Monday, October 21, 2013

Trading My Ashes for His Beauty

“I’m beginning to believe that you won’t leave me here, God.  Just help me to trust all the words you say.  And I’m learning to surrender, I’m learning to forgive.  I’m learning to receive all the love, all the love you have for me.” –lyrics from Isa Couvertier

Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since we learned that our little baby no longer had a heartbeat.  The days that followed have been hard, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  I honestly do not know how to answer everyone who is asking me how I am doing. I’m pale and tear stained.  I feel empty and heartbroken.  My throat has a constant lump in it.  I’m grieving.  And that might confuse those who have never lost in this way, because I never actually thought through this process before walking through it, but I will tell you that this loss is real and painful.  I’m walking around in a fog, knowing full well that what I see is not all that exists.  That there is heaven, and whatever it is that separates this earth from that glorious place is the threshold to meeting my precious little one.  I often find myself “checked out” of what is going on in front of me because of what is going on inside of me. 

By sheer mechanical habit, my kids are getting dressed and fed and schooled.  Through the kindness of friends, we haven’t been forced to solely rely on cereal as our only means of nutrition.  My husband has been amazing.  He’s so quiet, but I know just how much more of a load he’s carrying because I know what I’m not doing, and how much is still getting done.  But still, he’s grieving too.  And as I’ve watched him moving about the days in strength, I’ve watched his eyes fill with tears at night.  I’ve never been more thankful for his arms around me. 

But in the midst of all the tears and the difficulty just making it through the day, there’s a beautiful, mysterious peace that I’ve found.  It doesn’t take away the sorrow.  It doesn’t take away the process, but it’s made me reexamine who God is.  And let me tell you, He is amazing.  “My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand…His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.  This is my lover, this is my friend…” (SOS 5: 10, 16) 

I’ve had so many friends tell me it was o.k. to be angry with God.  To those friends, I say thank you for loving me and letting me grieve, but I came to a point very early in this process when I knew I was angry, but it seemed like a waste of energy to aim that anger at God.  If it was God who caused this, then everything that I know of Him, all that I believe, would be null and void.  It would lead to a crisis of faith.  But I know His word is true, so I knew that the target of my anger could be explained in a better way. 

John 10:10 says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  I have an enemy who is very real.  I forget this when I get wrapped up in life.  I blame him when something goes wrong with our finances, or our hard days with the kids….and that’s not displaced blame.  But I forget that he is much more harsh, more cunning, more destructive than I tend to remember.  And just because I have a relationship with the Lord does not immunize me from his hatred.  I would argue that it makes that hatred all the more real.  And that is what happened.  I had to see and experience death last week.  It was gruesome and cruel.  It was heartbreaking and horrifying.  And it was nothing new.  This has been happening since the serpent came to Eve in the garden and whispered “Did God really say…?”  And that same whisper invaded my ears last week.  “Oh, God is good?  Really?  Then why is this happening?  Did God really say…?” 

Yes, yes, God did say that He came that we may live and live full, abundant lives.  Yes, God said that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Yes, God said that He will go before us and hem us in behind and before.  He said that He is a refuge to us and that He is near to the brokenhearted.  He said that He would work all things according to His purpose for the good of those who love Him.  He said he would never leave us or forsake us. 

And He hasn’t left me.  He is so near and so good.  Though there is death and sadness, this was not His intended, created order.  And He doesn’t just throw His hands up in the air and say “Oh well…you sinned and this is what you get!”  No, our God is so good that He gave His son, which I realize more now how amazingly sacrificial that was, so that my little baby who never got to be held or kissed by me, can live forever in the arms of a loving God, never knowing sickness or sadness or sin.  And in the midst of my grief, He is taking what the enemy of my soul has intended to destroy me, and He’s turning it into something He can use to work something deep into my heart.

I have a choice.  I can stay angry, closed up, and distract myself into numbness.  Or, I can grieve, cry, and trade these ashes for His beauty.  It seems like the obvious choice, but it’s not simple. 

I want to be alone right now, and in my loneliness, I want to feel sorry for myself.  I want to turn on the tv and get lost in whatever is on, no matter if I like it or not.  I want stay daydreaming about my baby and what we would have been like a year from now, a family of 7 instead of 6.  I want to tantrum sometimes like a little kid who didn’t get her way.  But God is drawing me to something better. 

He allows us to grieve and ask why.  In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”  But in the midst of that overwhelming sorrow and grief, in His very next breath he uttered, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  God did not create death.  But he chose to use it through His son to work something deep into the hearts of men for ages to come, so that we might be spared and spend eternity with Him.  What a good and loving Father.  And I personally am thankful that He overcame the grave!  Now I don’t have to wonder where my little one is.  I know.

