Mother’s Day

“I thought I could love my children enough to push out all their insecurities.  In my heart I was hoping that the surety of my love would be enough for them to know how much they are valued.”  I told my friend this a couple months ago when I called her, crying and at my end because of a hurtful exchange between my son and I.  I was shocked and deeply hurt by what he said to me but I also was stopped short enough to really think hard about what was happening and why I was reacting the way I was.  In essence, what he said made me feel like he thought that I valued him less than my other children, less than my husband or myself.  His self-talk over the years has clued me in to pain that he carries, yet this felt like a big blow.  After talking through it with my friend and giving myself time, I spoke with H about it and we were able to understand where each other was coming from more.  But the exchange has stayed with me.

When I was able to put that hurt into those words I realized how desperately I want for my children not to struggle with insecurities like I have.  How in the deep of my heart there is this mama bear that fiercely wants to pave the way for them and see them through this life journey – see them walking confidently, with joy and courage and excitement for what is to come.  But all of that happening isn’t dependent on how much I love them.  It will come more from how I love them.  How I allow them the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.  To try things, to feel pain, to learn how to come back stronger from that pain.  To figure how who they are.  To feel validation in their struggles and in their insecurities.  To feel validated in every emotion they experience.

My friend reminded me to remember that our kids are not an extension of us.  They are their own separate person with their own set of experiences, emotions, and their own way of processing.  Their own view.  Their own response.  Some of this is shaped by us as parents but some of this is who they are.  I have to honor them as individuals.  I cannot control how they choose to respond and I have to stop letting their chosen response decide how I will respond and how I will move forward.  I am me.  I want the freedom to be me.  I need to be loved as me.  All my messy parts and all the together parts.  They need to be loved as they are, right where they are as well.

I want them to grow to be strong humans with a strong sense and confidence in who they are.  Controlling or attempting to control their response is not honoring of that goal.  I want them to know who they are, to love who they are, to be strong in who they are.   I can help them to get there by validating them in their emotions.  To be honest in my struggles.  To let them see my humanness, my short-comings, my quirks, my struggles and how I work to overcome and work toward change.  I need to meet them in their humanness, in their short-comings, in their quirks, in their struggles with love and mercy.  It is all I need in the face of mine.  When I have been loved, without stipulation, in the face of my short-comings, when I have been shown mercy in my failing, when I have been validated in the heat of my strong emotions, it is then that I have felt able and strong enough to be the real, true me.  To confidently stride into this world, knowing that I am enough just as I am.

Mama’s, be encouraged today.  When we are our open, honest, real, messy, true selves, when we allow ourselves that freedom, our children will benefit ten-fold by having that example set before them and the freedom from us to be that themselves.

 

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Go Do It

The best thing you can do now is to finish what you started…and not let those good intentions grow stale.  Your heart’s been in the right place all along.  You’ve got what it takes to finish it up, so go do it.  

2 Corinthians 8:10,11

I love how direct Paul is in these verses.  I am finding I need that.  He’s not saying: Hey, you made a goal, you got started, take your time, you’ll get there.  Don’t push yourself.  No he’s saying: Don’t give up!  The best thing to do is keep on pushing – don’t let yourself down by procrastinating to the point where your goal feels old and stale, not worth it.  Your heart is in the right place by setting this intention – you can do it, so DO IT.

I have definite things in my life that I want to get better.  Things I want to work on, things I am working on.  It can be so easy for each day to pass by and not have been intentional about taking any steps forward in my goals.  Different goals have different things they require of us.  I have some physical goals I want to achieve: they require me to put in practice, physical effort.  I have some personal goals I want to work harder toward, things I feel God has given me to do.  This will take self-motivation, self-control to decide to spend my time on these things and not something else.  I have family things I want to be better – communication and understanding of each other, grace for each other.  This takes a different, almost harder, type of effort.  It’s emotional.  It requires me to look at myself hard – what do I need to change about myself so that I can be a better model to my kids of what I am hoping for?  It takes biting of the tongue.  It takes my time, invested in each kid, in my husband.  It may take things we have never tried before, things that feel uncomfortable.  It may take more than I think I have to give but I have to at least try.  I have to go do it.

