Let it Go

Can’t sleep. In the wee hours of this morning, the words are begging for release. So, here I am.

Last night, I watched the Disney movie, Frozen. Several parts spoke to me in the deep recesses of my heart, the places most often tucked safely away.

When Elsa sings the words from “Let it Go”…

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always had to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know…

My soul aches with recognition.

And, as she finally releases it all, she finds sweet freedom, creating beauty from her curse, dancing as she transforms into the gorgeous creature she was created to be. I think of His redeeming promise to make all things beautiful in His time.

And, by release, I mean, she embraces her curse, and sees the gifts hidden beneath the surface, beauty rising from the ashes.

Proclaiming…

It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits, break on through.

A kingdom of isolation…no right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free.

So much like when a heart heavy with the woes of grief breathes it’s first breath of life in the land of the living. When the haze clears enough to remember what it feels like to live. The first foreign-feeling, hesitant laugh that arises from deep in your belly, sounding like it came from someone else…because in this unfamiliar new skin, it’s easy to forget the sound of your own laugh.

Or what it feels like to really live. Free.

And, maybe…maybe you never knew what that felt like anyway.

Before.

Maybe it’s impossible to know that depth of freedom and release, that fullness of life, until you have tasted the air in the valley of the shadow of death. Until you’ve been locked in the room, frozen with the curse. The one you can’t even explain to those closest to you.

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
Up here in the cold thin air I finally can breathe
I know I left a life behind, but I’m too relieved to grieve…

I am often asked how I can perpetually walk in this shadowy place, alongside those who are broken with grief.

I guess my answer would be…

Here, I can finally breathe.

 

 

Birthing Miracles

I stayed as far away from birthing rooms as possible after experiencing four traumatic labors that resulted in five births. I was the queen of the cascade of medical interventions phenomenon spoken of in the doula realm. Pitocin and other labor inducing interventions. Check. Epidurals. Check. IV’s. Check. Forceps. Check. Long, stalling labors with ineffective contractions. Check. And, don’t even get me started on my track record. Three of my five children were born alive. Two remain alive. Two left this earth before leaving my womb.

The celebration of the miracle of life experienced in pregnancy long ago lost it’s luster for me. So, I find it rather intriguing that my heart has awakened to the love of all things birth related, some sort of redemptive path I never would have chosen or orchestrated in my limited human imagination. God loves to restore broken things. To send us into unlikely territory, stripping us of the heavy, muddy cloak holding us back, and clothing us with a new garment.

My friend, Heidi Faith, from stillbirthday.com speaks of the miracle of birth…saying simply, “All babies are born.”

I love that. And, I’ve found it to be true. I have spoken of the miracle that occurs when we enter in to walk with a laboring mother, most of the time, one expecting a child whose life will be brief, or whose life on this earth has already ended, beginning anew in heaven. It is a sacred ground, the place where heaven meets earth, and Jesus bends near to carry the wee one home as He brushes past, comforting the mother. Sometimes, he allows my arms to be felt as His, wrapping around her. Comforting her with His comfort, dressing her baby in the most beautiful hand-made garments. Through me, through us. What a humbling honor to be allowed to serve as a vessel of His love. He is ever close in the birthing room. Whether a baby lets out life’s victorious cry or takes his first breath in heaven, He is ever close. So close, we could reach out and touch the hem of His garment. So close, miracles still happen…even when a baby lies sleeping in her mother’s arms. Even when goodbye follows hello.

Because every life matters. Every life is worth celebrating, welcoming. loving, honoring, and grieving.

And, because birth is always a miracle, a powerful, divinely-bestowed gift, offered to women.

Eve, the first woman….her name means life. She is known as the mother of all living. God gave her that gift, that powerful, mighty, beautiful gift…to be the bearer of life. This world is all sorts of broken, from the moment of the fall in the garden. But, the gift remains…precious.

I’ve been reflecting on the beauty God means to weave through our lives, the purposes He has for the gifts he gives to us. Women often feel devalued and left longing for something more. We miss the gifts in front of us. We long to be empowered, significant, accepted. And, yet, what greater power (the good kind) has God given…what greater honor than to be a vessel through which life is birthed? The power to conceive and give birth should not be overlooked. I am not just speaking of the ability to birth a live, healthy baby. Not all of us have been blessed with that gift. However, the ability to birth life…to encourage and enliven this world, that treasure lies in the hearts of all women.

“God gave the woman an ability not just to have babies but also to release life in a variety of expressions. In fact, one translation says that Eve means ‘to enliven’. ” ~ This Day We Fight, by Francis Frangipane

“Women excel in intercession, in spiritual sensitivity and the release of new beginnings…To possess a national awakening, the ‘birthing’ power God has placed in women must be released.”

“You have been created by the almighty to birth breakthroughs on planet earth! God has designed you with a latent ability to release life through your intercession…Through their intercession, these godly women will prayer-birth powerful ministries on earth, of both male and female.”

