By Grace Through Faith…It is So Not About Me

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For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. ~ Ephesians 2:8-10

When I was expecting our twin daughters, Faith and Grace, there were many complications. I lay awake in a hospital bed for weeks, praying, waiting, hoping, resisting doubt and fear. When we heard that we were expecting identical twin daughters, almost immediately, Ephesians 2:8 came into my mind. For it is by grace through faith you have been saved… Grace has always been my favorite name, and that verse has always spoken to my heart. It was not something I did to earn salvation, but a precious gift from our Savior. So, it seemed fitting. And, they no longer were known as Baby A and Baby B, but Faith Elizabeth and Grace Katherine. I’ve been talking a little about names and what it means to have someone know your name. Their names had deep meaning, and more than I even realized.

Webster’s definition of grace: “unmerited help given to the people by God….”. Unmerited. Undeserved. Given freely, not because of anything we did or could ever do to earn it. Grace that covers us. Grace that is given to us daily in a sufficient portion to meet our needs. Abundant, beautiful grace. Grace that saves…grace that carries…grace that comforts. I learned about His grace through being their mother. And I kept learning long after they left this earth.

At first, I thought that they were just beautiful names from a meaningful verse. When asked by one of our doctors why I chose the names Faith and Grace, I said, “Because it’s going to take a lot of both to get through this!” But, even their situation…twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome made sense with the words in the scripture. Because in the condition of twin-to-twin the “lines are crossed”, so to speak. One baby, (Faith) gets too much fluid, blood flow, and nourishment, and the other (Grace) doesn’t get enough. In essence, Grace literally received her nourishment, her life…through Faith. And they were intertwined. Needing one another for survival.

Interesting…It is by grace through faith that we are saved. What I didn’t know is that there would be more. Carrying and saying good-bye to my Faith and Grace was only the beginning of learning about the faith and grace spoken of in these verses. Carrying our Thomas, we learned about true faith. Not the pretty word we Christians throw around…thinking it has something to do with us. Somehow, if we just have enough faith. Oh boy, do we miss the boat on that one. True faith is not some pretty little thing. It is found in the nitty-gritty journey through this life. It is not never feeling doubt or fear, but trusting in God anyway, when you are most afraid and filled with doubt and questions. Trusting when you don’t see. Believing without seeing. Believing when you don’t get the answer you want or when there seems to be no answer at all. Praising Him in the storm. Trusting Him to carry you. Surrendering to the arms of our sovereign God. Blessing Him when He gives and when He takes away. It’s not about how much faith I have or how strong it is. It’s about how mighty, able, powerful, all-knowing, merciful and good my God is.

If carrying Thomas taught us about faith, then meeting him taught us about grace. The all-sufficiency of His grace meeting us in that place of unknown sorrows. And replacing what Satan meant to break us, to destroy us, to darken our hearts forever…with joy overflowing as we met our son. As he filled my arms, and as the presence of the Lord filled the room. I sang, “O Lord, You’re beautiful…Your face is all I seek…For when your eyes are on this child…Your grace abounds to me.” And it did. It abounded, surrounded, lifted and carried me.

And none of it…not one ounce of it was about the strength of my faith, or my ability to conjure up or earn one ounce of the unmerited gift of grace poured out over me. It was only the beginning of the outpouring. It has flowed freely into my life since the moment I asked Jesus to come in. The “works” we are allowed to take part in today are just gifts…immense privileges from Him. Not because of anything we have done. Not because we are worthy…we are so not. Instead, we are just His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared for us…so that we should walk in them! He made us for the purposes that we serve today. Each of us have specific works that He has prepared for us to do. We just walk in them. If we are walking along the path of this life, following Him, we will just gently stumble upon what He has for us…as He leads us. The gifts and abilities that we have been given are no accident. They are gifts…given to us by our Father…for the purpose of serving and glorifying Him. And in turn, blessing His people. All we have to do, is keep walking.

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…
~Colossians 1:9-10

The Missing Place…and Another Place You Won’t Often Find Me…

I woke up a few hours ago, suddenly overcome with the heaviness of grief. Overcome with the “missing”, as I often refer to it in real life. You see, I am not in the fresh throws of grief over the losses in my life, like so many are (so many that are on my heart daily). I have written about the beauty that comes from the ashes of our sorrow…the sufficient grace we are blessed with daily. Of the hope we have in Jesus. And, the truth is that we do have hope…and that when He makes the beauty in our lives the ugliness of the ashes for the most part fades away. When He does a new thing, He does a new thing…the old passes away. I cried many tears, oceans of tears in the thick of my grief, but God has restored my joy. Completely, abundantly restored my joy. I say that so that you will have hope. The same God who carried me through the storms of grief will carry you too, if you cry out to Him. And He will restore your joy, as well.

