Sunday, September 7, 2014

Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go

This post isn't about how hard life is, or how bad I have it. It's about a God who redeems, who is just waiting for us to call out to him; who is so faithful every time we call upon him. I want to describe what the process of being far from him and being brought near again was like for me recently and to encourage you, if you feel like you are seeking him yet he is still far: he is coming; he hears you; he sees you; he loves you and he is working.

For reasons that seem too many to list, I've spent basically the last 24+ hours crying, feeling bad, being tired, or feeling overwhelmed (mostly a combination of these things all at once). My sweet, sweet husband has been a great encouragement to me, praying with and for me, and encouraging me with Bible verses about how near God is, and how good he is. But when you feel far from God sometimes that kind of thing can seem like head knowledge that has no bearing on your heart or mentality. I am grateful for how Jeff loves me like this, even if at the time it didn't help bring me out of my slump. At breakfast this morning I prayed that Jesus would remember his words in Matthew 28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Jeff later suggested I stay home from church this morning and enjoy the peace and quiet while he took the kids to church, and as tempting as that was I felt my spirit encouraging me to go to church and partake in communion because that was what I needed more than eating Pop Tarts and watching corny Hallmark movies on Netflix.

Our call to worship was a passage from Isaiah, part of which read "You shall no more be called Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." (Is. 62:4, 5). I thought, "Wow, what a nice thought! That God would actually think those things about me. I certainly feel desolate right now, so I'm looking forward to not feeling that way." Yes, I needed to hear that. I felt God moving towards me.

Then, our assurance of pardon was a passage from Romans which included Romans 5:3-4, "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope," In crept my cynicism and I couldn't help but smirk. I thought "Oh yea, I'm really rejoicing over here in my suffering. Looking forward to the part about hope, Lord!" And then God rushed in.

We sang "How He Loves" and I couldn't get through the words.

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us, oh,
Oh, how He loves us,
How He loves us 

In that moment, he was near and his love for me was real. My heart felt it and I cried tears of relief. That morning I had prayed for the rest the Jesus promises, and I had been wanting to feel that divine rest but in the midst of parenting a 2 and 4 year old, and being pregnant, and settling into a new house, it had eluded me. But here, in worship, God finally came! His Spirit awakened my heart and I was freed from the fog of discouragement and unhappiness that was weighing me down. I thought about how happy I was to be in church, to be with the people of God, praising God together, and listening to his words being taught alongside my brothers and sisters. I strongly believe if I would have listened to a sermon at home, or sang all those same songs at home in my living room I would not have experienced what I did during this sweet time of corporate worship.

As our pastor taught from the book of Hosea, he expounded upon how Hosea is a picture of what God's love towards us is like, in Christ. He loves me not because he needs me, but because he JUST DOES; he pursues me when I turn to other things to fulfill me; his love is a one-way love that never gets tired of loving and always gives more than it gets back; it's unconditional; it's not dependent upon my ability to perform but upon his promise to love me (and he ALWAYS keeps his promises); his love endures, there is no exit strategy. As the Jesus Storybook Bible describes it, it's a never-stopping, never-giving-up, always-and-forever love. 

We took communion after the sermon, and we were reminded that when we feel unlovable, unworthy,  and messed up, we might feel like running from God but really that's when we need God the most. And that's when he shows up and he shines, he LOVES us like that, just like when our kids come to us with scraped up and bloody knees, snotty noses crying and need to be consoled. Jesus said he came to save sinners, not those who think they are already good enough. The more aware I am of how short I come of being "good" the more God has to work with! In those moments when I have nothing to give, God rushes in and says, "I have been waiting for you to get to this place." The root of my sadness and discouragement, and most of my sin, is forgetting how much God loves me. When we forget this, the Gospel becomes irrelevant; situations seem impossible; being hurt seems unbearable. But when God's Spirit works within us we are reminded and we believe that we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). 

I am thankful God is near. I am thankful for a church that consistently and faithfully preaches God's word and allows room for him to work in the hearts of his people. I hope that this post encourages you if you are in a rough patch and you are in Christ: God is coming. He loves you because he promises to love you always, it is not according to anything you have or haven't done and he will never stop loving you. Because he loves you, you can endure and he will bring your heart joy. "Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5). If you aren't a follower of Jesus I would encourage you to come to him. He is inviting you to come to him and find true rest, true joy and true life. I lived the first 20 years of my life without him, and the last 9 years with him, and I can tell you there is no life apart from him. Anything you think you know about Jesus, forget it all and ask him to meet you. He is faithful, he is willing and he will meet you with a love that will not let you go.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jonathan's Birth Story