So though you might see me with tear stained cheeks, tired and overcome with grief and sorrow, I can say God is good.  He has been working deep things in my heart.  He sits enthroned in the heavens, and my little one gets to see Him face to face.  There is no greater gift I could have given my child but Him.  And for eternity that little one gets to rest in His perfect arms of love because we allowed her life into our lives, even for a short time.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.  As they pass through the Valley of Baca [tears], they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.  They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”  Psalm 84:  5-7

This verse has been prayed over me many times during my life, but never did I receive it with such clarity as I do now.  My heart is forever set on a pilgrimage and my very life’s goal is to draw closer to the heart of God, always sojourning until the day I see Him face to face.  But in this journey, there will be tears.  Jesus warned us that in this life, there are many troubles.  But we are blessed when we make this journey through hardships and allow Him to turn our tears into a place of springs…life!  But here’s my new favorite part:  “the autumn rains also cover it with pools [blessings].” 

You see, I learned of my baby’s passing two days before my birthday.  My actual birthday and the days surrounding this year were filled with so much pain, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  Three years ago, during the same week, my cousin suddenly passed away. When I was younger, my grandfather also left this earth around the time of my birthday.  A few other hard things have happened during the very same week.  So, my initial reaction to the timing of all this was “What in the world are you trying to say to me about the week I was brought into the world!?!” 

And in the Lord’s kindness, He revealed a little more about this passage.  It’s these autumn (some versions say early, but mine actually says autumn) rains that bring blessings.  And with each terrible hardship, each year, I’ve walked away with immeasurable blessings.  Not in an outward sense, no not at all.  In fact, it seems each autumn (or close to it) brings loss.  But it’s in this loss that God chooses to draw me closer than ever before and give me a glimpse of His eternal glory.  I’d rather have that than a birthday cake any day.

This year, my blessing has been a renewed commitment to maintain possession of nothing on this earth.  I own nothing, and I am nothing apart from Him.  He alone sits enthroned in my heart.  But I found how easily it is that I allow things that He has blessed me with, good things, to take His place.  How quickly my family became so important to me that it threatened to take that place of most importance.  And like Abraham who was asked to offer up His only son, my Father has challenged me with whether I’d be willing to give up these good and perfect little blessings if He asked me to.  Unlike Abraham who had unwavering faith, I was quite a bit more hesitant.  But His kindness led me to a place where I realize that if I truly want to possess all of Him, to know Him in His fullness, than I must possess nothing else.  And though Abraham was rich and owned many things, he possessed nothing.  That is the cry of my heart as I continue to walk through the Valley of Baca.  That I might come out receiving His blessings that these autumn rains are bringing, but still possessing nothing. 

But whatever former things I had that might have been gains to me, I have come to consider as [one combined] loss for Christ’s sake.

Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One),

And that I may [actually] be found and known as in Him, not having any [self-achieved] righteousness that can be called my own, based on my obedience to the Law’s demands (ritualistic uprightness and supposed right standing with God thus acquired), but possessing that [genuine righteousness] which comes through faith in Christ (the Anointed One), the [truly] right standing with God, which comes from God by [saving] faith.

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]

That if possible I may attain to the [spiritual and moral] resurrection [that lifts me] out from among the dead [even while in the body].

Philippians 3: 7-11, Amplified
Thank you for praying for us.  Though this post is long, there is so much more to say!  So many victories and kindnesses and lessons.  All of us have been walking through this with a heart to see God’s purpose in our pain.  We ask for continued prayer.  I personally ask that you pray against fear that is so quick to enter my mind.  And also for energy to accomplish the day to day tasks of this family that I am so blessed to be a part of for as long as He lets me.  For my husband to be blessed, because I do not exaggerate when I say that he has been the most excellent husband and father I could have imagined, while all the while his heart has broken as well.  Finally for my kids…it was my oldest’s first reaction to pray for a miracle when he heard the news.  I love that I got a glimpse of his faith.  I ask for prayers for them, that their faith is increased beyond measure and that in their sadness, they find comfort.

If you’ve read to this point, I thank you for letting me pour out my heart to you.  I pray that He blesses you and that you walk with a deeper understanding of how near He is to us always. 

Many tears are still being cried, and each and every day is difficult, but He is good.  He is good.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Deep Sorrow

I feel like I’m having an out of body experience, and yet I feel every bit of pain, both real and emotional, that hits me like unrelenting waves.  I think this is just a really, long, bad dream, but there’s no waking up.  There’s no going to sleep either.  Where I once felt life, I feel hollow.  Where there was joy, there is so much sorrow.  So much. 

And yet…

 Though I said “I will never be shaken,” I am.  Not in who or what I believe in.  But in who and what I am.  And what is just? And what is fair?  And why does it all matter?  Because in light of the thousands of tears I cried, and the countless prayers I’ve prayed, He’s still the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  He is still good.

My heart has never been as broken as it is right now.  I cannot comprehend how to move on in this moment.  But He is good.  And He will gently lead me.  I’m so sad, and I’m angry, and I’m confused.  But He is good.  And He still holds my heart. 

Selfishly, I want to hold and kiss something that I cannot.  I feel robbed.  I feel violated.  I feel empty. 

And yet…

He is near.  So near.  My soul is downcast, but I will praise Him yet.  Because without Him, without His love, I could not have possibly loved another precious, tiny one whom I have never met this much.  My love for this life lost is supernatural and inexplicable.  It comes from something much greater, much wiser, more powerful than I.   It’s in those tender arms of perfect love that I imagine my little one right now, separated from me, but forever in His presence. 