In saying that, I hope what I am about to say does not take away from the steadfast truth that our joy is restored. There is still something that we will always carry, until we are in Heaven’s glory. Something that will not be fully restored until that sweet day of redemption.

There is a place that most of the time is masked as I walk through my days. I call it the place of “missing”. Something can sweep past me and unmask the covering over that tender spot in my heart…the spot of missing. And the ache will wash over me anew…the ache of missing the one who is lost. The spot is tender and raw and the ache is deep. It could be a memory that suddenly appears. It could be the sorrow of seeing someone else walking in the valley of shadow of death. It could be the changing of seasons as the winds blow in, reminding us of the passing of time, and days gone by.

Although I spend a lot of time with those who grieve…praying for them…walking with them…seeking ways to support them…remembering my own days of great sorrow so that I can have compassion and understanding…I do not consider myself one to wallow in my grief. Those who know me probably wouldn’t describe me as melancholy or a woman of sorrows. Probably, a better description (one I like better, anyway) is my friend Dinah’s mother, Ruth who always referred to me as the “girl who laughs”.
But there are days…moments when the “missing” comes, and it will…as long as I walk this Earth.

Mother’s Day is this weekend, and the “missing” is so strong this morning…the missing of the generations surrounding me. I am so grateful for the gift of being a mother. So thankful to see my boys live life with such zeal…the kind of zeal that only boys can display! So grateful that that I am called “mom”. I’m also thankful for the short time I was allowed to mother Faith and Grace…for the tender moments I carried them within me and learned their personalities…for the gift of briefly holding them in my arms…and that I was allowed to see them wearing pink lace and ribbons, if only for their funeral. I’m so grateful for the time I was given with sweet Thomas…for all the lessons his life taught us about faith, and believing without seeing…for the moments I held him in my arms…for the moment he opened his eyes and looked up at his mama…for the immense privilege of singing to him as he went straight from my arms to the arms of Jesus. I’m thankful that I have been allowed to tell their story, and that others have been comforted through our ministry because of their brief lives…lives that hold precious value. And I am thankful that I am my mother’s daughter…that God redeemed the years the moth had eaten and restored the broken places in our relationship before she passed. Thankful that He showed her His great love for her and that she received it. I am thankful that she no longer feels the physical pain that wreaked havoc on her body the last ten years of her life. Thankful that her arms no longer ache for her grand babies, and her heart no longer aches to be loved perfectly. I’m thankful for her grace and beauty and all the gifts she gave me in this life.

I am thankful…but aching…and missing…missing them.

After Mother’s Day, comes Memorial Day. And, with a Marine as my step dad and also a Marine brother-in-law, Memorial Day is not something that means just a day off school (although we are always happy to have a day off school!). Attending the Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony is not negotiable. And we have come to love it…to cherish it…to instill in our children the importance of honoring and remembering those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom…to honor the memory of those who have gone before us. I expect my boys to wave their flag with pride and put their hand over their hearts when the flag passes by and keep it there until every last veteran parades past.

Why am I talking about Memorial Day in the middle of my post about the “missing place”? Well, because it’s also a day where all the cemetery plots are decorated nicely because many will be visiting on that day to pay their respects. The cemetery is on my mind this morning. I’ve had a little tugging on my heart to take out some flowers and to check on the graves of my babies and my mother. I don’t want them to look sloppy when everyone else’s look cared for and loved. (Although my step dad religiously visits my mother’s grave and cares for it…as do others in our family.)The thing is…I am not a very good grave caretaker or visitor of graves…at all. Sometimes years have passed without me visiting. I know this is a tender subject. I see so many of you visiting and caring for the graves of your children. I know that in a way, it is an act of mothering for many. And that some find great peace and comfort in such a beautiful serene place. And, I can understand that and there is
beauty in it…in that act of love. In the early days of my grief when my arms ached so desperately to hold my babies, I did visit more…needing to perform some act of mothering…even if it just meant putting flowers on a grave. I hope you won’t judge me for struggling with it, myself.

Many feel close to their child or loved one at the cemetery. I do not. I do not wish to remember that day of raw grief. I do not wish to think of them there. The ache is smothering for me in that place. And the finality that I don’t believe to be true. It just doesn’t bring me comfort. And sometimes, I feel guilty that I don’t visit. I have even tried a couple times. And, I will say, it is easier for me to visit the grave of my children than my mother’s. I will pull in sometimes and start to walk toward it…and then back away. I just cannot. I take comfort from thinking of them alive and in heaven with Jesus…where I know that they are. And, I know those of you who visit the grave…many of you take comfort in heaven’s promise as well. But for me, I do not even wish to look upon the grave.

