Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A strange kind of adventure




This image greeted me this morning as I scrolled through Instagram.

My initial thought was "I like that idea. I would like to be more adventurous, and say 'yes' more."

Then I smiled.

I was reminded of the past year, and the adventures I have welcomed with open arms.

It was this time last year, that my husband, Brian and I were discussing the possibility of adoption.


But, before I tell that part of the story, I have to set it up.

In 2013, I approached Brian about the possibility of starting the adoption process.  This was not a new discussion.  It's one we had dreamed about for many years.  We had no idea of the timing, but we knew the plight of the orphan was on our hearts.


At that time, we had 4 kids under 7, and Brian wisely said, "I can't think about it right now...I just don't think the time is right."

I chose to honor that request.  I prayed for God's timing, and let it go.

For about a year, Brian and I didn't breathe a word about our desires to help children in need.


Then, the day came, when my sweet husband came home from the office, armed with a determined look, and a letter from the Department of Health and Welfare, and said, "I'm ready to move forward."

With shock, I stuttered and stammered around... When you truly let something go, it's a surprise to see it come back to you!

At that time we had no idea how we would begin the process.  We just started searching for the path we knew God was leading us down.

Without getting into all the specifics (I could write a short book about God's answers to prayer), we determined that we would forego the adoption plan for awhile, and focus on fostering local children in need.

We jumped in wholeheartedly...taking the 27 hours of PRIDE training, and opening our home to inspection and what feels like intrusion. (It's not easy having some of those questions asked!)

And, here we are.

One respite case, and two placements later.

You want to talk about adventures?

I've had them this year.


In fact, I fell in love early this fall.

I fell hard for a blue-eyed, four year old who joined our family for about a month.

He gave great hugs, and talked in grown-up sentences.

His laugh was contagious, and his smile melted our hearts.

We thought we would break down the first time we heard him pray these words, "Please let us be a family forever."

After the first couple of days, we didn't know how we would tell him good-bye.

And yet, we had to.

Tears formed in my eyes, and a lump grew in my throat when I received the call from his case worker.  He was leaving our family to return to his.

I may never see him again.

I held him for a long time before his worker arrived.

I didn't want him to see the tears in my eyes.


I told him he was welcome to visit us anytime, and that we would love him forever.

"You'll love me forever, right?" he asked repeatedly.

"Yes, " I assured him. "Forever and ever."


As I buckled him in his car seat, I struggled to keep it together.

I held his hands in mine.

Placing a kiss on each of his palms, I promised him that those kind of kisses don't wipe off, and whenever he needs one, he can place his hand on his cheek.

His eyes mirrored the sadness I knew was in mine.

We were saying good-bye, and it was heartbreaking.

How does even a temporary "Momma" say good-bye?

There is no way I can explain the way he so quickly became part of us.

Maybe that's not the way foster care is supposed to work, but I don't think we could have done it any other way.

How can you give them the attachment they so desperately need, without your heart breaking when the time comes to part ways?

I don't know.

We obviously haven't figured that out.



We continue to care for our other "adventure."

A 15-month old bundle of energy adds life and growth opportunities to our home every day.

We deal with multiple visits a week, tantrums due to frustration, interrupted nights, and emotional ups and downs.

And yet, I know how hard it's going to be to say farewell.

I am working so hard to promote attachment, because it's so good for him.

He needs to attach to people.  He needs to know how to form these important bonds.

And yet, I know that the same amount of love and compassion that goes into forming this attachment will need to be ready for our family when we break this attachment.

The wound will be there again, barely healed over from the last good-bye.

And, we will let another piece of our heart go out the door, and into the unknown.


This is a strange kind of adventure.

I'll admit I've wondered if I'm up to the task.

We've admittedly wished that our simple life would return to us.

And yet, when my foster baby reaches over and pats my arm with a smile and a loving twinkle in his eyes, I am reminded of a simple truth.

Love is the greatest adventure.

Loving well, when you know you are guaranteed to feel tremendous pain, has got to be the scariest adventure.

We don't know what the future holds.

We don't know how we will endure the pain that comes with hard good-byes.

But, this I do know.

We love, because Christ Jesus first loved us.

If He could live a life for us... If He could give that life for us, then I will give my life.

I will...

Open my home for the ones who need help.

Give my hands to the ones who need healing.