On this day 4 years ago, I had been on bed rest in in the High Risk Pregnancy Unit of Florida Hospital for 1 week due to preterm labor. I had just slept through the night for the first time since being admitted there without a single contraction. I had been moved from Labor & Delivery to High Risk, back to L&D, back to High Risk, and this morning I was finally being moved to the Ritz of the High Risk rooms. I had a shower, a mini fridge, a big room where my mom and Jeff could visit with me and relax while I spent the remaining 16 weeks of my pregnancy on bed rest. My mom went to a nearby grocery store to get me some snacks and drinks to enjoy during my hospital stay. Jeff was packing up to head home to go to work, finally not concerned since it seems like my body was resting from a week of preterm contractions.

As he was preparing to leave, the nurse came in to give me the all-clear to take a shower: only my second one since being admitted. I was thrilled. I stood up to take a shower, and felt pressure in my pelvis that I hadn't felt before. I ignored it thinking it was due to me being bedridden for so long. Once I returned to bed the nurse came to check on me and I asked her if she would please check my cervix due to the pressure sensation I was feeling. She was in no hurry to do so since I was no longer contracting; "It's probably a UTI from being on bed rest," she assured me. We asked Jeff to wait to return to work for a minute while she got the on-call doctor to come check me out.

The doctor, nurse, and another medical resident came in and checked my cervix. "You haven't had any contractions?" she asked. "Nope!" I said confidently. Looking alarmed and concerned she informed the nurse that she could feel what she thought was either my baby's head, or the bag of amniotic fluid that he was  swimming in bulging through my cervix. I was dilated 4 centimeters, and my 24 week baby was coming.

"I HAVE A 24 WEEKER HERE!" the nurse was yelling as she rolled my bed, with me in it, into the hallway - back to the Labor and Delivery unit. "24 WEEKER!!" she would alarm everyone as she was rolling me down the hall. I was calm, I was embarrassed as stunned nurses and patients watched me roll by. This was the 3rd time I had been rushed to the labor unit in preparation for our baby to be born and I wasn't so sure he was coming today because I wasn't in labor.

She left me in my 5th new hospital room, and the labor and delivery nurse started asking all her questions. I began to feel some back pain and pressure that was new to me. After about 20 or 30 minutes I was writhing in pain. I felt like I was either going to puke, or poop, or both. I told my mom, "I don't know what's going on but I feel horrible!" "You're in labor, honey," my mom informed me.  "Oh," I thought, "this is what it's like. But I'm not supposed to be! I'm only 24 weeks pregnant! My baby isn't supposed to be born yet! The doctor said 30% chance of survival if I can't keep him inside me until 28 weeks!" I began to panic. "Don't push," the nurse said. That was like telling a drowning person not to try to breathe. I couldn't help it. My body began pushing my baby out, rejecting the life it was supposed to be protecting and nourishing.

A gush of fluid came out and Jeff ran out into the hallway to tell the nurses what had happened. I was taken across the hall into the operating room in case a c-section was needed. The doctor did an ultrasound and saw my baby's head was only 6 cm, and I was dilated 4. I had some sort of infection indicated by the color of my amniotic fluid. The baby had to come. I pushed, and delivered the top of his head. I pushed again and delivered his shoulders. Once more, I pushed and his hips, legs and feet were delivered. I am assuming this is how it happened, although I can't be sure because my eyes were closed most of the time, and all I could think was "This can't be happening...this can't be happening..." I opened them after he was born in just enough time to hear the tiny creature in the nurse's hands attempt to squeak before he was passed through what looked like a drive-through window. I heard Jeff exclaim, "Praise God!" and I thought how inappropriate it was to praise God at a time like this. What, exactly are we praising him for, because there is nothing here to be thankful for. I laid on the operating table as the nurses, medical students and doctor finished the delivery process. Mind blank, but also racing. Failure, embarrassment, and relief all coursed through my head and heart. I heard Jeff on the phone with his mom telling her the news and her hollering and crying.

 I can hardly remember what happened to me after that, except for being wheeled into the NICU in my wheelchair to see my newborn. He was laying on a warmer, like all babies, and he had 10 fingers and toes, perfectly formed. Everything was where it should be. But his eyes were sealed shut; his skin was almost transparent; he had no hair and reddish skin; his leg was as big around as my pinky. I was numb. I did not feel like this was my baby. No feelings of love washed over me. I just examined him and went to my hospital room.

Jonathan the day he was born.

A nurse came in and explained the process of pumping milk to me, and how important it was for my baby to have that once he was able to take milk instead of the concoction currently going through his IV. Then a doctor came in and explained he had a severe bacterial infection, and that in combination with the prematurity made him doubtful our baby would live to see the end of 72 hours. More numbness.