Oh, my soul is weary.  I am nothing apart from Him.  I am sad, and angry, and confused.  But I will trust in that unfailing love that I had the privilege to experience and that I will never forget.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Extravagant Love Looks Like

Tomorrow is going to be a great day.  But before you start wondering what’s on our agenda, I’ll just stop you there.  It’s not going to be great because of something we have planned.  It’s not going to be great because of something we’ve done. 

Tomorrow is going to be great because there’s a woman who lives far away from us that is going to endure one of the most selfless acts I have heard of, and there will be much rejoicing because of her actions flowing out of such a beautiful heart.

Tomorrow, a wife, a mom, a sister, a friend is checking herself into a hospital, and giving away a part of herself so that another young man, whom she never knew, could live. 

Tomorrow, this woman is setting aside her agenda, her social life, her expectations, and her body so that another person could have the opportunity to have an agenda, a social life, expectations, and live in his body.

Tomorrow, three children, one very young, will watch their momma walk out Scripture in a way that so many of us only talk about.  Tomorrow a man is loving others in such a sacrificial way that he is giving his wife up for a period of time so that they can together fulfill a call on all of our hearts: to love each other as Christ has loved us.  Tomorrow, family and friends will wait and watch a beautiful act of selfless love enter this world. 

Tomorrow is going to be a great day.

A very good friend of mine’s sister-in-law heard about a young boy who desperately needed a kidney to save his life.  Not knowing whether she was a match, she boldly and courageously asked the question, Why not me?  She didn’t use her busyness as an excuse.  She didn’t use the odds of matching this need as a reason to stay away.  She was moved in her heart to help another, like so many of us are moved.  The difference is that she went way beyond being moved, and instead moved herself into action.

I don’t know this woman personally, but I’d love to meet her.  She’s a hero, although I’m sure she’d never consider herself as such.  She’s an example, although the motivation of her heart was not to lead, but to love.  We talk a lot about how much we love the Lord, but eventually this love should overflow into life changing encounters with others.  Her intense love for her Maker inspires me, and draws me to a place where I desire to extravagantly love.

Tomorrow, she is giving life to a child, but she is giving glory to God.  Matthew 25: 31-46 says this:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’


Her name is Kim.  Pray for her and her family tomorrow as she does this amazing act of love for a boy who needs extravagant love, but ultimately for her King. 

Tomorrow, let’s love others extravagantly right alongside of her, however you feel led.

Tomorrow is going to be a great day!


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

When We Lose Confidence

When is it, exactly, in our lifetime when we start to lose our self confidence?  When is it that we start to feel self conscious?  When is it that we start to lose sight of what makes us come alive, and rather choose to act in a way that we feel “safe” in the eyes of those around us?

Just a few weeks ago, I realized that my oldest child, a mere 6 ½ years old, is starting to feel less than adequate in some areas.  And my heart broke in a whole new way.

Twice a week, we try to quick clean the whole house.  It’s amazing how quickly things around here can clutter up and get grimy!  To make it fun, we play some upbeat tunes, set a timer, and see if we can finish cleaning the room in the allotted time.  It’s become our favorite way to get our chores done, and I’m often asked on non-cleaning days if we could “just do timer cleaning on just one room, pleeeeaaaase!” 

Once the timer is set, and our playlist is queued up, dust rags, vacuums and mops join the chorus of many voices singing, little fists pumping in the air.  Yes, cleaning day over here is wild and loud, but we don’t mind getting our chores done!

Just a few weeks ago, as I sprayed everyone’s dust rags during one of our favorite cleaning songs, I noticed one less voice joining our chorus.  There stood my oldest, cleaning, but clearly feeling awkward, restraining himself from joining in our family fun. 

I took him aside to see what the matter was, thinking he wasn’t feeling well or that perhaps he had something else on his mind.  I didn’t expect him to say, “Mom, it’s just that I don’t sing as well as you or Noah, so I thought I wouldn’t be a bother and not sing at all.”  Of course, my first response was, “Honey, of course you’re as good as us!  You should still sing!”  His little brother was listening and also rushed into the scene, attempting to encourage big brother and tell him he sings beautifully. 

Later that day, my dear son said he wanted to talk.  “I know I’m not as good as you are at singing.  I also know that I am good at other things.  I just don’t want to do the things I’m not good at anymore.” 

Time to be honest:  as much as I absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, LOVE to hear my son sing, it’s true that he’s not going to be recording a Billboard hit in his future.  But my heart was to encourage him not to quit.  Singing is praising, and the Lord only requires us to make a joyful noise, not a perfectly harmonic noise.  Besides, who is to say who is good and who is better?  And furthermore, who says that you can’t improve if you just keep trying?

These are all the things that were whirling through my head, but all that came out of my mouth was “for now let me pray about this and we’ll talk later.”  Thank you Lord for teaching me a little restraint!  The more I thought about it, the more I realized, our choice to restrain ourselves, sometimes resulting in fear, comes from our inability to realize who we were created to be.  The truth is, we were each designed specifically by the Creator of the Universe, who chose to place stars in the sky, give me my curly hair, and give my son the voice He gave him (which by the way is one of the sweetest sounds I have ever heard in my life).