Sometimes the things I want or even something God has placed on my heart may seem so insurmountable that instead of tackling it, I stand still, thinking about how am I ever going to get to that place, the end place?  The achievement place.  It’s really this though: mostly I cannot get anywhere without just beginning, go do it.  Somethings will have that end place and some will just keep growing; there isn’t an ending.  It’s the journey that will count more than ever reaching a conclusion.  That journey can seem so daunting when we concentrate on what we think the ending should be.  Or how perilous we think our travels might be.  But God tell us, “I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go.  I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic. I’m right here to help you.” Isaiah 41:13

God is always here, ready to support us through each new challenge we tackle, and he places people in our lives to help us too.  Don’t try to do this thing alone.  A psalmist cried out, “Why pretend things are just fine with us?… Get up and come to our rescue.  If you love us so much, Help us!” Psalm 44:24,26  Be honest, be open; don’t hide your goals and keep them to yourself.  Don’t doubt what you are setting out to do, cry out to God for help and then open your eyes and see: who and what are the provisions that God has placed before you to help you.  He won’t have dropped them in your lap necessarily, he won’t start the thing for you, but he has provided a way and he has provided help.  You, me, us; we have to take the steps forward.  And we have to be stubbornly persistent with it.  Goals are achieved by implementing change.  Change comes by moving forward.  So go do it.

Facing Great Pain

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One of the hurts I have felt most acutely in my heart is the pain of feeling like I am failing as a parent.  Tremendously.  Those times when I am trying so hard to do this parent thing better; to be gentler yet firm in my stance, hoping to demonstrate the necessity of respect and obedience. Yet it all seems to crumble around me at my feet as I lose it.  I yell instead of sternly affirm what I am asking.  I lecture when all I intended was to call attention to behavior that is unacceptable.  Apologies are carelessly and spitefully thrown around the walls of our house when I’ve asked for heartfelt repentance.  Anger emanates from these humans who are part of me and I don’t know the root.  If I don’t know where the depth of it comes from, how can I help them learn how to feel anger yet not act uncontrolled upon it?  In those moments I can’t navigate the maze of emotions that is leading back to the root of all of this.  I’m lost in this sea.  Barely keeping my head above water.  The sharks circle; sharks of doubt, regret, uncertainty, failure.  How has it come to this?  How did the sweet babies I held tightly and whispered softly to come to the point where they speak to each other and to me like this?  Who are they?  Who am I?

In those heated, messy, emotional moments it’s so hard not feel like I’m drowning in defeat.  I feel like Paul in Romans 7:19 when he says, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”  Instead of being the calm, reasonable, full of grace adult example of how to work through confrontation, difficult or unfair situations, and the emotions of others, I have invited my kids into my crazy and taught them the wrong way to react and behave.  It’s been so painful lately because I recognize the error in my ways, I am determining in my heart to work on my communication with my kids and still find myself failing.  It hurts!  I think it’s a natural human reaction to veer away from pain but I came across a quote that made me think that in this situation, perhaps meeting the pain head on is more the solution.


They are in great pain and that’s because they are paying attention. -G. D. Melton


I need to acknowledge that paying enough attention to what is going wrong and the ways that I am handling things is going to be painful.  When J was sick & I was just fighting for her life I was paying attention to all the hard shit. I had to.  But it’s really not any different now; if I want to better the communication and relationships I have with my children I better pay attention.  The only difference is that instead of the hard shit I am facing now being ever before, to the side, and behind me, it’s more intermittent.  It’s not always at the forefront.  Sometimes I think we’ve crested over a hill and might be figuring this thing out, but when faced with a situation again, I am slipping back into the same old chaos.  Granted, while J fought cancer I had times where I mentally ignored what we faced and put things off for another minute or hour, but at the end of the day I paid attention and I faced what I was in the midst of.  I think that’s what I’m lacking now, I’m not facing our difficulties for long enough. I hurt and feel the pain in the shittiest of moments and then I put it away, somewhere not in the forefront so I don’t have to keep facing it; I don’t keep paying attention.  And that’s where I am actually failing, not at being a parent, but at this pointed paying attention because the same things just keep coming around and I’m no further in understanding how to help, how to change, how to move forward successfully.  I need to feel and face the pain until I hurt enough to actually make a real move to work toward change.