I didn't actually cry about any of this until the next day. My head and heart couldn't reconcile it with my faith or my expectations.

At that hospital, they would play a little lullaby tune every time a baby was born. You could hear it in the room, in the hall, even going to the cafeteria. Every time it played was like a dagger in my heart reminding me another bundle of joy was being brought into the world. I wondered if they played it when my baby was born? Probably not. He wasn't to be celebrated - he was an emergency to be put on life support.

The first time his daddy got to hold him.

I had no idea God had planned this for me since before I was born. I didn't know he used things like this to reveal himself to his sons and daughters. I didn't know in things like this, even this, that he was good and to be praised. Thank God for my experience!

Obviously our little emergency survived, and today is his 4th birthday. Our little miracle. He wasn't supposed to live; if he lived he wasn't supposed to walk or talk, and if he did those things it would be very poorly. But he was supposed to be born. My Father saw to it. All his ways are good. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, each one of us.

Monday, January 27, 2014

1000 Gifts

The other day me and my family went to the park after dinner to enjoy the warmer weather before bath and bed time.  The kids were playing with daddy and I was sitting on the swings.  I had a thought that was very unlike me: "I wonder how high I can swing on this swing?"  I got a good running start, hopped up, pulled myself back onto the swing and started pumping my legs.  My hair was blowing in the wind and I noticed Isaac was watching me, looking amazed.  Even Jeff was watching me with a big smile.  I was swinging high above them all, it was a strange feeling to be acting that way.  I normally would just sit on a bench, or sit on the swing and resist everyone's attempt to get mommy to play.  "I just want to rest!" is my usual response.  But not that day.

I just started reading a book by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts, and I'm only half-way through, but it's already had an impact on the way I see my every day life.  The gist of it is that thankfulness is at the root of living a joy-filled life; seeing the gifts in the every day.  The book birthed a  Joy Dare, where every day of the month you write down 3 gifts.  At her blog, A Holy Experience, Voskamp has some pretty (free) printables to help you to write you gifts down for that day.  I have printed out each month's ideas and glued them into a journal specifically for this purpose.  I have only started in January and didn't write every day, but I am already up to 55 gifts (and those are just the ones I took the time to write down!).

This exercise does two things for me:  one, it helps me to really see things in my life as opposed to just going through the motions, (or trying to get everything done that needs to be done and get the kids to bed for Pete's sake!)  Instead, I am looking for the things in my every day life that I take for granted.  Most days, I have my journal and pen lying in the dining room so I can jot something down at the moment I recognize it.  Secondly, doing this is like building up your spiritual bank account.  I acknowledge that God is good, and everything I have is a gift (James 1:17 says "Every good and perfect gift is from above, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.")  But what about on the hard days?  When I get horrible news?  When things go terribly wrong?  I haven't had one of those days in a while and it's not a matter of if but when.  What will my response be?  When I'm going on a week of depression and discouragement?  Hopefully I'll have a tangible, visual record of all the grace God's shown me in my arsenal to combat the lies I'll be subjecting myself to in those dark times (because they will come).  I will need reminders that God is and has always been good.  As the book talks about, even in the dark times he is STILL good.

So if you still haven't figured out your new year's resolution, or like to take "challenges", try this one.  I can sometimes struggle with contentment, and get so bogged down in the daily to-do that I forget I am ALIVE!  My time on this earth is not guaranteed to be as long as I plan on it being.  I may not live to write another blog post.  I may not wake up in the morning.  The time is now to recognize how good and graciously God has dealt with me.  My kids pulling at my shirt tail for juice is a gift; the beautiful brown shades in our hardwood floors is a gift; the smell of a candle burning, a wet kiss from my toddler, a hot shower, eating dinner together, a car that's worn out because of all the places it's taken our fmaily: all good gifts that I may never live to see again.

So that's my speil.  Just thought I would share it with you because I think a lot of other people are like me and need to realize today is a gift, tomorrow isn't for certain: stop taking everything for granted and LIVE.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My confession (don't judge me)

It's funny what the Lord does when others are praying for you.  In the last post, I asked for prayer for our family, for boldness and courage to follow the Lord in his leading.  I had one specific issue in mind that I was not sharing with the public.  The Lord indeed gave us boldness and courage, but he did not lead us down the path that I was mentally referring to when I asked for these things.  