I realized that I am just now entering into a season of knowing who I am, and not in the sense of what I want to be or do with my life.  No, in being who I am unapologetically.  In knowing that my sense of humor is a gift, and that my intelligence is not a bad thing.  In feeling comfortable in my own skin and with my own voice. In passionately following things He placed in my heart with no excuses, no restraint.  I will not be the best at anything I do.  There is always going to be someone more creative, more proficient, smarter, more organized.  And I have let that silly truth stop me in my tracks so many times.  But my Creator has made me exactly who I am, and has told me in 2 Timothy 1:7 that I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. 

And the more I prayed about what to tell my son, I realized that I would be supportive no matter what he chooses, as long as he walks along in the confidence that God intended for him.  There are other ways to praise, and he is my one who reads and loves the Word.  He speaks truth over each one of us.  I know that he desires a relationship with the living God, rather than religion.  But still, he is 6.  He has a lot to learn, develop, and practice.  So we sat down and examined some Scripture together to figure this one out.  Here’s a sampling of what we discussed:

1 Peter 2:9 says “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness in to his wonderful light.”  (emphasis added)

Psalm 139:13-16
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

1 Samuel 16:7
“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’”
Matthew 5:13-14
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”

1 Peter 2:5
“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

I looked at his little face and told him how precious he was not just to me and our family, but to His King who made him just the way he is.  As his smile spread across his face, it seemed like a light bulb came on.  He apologized for not singing…indeed, he wants to sing…and dance…and play instruments…this boy was a fountain once we tapped into him!  I reminded him he doesn’t sing for us, but for His King…I think he gets it now.  He’s been singing louder and longer ever since, even writing some of his own songs.  I cannot help but ask myself what if we never talked this one through?  What would have happened to this passion that I see in him now?

When do we lose our confidence?  When is it that we abandon what is in our hearts for something that is seemingly acceptable? 

When we lose sight of who we are living and breathing for.  When we choose to please the created rather than the Creator.  When we have enough self awareness to finally learn what sacrifice might be.  But in sacrificing what others think of us, we rest in a place of true joy, walking in confidence, and becoming the person we were destined to become.

Here are some of my boy’s latest worship lyrics:

            God, you are my King,
            The best King,
            The only King.
            You are more powerful than anything.
            You are my King.
            You are my King.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Permission to Be Beautiful

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.”

– Miss Piggy, The Muppets

While I start my morning ritual of scrambling eggs and blending our smoothies, my toddler daughter starts her own morning routine.  After at least 12 hours of beauty sleep (which is God’s gift to both of us!), she wakes up, finds her necklaces and shoes, and after adorning herself, she promptly grabs a baby doll or two, kisses them, and wheels them into the kitchen, snuggled up in their tiny pink stroller. 

When I’m rushing to get everyone out the door, making sure the boys have taken that last fateful trip to the bathroom, counting the number of diapers I have packed, and making sure I remember to look in the mirror myself, she’s waiting patiently to get her hair done.  She sits up straight and still, and always wants to look in the mirror when her styling is complete.


My husband and I laugh.  If you know me, you know how simple I am when it comes to my “routine.”  My hair is usually in a pony tail, and I have minimal makeup on, if any at all.  My only piece of jewelry that I sport 99% of the time is my wedding band.  So my pretty princess did not get her desire for all things pretty and shiny from me at all.

Her innate desire to be beautiful has caused me to sit back and wonder what God has written on her heart.  This was a deeper ponder than I wanted to have pondered.

Before my daughter entered into my life, I would have told you that beauty wasn’t important to me.  But now I can say that that would have been an ignorant, quickly dismissive statement.  Logically speaking, who doesn’t love to look at something beautiful?  Who doesn’t want to feel like they live in a beautiful place, or to vacation somewhere that they consider beautiful?  Who doesn’t appreciate the beauty of nature?  Who doesn’t notice a handsome man or a beautiful woman as they walk by?   We, by nature, appreciate beauty. 

Who doesn’t love a compliment?  Even in my hard-hearted days, a compliment made me feel alive inside, whether or not it showed outwardly.  And though we should not give other people’s opinions power over us, our emotions and our thinking, their words of encouragement tend to give us joy. 
Logically speaking, then, beauty is important to me.  I like beautiful things, and I love receiving an unexpected compliment.  Why then have I flippantly dismissed beauty for such a long time?
Well, my pondering has brought up many reasons.  And much (but not all) has to do with the way I grew up.  I didn’t have the mom figure telling me I was beautiful or guiding me through what I call “the awkward years.”  No one taught me how to dress for my figure, or do my hair and make up.  But arguably, many women, even with mothers, have that same absence in their lives. 

Some women take it upon themselves to learn, because they are honest with themselves that they desire to be beautiful.  No, not me.  I hid from it.  I saved all the insecurity of my awkward years in a box, right next to my 3 makeup items and hair appliances I rarely use.  And when I walk into the bathroom on a quest to look how I want to feel, instead of reaching for my mascara, I take out that box, sort through it while looking into the mirror, and walk out resigned to never be beautiful.