“Revelation 12:1 speaks of a ‘woman clothed with the sun.’ This word is not just talking about Israel or the Church. It also reveals how God sees spiritual women: They are honored and crowned with distinction; pure and clothed with the glory of God. With confidence, they tread upon the powers of night. Dear army of praying women, it is your inherent destiny to birth that which will rule the nations.”

From chapter 13 of the book ~ This Day We Fight, by Francis Frangipane

The above book has inspired me, as a woman, not to overlook the incredible, divine gift of bearing life…whether it be in delivering a baby, or whether it be in encouraging another or going to battle in prayer for another soul. Women are treasured in the sight of our God, and we are not ever insignificant or overlooked in His eyes. He has entrusted us with a power great and mighty, a gift to be honored and cherished.

Be blessed today, beautiful woman of God, and be a bearer of life…in whatever capacity you have been called to enliven this earth, birthing breakthroughs through prayer, melting brokenness with love, covering the wrongs with grace.

 

 

 

Where the Ground is Even

 

I wonder if we will be surprised who we see in heaven one day, and who we don’t. I wonder if we will fall on our faces, astounded by the grace of our God, melted by His love and mercy and in awe of His power.

I hear a lot of talk about our rights lately. Rights as women or whatever group of people we are claiming rights for. But, in the birthing room, and in the silence when heaven meets earth, it isn’t the rights we concern ourselves with. It isn’t our earthly identity that clothes us in the end, shielding us, keeping us secure. There is nothing false to hide behind in that moment. When a tiny casket, or even a typical sized casket is lowered into the earth, we are quieted and only one thing remains.

The love we gave, and the love we regret not giving.

Do we really know this Jesus we speak of, the one we resist and rush passed, and claim to know? Do we know Him intimately? Because if we did, we would clamor so much less with the clanging symbols that echo love’s absence. When I hold a father or mother in my arms as they weep for their child, it doesn’t matter if they wear a hospital gown, a business suit, tattoos, piercings, or a bandana. Their political views or worldviews are irrelevant. Loss, brokenness like that, it’s an equalizer. I’ve heard it said that the ground is even at the cross. It’s the same at the deathbed.

And, if we truly knew our Jesus, if we cared about what He did, we would know that He was the first to acknowledge that men and women were equally loved and valued in His sight. He did so in a time when culture demanded otherwise. He wasn’t concerned with culture. He ate with the sinners and loved the unlovable. So, we don’t have to clamor so loudly for others to notice. We don’t have to resist what we think is oppression, trading in what is precious for a false sense of empowerment for deeper bondage. If we truly delve into His word and let it flow into our hearts coating the mess inside with His healing truth, then we will realize we are never truly free by gaining what we grasp with our own hands.

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—   rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.  1 Peter 3:3-4

His math, you see, it isn’t like ours. It is in the laying down of rights, that we gain true empowerment. It is in the pouring out that He fills up. It is in the dying to ourselves that we truly learn to live. It is in the becoming a servant to Him that we find sweet freedom. Submission, in marriage, is a mutual and beautiful gift, when done His way. A perfect flowing. A safety net much stronger and sweet than any sense of strength we try to build ourselves. A band of three cords is not quickly broken. Much stronger than one cord…no matter how tough we think that cord to be.

Just a little something to ponder in the midst of all the noise.

Four Things

Raising-Generations-Button-V2-01

Last night, I came home at about 11pm after a blur of several days of falling short and not measuring up as a wife and mother. The demands of a growing ministry, one that I consider a sacred privilege, often keep me from home for stretches of time. When I am home, it is difficult to ignore, even for a little while, the emails and messages coming from families walking the path of losing a child. My heart longs to walk alongside each one and offer some measure of comfort, just as God so faithfully and abundantly comforts us. He tells us to offer that same comfort to others.  I had been at a training all day, and hosted a small support group that evening. When I arrived home, I waded through the dishes, piles of laundry, and middle school boy socks scattered about. My heart weighing heavy with the ache of mommy guilt. Not because of the outward mess, which I find rather endearing, evidence that my house is full of the gift of active boys, living life. But, because of the mess I felt inside.

Sometimes, we mothers juggle. I’ve never been adept at the juggling. I drop the balls. Habitually, in fact. Last night, I missed piano lessons, baseball, and homework as I cried with, prayed for, and listened to mothers missing their babies. I want to be there. I’m called to be there.

And, to be here.

I found it ironic that I was to write a post encouraging mothers today. For, I have never felt less equipped to offer another mother advice or encouragement. Often, those are the times when God chooses to use us. When we are so poured out, it seems there will be nothing worthwhile left to give. Perhaps, there is some redemption in that place of feeling so small and inadequate. Perhaps, we can begin to find some shred of raw truth and sustaining grace in the brokenness and not enough. For, is it not the wondering cry of every mother, every woman? The wrestling with not enough.