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
    but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand."  - Provers 19:21

As many of you know, Jeff is a Church Planting Apprentice, which means he will hopefully be starting a new church body in our city.  We hope to have a women's ministry in that new church, as well as a children's ministry and of course I, being a mother and a woman, would love to serve in these ministries at our future church, and help my husband's ministry in this way.  However, the thought of it on top of being a stay-at-home mom, involved in small groups at church, being involved in MOPS, and being a nursing student is overwhelming to me.  I have never really been much a part of either type of ministry aside from helping out occasionally, and don't know the first thing about leading these types of teams.

Jeff and I began a conversation last night concerning these future church plant things, during which I became emotional and immediately bogged down in details and scheduling (that's just how my brain works, I am not a big picture type of person - I need to know when, how, who, and what am I gonna do with the kids?).  That conversation led to another about homeschooling, which I had already written off, for no particular reason other than a) I don't know how to do it and b) I am intimidated by it.  There's a lot of benefits to homeschooling though, but I am in nursing school so I won't have time to, and once I'm an RN I surely won't have time for it.  But I'll be making enough money to send my kids to a private school.  

I began to evaluate what I'm doing here.  As far as ministry, I really want to help but I have other things already going on. How am I supposed to do all these other things, too?  Maybe God will send a woman to join the church plant that is passionate and skilled at these ministries - problem solved, oh me of little faith.  As far as school, I have a wonderful, supportive family who keep my kids happy and safe while I study and attend class; we have enough money saved that we are not going into debt to pay for school; the material comes very easily to me, I make great grades and I really enjoy the subject content.  Once I graduate, I'll be making great money, have a flexible schedule, have a meaningful job, and finally be able to afford Christian school, a bigger house and cars that don't leak and creak.  All the stars align for me to do this now, and the future payoff will be totally worth it. 

But just because it is totally doable doesn't mean it should be done.  I started to look at the reasons why I was pursuing nursing school: money, recognition for being a hard worker and smart, the satisfaction of "doing it".  These things in and of themselves are not particularly bad, but they are bad for me.  I am drawing life from these things.  They make me feel worthy and important, like I am really doing something with my life.  What would my alternative be if I didn't do nursing school?  A thankless job of raising kids and making a home for my weary husband?  Staying home with my kids all day to play with and teach them?  Meeting my husband for lunch occasionally, or taking a vacation whenever we want?  Having a cleaner, more organized home that's always ready for visitors?  Nourishing my relationship with the Lord during nap time instead of scrambling to get chores done so I can do my school work?  Selflessly serving my family with no regard for tests or assignment due dates?  Being more available to learn from godly women how to serve the women and children in our church?  Reading for fun instead of grades?

Once I evaluated all of this I thought: this is crazy.  God is providing for me the things that bring true life, yet I am voluntarily bearing a burden and striving for things I don't need.  I heard the Lord's still small voice: 

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:19

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. - Matthew 6:33

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith 
- Hebrews 12:1-2

I am chasing worldly recognition and financial security by the work of my own hands (and I have a degree so technically I could go to work if ever I needed to without being an RN).  I have been on a hamster wheel of sinful self-reliance and seeking after the ooh's and ahh's from others (and let's be real, no one really gives two whoops what I'm doing!  How prideful and arrogant of me.)

The funny thing is as soon as this recognition comes, it is gone and I am striving after something else.  Yet I already have all the approval and adoration I could ever need because it comes from my heavenly Father in Jesus Christ.  I have the divine "Yes!", there is no other approval needed.  Seeking any other is sinful and self-exalting.  Jesus is calling me to step out of the boat of the security and values of the world, and onto the waves of faith and service where He is waiting; oh Lord, help my unbelief.  

So friends, thank you for the prayers, God has used them effectively and surely.   I won't serve patients on their death beds, but I will diligently teach my children and others about the One who overcame death for them.  I won't seek admiration from others for my work ethic, but long to hear acclaim from my Lord: "Well done, good and faithful servant."  In a moment of clarity, I surely have found my calling.  

From the Valley of Vision:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold
Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision."

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hello, again!

It's been a whiiiiiile since this blog was updated!  I thought I would resurrect it since writing is cathartic for me, and our family is on a pretty amazing journey with the Lord.  Jeff is a Church Planting Apprentice in our town, I am beginning nursing school, and we have our two amazing little boys.  

There are potentially some very exciting things on our family's horizon, and since we have so many family and friends who we don't see regularly I'd like to use this to stay up to date with you all.  

If you could, please be in prayer for our family that we would make wise decisions regarding our family, but that we would also be bold and courageous to do what we feel would honor the Lord the most (even if it's scary to us!).  

Thanks friends!  Be in touch soon!

Our family at Boktoberfest in Lake Wales.