Now, I’m being totally honest here.  I have gone to enough teachings, enough small groups, and read enough books on what beauty is.  And I’m a firm believer that beauty does not define you.  It does not give you confidence.  It does not give you joy.  You know what it gives you?  Beauty.  It is, of itself, something to behold.  It is something created to celebrate.  And we are something created to celebrate. 

I watch my daughter adorn herself in the morning, and look at me with such joy.  I watch her older brothers finding her so adorable for acting so feminine.  And I wonder when and why I decided to not allow that freedom and that joy in my own life. 

I hid behind my intellect, reasoning that God looks at the heart, not the hair.  And that’s true!  Don’t get me wrong.  But my heart was not right.  Because instead of seeing myself as He sees me, I saw something different…something undesirable…something that wasn’t worth investing in.  And I hid behind the lies of busyness, and priorities, and excuses in order to not deal with my heart issues.

I hesitate to write all of this because it is difficult, especially for Christian women, to invest in themselves without feeling vain.  We don’t want to be that fleeting beauty, but we want that Proverbs 31 character.  While the Word says that God looks at the heart, He also looked at the beauty of His creation and saw that it was good. 

I think of all the times when my husband has paid me a compliment, and I’ve struggled so much because internally I’m thrilled but externally I roll my eyes and play it off.  I think of times when I get together with a friend and they tell me I look great and I begrudgingly say, Oh geeze, thanks, but I don’t feel great, completely not receiving that compliment.  And then I think of God looking at me, a created woman, and as He gazes on my, dare I say, beauty, He says that it is good.  Man, am I convicted. 

My beauty that He created is good.  I see that every time I watch my daughter twirl in a pretty dress, with her pigtails and necklaces.  She is beautiful and not vain.  She is beautiful and not proud.  She is beautiful and knows it, but does not chase after it.  I pray that she stays humble and confident, chasing after the eternal, but always knowing how precious and gorgeous she was made. 

So I decided to confide in a friend a few weeks ago about my quest for beauty.   And when I say friend, I mean the kind where you know that before you were born God just knew you were going to be friends forever kind of friend.  I confided in her because she has known me most of my life, knows all my secrets and insecurities as well as my strengths and confidences.  She is beautiful on the inside and out and knows how to make women feel the way they were created to feel.

We had a great conversation about how beauty is something that God made, and that is o.k. to want that.  I want my daughter to feel beautiful, but I think my heavenly Father probably wants that for me too.  I confided that I feared trying to look nice because I was afraid of what others would think…Oh, this is you trying to actually look nice?!   But through our conversation, I realized that I was perpetuating the same perversion of beauty that I logically tried to avoid.  I was placing my beauty in the context of other people and not my own. 

Here’s when the Miss Piggy quote comes in…I am beautiful.  And if others don’t agree, they probably just need a perspective adjustment.  I can list for you the things I don’t like about myself, but the power of life and death is in the tongue, and I want to appreciate who God made me inside and out.  While I know He looks at the heart, the way we perceive and fall out of gratitude for who He made us on the outside can start to make our hearts grow sick.  I am on a journey of health and wellness, and it includes healing my heart from years of insecurity and denial and embracing the way He knit me together uniquely and divinely. 

The Epilogue:

Here’s the fun part!

My very beautiful friend, who I confided in, asked me to meet her at her house last night for a surprise.  She’s a make up artist, and I had asked her to give me a few tips to update my look.  She did such an amazing job of accenting all the beauty in my face, teaching me little tips and tricks along the way.  After our make up session, she whisked me off to a beautiful salon to get a new cut and some styling tips from a really great hair stylist.  I felt as if there should have been cameras following us along on our journey!  I was living a real life make over totally steered solely by my very own friend.  She went out of her way to schedule time with me, which is no small task for a busy mom of three little boys!  She set everything up ahead of time, even sending my picture to the salon so that they could be ready with some ideas.  And when I walked out feeling fresh and new, we went out and laughed and had some great conversation.  It was a night I will never forget! 

I woke up this morning with my newly styled hair and makeup tips and took only about 10-15 minutes to put myself together.  Hmm, it’s not that difficult after all.  And I made myself a promise.  My friend thought I was beautiful and wanted to invest in me, and I want to steward that investment.  Instead of looking at my flaws, I’m going to enjoy the beauty God has given me.  So without further adieu, I proudly present you with an updated me...and it feels great!

I want my daughter to see the world through His eyes.  In a culture obsessed with looks, trends, and perfection, I know it will be a challenge to keep her eyes focused on what matters most at times. But I want her to see herself the way God sees her…the way her dad and I see her.  She is absolutely stunning.  She is amazing.  I treasure her beauty, and she has inspired me to treasure my own. 



Saturday, June 15, 2013

What I Have Learned From My Father

My dad is one of my best friends.  And I’m proud to say that I’m a lot like him.  All of his quirks that I used to roll my eyes at, I realize I have.  All the things he found fascinating and I thought were less than, I now find fascinating.  He has left me a love of knowledge, a passion for truth, an appreciation of art, music, and theater, and his lovely, witty, corny sense of humor. 