This parenting gig is tough stuff.  I’ve never been one to really avoid something just because it’s hard.  The harder a thing is, the more I want to work overcome it.  To master it.  I know in the innermost part of my heart that I want to face this pain, I want to face this hard shit because I want to fix it.  I want to make this better.  I don’t want to settle for the plateaus where there aren’t any storms when I know there are mountain tops ahead if I would just tackle the climb.  I don’t know the details of what this climb is going to look like, what it is going to require, I don’t doubt that it is going to be hard, but I do know that what I want, the best, is at the top.

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be. – CS Lewis, letters to an American lady

 

 

enough.

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Two weeks ago J had her (almost) three year post treatment checkup.  She will be three years post treatment in January 2017.  We went into this set of appointments for labs, IV placement, injection, visit with J’s nurse practitioner, bilateral bone marrow aspirate and biopsy, CT contrast drinking, IV hydration, and CT and MIBG scans thinking we would be back to Seattle Childrens a couple more times to repeat the same schedule for two more years.  Some of these procedures are easy for J and some of them are really difficult.  She is so brave but some things have been so horrible in the past and she has this giant fear of them that no amount of coaching and preparing

can make better. I will admit that getting an IV is not a pleasant experience but by the screams that came out of J’s little 30 pound body you would have thought the nurses were amputating her hand without anesthetic instead of merely placing an IV.  If you’ve ever had to sit someone through something they were so afraid of you would have recognized the irrational and crazy look that was in J’s eyes, so full of fear that words and reasoning could not begin to reach her until the nurses had stopped touching her.  Which took several very long minutes since the IV had to be secured at the site and several tubes of blood drawn through it.  The remainder of J’s procedures have always went relatively smooth and did this visit as well, but the anxious anticipation of those few minutes it takes to get the IV placed plagued J in the weeks leading up to her visit.

In light of all of that it would makes sense that we would want to be done with these procedures and move past the point where J needs them, which we had always planned on happening at the five year post treatment mark.  That’s what had been laid out for us from the very beginning and all through her treatment.  But when we met with J’s nurse practitioner we were told that protocol on J’s treatment plan had changed and her oncologist had made the decision that this would be J’s last post treatment checkup that would include all of these procedures.  She was done. No more biopsies, no more scans, no more blood draws, no more IV’s.  Yet happiness was not the emotion that flooded me when we were told this.  Fear was.  Watching J have to continue to go through these procedures is not something I enjoy, but it has brought a sense of relief each time we got that phone call after the scans had been read and the biopsy had been processed at the lab that everything was clear and J continued to be NED.  I knew that we would come to the place where we would stop these checkups but I wasn’t prepared for it yet.  It left me feeling vulnerable to fear.

Now I’m a couple weeks out from the news and it’s beginning to settle in.  I’m happy for J, that she doesn’t have to endure the procedures anymore.  I’m grateful that her body doesn’t have to be exposed to the radiation from the scans, the radiocontrast agent for a CT scan, the iodine-123-meta-iodobenzlguanidine which is the radioactive injection needed for an MIBG scan.  These all come with risks and possible side effects, not to mention being under anesthesia for all of these procedures.  Each time J has another bone marrow aspirate and biopsy she has more pain and stiffness following the procedure.  I am thankful, joyful that J is free from the burden of these.  And I am working through my fear.

Fear is an interesting thing.  It’s a lurker.  A hider.  A liar.  Fear would have me anxious and stressed – J’s chances of relapsing are greatly reduced by the length of time she has now been out of treatment.  Whether or not she has anymore scans doesn’t change that chance.  Most likely if neuroblastoma had been lingering, hidden somewhere in her body, it would have shown it’s hideous face again already.  Nothing is ever one hundred percent.  It can’t said for absolute surety that those NB cells aren’t lying dormant somewhere, hidden in the midst of all J’s healthy ones. Just as it can’t be said with absolute medical and scientific surety that there are NB cells in J’s body and tests should continue to be done to try and find them.  It’s a set of balancing scales and this is the new balance.  This is where trust in God fully kicks in.