Give my life for the ones who need love.


And, sometimes that will mean giving my life for the children I brought into this world.

They need a Mom who is devoted to them as much as she is devoted to other adventures.


As I balance this delicate give-and-take of mothering two types of children, I am looking to my Father for guidance.

I pray the Lord's prayer often, and the line that cuts me to the core every time is this:

"Your Kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven."


His will may not always come with feelings of comfort and calm. 

I do believe, this however...

His plan is an adventure I don't want to miss.










Monday, September 14, 2015

This Spoken Word of God






My early life could be characterized as sheltered.

I was raised in a conservative environment, with good music, limited TV watching, and only the best books to read.

I wasn’t allowed to be part of “the world,” as it was referred to, but that was okay with me.  I’ve never been a rebel in the typical sense of the word.

Sure, I was (and still am) stubborn, and opinionated, but I limited that stubborn streak to the company of my parents and immediate family.  I never dreamed of breaking rules, and was not the type to get into a lot of trouble.

What did get me into trouble was my mouth.

I had definitive opinions about any given subject, and I wasn’t afraid to speak up about them.  I would forcefully state my outlook on a given situation, even if it was to my parents’ frustration.

My disrespectful vivaciousness was something I frequently repented of.  I remember begging God to make me meek and mild, so that I could go through a day without disappointing someone with my outspoken performances.

I learned to call on Jesus a lot.

I poured through His Word, and spoke to Him frequently, trying to gain some wisdom for how to be a good kid.

I’m not sure if I figured out how to be good, but along the way I have discovered something great.

God has much to say about the situations we find ourselves in, and so often we ignore the beautiful gift we have been given.

We have the spoken Word of God at our fingerprints.

The vast amounts of “human wisdom” we find ourselves inundated with is no substitute for the character of Christ we find revealed through the spoken Word of God.

It contains insights into every possible scenario we might find ourselves a part of.

We must dive into the sacred texts. We have to cultivate a demand for the divine. We have the Word of God in our reach, and yet we neglect it's nearness.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. I John 1:1

Matthew Henry writes, “The plainest reason why the Son of God is called the Word, seems to be, that as our words explain our minds to others, so was the Son of God sent in order to reveal his Father's mind to the world.”

This idea resonates with me.

From the time I was a young girl, I would write my words down when I really wanted to make sure I was getting the point across.  

When I spoke my thoughts through the written word, I was able to concentrate. - To convey my deepest thoughts with clarity.

God’s Word is the ultimate truth-teller. It is a peek into the divine mind of The Creator.

From the moment He first spoke (Let there be light) until the ascension of Christ into the Heavens, God created a masterful story of unparalleled beauty. And the story isn’t finished yet.

Creation.

The fellowship of Man and Woman with God.

Selfish choices with devastating consequences.

Redemptive sacrifices.

Rules for mankind, which were given to protect, but were scorned by hard-hearted men.

A Savior sent to redeem a world who was determined to choose its own way.

A people who longed for harmony, and found it in the most unlikely of places...In the Prince of Peace, who looked more like a carpenter’s son. 

A manuscript, written on multiple scrolls, with eternal purpose. – The Words of God. The mind of God. The plan of God.

It was written to impart wisdom. 

It was given for our good.

And it is alive for our awakening.

The same God who gave us access to His mind allows us to make up our own mind.

We have a choice.

We don’t have to open the pages and hear from Him.

He invites us in, but allows us to ignore Him.

He sent His Son to give us a piece of His mind. 

As we read through His Words, let us allow Him to bring peace to our minds.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:”
Philippians 2:5 (KJV)
While I may desire to be a truth-teller, there is only one source of truth that will stand the test of time. 

The Word of God is living.

The Word of God is active.

And sometimes the Word of God hurts.

It pierces into the places of despair and pain.  It creates a tension we wish we could ignore. And, it unveils a plan so beautiful we can't ignore the breathtaking splendor.

We have a choice to walk away from the perfect plan of God.  That's the amazing thing about grace. - It's freely offered to us, but never forced upon us.

When I think about the fact that God knew me before I was born (Jeremiah 1:5), He has a plan that will lead to fulfillment as I choose to walk in it (Proverbs 4:26), and He offers to help me in my weaknesses (Romans 8:26), I am overwhelmed.  I am intrigued. I am inspired.