But the greatest thing that he passed down to me was a commitment to prayer.

When I was little, I remember stumbling out of my room early in the morning, nightgown crooked, sporting my bed head, Rainbow Brite in hand, and peering down the hallway, peeking in at my dad.  I’m not sure if he knows I did this to this day.  But I would watch him kneeling by the couch, whispering so quietly.  It seemed as though he was unloading all of the thoughts on his heart.  For whatever reason, I was fascinated by a big, grown up man kneeling so low and whispering so quietly. 

I remember one morning excitedly heading back to my room, kneeling at my bedside and whispering to God the way that my dad did.  I’ve never stopped.  He was onto something.    

I have no idea what he whispered to the Lord every morning.  Victories and challenges.  Joys and pains.  But whatever life brought us through for years to come, I always remembered the man who brought himself so low and stayed so quiet. 

There are moments of life that are unkind.  There are moments that are challenging.  There are moments that are sheer joy.  And in all those moments, I’ve learned to come to the One who held my dad so steady. 

My dad is intelligent.  He’s talented.  He’s witty.  He’s kind.  But most importantly, he is humble and wise.  And even though he probably had no idea I was spying on him, and though he didn’t know those quiet actions were the loudest to me, he left me a legacy that I desire to pass down to my children, and them to theirs.

Happy Father’s Day to a dad who has modeled to me what a good man looks like when no one is looking.  I love you!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

According to His Glorious Riches

It’s Sunday night.  The grass is cut.  The garden is watered.  We fired up the grill for dinner and had some great chicken and veggies.  We played football in the yard.  We stopped when we saw a bird, or a squirrel, or an ant, because all moving creatures are completely fascinating.  We had ice cream cones and baths.  We read stories, sang songs, and kissed foreheads.  And tonight we think that we are the luckiest, most blessed people in the world.

Unfortunately, every day doesn’t follow the script like today did.  Most of the time, we have tantrums, potty emergencies, forgotten items, emergency appointments, and my quick prayers are filled with the words “grace” and “help.”  But this weekend was different.  Yesterday, we watched our older two boys score soccer goals and helped our little ones cheer them on.  We went for a 3 mile hike in “a very adventurous forest,” according to my 2 year old.  We listened for frogs, found turtles, and climbed a very large hill that the boys’ proudly referred to as a mountain.  And tonight, after so many adventures, so many moments, and getting so much done that life demands for us to get done, we sit here feeling blessed beyond measure.

We made a choice 6 ½ years ago, when our first son was born, for me to quit my job and stay home.  It was a choice that I never thought I’d make.  I was career driven since I was in Jr. High.  Success was my driving force.  But something happened.  God spoke.  He rocked our world.  He asked me to lay everything down for this little one.  And I did…though not always with a right attitude. 

I truly believe He doesn’t call everyone to do this.  Just like we are all called to different paths in life, I believe that how we raise our families also looks different.  The important part is whether we have our ear turned to our Maker. He will provide us with direction.  But that direction doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense.

I say this because for 6 ½ years, I’ve struggled with whether we did the right thing.  Note, I did not say that I’ve struggled with whether or not I’ve heard God’s opinion in the matter.  He’s been quite clear over and over again that this is what He has for us right now.  But there are those times when money is tight.  There are those times when you visit a friend’s house with half the number of kids and double the square footage that you own.  There are those times when you talk to a friend who is able to work outside the home, and you wish you had that outlet now and then.  But when we walk in the will of God, we have His favor, and nothing else can replace that.

In the last few weeks we have seen His favor in an amazing way.  Just when I think that we should change course, He confirms that we’re walking right where we should be.  Most recently, we had an emergency that left us with a bill that was a burden.  I prayed that night for peace about the situation.  I tend to worry and panic when I don’t know how things will turn out.  The very next day, I received a card in the mail with a check, blessing us with the very same amount of money that we needed to pay off this debt.  The note simply stated that God asked them to give, and so they did.  The card was mailed the morning of the emergency…before we even had a need.

He knows our needs and acts upon them before we even know them.  We are richly blessed. 

We walked in more favor that week.  We were blessed by a crock pot of chicken soup to soothe our fevering, achy bodies.  My boys prayed for pizza one night for dinner.  I rolled my very tired eyes at that one.  It was most definitely not in the budget.  At 4:45 that evening, pizza was delivered to my door…it was from a good friend who wanted to bless us.  I got a random note of encouragement in the mail a few days later that spoke directly to the insecurities and questions in my heart.  We received some good news that we’ve been waiting on for a long time.  We felt the hand of God in our lives, and it was exhilarating! 
My oldest son has a gift of encouragement.  Pair that with an impeccable memory and love of knowledge, and he is sometimes my most favorite person to talk to.  Just a few days ago, we were recalling all of the things that God has done for us recently.  He quoted two verses in our conversation that have stuck with me for days.  He said, “It’s not a surprise to me that God did what He did for us.  When we walk with Him, we have His blessings.  Our God will meet all our needs according to His glorious riches.  And He’s pretty rich mom.”  After some more conversation, he quoted 1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.  And that is what we are!”  (We have this one posted in our house).  But he told me, “You are a child of God.  And when you honor Him, He wants to give you everything He has planned just like when I honor you and you have great things planned for me.”  I’m so thankful for his wisdom. 