This year, I am going though. I may not stay. I may quickly put the stakes of my floral arrangement in the ground and back away from the smothering ache. But, I will go. And I will leave pretty flowers in a place that seems dull and gray to me. A picture of beauty from ashes. And when I leave and the ache comes like it has come this morning, I will take some time to weep in my Father’s lap…for the daughters and son my arms still ache for and for the mother’s voice I long to hear. He will wipe my tears and remind me that I will hold them again and I will hear her voice. And…when that sweet, sweet day comes it will take away, forever, the ache of the missing place. And, I’ll never have to visit the grave of someone I love…ever again.

Under the Tree – April – Hope for the Journey

I am participting in Under the Tree to reach out to other mothers and families who are grieving the loss of their babies. For more information about Under the Tree, or to read about Carly’s organization, please click on the link above. Below are this month’s questions and my answers. Blessings to all…

How long has it been since you lost your child/ren? Has your grief changed at all? Is your life becoming any easier or is it just harder as time passes?

It has been twelve years since my twin daughters, Faith Elizabeth and Grace Katherine went home to heaven on November 3, 1996. Our son Thomas joined his sweet sisters on July 14, 1998 (more than ten years ago). My grief was intense when we first lost our daughters and later our sweet son. The shock was so great with our first loss…and the pain was at times overwhelming…like being being tossed about in a tumultuous sea of emotions. Waves of grief would wash over me in unexpected times. With our son…the sorrow was also great, but it was a familiar place that I had walked before and desperately didn’t want to return to. I resisted the waves…not wanting to be under the control of the merciless grief. Still, there were moments of intense sorrow.

My life is much different and there has been so much healing since those initial years. I prayed and turned to scripture often during our time of great sorrow. Over the years, God has poured out His sufficient grace over our lives. He truly carried us through that time. Holding us when we were too weak from fighting the stormy sea of grief. He drew us closer to Him and each other. Our marriage survived many storms and is so much stronger and sweeter from the journey that we never would have chosen, but have been blessed for having endured. The bible says that God is able to make beauty from ashes in our lives…and we have seen Him do this more than once. It is a gift to know that in the darkest moments of our lives, Jesus will meet us and that He will keep His promise to never leave us or forsake us. He was there to carry my sweet Thomas home (and Faith and Grace) and He was there to carry me with His sufficient grace.

Today, I not only feel blessed for the healing that has taken place in my life, but I have the privilege of reaching out to offer comfort and hope to other mothers who grieve through our ministry: Sufficient Grace Ministries for Women. And I am able to share our story with so many others at hospitals, churches, and women’s groups. God has taught me compassion for others…and given an understanding for grieving hearts that I wouldn’t have had I not walked this path. There is also a sweetness for the simple gifts of life. We who have lost something so precious know the importance of treasuring every gift we are given in this life…especially those we are given to love.

How do you feel when you see pregnant women when you are out and about?

In the early years, it was hard for me to see other pregnant women for a time. Although, I was happy for their joy, I struggled with all that we had lost. I felt robbed of the gift of finding joy in pregnancy. For us, our joy had been tainted with great sorrow. I longed for a baby to fill my aching arms. And I thought I would never get to have a child again. It was painful. Sometimes I felt angry and bitter, but there was a point when it was important to let go of my bitterness, to turn away from focusing on all that I had lost and to focus on all that I had been given. God used gratefulness to heal my bitterness.

A family member had twin daughters a month after we buried our girls. And it tore me up…to see the little matching twin baby girl outfits and their sweet brown hair and brown eyes. The pain was unbearable when I would see them or see their pictures. I didn’t begrudge anyone else their joy or celebrating the gift of each life, but my own sorrow was bigger than anything else. And seeing them was like pouring salt in my wounds. I was supposed to have the gift of identical twin girls. My mom and I were supposed to be wallowing in pink lace and ribbons. Again…the Lord changed my focus and eased the pain in my heart in time. And although there will always be pangs of longing in my heart for my daughters…and a little ache when I pass the little girls department, today when I see those twin girls in our family, I smile. I still miss my daughters, and their presence still reminds me of Faith and Grace. But, today, I welcome the reminder. It is a beautiful thing to see what my girls may look like or what they would be doing if they were here today. And I know that where they are is so much better than where I am. Some sweet day, I will hold them and my dear Thomas once more.

What’s your therapy in the aftermath of losing your child? Do you go to counseling? Do you do artwork or some kind of exercise or do you simply just let yourself be? What helps you?