I have trusted God in varying degrees through all of J’s treatment and the aftermath.  I am faced with how much the human confirmation that no cancer can be found in J’s body meant to me.  I’ve been trusting God, but holding some back too, just as a safety net.  In my heart I really do believe the promise that God gave my husband and I that he would bring J through this and that we would get to watch her grow up.  But I wasn’t choosing to let that be enough.  As I was given the news that J had arrived at the end of actually checking for physical evidence that she has really beat NB for good, I realized that I have clung to the tangible evidence that the medical community could give me.  I used it as a security blanket.

There is a verse in Matthew 8:4 that says this, “Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.”  No amount of saying that I trust God fully and completely will make that true.  No amount of the doctors telling us that J’s scans show no cancer and that her bone marrow is clear can make it more true or real.  It cannot make God’s promise more real to me.  But J’s life, her life that has been cleansed of cancer, can make that real to me. My thankfulness to God for seeing her and our family through this and my gratefulness for J’s life can. Me choosing to trust God with J’s life will bear witness to what He has done. I have decided that is enough for me.

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The IV is lovingly hidden under those bows.

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IV hydration

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Sleeping off anesthesia

 

Dear H

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More than anything else, God wants you to hear that He loves you.  These words were in a devotion that I was reading last week and they are so important for us to remember.  More than all the right decisions and good deeds we could make or do, God simply loves us.  In spite of our mistakes, our unkindness, selfishness, hurtful actions and words, God loves us.  Before we ever decide to make a change in ourselves to love and pursue God, He loves us.  But all that wasn’t what I thought of first when I was reading it.  My oldest son was first in my mind.  He stood forefront.

H turned thirteen in November of 2015.  We have had some ups and downs these past few years.  I see a lot of myself in him and it is most evident when we are butting heads.  And it is in those moments that I feel I most fail at times as a parent to him.  I tell him not to behave the way I realize later that sometimes I behave.  I ask him not to speak in tones that I can recall using with him more often than not.  I tell him to use kind words when unkindness has parted my lips.  I’m finding myself needing to be willing to be more and more refined in the fires of parenthood.  Willing to work at change in myself so I can ask for change and growth in my children. But beyond all of this those words created a longing my heart, a longing so deep it became an ache.  More than anything else, I want H to know that I love him.  In the intensity of that moment I sat and quickly jotted this next paragraph.  It is all of the many things squeezed into a few sentences I so desperately want him to know for these next few years that we have together before adulthood is knocking at his door.

Dear H;  More than anything else, I want to you hear that I love you.  Above the noise of life and over the buzz of growing up.  Clearer than the direction, the criticism, the consequences I want my love to ring.  I want you to know no matter what you choose you can’t ever cause me to not love you.  I may be disappointed, I may be hurt; I am human.  But I will not ever not love you.  I want you to feel that surety in the very core of your being.  I pray it is a grounding point for you.  Love, Mom

Most times I can write with clarity what is in my heart; speaking it is a whole different story!  I’m not sure if this note needs to come to him with context, but it will come to him in some way whether I can find the words to tell him or I give him the words I have written.  By sharing this I hope to help us all remember that more than anything God loves us and by his example we need to be communicating that to our children as well.  Don’t leave what should be spoken unsaid.  Sometimes we think our unconditional love is implied to our children and that they know without us telling them.  But let’s not forget that they are yet still children and just as we need a reminder that God loves us unconditionally and without fail, that there is nothing we can do to make him not love us, so our children need to hear the same words from us and be reminded.

The Great Impossible & Why

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“God always grants incredible power to those called to face impossible pain.

– Levi Lusko


Stop.  Read that again.  Do you understand what he’s saying?  This is bigger than a typical one-liner that you can nod in agreement too.  If you really know what these twelve words mean it can only be because you have faced that impossible pain.  One month ago an amazing little six year old girl, A, that J and I had the privilege of becoming friends with in Seattle lost her fight against cancer.  A spent over sixty percent of her short life in a war with AML.  She faced pain and suffering the likes of which much of society won’t ever see.  But it’s not her pain that was the impossible one.  It’s the pain of her mom, dad and sister that are left behind.  This is the impossible pain.