There are hard days.  Like, really, really hard days.  There are many, many moments of doubt.  But there are these divine, amazing times when it’s undeniable that despite what we don’t have, we are exactly where we’re supposed to be.   And we are standing in a place of blessing.  My heart is to take it all in.  I don’t want to miss a moment. 

We chose for me not go to work and make an extra income for our family.  This means we don’t have all the things others do.  This means we don’t do all the things we’d like to do.  Sometimes it even means we don’t have the things we need.  But He supplies all our needs, and keeps us in a place of green pastures and still waters.  And we have seen the seasons shift enough times now to know that there are times we give to others out of His riches, and sometimes we receive.  Either way, we can’t go wrong with an ear turned toward Him.

So tonight, as I rocked my little girl, kissed my little boys, and cleaned up the toys in the yard, I’m feeling really rich.  I am living out His promises for me today and every day.  I am breathing the very breath He intended me to breathe today.  I am thoroughly enjoying examining the ants, chasing the squirrels, and teaching my kids the difference between weeds and tomato plants.  I love sitting on the couch with my husband in the dimly lit room talking about the past, present, and future. 

I love having His love lavished on us.  And I always want to be fascinated by the ants moving, the squirrels chattering, and the birds soaring above us.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Intensity = Results


It’s the only word I can come up with to describe the last few weeks, months even.  And just when I think that I’m warming up to the intensity, life keeps happening.  It keeps getting more, well, intense.

With four mobile children ages 6 and under (one entering her tantrum time, and one hopefully exiting his), a newly potty-trained 2 (soon to be 3) year old little man, finishing up home schooling for the year, and the regular rig-a-ma-roll of cooking, cleaning, shopping, chauffeuring, and working, I’ve barely had time to breathe. 

Note:  I’m not complaining.  I function best under pressure.  In fact, I even added more to our plate:  getting the house ready to put on the market (we’ll see!), starting a new exercise and diet routine (2 weeks, 8 lbs. and 12 inches lost), and continuing to form a non-profit organization aimed at adoption education, support and reform.  To top it all off, my dear husband has been working out of town Monday through Friday, giving me some extra weekday duties and no evening relief!

No, I’m not complaining.  I’m celebrating.  Life is good.  We’re definitely not bored.  Our house is filled with laughter…or crying…or both.  My days are spent with my four favorite little people in the universe.  My evenings are spent catching up on the phone with my favorite guy in the world before I conquer the rest of my to-do list.  I remember days that used to seem super long.  These days go by too quickly.  No, I’m not complaining…this week.  But if you talked to me before my last heart check, I was oozing with discontent.  My apologies to all those friends who endured my grumbling.

Until recently, this intense season left me panicky, complaining, and dismal.  What’s a girl to do with all this responsibility, no help, and pure, utter exhaustion? Well, this girl tried to do it in her own strength…over and over and over and over again.  Day in and day out.  And what met me in the morning was a worse attitude than the day before.  I dreaded the day, and “suffered” through them as if my life was terrible.   Truth is, it isn’t.  Not one little bit.  But by breakfast, I probably visibly appeared burdened.  Yeah, I was a little, black rain cloud.

But intensity does that to you…it skews your perspective.  It makes you think that you absolutely cannot handle another responsibility, another moment, another activity.  In reality, and in ultimate truth, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength…ay, there’s the rub.  In who?  Not in me…but in Christ. 

You’d think I would have this idea down.  You’d think I’d know to take life one day at a time, in His strength.  But that truth is still sinking from my head, to my heart, hopefully to become my habit.  It wasn’t until about 10 minutes into a grueling (for me!) exercise dvd last week that I realized how much we want to quit when things get hard.  Doing 3 minutes of intense strength training on the same muscle group not only affects my body, but it affects my mind.  You can’t do this.  You aren’t strong enough for this.  You’re gonna collapse.  Just give up.  But everything in me knows that if I stick with it, results happen…and it’s not that long of a time in the grand scheme of things. 

So it is the same with life.  When we’re faced with intense challenges, they are physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually draining.  Our mind plays some pretty powerful tricks on us, tricks that seemingly erase truth that we were convinced were rooted in our hearts.  You can’t do this.  Poor you.  Other moms at least get a break..  You’re never gonna make it.  Just give up.  Self-pity sets the stage for lies to creep in and transform our mind.  But there’s a huge problem with this…self-pity, lies, exhaustion, life circumstances, intensity in general are not the controlling factors in transforming us.  Rather, Romans 12: 2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

I’ve been justifying my heart attitude saying that I still was making time for God. I was still in the Word.  I was still leaning on Him.  Therefore, this was what holiness and goodness and joy looked like in this season.  But I’m gonna be honest.  It was all in vain.  I was looking for Him to take away my burden rather than allowing him to transform me by renewing my mind.  I wasn’t giving him my mind.  I was holding on to it.  I was offering up my time, my attention, but not my agenda…not my complaining.  I couldn’t imagine succumbing to the thought that I could endure my to-do list with joy and strength.  No, that couldn’t be the answer.  The moment I let my agenda go, so went the grumbling, the self-defeating thoughts, and dreading waking up the next morning. 