I did not go to therapy or a support group after either of my losses. Although, I know many people have found great comfort in attending such groups. And, I’m so glad these groups exist to offer comfort. I read my bible, prayed, and had the immense gift of dear friends who were willing to listen endlessly, lovingly, and without judgment long after the rest of the world moved on. I talked about my babies, cried when I was sad, yelled when I felt angry, ached with an emptiness beyond anything I could imagine, I remembered them, treasured the tangible items that reminded me of that they really were here…they matter…they exist. I sang. I wrote. Years later, I wrote a poem, a song, began sharing our story through writing and speaking, started our ministry, and created the Dreams of you Memory Book for families who lose a baby. Today, it gives me great peace
to offer the same comfort and hope to others that God gave to us as He carried us through our sorrow and turned our mourning into dancing. I clung to God and His word more than ever in my life. And He led me through that dark valley to a place of joy and healing today. But that journey took time and was not an easy walk in the park. There were dark days, valleys of sorrow, moments of despair. I was not perfect, not some pillar of faith that never wavered or doubted, not always strong. In fact, I was often quite weak, but I was carried by a God whose strength is made perfect through weakness.

Another very comforting thing to me has always been to think of my children in heaven. My oldest son, Timothy and I used to always say, “I wonder what Faith and Grace and Thomas are doing in heaven?” And we would suggest different possibilities. I knew their personalities and could guess at what they may like to do. Remembering that they are not dead, but alive in a place that is more wonderful than my human mind could ever imagine brings me great comfort. I still ache for my children and miss them…and I always will. But, because of Jesus, I know I will see them again. So, in that promise…in that hope, I have great joy and peace.

Believing Without Seeing…Because He Lives

A Combined:

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When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desired to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. ~ Mark 8:34-35

What does it mean to deny myself, to pick up my cross, and follow Him? It is a daily choice, a daily laying down of my desires, a daily decreasing of me and an increasing of Him.(Although the longer I walk with Him, the more my desires match His desires for my life. There is much to be gained in all my “giving up”. Hence, ” whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it”.) It is choosing words and thoughts of life and not harm. It is doing the hard thing, trusting when I don’t feel it, believing when I can’t see it. It is clinging to Him when when it doesn’t make sense when the world would say, “All hope is lost.” When Satan whispers in my ear, “Where is your God now?” It is lifting my eyes to Him, no matter what stands before me. It is running to meet the giant, filled with the confidence that the God I serve is able to give victory.

So many times, we want to see the miracles with our eyes. We want proof that He is there. Proof that He hasn’t forsaken us. Proof that He lives. Proof that He will carry us. Proof that His grace is sufficient. We want to see. Never have I ached to see Him more than when we heard the words “incompatible with life” in reference to our son Thomas. I have shared about part of that journey before, but today, I want to focus on the precious gift Thomas’ life gave to us…the reason he is called Thomas. His life taught us about “believing without seeing.”

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. ~ John 20:24-29

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day, He will rise again.” ~ Mark 10:33-34

At Christmas, we rejoice because He came. On Easter, we rejoice because He lives.

Because He lives, our Faith and Grace live too. They are complete and perfect as they dance in heaven and giggle over dainty tea parties in their Easter dresses with matching bonnets. They are safe in the arms of Jesus…because He lives.

Because He lives, our Thomas lives too. He runs and plays ball just like he was created to do. And someday, Timothy and James will play ball with their brother in all of heaven’s glory. And someday, we will all see with our eyes the Savior we have believed in with our hearts.

Because He lives, there is no more pain or cancer for my sweet mama. She can create beautiful things with her hands and love on her grandbabies. And someday, she will laugh with all of her grandbabies and her children on the porch of her cottage-mansion in heaven.

Because He lives, there will be no more tears. I will hope in Him. No more good-byes. Death has lost it’s sting. He has the victory. He lives and He will come again to take us home…and He will reign forevermore.

Sweet Thomas Patrick…

With Hope

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. I Thessalonians 4:13

My dear friend, Lynette Kraft has introduced a wonderful resource for those who face loss and the sorrow of grief. I wanted to share a little about her newly updated website and her ministry which has so spoken to my heart and inspired my spirit! Many of you are familiar with her story. If you are not, please click here. She has also written a book about her family’s journey through the loss of three of her children, the grief that followed, and the hope we have in our loving Father.

She tells her story better than I ever could. So I won’t elaborate too much. But there are a couple of things I would like to share from her book, In Faithfulness He Afflicted Me…some things that deeply resonated with me as a mother who has said goodbye to three of my own babies.

For many years, I have claimed to dislike the saying, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I even have a plaque in my kitchen referring to this, a gift from Rose, a sweet church friend. I have written about it in articles, spoken about it at churches, women’s groups, in presentations, and in conversations with friends. The reason I don’t like that saying is because it isn’t true. There are a lot of things I cannot handle. Who could handle the loss of a child? It’s not about my ability to cope with the trial before me, but about the ability of my God to carry me through. My God is able. I have often said that I prefer His words: I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength(Phil. 4:13)… and: My grace is sufficient for you; for My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinth. 12:9).