We struggle, wanting desperately to measure up to a standard, forgetting that our Father created us, and smiles on us, just as we are. He loves a beautiful, broken mess. He chooses the broken vessel, and delights in the beauty of it. As she lays there, feeling broken and helpless, her pieces scattered about, He steps forward, walking past all the expensive precious vases on the shelf, those pristine and without blemish, and He picks up the broken one. The one scarred and dented, abused and tossed aside by the storms of life.

He says, “I choose her.”

I think sometimes he treasures the broken vessel because more of Him gets poured out through the cracks. The picture of His grace and love oozing through my broken mess, gives new meaning to this place of my not enough. For in my not enough, He answers….plenty. In my weakness, He makes strength.

Tonight, in a conversation with a friend, words of encouragement spilled forth. Wisdom from above.

I said, “There are four things to remember as a mother. You will mess up daily. You will wrestle with your shortcomings and you will need the measure of sufficient grace that God gives you each day. You will need to remember that His mercies are new every morning…and great is His faithfulness. But, there are four things essential to get right.

1. Make sure that you have given your children God’s Word, taught them to cling to Jesus by living your walk with Him, by being real. Make sure they know how to pray and cling to Him. And, pray for them, dear Momma. Faithfully.

2. Love. Love fiercely and freely and with complete abandon. Love your kids with the I Corinthians 13 love. Love them and everyone you come into contact with. And, love their friends.

3. Always, always, say what you mean. Do not say it, if you don’t plan to do it. Tell them the truth. Keep your word, and teach the value of the integrity of meaning what you say. Children are like magnifying glasses for hypocrisy.

4. Grace. Give grace. This world will beat them down and break their spirits, plenty. Your home should be a safe haven from the tumultuous judgment and harsh realities of this fallen world. Give grace to them, and grace to yourselves. When you mess up, numbers 1, 2, and 3, give yourself grace. Let your home be a haven for you, too, dear momma. A place to be accepted as you are and covered in God’s love and sweet abundant grace. At the end of the day, let your bed be free from anxieties, a place for rest as it was intended.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

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Raising Generations Today is an annual conference designed to equip and inspire moms to reach the hearts of their children for the glory of God. Through providing valuable resources, inspirational speakers, practical teaching materials, and the connection of moms in every season of parenting, Raising Generations Today will offer hope to women so that they may embrace and thrive in their roles as moms. I have the privilege of speaking at this amazing event on March 21st & 22nd, 2014 in Corning, New York. If you would would like to enter to win a FREE ticket, use the Rafflecopter below!

 

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The Storm Before the Calm

Sufficient Grace Ministries hosted our first big volunteer/informational meeting yesterday morning at SGM headquarters. Prior to the meeting, I went through the usual gamut of spiritual attacks, this time with a specific twist. Usually, I am overwhelmed with anxiety that presents itself in various forms, even affecting bodily functions. I am a whole lotta small, people….a whole lotta small. Sometimes fear grips me in the shower before I have to speak or sing or host an event. The tears mix with the shower droplets, as I cry out to the One who delivers.

Why, why, why did I say yes to this, God. I don’t wanna do it. I don’t wanna do it…more than I ever didn’t want to do anything before. Please help me. I crumble in the face of “not enough” and “what-if”, the accuser standing dark and loud whispering crippling lies in my ear. I will run to the Word for comfort…knowing the only way to fight lies is with the truth. But, oh the thick struggle it is to make my way to the bible. Sometimes I sing praise songs. Sometimes I go out of my ever-lovin’ mind and Mr. Gerken has to speak some reason into my crazy.

God whispers back to me, “Remember when I asked you if you would say yes? You said yes.”

Really, does that count? It was the tiniest yes, years ago. I barely squeaked it out. You said, “I don’t want you to sit it out anymore. I want you to dance. If I ask you to go, will you say yes?” And I choked out a yes. A barely yes. And, I had no idea what you were planning.

And, don’t I always meet you there?

Yes. (whispered small)

I know it. I know the truth. I know He wants me to dance. I know He won’t make me walk into the lion’s den…er…ahem…the stage alone. I know He will meet me there and bring beauty from my mess. I know it. But, in the panic before I get to the place where He swoops in with all-sufficient grace, all mighty and big, I stand quivering and small…wondering.

Are you sure? What if this time He doesn’t come? What if I’m such a mess, He can’t fix it this time? Not really. In truth…I’m too scared to even ask that question. But it’s there, in the recesses of my mind, prompting panic.

Usually, that’s how it goes. But, yesterday was a little different. You see, the grace we get from our loving Father is specifically designed just for us. And, so are the attacks the enemy fashions for us.

The week prior to the meeting, Lynette and I were praying that God would be the one “building the house” of Sufficient Grace Ministries. (Psalm 127) And, we also prayed for unity among those serving.