The character trait we’ve been learning around the Stack house is patience.  The operational definition of patience is something that I should have picked up on much sooner than I did…it might have ended my mind grumbling a little earlier.  We’re learning that patience means “accepting a difficult decision without giving a deadline to remove it.” 

So while I thought I was being patient outwardly with my kids, my husband’s work schedule, my own work…really, inwardly I was loudly reminding God (o.k., screaming at Him!) that if He didn’t do something to my work load I was going to explode.

I am thankful for His mercy.  I am thankful that He takes us through some intense times so that He can drive home a truth that we think we have a handle on.  I am thankful that I can walk my kids through my weaknesses, and I am hopeful that they don’t struggle with fundamental truths to the extent I do at my age. 

I am thankful for intensity.  It’s exhausting, but it always produces results. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sayonara to Sippy Cups

Just when you least expect it, it hits you: that overwhelming wave of nostalgia.  Just today, as I was changing loads of laundry, I held my third son’s beloved blankie, and instantly remembered the day he was born.

Perhaps the nostalgia comes from the fact that today is my daughter’s first birthday.  One year ago right now, my husband and I were anxiously awaiting her arrival in a hospital room, full of joy.  It doesn’t seem right that it’s been a year already.  I remember holding her tiny little body for the first time, tears streaming down my cheeks as I exhaustedly muttered, “Well, I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you, my little princess!”  I remember handing her to my husband, and watching his proud daddy look melt into a different kind of love.  I remember thinking that he looked different gazing at her than when he first beheld each of our boys.  I remember bringing her home to a house full of love, with little boys begging to hold their sister.  I remember changing her clothes way too often because I wanted to play dress up with a little girl.

And now, that little girl is walking, and talking, and drinking from a cup, and waving bye-bye…and I just am not ready for her to grow up.

Just this past weekend, my husband and I were able to get away for a night…the first time since we became parents!  It was wonderful!  But I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a little bit of sad mixed in there.  Our two oldest boys, 6 and 4, have never slept away from home without us.  And there they were, with their two best friends, hugging our legs and waving us away.  We watched as they ran with their friends, farther and farther away, and I thought to myself, surely, they are still too little to have friends…to have a sleepover…to start making those amazing childhood memories that include others besides ourselves.  They had the time of their lives.  They played in mud, collected rocks, built a tent, and ran around playing soccer. 

But I wasn’t expecting them to grow up this fast.  They are reading, writing, understanding jokes, developing skills and confidently using their talents…and I just was not expecting this to happen so soon.

As I put my two-year-old son’s blankie into the dryer this morning, I got misty eyed.  I remember when he first decided, in his baby mind, that this was his blankie.  It was back in the day when I was still nursing him and rocking him to sleep.  It was when he was my baby, no younger sibling.  It was when he preferred playing with me than to his brothers.  It was before the days when he wrestled with the boys and daddy, before the days when he thought burping was funny, and before the days when he had a pajama preference.  And though I was tired, overwhelmed at times, and genuinely worn out as a mom of three young boys, I cherish those days of innocence. 

Last night, I kissed that little 2-year-old boy as I placed him in a big boy bed.  He has grown up faster than the rest.  He wants to be just like his brothers, and so he’s said goodbye to his crib, his sippy cups, and his baby toys.  I didn’t realize that seasons were changing until they changed.  My baby boy has turned into a walking, talking, cup drinking, big-boy-bed sleeping, soccer ball kicking kid.  And I just wasn’t ready for that.

These days of mothering get hard.  Wait.  That’s an understatement.  There are days when I literally say out loud “Help me Lord!  Or else I might explode!”  In fact, just this morning, I was doing the laundry because my kids are sick…again…and yes, they “sicked” all over their beds in the middle of the night.   Today was particularly challenging, but I realize that these moments are fleeting.  The busyness of young children carry us…no, push us into the very next moment before we are ready for it.  Even in the craziness, even in the busyness, even in the “sicked” laundry, there are beautiful moments that amount to nothing more than gifts.  I get the privilege of watching these little princes and this little princess grow and become who they were intended to be.  The tantrums, the laundry, the diapers, the sleepless nights are par for the course. 

I probably will want to cry again sometime soon…maybe even today!  I probably will get so overwhelmed that I have to stop and pray.  And that’s o.k.  Everything that is worth something requires those moments.  And there is nothing else worth more to me than my family. 

I am so thankful for that little Winnie the Pooh blankie, washed and dried and fresh again.  It is a reminder that though my little guy’s said sayonara to sippy cups, he still has many years to grow.  And though I am not ready, I do love watching the process unfold.  I do love watching my kids make friends and discover who they are.  There is no greater gift than watching God’s hand on your child’s life.  I just pray that I stop in the middle of all the busyness to keep watching.

“Teach me how to number my days that I might gain a heart of wisdom.”  Psalm 90:12