did not want to peel off.  I also discovered, when I took off the gross white laminated board that was covering the lower half of the wall, that not only was the plaster underneath cracked and bowed, but someone along the way had cut out a chunk of the plaster and lath to put in a two by four to hold the wall-mounted sink.  Plus the wall was slathered with thick brown adhesive that did not respond well to my scraping.  I felt like a fool.

So, Tim stepped in to rescue me.  With his far superior upper body strength, as well as the inspiration to try a razor-blade scraper on the wall instead of the putty knives and vinegar-water solution I had been using with limited success, he managed to take wallpaper and brown crud off with ease.  I insisted, though, that I could manage now that I saw that the razor worked.  Knowing that I was definitely going to need his help with repairing the plaster (his preference over just covering it over with wainscoting and calling it a day), I didn’t want him to take any more of his time to work on this project that I had quite vehemently claimed I could do myself.

So the next day, I set about scraping.  And I got most of it done…with just the high edges of the wall, and some stubborn sections that seemed like they would come off more easily with sanding.  But that night, my elbow…which I had injured almost two years ago, but hasn’t bothered me in months…hurt so much that I couldn’t sleep.  So much for doing any more scraping…or sanding…or anything else that might require me to exert force with my right arm.  Ugh.

Actually, I did try to sand with my left arm today, briefly.  Until Tim interrupted me and basically said that it was just pointless for me to do with my left arm that which he could accomplish with an orbital sander in a fraction of the time (I wasn’t going to attempt the orbital sander myself because, well, I’m very non-ambidextrous, and my right arm would be too strained by it…really, I feel pathetic even writing that).  I did argue with Tim for a minute…but finally just asked if there was something I could take off his plate to compensate.

So now, I’ll be helping with taxes.