Impossible pain is one that there is no logical explanation for the ability of a person to bear through and come out on the other side of.  Yet we, as people, do.  Impossible is defined as: not able to occur, exist, or be done; very difficult to deal with.  Being faced with an impossibility requires us to have incredible power in order to move forward.  As much as it may feel like we are immovable when facing impossible pain, the sheer passing of time forces us to move with it.  But how do we ever move forward again of our own will?  That’s where the incredible power that God grants us comes in.  I believe God grants that power whether or not you ask him to, even whether or not you know him.  But when we do ask, when we do know him, that power is coupled with grace abounding, mercy never ending, joy that surpasses understanding, hope that prevails above all else.

I have been asked several times how we dealt with the great “why” when J was diagnosed and went through treatment.  I made a conscious decision not to ask that question of God, but this verse in John explains it even better.


“You’re asking the wrong question.  You’re looking for someone to blame.  There is no such cause-effect here.  Look instead for what God can do.”  John 9:3


Jesus spoke these words to his disciples while they were walking down a street and had spotted a man who was blind from birth.  The disciples asked Jesus who had sinned, the man or his parents, that had caused the blindness.  Jesus pointed out to them that they were focusing on the wrong thing.  They were stuck on what wrong had brought this malady upon the man when “why” wasn’t what they should have been focusing on, but instead their focus needed to be the power and mercy of God that is displayed in the face of human suffering and pain.  We waste our time, energy and strength over this why question, longing for God to give us the answer to this burning, consuming need we feel.  But perhaps it is like when a child asks us why and we give the “just because” or some other variety of response that doesn’t really answer the inquiry.  Sometimes we give that response because the why behind the situation is beyond their capability to understand and ability to process.  We are merciful in sparing a child what they are not able to bear.  Don’t you think that is also the case between us and God?  In his infinite mercy, he is protecting us from what we are not able to process or capable to understand.  He gives us power to move us through impossible pain, yet in his mercy shields us from what we are not, in our earthly bodies and minds, able to comprehend.

In a preface to the book of Job, by Eugene Peterson, I read this really amazing advice, “If we really want to reach out to others who are suffering, we should be careful not to… do our “helping” with the presumption that we can fix things… No matter how insightful we may be, we don’t really understand the full nature of our friends’ problems…”  If you have someone in your life who is facing impossible pain, no words you can speak, or things you can do will fix what they face.  But your love, your compassion, your empathy can help move them forward in their journey to heal.  You are a tool of God’s incredible power that he grants to those facing impossible pain.

I also had the incredible privilege of getting to know A’s mother, J.  She has been an example to me of beautiful, stubborn faith in God, even though the world would tell her to give up on him after what she has faced.  Her great desire is that through all of what A had faced, glory would be given to God.  And that we, as human kind, would find a cure for this cold-blooded killer named cancer.  One way us non-doctor, non-researcher humans can stand up for those weakened, beaten down and killed by cancer is to raise funds for those can do the research so they are able to find better ways to treat cancer that will not destroy the human body and find ways to CURE cancer.  J does this by participating in an event called Obliteride.  This event raises money for the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center located in Seattle.  My J was the recipient of her stem cell transplant because of research completed by Fred Hutch.  A was given options she might otherwise never received without them.  Following is a link to a video that was put together before A passed away to help raise awareness and funds for this years Obliteride.  Please watch.  Consider investing a bit of yourself to help those who fight the battle of cancer and to those who spend countless hours in research, dedicating themselves to a hope for a better future.

 

 

 

Mainlining Heroin

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It’s been too long since I’ve sat down to write.  To share words.  I struggled if this was the right thing to say after a long absence.  Would my title be acceptable or had I taken it just a little too far? Like one more blurted out thought when the argument should have been over.  But this blog is about raw honesty.  So here it is,  honest and raw.


“Four parts blinding terror, one part perfection.  It’s like mainlining heroin.  One taste of life on the edge and you’re hooked.”  -kimberly mcCreight, reconstructing amelia


 

I don’t have an addictive personality, I’ve never been interested in trying any type of drug.  I don’t enjoy the feeling of inhibition that comes with drinking too much alcohol.  It might be fun for a few minutes, but regret usually comes later.  I don’t trust what might be done when I am not fully present in a moment because of an outside influence like drugs or alcohol.  My life has not been directly affected in drastic ways by someone else using a substance either.  But when I read that book and my eyes traveled over those words, they had me hooked.  You see, the author was talking about parenting.