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus,  that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. ~ Romans 15:5-6

The enemy hates it when you pray scripture. And, I should’ve seen it coming. You know, every time, we do this song and dance. Every time, the enemy attacks before I go out to speak and I cower and cling to the Lord the best I can. He shows Himself mighty and faithful, and afterwards, I stand in awe of His grace, feeling humbled that I would ever doubt His faithfulness. This time, the attack was specific. Divide and conquer….the enemy’s response to our prayer for unity. About 10 people canceled for various reasons at the last minute. There was nothing that could be done in many of the situations. Legitimate issues came up for several individuals that hindered them from coming. A few just didn’t come. It was an important meeting, the first time we were gathering all the volunteer groups at once to answer questions. I started to wonder if anyone was coming. Would I be wasting the volunteer group leaders’ time if no one showed up? I felt the weight settle heavy. Overwhelmed and discouraged.

I vented. Prayed. And, scurried to prepare. We had worked hard to ready our conference room all week. Nancy, Lynette, and I…with some help from Jamie the floor buffer and Tim, the floor fixer. Now, we just needed people to fill our empty room.

conference room

And, when I walked into the room to begin the meeting…

group3

Close to 40 beautiful faces with willing hearts staring back at me.

And, He gently whispered….Oh ye of little faith. When will you learn? I will always meet you there.

His answer to my “not enough”.

Plenty.

Sometimes humble pie tastes good, when it’s covered with love and grace.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
 The Lord has done great things for us,
And we are glad.

Psalm 126:2-3

Sometimes You’re Just Standing by the Wrestling Mat…

My youngest son took a liking to wrestling the last couple years. We are a family of golfers. We like golf and baseball, you know, sports that don’t involve germ infested mats and head-gear and things called take downs and choke holds. We are a gentle, peace-loving people. But, James wanted to do it. So we supported him. It’s important to help your kids find the place where they can shine and use their abilities…and even learn, grow, and get stretched out of their comfort zones. We entered a world where, let’s just say, it was evident, we weren’t at the country club golf course anymore.

His first match, he quickly found out that his opponents weren’t going to be so gentle and forgiving as his buddies at wrestling practice. Time and time again, he was body slammed back to the mat with a force that seemed to shake the floor. The coach wasn’t there beside the mat to offer words of encouragement, like the coaches from the opposing schools. Not wanting him to be alone, I stood beside the mat…having no idea what to yell, as his face looking up at me in shock and awe, eyes wide, while a strong, sweaty arm encircled his neck. I could only shout, “Keep your head up…get up. Keep fighting.” He got up, only to find himself slammed back down again. And again.

The next match, his confidence was rattled. We stood by the mat, looking into the stony, dark eyes of a kid in a black singlet with a rat-tail haircut. I looked at James and saw sheer panic. He wears his emotions, not just on his sleeve, but on every inch of himself. His face was pale, lips dry, eyes revealing how much he didn’t want to be standing beside that wrestling mat.

He said, “Mom, I think I’m going to throw up.” I was pretty sure I might need to do the same.

Instead, I leaned down to him, and said, “You can’t let him know you’re afraid.  You need to be strong. You need to think about how mad you get at your brother sometimes. Get mad if you have to. You can do this. You’re going to be ok. Just fight hard and do your best.”

It wasn’t working. Panic knows no reasoning.

I leaned down, feeling my own anxiety heighten as I pictured the cradle hold rat-tail boy put on the kid he wrestled before James. I leaned down and said, “Remember David and Goliath. Don’t worry about the size of the giant. God is with you, you can do this.”

And, then, seeing his little hands shake, I whispered, “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world. You can do all things through Jesus Christ who gives you strength.”

He survived the match, and didn’t get pinned or flung like a rag doll. He fought hard…he mustered the strength. Improvement.

But, more importantly, he didn’t run and hide when he wanted to. He stood at the mat, he made his feet walk forward, he stood toe to toe with a scary boy ready to fight until the death…or um…pin. It didn’t matter. The biggest battle wasn’t fought on that mat that day. The biggest battle was fought…and won while standing beside the mat. 

Oh how many spiritual connotations can be gleaned from his experience. How familiar the panic that gripped my son appeared to my own anxiety-ridden heart. I stand on stages and have most of my life, to sing and now to tell the story of the most sacred places of my heart. But, before. Before I stand on the stage a war rages…almost every time. I am the little boy, hands shaking, standing  beside the wrestling mat, pale-faced and certain that I will puke. Sometimes I even do get sick. It’s a facing the giants moment every time I prepare to step out of my comfort zone and onto a stage or in front of a group.

The panic knows no reasoning.

No positive words of affirmation and encouragement can make me do the thing before me. No reassurances, no matter how true…that “I’ve done this a thousand times and I will be just fine” seem to even permeate the gripping anxiety. I want to throw up. I want to run. I don’t want to do this. At all. Fight or flight. I want to flee. But, like James, I must stand and fight.