He offers His Word - His "mind."

We make the choice if we want to hear from Him or not.

I choose to read.

I choose to listen.

I choose to be transformed.


Monday, August 31, 2015

The Happiness Equation

(Originally published on The Today Parenting Team for their "Get Happy" Challenge).


If you have lived even a short period of time, you know there are plenty of excuses to choose unhappiness over real or imagined joy.

We are humans...imperfect, flawed, and prone to taking paths that will eventually set a course for distress, or even just a slight twinge of melancholy.

Why is that?

We know the things we should be doing, and yet we continually push past our good sense, and rush down the slide of life...determined to make it fun, yet destined to crash and burn at the end.

In some ways, I speak metaphorically, but I do believe that this is too often the case.

I know it, because I've lived it.

I know what I should do.

I am aware of the equation that equals happiness (or joy).

And yet, all too often, I invite misery to walk beside me as my closest companion, even if it is for a brief stroll.

So, how can we be assured of a happy day...month...year?

Well, first of all...we can't.

I don't want to be a downer here. After all, we are trying to explore ways to "Get Happy!"

However, there is no guarantee of our happiness.

We are exceptionally driven to expect the worst, and even pursue it.

Now, I am aware that there are many of us who find ourselves in circumstances we didn't choose. A loved one died, a job was lost, or we were betrayed by a friend.

In those times, we must go through a process of grieving, and we certainly won't feel like smiling through the tears.



What I am speaking to are the times when we are aware that our daily choices are affecting our yearly outcomes. We are tired...we are cranky...and we are barely making it.

Here is what we know:

We know we shouldn't stay up into the late hours of the night catching up on our shows, but we do it anyway, and experience the headache and heartless mood that we are almost guaranteed to wake up with.

We are aware of what happens when we schedule something every single day of the week, and yet we are determined to fill every single white space in that calendar, because someone or something needs us!

We know that there are not always enough hours in the day to ensure that our family is well-educated, well-exercised, well-fed, and well-satisfied with the amount of extra curricular activities we think are helpful, and yet we sign ourselves up for everything possible.

Let me let you in on a little secret. It's one that I keep whispering to myself too.

Our children (or us) do not have to participate in every single thing we think might bring them joy and eternal satisfaction. They simply cannot do it all. And frankly, neither can we.

We are driving them and ourselves to mental and physical exhaustion, and there is high price tag on that decision.

If we are always chasing something that is impossible to grasp, we will live in a state of exasperation, not enjoyment.

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Consider this: If you are always running - never resting. If you are always reaching - never holding, and if you are always climbing and never taking in the view, what will you have at the end of your life?

I love this quote from Rick Warren:
“Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can't make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you'll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time.
It is not enough to just say relationships are important; we must prove it by investing time in them. Words alone are worthless. "My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action." Relationships take time and effort, and the best way to spell love is "T-I-M-E.”
I mean, let's be honest. Our families will typically operate in a smoother manner when we are spending quality time together in the sacred space called home. There is no substitute for the special moments spent around a dinner table, or working on homework together in an unhurried manner.

It's not easy, but I do believe that when we say no to the extras, and yes to the essentials, we embrace more purposeful lifestyle choices.

You and your children can indeed find your "happy place." But, it may mean saying no to a few things. It may mean clearing space on that calendar so that there are more than 2 blank boxes in the month.

The happiness equation is as simple as this...

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Once we put down our unrealistic expectations, and live in a purposeful manner, we will find a more content way of life.

One that says, "I don't need to do everything I thought I did."

One that exudes peace, calm, and grace, even in the middle of a crazy "household storm."

One that inspires togetherness, not fragmented craziness.

Let's do this.

Let's get happy.


*images from Unsplash

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Waiting



It's been one of those days.

When your world feels all topsy turvy, and you don't know if it will ever be normal again.

Don't get me wrong. - My life is A-mazing.  I am incredibly blessed, and have nothing to complain about.

The tension I am feeling lately is due to the nagging suspicion that God is up to something in my life. I'm always a bit nervous when I get that feeling.

Let me explain...

I knew 13 years ago that we would most likely adopt some day.  My husband and I were newlyweds, and we attended a Steven Curtis Chapman Concert.  At one point during the show, an adoption video was shown.   I assure you that even though the music swelled at just the right moment, and pictures of darling children pulled on my heart strings, it wasn't just an emotional experience.  I knew without a doubt that we were being called to adopt.