Parenting has taken me to the highest highs and lowest lows I have ever been at.  Parenting a child through stage IV cancer was, I hope, the lowest point I will ever hit in the life. Watching immeasurable pain and a savage disease wreck the small innocent body you swore to yourself that you would protect is a pain that rivals nothing I have experienced.  Parenting has also brought out in me the parts of myself I don’t like so much.  The person who completely loses it in frustration and anger.  The person who can speak a mean and hurtful remark to someone I love with a fierce, burning love, but sometimes not fierce enough to halt my cutting tongue.  The person who forgets to extend grace when I have been covered in nothing but grace and mercy by my Heavenly Father.  As a parent I worry my perceived shortcomings might mess up my children I love so fully.  These are the four parts blinding terror.

Holding new life in your arms, knowing you helped to create it is like the rush of a powerful drug. The intense love that slams into you when you look at that little human that is half you is intense. And almost addicting. I’ve had moments of missing that crazy high of holding that small bundle, minutes into this world.  Watching my littles make a huge gain or accomplish something they have been working hard at makes me proud of who they are becoming.  Seeing them grow, play, imagine, and learn to love fills my heart to the over flowing.  This is the one part perfection.  This is the addiction.  This is life on the edge, knowing you can never look back, never return.  From this point on you will always be a parent.  The intense, consuming love that you feel for your children is perfection.  You will not be a perfect parent, but if you allow an unselfish love to drive you, you will find you will to go to the end of the earth for this person; that is perfection.  And once you taste that perfect love, it is a rush that cannot be ignored.  This one part perfection trumps the four parts of blinding terror every time.

I researched mainlining and mainlining heroin in particular.  In the user community mainlining is frowned upon by some, but almost cherished by others.  The reverent way some people spoke of choosing to exclusively do heroin by mainlining struck me so I looked up the definition of mainlining.

Mainlining: 1. to inject a narcotic, especially heroin, directly into a vein 2. to use or enjoy something without restriction

I think we need to enjoy our children more without restriction. The ones we put on ourselves and the ones we place on them. The guilt at not being enough.  Patient enough.  Fun enough.  Calm enough.  Creative enough.  Present enough.  How many times have I inadvertently quashed a spark in them because of careless words I have spoken?  Don’t wear that to school.  Don’t scribble.  Don’t bother me right now.  Don’t over-react.  Sometimes a good over-reaction is all we need as individuals to see the proverbial mountain we are making out of a mole-hill and to be able to change our approach to a situation.  Our kids are no different.  What kind of relationship could we foster with our children if we loved and enjoyed them without restriction?  This kind of love and relationship is what I think Jesus has and wants for and with us.  This unrestricted enjoyment and appreciation of each other.  I also learned that mainlining drastically increases the odds of forming a habit.  We all know habits are tough to break.  If we could actually form a habit of enjoying our children without placing restrictions on them and ourselves, what potential for greatness in relationship we would be blessing them (and ourselves!) with.

I read this recently on another blog, “Parents love their babies. I have met zero exceptions. Love is a river and there are times when impediments stop the flow of love.” – glennon, momastery.com.  Sometimes we allow things or things get placed into our lives that stop the flow of that perfect love that God is our example of.  He is anxiously waiting to remove those impediments for you.  As we struggle to love without restriction, allowing God to free us of the things that interrupt the flow of love from us to others is an integral part.  With his help, we can form this habit of loving and enjoying without restriction.  We can mainline God’s love right into our lives by turning the four parts of blinding terror over to him and once that is done you will never want to walk away.  I want my one part perfection to keep overshadowing the four parts of blinding terror I sometimes feel. I’m not a perfect parent, but with God’s love as my guide, I can love my children perfectly.

 

The Ezra Mark

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I was talking some weeks ago with a few women and the subject of prayer was on the table and why does God ask us to pray when he already knows our hearts.  And I said that I thought the prayers, or the act of praying, weren’t actually for God, but for us.  And as I’ve read through a few of my notes about worship recently I realized that the same reasoning applies to worship.  Resting in the books of history in the middle of the Old Testament is Ezra.  Ezra came to the aid of Israel when they were in decline.  Being in a place of decline is a tough place to pull yourself out of, generally people need someone to help them.  One of the tools Ezra used to help Israel was worship.