How?

The same way we fought the giant beside the wrestling mat….by using the only weapon in the arsenal strong enough to conquer the stronghold of the terror we are feeling in that moment. The weapon that’s sharper than a double-edged sword. God’s Word.

Ephesians 6: 11-13 ~ Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Sometimes the biggest victory happens in the standing…and the stepping.

2 Corinthians 12:9 ~ And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

From  The Message ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

        Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My

grace is

       enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Scars

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.” ― Elbert Hubbard

Most of the time, I’m too busy to notice them. I get dressed in a frenzy, mind full of the day’s list of “to-dos”, interruptions from husband, kids, inserting their to-dos, schedules…quick kiss, mumbled “I love yous” in the groggy crackled voice still filled with morning, grab my keys, quick prayer on the way to school, and go.

But, every once in awhile, I stop to catch them in the reflection. How quickly I traded youth, without blinking. It had no value then. From here, I would say it was worth the cost. I remember my mother’s body, filled with the scars, stretch marks, a mother’s battle wounds. She wore them proudly. She wore them with a tube top, fishing on Lake Erie. She wore them in a bikini, not even blinking when the high school carry out boys came over to watch her warming in the sun. They told her story, the scars. I noticed them, but didn’t give much credence to their existence. They weren’t pretty, but they were part of her. And, everyone thought she was beautiful. She was. No one seemed to care that she was branded with the scars.

I brush my hand over my stomach, noticing the purple ridges, my own scars, wrapping around the skin of my lower abdomen and spreading to my hips. How quickly my young body stretched to accommodate the life growing inside my womb nineteen years ago. Most of the scars came later, though. Faith and Grace left this body staring back at me with the deepest scars, scars that still sometimes sting to the touch…both the kind you can see, and the kind you can’t. No one could say my girls didn’t leave a mark on this world. They left plenty of marks.

It doesn’t matter how many Zumba classes I attend, how many miles I walk, how many gallons of water I drink, or how many salads I eat, the scars will remain.

So, when Lysa says, we need to learn to say:

I’ve found my beautiful. And I like my beautiful.

I get it. There is beauty…even in the lines of grief on my face. Each one tells the story of a life that mattered, precious, dearly loved, and greatly missed. And, the laugh lines…well, they’re my favorite. The more the merrier, I say. They tell the story of the girl who laughs. And, the tear stains…they tell the story of a girl who loved with abandon and has been moved with compassion. And, the stretch marks…tell the story of five babies born of my womb. And, the freckles tell the story of a girl who splashes freely in the sun and on the golf course and on bike rides with her boys. The gray hairs springing up wildly here and there…the bible calls them my “crown of glory”. (from this post: Finding Our Beautiful)

Perhaps someday I will be free enough to carry my scars with the confidence of my mother before me. Perhaps I will embrace all as beauty, one day. Can I do that? Can  I learn to see the gifts in the scars, the grace from a long journey through dark valleys, etched in my skin. The marks that tell a story of deep heart ache, miraculous redemption, and wayward souls who found their way Home at the foot of a cross covered in the blood that saves. The silvery purple shimmer of their indentations peppering my stomach and hips, reminders that babies lived here…those who will grow into men and those who dance in heaven. When the one I love brushes his strong calloused hands across my stomach, he only sees the beauty of the one he loves. I know…his face tells the story.  My heavenly Father sees the beauty in the scars. After all, His Son is among those most marred by the sins of the Earth, the very ones He came to save. He is an expert on making beauty from the broken.

Can I look deep enough to see the same beauty in the scars…both the ones on my skin and those on my heart?

 

 

Plenty

I stood in the paint aisle of the hardware store two days ago, scanning the prices, kicking myself for not buying enough for the conference room a couple months before when it was on sale…for less than half the price.

I knew what was in the budget….the budget that had been stretched, like the oil in the lamp, so many times in the past few months. Every time I looked, seeing “not enough”, somehow there would be “just enough”, still. A generous heart would donate time, skills, finances. A ridiculous sale on fabric would lead to 70 yards of fleece on the shelves of our storage room and boxes of stuffing, books on the shelves. And, we would fill the boxes, shipping tiny offerings of comfort to empty arms and broken hearts.

“Plenty”, He would answer in that still, small voice of certainty and gentleness. “Plenty”, He answers to my every “not enough”.

So, I negotiated the price with the store clerk, who consulted the owner, who discounted my purchase by $40.

I left, wondering if I bought enough paint.

Yesterday, bones aching from the reaching and stretching, breathing in the fresh coats of paint, I looked at the unopened gallon of paint sitting next to the additional half gallon leftover. The large conference room was covered with two generous coats of paint, using only two-and-a-half gallons of the four we had purchased. Abundance…

“Plenty”, He spoke in the silence of the freshly painted conference room at the SGM building.