You can imagine my surprise and excitement when I read Lynette’s words in her amazing book. She talks about the real verse people are referring to when they say that phrase (1 Cor. 10:13) and then writes:
God didn’t promise that he would never give us a trial that we couldn’t handle. In fact, if you look at 2 Cor. 1:8-10, you’ll see quite the opposite. It says that they were…”pressed out of measure, beyond strength, despairing even of life.” That doesn’t sound like they were handling it. It goes on to say…”that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead, in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.” It’s not a matter of handling it ourselves; it’s only through Christ that we can handle anything! ( p. 104 In Faithfulness He Afflicted Me)

So true! After walking through the trials she has faced, Lynette “gets it” like few people do. She exemplifies one who has clung to God in the midst of trials. She did not grieve as those without hope. She placed her hope in God, who is able to make beauty from ashes…who provides the sufficient grace to walk through our trials…to turn our mourning into dancing. She doesn’t just offer comfort in the sorrow, but hope that you can grow through the affliction. That God has good plans for you. The joy you can experience in the dancing that follows the mourning is sweeter than our human minds can imagine. He has more for us than to merely survive our struggles. He wants us to fully live and experience the joy and freedom He has for us. There are gifts, even in the storm. Life-changing beautiful gifts.

The entire book was a blessing. Lynette glorifies God with her life, even in the depths of her grief and she points others to Him, as well. I wanted to share just one other part that touched my soul deeply and broke my heart. One of the hardest parts of our losses for me was watching Timothy grieve for his sisters and brother. I wondered if he would be forever tainted with the loss, instead of knowing the joy that can come from expecting a child. Pregnancy did not promise the hope of new life for us. It was tainted. Timothy would pray for each baby after Faith and Grace to stay with us, and not to die. I remember the sorrow in his eyes when we told him that Thomas was sick and may not live…the prayers he prayed for many years after that…for a brother to stay with us. He would draw me pictures of the babies when he saw me crying. He was forever affected by such great losses at such a young age. And even a couple years ago, he was broken again with the loss of my mother…his beloved ma-ma who always showered him with a love that held no conditions.

When Lynette spoke of telling her children about sweet Anna’s passing, that was my breaking point. I wept from the depths of my heart at the picture of Jared, especially, because I have seen the sorrow in my own son’s eyes. Although, I know that God will use these experiences to draw our children closer to Him and to give them a softness and compassion that they wouldn’t know otherwise, no mother wants to see her children know the reality of grief and death at such a tender age. We want to protect them from this harsh reality. It is heart-breaking.

I am so grateful for Lynette, and her willingness to share her journey and her beautiful heart. God’s grace and redeeming power shines through the joy in her eyes. Today, she dances on weathered ground. And, she dances because her hope is in the Lord. She dances because He is faithful in our afflictions. He is faithful to carry and comfort, to heal and restore. He is our hope and our joy. Her story encourages those who feel broken, lost in grief, forsaken to know that He restored this mother who walked through the fires of death and loss more than once. The same God can carry you and restore your brokenness, as well.

Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
For our heart shall rejoice in Him.
Because we have trusted in His holy name.
Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You. ~ Psalm 33:20-22

Blessed Be His Name


Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshipped. And he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
~ Job 1:20-21

This week as I turned to the scriptures in Psalms, I noticed that the pages of my bible were wrinkled in spots from my tears. I ran my fingers over the bumpy pages, struck by the thought that my Father in heaven has kept every one of those tears in a bottle. My tears, my heart, my cries are precious to Him. I closed my eyes and remembered the times I have clung to His word in the middle of the night…the times when all I could do was cry and search His word. On my knees…on my face…weeping in His arms.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth…
– Psalm 31:1

I will bless the Lord at all times. I will bless Him when He gives. I will bless Him when He takes away. Those seem like just words on a page…easy to write. It is something altogether different to actually experience it.

Years ago, my friend Ginny and I attended a memorial service for families who had lost a baby. It was an amazing experience, and a treasured gift to sit in a room with so many other mothers and fathers who had walked this path. A beautiful woman stood to share the story of her precious baby’s birth and death. She shared that she had been studying Psalm 34 prior to giving birth, focusing on the message that we are to bless the Lord at all times. As she held her lifeless baby in her arms with tears streaming down her face, she felt the Lord gently whisper to her heart…

“Will you bless Me now?”

She replied, “Yes Lord, somehow…I will bless You…even now.”