I've had more moments like that over the past 13 years.  Moments where time stands still.  My heart bursts from the feeling inside.  Tears come easily. My Mom instinct is in high gear. Every fiber of my being is awake, and I. just. know.

I can't explain it.  I am painfully aware that there is a child or children out there who has been born in my heart, and has yet to come and live with us.

I say painfully because I know there is a high cost to adoption.

I don't mean the financial cost, though there is a price tag on bringing someone home.

I mean a cost. - A gut-wrenching, life-altering, pain-filled cost.

There are fears to be felt.

There are tears to be shed.

But there is love to be shared...





We are that family.

The ideal family, with 3 girls and a boy.  We may not have a picket fence, or a dog, but we have enough food in our pantry, and beautiful clothes on our backs.  We live in a house that is too big for our needs, and have enough money to buy $4 coffee every so often.  We are beyond wealthy.

I don't know why we want to mess that equation up.

Why would we want to sacrifice any part of that to help even one life?

I'm not entirely sure.

All I know is that I have been compelled...compelled by a Father who adopted me.

I was worth an enormous sacrifice on His part (Romans 8:32).


My heart is aching a little today.  I'm feeling the pains that come from uncertainty. I'm carrying the weight of a calling that has yet to be realized.  And my mind is racing with the questions that are unanswered.

The waiting is hard.  The temptation to question the calling is overwhelming. And the fear of failure is palpable.

The way forward isn't clear, but the future is bright.

I'm clinging to hope. - The hope that the One who called will be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6)




Saturday, August 15, 2015

What is the Pentateuch really about?


I found these summaries of what the first five books of the Bible are about very helpful.  Visit Insights for Living for more information.  (You can click on the image and save it for quick reference).


Monday, August 3, 2015

Pro-Life Hospitality



I've always considered hospitality to be something that revolves around food.

You have a group of people over, entertaining them with delightful conversation and good things to eat.

And, if you are really blessed with the gift of hospitality, you don't mind having people over without notice, while your house is less than perfect.

Yes, in my mind, that was hospitality.


I had recently been studying what it means to be "hospitable" in the context of Scripture.

So, when I read a status that Anthony Bradley  wrote, I had to look over my study notes again.

Ponder this...

After some discussions this weekend, it occurred to me that the pro-life movement will fail as long those who want abortion to end do it from a distance without suffering themselves for the cause. Abortion will decline when the demand declines. The demand will decline when hospitality is used as the greatest pro-life weapon of the 21st-century.
Hospitality as a weapon, like Christians of the earlier church who waged war against infanticide, means that Christians will open up their homes and bank accounts to fully support women who are making a decision whether or not to keep their children. [Until] Christians open up their homes and move pregnant single-moms and other women into their homes and suffer with those making tough decisions, there may not be much change.
Every pregnant women should have a home waiting on her. And I don't mean group homes for women. I mean pregnant women moving into the residential houses and apartments of those who have space. (Anthony Bradley)

Could it be possible that as Christ followers we have neglected to understand the true meaning of hospitality?

Consider this passage, found in I Peter 4:1-12

 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

One of the first things I notice, is that Peter asks us to "offer hospitality to one another without grumbling," and he doesn't specify that only those with the gift of hospitality should do it.  He goes on to say that each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. So, the takeaway is that we are to be hospitable, using whatever gifts we have been given.

This command gets more interesting when you uncover the deeper meaning of that word "hospitality."  The Greek word used there is philoxenos, and is a combination of philos and xenos.

Prayerfully consider the meaning of those words:

philos: "loving, fond of, tending to."
xenos: "stranger." 

You see, I thought hospitality referred to the fact that I could clean my house, make delicious food, light candles, and invite my friends over "like. a. boss."

That's not what it means.

Hospitality, in this context, refers to the loving act of tending to a stranger.  A fondness for strangers.


An opening of one's home.

An opening of one's heart.

For the healing of a stranger.


I am completely aware of the tension that exists in having this discussion...

So many of us were raised with the idea that mistakes/sin = consequences.

And, maybe some of you even go so far as to say "They made their bed...so they can lie in it."

Interestingly enough, I don't find that to be the attitude of Christ.