I closed my eyes, picturing the boys rolling paint on the walls, and my friend Nancy, still healing from surgery pushing a chair along to lean on as she added paint to our wall, old country hymns crooning from her iPad, her voice and mine lifting quietly to How Great Thou Art, brushes swishing in rhythm. My little Lynette, smoothing on the trim, noticing how far the paint stretched…noticing His plenty, walking in for round two, that evening, with her grown-up boys to finish the job, just when I thought I would be painting the rest alone.

“Plenty”, He whispered. I can see His face spread into a smile, eyes sparkling with delight, as He shows me. Again and again.

I brushed my hand over the full paint can. Knowing it was so much more than leftover paint.

As we ate lunch, I marveled at His love for the broken people. My son, and his friend (another son in my heart) spending the day, covering the walls of a place meant to minister to brokenness with beauty. Painting over the dirt with clean…the old with new. Only hearts tender from the breaking can listen, with gentleness, to mothers remembering, while eating lunch and painting walls. Strong arms, soft hearts. Hearts that have known loss. They gather here, the people, with the broken pieces. I smiled, thinking of the gifts they have at the tender age of eighteen…gifts many never know. The full that comes from emptying.

“See”, He says, smile widening, eyes gleaming…”Plenty”.

Even still, as I schedule a time to meet with the grant committee review board, I feel the tugging of “not enough”, my inadequacies screaming small in the face of His big.

He smiles again, reminding me of His faithfulness. “Haven’t I always given plenty? I will cover your not enoughs with my grace. All of them. I will go before You, speak through you.”

My phone blinked blue. I wiped the paint off my hands and read a message from one of my top 3 favorite authors of all time, a woman God has used to speak grace into so many of my not enoughs, teaching me to count the gifts and see so much that I had missed…so much full in the emptying. I typed hastily in reply, blessed that Ann Voskamp knew my name.

Days before, I left a comment to enter a contest on her blog, hoping to win an amazing camera to use for SGM’s perinatal hospice. We are planning to add photography services for the local families we serve, in addition to the support and materials we currently offer…capturing precious moments with babies whose lives are brief.

I submitted my entry later than intended, noticing my comment was number 400-something in the midst of a mounting list. I shared my heart in the comments and offered a whispered thought to my Father, the One with the smiling eyes. Then, the next day I bought the paint and went back to work.

Until the light flashed blue.

And, later green…with a touching email from Ann, fellow lover of grace…telling me I had been randomly (although we know that nothing is random with our God!) chosen from a list of I don’t know how many. Last check, there were over a thousand comments on her blog post. Laughter and overwhelmed sobs emerged from my depths as I shared the news with my youngest and looked up to praise God for the plenty. Grace, sweet grace, always filling my empty, covering “not enough” with plenty. Abundance. Overflowing beauty I don’t deserve…sweet mercy. Humbling…on my face grateful.

Sufficient Grace Ministries will now have access to a  Nikon D90 {& 18-105 mm f/3.5-5.6G Zoom Lens to photograph tiny lives and capture grace.

“Anticipate”, He whispers, smiling still. “Anticipate my faithfulness, daughter, to do more than you could ask or imagine.”

In the morning O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation. ~ Psalm 5:3

Anticipate

Anticipate

- to look forward to as certain: expect

A couple of years ago, I began embracing the tradition of choosing a word for the year. Rather, I would ask God to send me a word. A word to focus on in the coming year. A word He could use to teach me some hidden truth, to reveal some precious treasure…another piece of Who He is. More evidence of my desperate need for Him. In 2011, He whispered to my heart…instructing me to cling. It was a very good word for that year, as we spent most of it waiting without concrete answers as He built faith in us and prepared the way for the next steps in our journey. Last year, He reminded of His promise to restore. Last year, He sent abundant answers to years of prayers, restoring so many broken places longing for healing in our hearts. We are still reeling and in awe of the restoration He has sent in our family, our work lives, so many things. Eternal things, earthly things, relationships. This year, He is impressing on my heart the word anticipate. I have been juggling anticipate and trust back and forth, as they seem to go hand in hand. And, both are relevant lessons for me. Our lives have become a walk of blind faith and trusting in Him since I left my full-time job to serve in ministry at SGM. He has proven faithful each time our needs weigh heavy on the heart, even when doubt creeps in and my eyes get to looking at what lays before me, rather than trusting in what I know of His faithfulness.

So, He wants me to trust Him.

But, not just an idle trust. I sense He wants something deeper. There is a place we can walk where do not merely go, as He drags us reluctantly along. Not a tentative trusting. A bold embracing of what lies before us unseen. Pastor James spoke this morning of the fearfulness we often experience when our great and majestic God, the same God who appeared to Moses on the Mount and Peter in Luke 9…the powerful God in a dark cloud, with the booming voice. The One saying to trust what He says and follow where He leads…no matter where that path takes us. Trust is quite a thing for those of us who know that trusting doesn’t always mean we are safe…from pain or loss, or stripping devastation. Those of us who know that people we love sometimes walk away or die horrible deaths. Those of us who have watched tiny caskets lowered into the cold earth. Trust doesn’t come easy for hearts that have been so broken.