Eugene Peterson put it this way, “Ezra engaged them {the Israelites} in the worship of God,  the most all-absorbing, comprehensive act in which men & women can engage… Listening and following God’s revelation are the primary ways in which we keep attentively obedient to the living presence of God among us.”  In Luke 19:40 Jesus spoke of his disciples crying out in praise, “if they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.”  God is telling us that creation bursts with sheer need to worship him.  I don’t think it’s strictly because he is worthy, although a valid reason enough, we need to worship him because it is a vital way we connect to God.  God doesn’t want us to worship him for himself; he knows we need that act of worship to draw us into him, into closeness and relationship with him.  He doesn’t need it, but we do.  In all-consuming worship we can let all barriers fall away and step into the presence of God.  When our hearts are focused, single-mindedly on declaring praise to the Lord we enter into a sacred place with God that can only exist when we have let the world and its distractions fall to the side.

We need to do worship, and prayer, not because God needs them from us to move his hand, but because we need to perform the act to keep us in close connection with God.  Ezra made a mark upon the Israelite people: worship and the word of God are the foundation for discovering, recovering and maintaining identity as the people of God.

God, make upon me the Ezra mark.

 

 

God’s Everything

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Sometimes the Bible has such practical knowledge tucked into its pages that we miss it when we approach God’s words with a predisposition that we won’t understand what we are reading.  And sometimes that is very true.  Bible reading isn’t like reading a young adult novel (which I happen to love reading, sorry not sorry).  Bible reading takes our mind, our heart, and our souls to be open and listening.  But don’t overthink this either – there are also passages that just make sense the instant you read them.


“Do two people walk hand in hand if they aren’t going to the same place?” Amos 3:3


For me, Amos 3:3 was one of those.  It opened my eyes to a truth that is so simple, but so necessary to realize when seeking to live this life wholeheartedly as God intended for you.

I don’t know of a single Jesus-follower who would say that they don’t want God by their side, to walk with them through this life journey.  God’s grace is so huge to save us that upon salvation it’s pretty clear to us how much we cannot do life without him.  Knowing and doing, however, are two separate things.  We go through life, wanting God to be at our side, knowing he’s promised us good things: joy in the midst of sorrow, peace that passes understanding, strength when it seems like we have nothing left.  We expect him to be right there when we turn to the side, walking with us hand in hand.  But how often do we expect that of God when we are moving only in the direction we want to go and only in the plans that we think are best for us?  If we want to walk by the side of Jesus we need to be going in the direction he has for us.  We can’t walk hand-in-hand with God if we aren’t going the same place.

A few sentences before this passage, Amos was telling Israel to listen to what God was telling them through him.  He said, “Listen!  Out of all the families on earth, I picked you.”  I think we can translate that into our current lives like this: once Jesus came and offered us salvation, we all became God’s chosen people.  Every person who chooses God is welcomed into his family with open arms.  He’s telling us in Amos – Listen!  I chose you.  I want you.  Choose me.  Choose to walk in the way I have set you for you.  Choose to walk hand in hand with me.

Sometimes when I read the New Testament I still feel confused and lost.  I don’t understand all of Jesus’ parables.  I find myself getting to the end and just thinking, “huh?”  But in his time on earth Jesus was plain about the message of how much God loves us, how much he longs to be in relationship with us.  Mark 11:22,24 says this, ” Jesus was matter of fact: “Embrace this God-life.  Really embrace it, and nothing will be too much for you… Include everything as you embrace this God-life, and you’ll get God’s everything.”  As spouses, we want to be our partner’s lover-everything, as parents we want to be our children’s provider-everything.  We know what it is to want those things from others as well, but as broken humans we can never be everything to anyone and neither can anyone be everything to us.  But walking with God, laying everything down before him as you embrace life with him, this God-life, including every need, desire, worry, fear, triumph, passion, dream – everything, you will see that putting your hand in his, to walk hand in hand with him, you will get God’s everything.  When you are where he wants you to be, walking hand in hand with him, giving him your everything, he tells us in Malachi 3:10, “…And see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams.”  That is God’s everything and he has promised it to us.  Walk in that promise, just make sure you do it hand in hand with God.