Matthew 5:42 - "Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you."

Matthew 25:35-40 - "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ "

Luke 3:10-11 - "And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Luke 12:33-34 - "Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."


And the ultimate passage that describes Christ's "hospitality..."

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8


Now, I am aware that there are many verses that talk about stewarding your money and providing for your family.  So, I am not advocating abandoning the needs of your family to the betterment of strangers.

But, I do believe that all of our stewarding should result in having extra to help those in need.

Except for the grace of God, there we could be.

How many of us have made mistakes in our lives?

How many of us have had to accept mercy and help from a kind person at one time or another?

Does that make us any less worthy?

Of course not.


Humans will fail.  There are plenty of examples in history of people who needed the help of those around them to get back on their feet.

And, as followers of Christ, we know the power of the Gospel.  It is life changing.  It brings life from death and destruction.  It makes people new through the power of Christ's death and resurrection.



How can we translate the undeserved grace we have received into giving grace to others who don't deserve it?

I think there are a few ways.

1. Pray for strangers.  Not just a one liner, "help those in need."  But, pray that God will open your eyes to those around you that He could be calling you to help.

2. Plan for strangers.  Look over your budget.  Think about ways that you can cut costs and free up money to assist those who are already engaged in ministries to people in need.  There are so many amazing organizations who are on the front lines, so to speak.  This will also mean refusing to be consumed by credit cards, and actually living within our means.

3. Purpose to help strangers.  It's not enough to pray and plan.  We must have a passion that drives us.  We must go to places where they live.  Engage in meaningful conversations.  Open our hearts and listen to what their needs are.

4. Proceed to your mission of hospitality (fondness of strangers).  God will give you a calling when you ask for it.  He's already doing something amazing in this world, and He is inviting us to join Him. You may never know in this life, the impact your hospitality may have on the world.  Do it anyway.


 Does this mean that all of us will be opening our homes to unwed mothers, and high-risk pregnant teens?  Probably not.

What it means for me at this very moment is a wake up call to be focused on what I can tangibly do to be "pro-life."  I want to encourage life-giving, life-changing methods to help those who need a hand-up.

It won't be convenient.

It won't be comfortable.

It will be a calling.


A call to lay down our lives, and the version we thought we wanted, for the life-changing, soul-gripping work of Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Hiding when it hurts


Originally published on Smart Girl Politics




I've done a lot of hiding in my life.

The first time I remember needing to hide for a good reason was when I was a young girl, living with my missionary family in Ghana, West Africa.

We had gone to bed, like any normal night, with the expectation that morning would arrive without incident.  That was not to be the case.

I remember waking up slowly, my eyes adjusting to a dim light, and the forms of men in the hallway. I slowly raised my head.  Why I did not scream is a mystery to me.  Strange men holding guns was not a normal sight in our home.

I saw them enter the room across the hall from mine.  My Mom was in there, lying on my brother's bed with him...begging God to spare our lives.

After what seemed like a very long time, they exited my brother's room, and silence took over our house.  We rose carefully, and my Mom began to wake my 3 siblings.  We walked quickly, yet timidly into the living room.  Our watchman lay on the floor with his face to the ground.  He whispered for us to get down.

We learned they had taken my Dad hostage, and that it was time for us to run.  And we did.
I can still remember with vivid detail the way the rough ground felt on my bare feet.  We didn't have time for shoes.

We ran in the bush for what seemed like forever...my heart beating wildly.  Childish prayers filled my mind.  I worried for my Dad's life.  I worried for our lives.  I worried.

That was one of the first times I remember intense worry, fear, and anxiety filling my consciousness.
Even after we were told it was safe to come back to our property, and we were escorted to our friend's home, I felt an unshakable feeling of dread.

Even after my Dad was returned, unharmed, I felt the weight of worry settle over me.
And, even after we prayed and thanked God for His protection, I experienced the anxiousness that comes with a tainted sense of safety.

It's as if it was yesterday, in my mind.

I am sitting on my friend's bed.  I am shaking, and even though we live incredibly close to the equator, I am cold.  I look out the window into the darkness of the night.  I feel eyes watching me.  Eyes that aren't truly there, but feel as real to me as my own.  I am sick with worry.  And, I want to hide.