But, then again. Those of us who have been so broken, and have seen His gentle restoration…those of us, dwelling for a season in hopelessness… for days, weeks, months, or years in the pits of despair, hair hanging in our eyes, pale, undernourished spirits, eyes sunk in from the grief and faces permanently stained with the salty tears, beaten by life. Some grief we choose for ourselves with our wayward walk. Some comes upon us simply because of the fallen world in which we live. And, yet…even while we willingly wallowed in the pits of despair and hopelessness, He stood patiently outside the pit, waiting with a hand strong enough to lift us out of the mire. Again. And again. No matter how many times we found ourselves there. When we see how He lovingly restores…making beauty from ashes. So much beauty from our ugly. When we watch Him say, “Trust Me” to provide what we need…and He does it again and again…making something appear from nothing. Moving generous hearts to give. Making a little last like the oil that never ran out, but kept burning with the light. Well, then…it isn’t so hard to trust.

 

Deuteronony 1:29-33 (from The Message)
I tried to relieve your fears: “Don’t be terrified of them. GOD, your God, is leading the way; he’s fighting for you. You saw with your own eyes what he did for you in Egypt; you saw what he did in the wilderness, how GOD, your God, carried you as a father carries his child, carried you the whole way until you arrived here. But now that you’re here, you won’t trust GOD, your God—this same GOD who goes ahead of you in your travels to scout out a place to pitch camp, a fire by night and a cloud by day to show you the way to go.”

Or maybe it is…for weak sheep. No different am I than the Israelites in the wilderness, being led by the Lord…a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, being fed with manna from heaven. And, yet, when I see the needs growing and the provisions dwindling, I doubt for a moment…as if He will not be faithful this time…as He has been so many times before. He seems to have to show me again and again. The same lesson. He is Who He says He is and He is faithful to provide. Faithful to complete the good work He began in us. Faithful to lead us on the path He chooses.

The verses below encompass His message, whispered to my heart the last several years. The words in parentheses are mine.

Psalm 91:14-16 (from The Message)
“If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” (cling) says GOD,  “I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care  if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;  I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party (restore). I’ll give you a long life,  give you a long drink of salvation!”(anticipate)

Ephesians 2:7-10 (from The Message)
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

We have to get out of the way, and trust God enough to let Him do it! He is able…and it’s a gift to dwell safely in the arms of the One willing and able to carry us. Which brings us to anticipate. I believe that God wants more than the ginger steps of faith I’ve taken. He’ll allow ginger steps and He still calls that faith. But, He wants us to boldly go…trusting and expecting the good plans He has for us. Like an adventure. A child-like expectation. The kind of anticipation we see in a child at Christmas, excitedly awaiting the good gifts we will receive. Not fearful of the “what-ifs” or held back with “if onlys”.

Will life be perfect on this earth? No, of course not. I’m not saying that everything we face is as easy as Christmas morning. There are times when we stand in the valley of the shadow of death, and little seems like a light, happy adventure. But, we can anticipate, even in the darkest valley. I remember standing beside my mother’s ailing body as she gasped for her last ragged breaths in the waning weeks of her life. Someone asked me then, if I was afraid, because death was so close to where we stood, and the next world…eternity…seemed almost a tangible, thick presence in the room.

Without thinking, I responded, “No. I wasn’t afraid. I was excited for her. Prayerful that she would be with Jesus soon. And, I looked forward to feeling the presence of Jesus so near, like I did when He came to take my Thomas home.”

It wasn’t so easy and tied up in a neat bow. There were dark parts, lonely parts, parts when her suffering was so intense I wondered if He would ever come. And, I never did feel Him the way I felt Him with Thomas. Sometimes trusting means “believing without seeing…or feeling it”. But, still…even in the darkness, we can anticipate because of the promise in the scripture below. Even if we don’t see the answers on this earth, we can anticipate good gifts in eternity.

Isaiah 65:17-25
[ New Heavens and a New Earth ]   “Pay close attention now:  I’m creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain  are things of the past, to be forgotten. Look ahead with joy.  Anticipate what I’m creating: I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy,  create my people as pure delight. I’ll take joy in Jerusalem,  take delight in my people: No more sounds of weeping in the city,  no cries of anguish; No more babies dying in the cradle,  or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime; One-hundredth birthdays will be considered normal—  anything less will seem like a cheat. They’ll build houses  and move in. They’ll plant fields  and eat what they grow. No more building a house  that some outsider takes over, No more planting fields  that some enemy confiscates, For my people will be as long-lived as trees,  my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work. They won’t work and have nothing come of it,  they won’t have children snatched out from under them. For they themselves are plantings blessed by GOD,  with their children and grandchildren likewise GOD-blessed. Before they call out, I’ll answer.  Before they’ve finished speaking, I’ll have heard. Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow,  lion and ox eat straw from the same trough,  but snakes—they’ll get a diet of dirt! Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill  anywhere on my Holy Mountain,” says GOD.