I will never forget the grace that shone on that mother’s face. For it is by His grace alone that those words can be uttered. Until you have walked in that place, until you are held in the grip of His grace, at the end of yourself…there is no way to know or understand the grace, peace, and strength of which she spoke. But, it exists. I have experienced it myself. That kind of grace is waiting there for those who cling to Him. For those who bless His name in joy and in sorrow. For in all of it, He is worthy to be praised.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all. ~Psalm 34:17-19

God never promised us that we would not face sorrow, trials, loss, afflictions. In fact, the opposite is true. We are to expect many troubles on this earth…many afflictions. But the Lord hears our cries…He is near to those who have a broken heart, and He delivers us out of all our troubles. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

There has been some talk lately among those I dearly admire and respect (Angie and MckMama), mothers who have been held and are still resting in the grip of His grace, about what constitutes as a miracle. I have said for many years that it is easy to praise God and say He is good when all is well…or when you get the physical healing on this earth. We should praise Him for the healing. But He is still worthy to be praised when the miracle is one that can’t be seen with human eyes. It is a miracle to watch Him make beauty from ashes in a broken life. It is a miracle to be led through unspeakable pain, step by step with His sufficient grace. It is a miracle to look upon a tiny life that the world may never meet, and then watch Him use that life to touch the world and point souls to Him for comfort. Every breath, every life, every soul is a treasured miracle sent from the very hand of God.

I remember sitting in the waiting room of the maternal fetal medicine specialist as sweet Thomas clung to life in my womb, knowing short of a “miracle” his time on this earth was fleeting. I picked up a magazine that told the story of the miracle of a family’s multiple birth. In my weakness, I winced. Yes, God was good and He should be praised when things go well…when we see the miracle with our eyes. But what He has shown me from walking a different path is that God is still good when the baby doesn’t live on this earth, when the cancer isn’t healed this side of heaven, when the rain pours and the flood waters rise. He is good when He blesses and He is good when He carries us through the storm. He is good when he heals the body and He is good when He saves the soul.

In all things and at all times…blessed be the name of the Lord.
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I know that, even as you read this, many of you are facing struggles and heart ache. My own heart has been heavy as I look at the suffering around me. I have offered unceasing prayers for so many who are currently in the midst of the storm…especially Baby Stellan and my dear bloggy-friend, Jennifer Ross. Several mothers from around the country have written this week requesting Dreams of You Memory Books to honor the lives of their precious children who have left this earth too soon. My own heart is heavy for children who are hurting at school, and for the burdens and anxieties these little ones are facing in our fallen world. Some days I press on with a weary heart. Hopelessness threatens, and then His word reminds me…

Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
For our heart shall rejoice in Him.
Because we have trusted in His holy name.
Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You. ~ Psalm 33:20-22

So, press on, I will…hoping in Him…blessing His holy name…

The One To Whom I Belong… (And an added prayer request/update)

For more information about Tuesdays Together in The Word or to join us on the journey, please visit DeeDee’s blog.

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say,
“I have prevailed against him”;
Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

~Psalm 13

Have you ever asked the Lord “How long…?” How long will my sorrow last? How long before I am rescued? How long will I feel forsaken, forgotten, broken? How long will I carry “sorrow in my heart daily”?

Do you know what amazes me the most about those “How long” questions? I am amazed that we are allowed to ask them of the God of the Universe. Not only are we allowed, but we are welcomed to pour out our hearts to Him…our fears, our doubts, our sorrows, our failings, our brokenness. Not only are we welcomed into His very throne room with open arms, He longs for us to come to Him…longs for us to lay each burden, each ugly broken piece of our lives, even our most hideous sin at His feet. And He will lift each burden from our weary shoulders, make something beautiful out of the ugly, broken pieces of our lives, and wash us clean as He forgives us for our most hideous sins.

My feeble mind cannot wrap itself around such promises. And yet, I have seen Him do these very things more than once in my life. I have asked Him in my deepest sorrow, “How long, O Lord?” And I have seen His answers. I have been carried through the “How longs”…comforted through the daily sorrow of my heart. I have seen the “joy that comes in the morning”, after a long night of weeping.

Once, I looked around at church, each Sunday morning and asked, “How long…” as I prayed that we would be a complete family sitting in the pew together. He whispered to my heart, one day “It won’t be long, dear one. I have heard your prayers…the cry of your heart. And, soon you will sit here together. You will worship together as a family, and it will be as if it has always been this way.” And so it happened years ago. Today, we share in ministry together.

Once, we stood broken beside the graves of our children…Faith, Grace, and Thomas and I asked “How long…”. How long will this grief and sorrow dwell in our hearts, tearing at our family? How long, O Lord? When will joy come to our house…when will morning come to stay? He whispered to my heart, “I will carry you, dear one. I will hold you and comfort you. My grace is sufficient for you.” And so it was. He carried me and comforted me. His grace was sufficient for me. Morning came to stay…love and beauty grew out of the pain and ashes. Joy was restored. And miracles were born.

Many more times in my life, I have cried “How long…”. And many more times, He has sustained me. For, I have trusted in His mercy…My heart rejoices in His salvation…I sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me. He is the One who holds my tears in a bottle. The One who formed me and knew me when I was yet in my mother’s womb. He is the One who hears all my “How longs”.