The Next Step

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You know those times when you recognize that dis-rest has make its way into your life?  It can be over or because of many things; it can be simple envy of what someone around you has.  It might be a selfish motivation moving you stubbornly on towards something that maybe isn’t the best for you or your family.  It might be truly hard times that have caused you to need to readjust what is most valuable and important.  Usually when I think of dis-rest I think of it as being a negative emotion, something that eats away at living joyously where I am at, with what I have.  At this juncture in my life I have been feeling somewhat of a dis-rest within me and haven’t been able to pin point where it’s coming from.  In actuality, I feel like I have been successfully moving forward with being content with what I have for right now.  My car is sixteen years old, but I still love it.  My house is a little small but I don’t feel like I need anything more.  The counters aren’t granite and the landscaping, after six and a half years, still isn’t done, but it doesn’t evoke envy within me.  I have been working hard at getting my body into a place where I feel strong and can do all the things I want to do and I am feeling like I am really starting to get there.  Where is this disquiet within me coming from and is it something I should be listening to?

Ecclesiastes 5:20 says this: “God deals out joy in the present, the now.  It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.”  I’ve learned the important lesson that if we are brooding over our lives, past, present or future, we miss the joy God is giving us for today.  Brooding will not increase tomorrow’s joy, but instead only steals from today.  I’ve learned the amazing capacity of God to give me joy for each day, every moment, no matter the circumstances I find myself in.  I have also learned it is something that I have to accept.  I have had to learn to quiet and dispel unrest with things in my life so I can see the blessings and joy God has surrounded me with right now.

This is it.  This family.  This job.  These slow days countered by periods of hectic running around.  This house.  This body.  This life.  It is the life I have to live.  It might not be what I thought or planned.  It might look ever so much different than if I had designed my existence.  But this is the life I have.  I should not waste it pining for something else or allowing dis-rest to steal from today.  When J was in the thick of treatment I told myself so many times, “all you have to do is take the next step, get through and handle the next five minutes, and then the next five, and the next…”  Sometimes life is living in five minutes stretches and sometimes it’s lingering through the hours, wishing time could move slower and wanting to have the chance to savor each moment.  But whatever stage you are currently in, it isn’t a mistake.  In Job 33:29-30 it says, “This is the way God works.  Over and over again He pulls our souls back from certain destruction so we’ll see the light – and live in the light!”  Trust God to pull you back from certain destruction.  Listen to his nudging.  Don’t let your days slip by without intentionally living them; rather fill them with the passions and dreams that burn deep in your soul.  That is what God is pulling you away from destruction for – to live out wholeheartedly those stirrings, those “could I really do that?” thoughts that fill your soul with excitement and trepidation at the same time.  Those are God-given.  This is it, your life.  Live it and live in the light.  God’s light.


“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”  2 Timothy 1:7


Glynnis Whitwer wrote these words that struck me, “Beyond the daily tasks of life, I long for the discipline to achieve long-term goals and dreams.  I want to leave behind the disappointment in myself when I fail to achieve them yet again.” I know well the acrid aftertaste of disappointment in myself when I fail to achieve, or even fail to take steps toward achieving goals and dreams.  I’ve had a few goals and this dream that feels big to me, swirling around in my heart for some time now.  And it is most definitely a long term thing, it is going to be a one step at a time, mini-goal achieving, leading up to the big goal achieving process.  And this is where I think the unrest and dis-quiet in my heart is coming from.  It’s not a bad thing this time.  If fact I think its a God-thing; its him nudging me, allowing this unrest in my heart so I am spurred on to move forward in what I’m pretty sure is a God-given dream.  And its right there in 2 Timothy, the Holy Spirit is waiting to give me the self-discipline I need to achieve this dream, this long term goal.  He has given me this life and this dream and is ready, willing, and waiting to equip me with what I need to carry it out.  All I need to do is take the next step.  God is there, in my next step, waiting for me, ready to give me what I need for the next one.