So, here’s to looking forward with certainty to His promises and provision for our family and Sufficient Grace Ministries in 2013. Anticipating more of Him…more grace, more love, more truth, more adventure, more growth, more faith, more comfort, more hope… anticipating.

Has He impressed a word on your heart for the coming year?

Ballet Slippers and Silver Bells

My mind has been thick with nostalgia and my heart heavy with the missing as Christmas fills our senses. Flashes of yesteryear…moments captured in time like a snapshot stopping my hurried steps.

I am seven, standing proudly in the black leotard and pink tights my mother worked three jobs to buy, my long, wavy brown hair pulled into a bun. Silver Bells fills the studio with a melody that makes  me close my eyes and really believe it’s Christmas time in the city . I practice my plies as little girls with more grace than I…girls who don’t live in the trailer park…snicker in a group. I look at my mother, standing a little straighter , my tiny pink ballet slippers gliding across the worn wood floors. Ballet was never my thing, but that year, with snow falling in the background, Silver bells filling the air…that year was magic.

Another flash…another year, 1980-something…another moment captured in time. My mother, wearing the long nightgown with the zipper our neighbors gave to her one Christmas morning. They started the tradition of coming over Christmas morning shortly after we moved to the first house my mother owned. The flashes run together in a blur of memories. I can still taste the orange and bag of candy consumed on many a Christmas Eve at the prettiest church in town,laughing with Billy…his mouth full of chocolate. My grandpa laughing an identical laugh in unison with mom , his arm draped around her, eyes wrinkled with joy as he gives her shoulder a gentle squeeze one Christmas Eve.

 

The house lit up like Vegas…different themed trees in every room. Her tree. Her home made ornaments documenting the various themes of each year’s home made Christmas…the macaroni angel, the year of crochet, cross stitch, the year of wooden peg angels, the year we filled my cart with mauve Victorian decor and bought the Mariah Carey Christmas CD at Hills.

Shopping with my mother so many Christmases of my grown up life. Oh how she loved to buy presents for her people. Flash…mom pushing me in a wheel chair so I could shop while on bed rest for Faith and Grace. Flash…the year she bought me a brand new tree as we shopped on a day when we were angry with our husbands. She always spent more on days we weren’t happy with our husbands.

 

Laughing in her kitchen…

Baking with Nicki and her people…making buckeyes for the first time…marveling at the gathering of women. Flash…my own Gerken baking day…with Sarah and a young Timothy and even younger James, covered in flour. This year’s Gerken baking day left my kitchen filled with big kids who are not mine by blood, but certainly mine in my heart.

Cousins filling my grandmother’s house, families young and full of promise…moms wearing 80s attire…big bows around their necks with big hair to match and hips curvy from the birthing. The smell of grandma’s homemade noodles filling the kitchen. Seventies carpet. Gathering around the fireplace, the noise of family…filled with love and security. Life ahead.

 

Santa leaving his big bag of toys on the porch at my other grandma’s house. Sitting on my father’s lap…I’m seven again…wearing my new sweater vest, my hair carefully curled by my mother earlier in the day.

 

Timothy’s first Christmas. His eyes heavy with sleep, wearing his second hand puppy dog pajamas, as I woke him up in the wee hours of the morning…too excited to wait any longer. Tim yawning in the background…wrapped in a red and black blanket……starting our own traditions in the tiny one bedroom apartment we once called home.

Laughing together as I helped decorate her tree on our last Christmas with her. I’m glad I didn’t know about the missing that waited for us…the ache a momma feels for her baby, I knew. But the ache a daughter feels for her mother still lay ahead as we added the decorations to her tree in between giggles.

I can’t go back and conjure each moment into reality…but each memory is part of me, part of today…woven into the tapestry of this life. So, I will fill my tiny home with as many people I love and as much laughter as we can muster, for as many years as the Lord allows.

Because laughing with people I love…this tiny house full…well…that’s my favorite.

 

May you find joy and peace in this Christmas season as we celebrate the amazing gift…that Jesus came for us. May there be quiet moments of reflection, warm memories to fill your heart, and laughter, if you can muster it…laughing with people you love, imperfect and broken though we may be. There is hope.

 

For on this day, in the city of David, a Savior was born. You will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger…

P.S. So desperate was I to release the words in the wee hours of this morning, this post was typed entirely on my phone. Impressive…or sad…whichever. But, if you’re a writer, you get it! :) Merry Christmas!