And He is the God to whom I belong and whom I serve. (see Acts 27:23)
Thank you, dear Jesus, for Your great faithfulness, your endless mercy, and Your perfect…abundant…sufficient grace that covers me every day. I will sing of Your mercy and grace, rejoicing in Your salvation…for you have dealt bountifully with me.
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UPDATED PRAYER NEED: We have been praying for Jennifer, and she needs our prayers again. She is expecting and has been bleeding and clotting in her uterus. Doctors thought she was miscarrying the baby on March 7. She never passed a clot, and when she went to the doctor today, there was a strong heartbeat. THE BABY IS ALIVE! Mother and baby’s lives still remain in danger as long as she continues to bleed…so MUCH prayer is needed. This is a miracle! Praise the Lord…and please join me in asking for more miracles for sweet Jennifer…who has already lost her precious Isaiah and another little one from this condition. Please tell every prayer warrior you know and get on your knees on behalf of this precious mother and her family. Please visit her here, and let her know you’re praying.

The Valley of the Shadow…

For more information about Tuesdays Together in The Word or to join us on the journey, please visit DeeDee’s blog.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and staff, they comfort me…
Psalm 23:1-4

I have spent some time in the valley of the shadow of death. The darkness has overshadowed my life several times. It has surrounded me, brushed past me, and momentarily blocked the light. I have walked in that valley with those I love. And I now walk there each day, with those I barely know as they face the same dark shadow. It is interesting that God has called me to such a ministry…to such a purpose. For, I am ill-equipped for such a thing. I have friends who stood with me in the valley who are much better at walking alongside a broken-hearted soul than I could ever be. (Really, this walk is the very definition of His strength being made perfect through my weakness.) And, on top of that, I really am not a fan of grieving (who is?)…I’m far from a melancholy spirit. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a lovely woman named Ruth, who always referred to me as “the girl who laughs”. Although I have cried many tears while walking in the valley of the shadow of death, the tears do not define me. The tears were just for sowing. Rather, it is the “songs of joy” we reap from the tears that we’ve sown, which so much better define the person God has created me to be. The Girl Who Laughs.

The truth is, there is comfort…even in the valley of the shadow of death. We fear no evil…Because Jesus is there. He is our caregiver, our perfect shepherd. He will quiet us, even amidst the noise. He will lead us beside still waters, even as the stormy seas of grief rage on. He will restore our souls, even as we see only the brokenness of our pain. His rod and His staff they comfort us. We are never closer to Him (on this Earth) than when we walk in that dark valley. He meets us there.

If you are not sure of this Jesus who meets you there, in the valley of the shadow of death, please allow me to introduce you:

…for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you; God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being… ~ Acts 17:23-28a

If you are surrounded by darkness, groping around unsure, lost in pain, sorrow, sickness, fear…just lost…Reach out to the God who waits for you with open arms. Reach out to the One who longs to hold you, to lead you out of the darkness, away from the storm…to the still waters, where He will gently restore your weary soul. Just reach for Him…

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. ~ Psalm 23:6

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Please pray and tell every prayer warrior you know to pray for Jennifer.
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Visit Lynette for more information on Getting to Know You…

Faithful in the Little Things

Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve…You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
~ Martin Luther King Jr.

This quote was on my desk calendar a couple days ago. It really struck me and I’ve returned to it several times. There have been moments in my life when I have wondered what it would have been like if I had gone to college, received a teaching degree, or pursued my aspirations to take the stage acting and singing. I had many dreams to use my abilities for “greatness” when I was young. There was even a time before my days of teenage rebellion when I thought of becoming a missionary. Good grades came easy for me. I had a lot of talents and abilities…and what teachers would call “potential”.

Instead, I became a mother when I was eighteen years old, and my entire life changed. I was a young wife and mother, and realized that the ideas and plans I had for my life would have to be put away. My little boy needed me. So, I worked as a waitress to make ends meet and Tim worked at a metal spinning shop. We worked opposite shifts so that we wouldn’t have to leave Timothy with a babysitter and my mother took care of him during the couple hours our shifts overlapped.

I stayed home with Timothy and ran a home daycare for several years after the waitressing job. When Timothy was preschool age, I took a job at a local daycare and he went to work with me. When he went to kindergarten, I took a job at his elementary school as a teacher’s aide, monitoring study hall, recess, and later working as an English as a Second Language Tutor and Safety Patrol monitor. We had James, and I worked just a couple hours a day while James napped, and my mother stayed with him. Then, when mom was too sick to care for James, I stayed home for a couple years with him. I took some distance education classes, earning an associate degree in early childhood education, and started teaching preschool when James was four. When he went to kindergarten, I took a job (my current job) at the elementary school again…this time assisting special needs students.

I’m not a teacher, at least not the kind with a fancy degree. I never attended class on a college campus, never starred in a broadway play, and I’m not a missionary. At least not the kind that travels to exotic, remote places.

What I am is a mother, called to teach her children about Jesus, and love, family, and life. I didn’t go to college to learn to do this, but I looked to my own mother, and the mothers that surrounded me, filling me with their wisdom, love, and prayers along the way. While I don’t have the paper or the title, I teach children everyday…my own and others…how to read, how to share, how to be kind, how to show love, how to forgive, how to be considerate of others, and respectful. While working in a public school, I can’t always tell them about Jesus, but I can show Him to them with every act of love and kindness.

I have taken the stage…not on broadway, but at weddings and funerals, at churches, to sing… and at hospitals, to speak…not for my own greatness, glory, or gain. But for my Savior, my Comforter, my Redeemer…to act with the unspeakably humbling honor of being His hands and feet. With a message of hope for those whose hearts have been shattered, whose lives are torn into pieces, those who have been asked to say good-bye to their precious babies, I have taken the stage. My mission field is in this home, first…and for every grieving heart that crosses my path, second. I haven’t walked in the remote villages of Africa, but I have walked in the valley of the shadow of death…more than once. I have walked through the fires of sorrow…through the darkness that didn’t seem to have an end…through the relentless storms of pain and doubt. And I never walked alone. My Jesus walked with me through every fire, through the darkness, and through the storms. And He led me to the other side, where beauty and grace awaited us.

Why am I saying all of this? Because Jesus doesn’t require greatness in those who serve Him…at least, not greatness by the world’s standards. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according the the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 If you really read about some of the people God chose to further His kingdom, you will be amazed. You see, the more imperfect we servants are, the more glory is given to our God. Because, if He could use some of us (like, for instance…me!), He could use anyone! And that just shows His power even more.

So, if you’re longing for greatness, I just want to encourage you on this one thing…Serve the One who is truly great. Serve Him in the little things, and the big ones. Serve Him right where you are with what you’ve been given. In the things that no one sees, like keeping your home, praying for those you love…and those in need, changing the diapers, disciplining your children, loving your husband, organizing, setting aside your own plans, taking out the trash, encouraging a child, bending to tie one more shoe, smiling at a stranger. Be faithful in the little things. And, when you meet Him, He will say…”Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:21) And everything else will seem so small compared to the value of hearing those words.

White as Snow

There is a pristine blanket of untouched snow outside my window this morning. At work yesterday, I watched the snow falling outside all afternoon. It was the same kind of snow on that first snowfall of the year, twelve years ago. The same type of big, fluffy beautiful, perfect snowflakes that fell silently as my Faith and Grace were born silently. Every time it snows like that, I remember them, and receive anew the gift that they have been to my life.

As I sat in the hall noticing the snow for a moment, a co-worker said, “Beautiful, isn’t it?” I closed my eyes and saw the beauty of my girls’ faces and agreed, “Yes… beautiful….perfect.”

There’s something about snow that seems like a gift straight from heaven. It is so white and pure, so filled with possibility, so miraculous. I like to think of those I love who are in Heaven’s glory, dancing with Jesus in their perfect home full of beauty that my eyes have yet to see. They were my glimpse into what eternity holds. I was the woman blessed among women to hold them as He brushed past me to take them home. And I was there when the miracle happened each time. I was there when He took sweet Faith and Grace, so silently and sent the snowfall to blanket my storm with His perfect peace. I was there when He brushed past me so closely I could have touched the hem of His garment and He carried my Thomas from my arms to His, leaving me with songs of praise on my lips, peace in my heart, and the evidence of His sufficient grace shining in my eyes.

And I was there when my mother suffered more than I knew anyone could, as she walked through the valley of the shadow of death. This time, I felt the strength and darkness of death like never before. The ashes before the beauty. The storm before He comes. The agony and suffering. All of it wrestling to take the life of my beautiful, precious little mother. I watched death steal her life one breath at a time. I was there to hold her, to pray for her, to read His word, to sing of His promises…but I wondered if He would come. Would He come to take her home? Would He carry her like I promised? How long would He leave us here? And I was there when He came. The moment she left this earth with all of it’s sickness, sorrow, and pain to enter paradise with Her King, I was there. For each of those most dear to me who have left this earth, I have had the privilege of being there as they took their last breath here, and their first in Heaven’s glory. Thank you, Lord for that gift. Thank you, for your faithful promises.

Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow…
Isaiah 1:18

This morning, I look at the snow and feel His peace quiet me once more. The promise of His forgiveness. The hope of His promises. The new mercies that await each morning. The sufficient grace that carries us through each day. Beneath the snow, it’s muddy and brown…all the splendor and color of Spring’s new life dead for a season…like us, before we were washed clean by the blood of Jesus…dirty and dead in our sin. And He came to rescue and breathe new life into us…to cleanse us with His sacrifice and cover us in a blanket of pure white snow. May you feel His peace wash over you today, and may His promises give you hope.

Eye has not see, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
1 Corinthians 2:9