                                                                                                                                                                 


We've been in more homes than I can keep track of.  As we travel from state to state informing new friends of the college we are teaching at in Africa, I am learning how to brave a smile.

I’m in a different bed almost every night...usually a sleeping bag on the floor.

I experience the familiar waves of nausea that accompany early morning departures...I've never been a good traveler.

New faces greet us each evening, at churches where we are expected to say hello, and make small talk.

Most of the time I love it.  New friends.  New experiences.  New memories.

But then there are nights when I have had enough.

I don't want to talk. I don't want to sing. I don't feel like smiling.

I want to hide.

I didn't know that I was an introvert back then.

I had never taken a personality test.  But truthfully the title of Pastor/Missionary's kid meant that you became the "right personality."  The one who had a warm smile. The one who said hello. The one who put other's needs before your own.

And, all of these are good traits.

I have an enduring gratefulness for the way I was raised...even that I was raised in the spotlight.
Good manners have been my friends. And, being pushed outside of my comfort zone has been helpful.

In this case, hiding is not a temptation because I feel hurt, or particularly terrorized.

I am tempted to hide, because I wonder if I can be what the person "needs."

Mostly, I'm afraid that the person in front of me might "require" something of me that I don't feel able to give.

It's a kind of stage fright, except the stage is my life, and the fear comes from the need to impress.

They can't know I'm scared.

I'd rather hide.
As a teenager, I found a great way to cope when I wanted a wall between me and the world. It was known as the "walk-man." It played music to my ears, and carried me to another reality.

There were times when I took trips with a large group of people.  In order to create the illusion of a "bubble," I would put my headphones on my ears, close my eyes, and travel to a place where I didn't have to perform in any way.

 The same could be said about the books I continually had my nose in.

 It is said that introverts love to escape in novels, and that was the case for me.

There is something about words on a page.  They don't ask anything of you, and offer the chance to become whoever the hero/heroin is in the story.

The teenage years tend to present themselves with an inclination toward awkwardness.  I remember wanting to be as wholesome as the "good" kids, as cool as the "bad" kids, and as smart as the "brainy" kids.

Depending on who I was with, I wanted to create the illusion that I understood everything about who they were.  And, I wanted the same respect from them.  Instead of being content with being "Jamie," the reluctant introvert, who smiled at everyone, while feeling absolutely scared to death of talking to them, I wanted to project a different image.

As I mentioned before, some of this comes with the territory of "coming of age."  Most teenagers will admit to a feeling of insecurity and trying to fit in.

And in the moments where I felt like I was doing everything except fitting in, I wanted to hide.
                                                                                                                                                                 

As a college student, I experienced the typical ups and downs of juggling school, work, home, and a social life.

One of the things I remember is that I didn't really enjoy going out with friends.  I would much rather be one on one with a close friend, or home with a favorite novel.  I loved my friends.  I loved my classes and I enjoyed my life.  But, at the end of the day, I longed to tuck away in my house, and take a break.

I didn't understand that part of who I was.  I would feel guilty for not being more "adventurous."  I would imagine that people thought I was boring.  So, there were occasions in which I projected a different personality in order to protect an image I thought I needed to have.

It was at this point that my need to hide turned into something more.  I began to have pangs of something that felt like fear, with a side of worry mixed in.  I didn't even know what to call it.  I knew that it couldn't possibly be depression, or anxiety (Right?!)  I was striving to be perfect. And, perfect people didn't deal with that.

I remember a particularly hard summer while in Nursing School.  I had convinced myself that taking a heavy load of classes, and starting a stressful job was a good idea.  Extra homework, no sleep, plus a stress-filled job were a recipe for disaster.  After a particularly hard week, and the first major feelings of anxiety, I quit the job.

I felt like a failure and I felt weak.

 Of course, now I know the truth.  I wasn't weak.  I was unwise.

I now understand the benefits of having a carefully planned schedule with room for flexibility in it.
I now understand the necessity of a good night's sleep, plenty of water, and healthy food.
I have come to realize that saying "no" is okay, and no explanation is necessary.  But, those skills would come with time and experience.  I had more to learn.
                                                                                                                                                                 

"Hiding" would become an everyday reality after the birth of my first child.

I don't think you can ever forget your first "off the charts" anxiety attack.  The one that comes out of nowhere, for no reason, and leaves you paralyzed.  Unable to think, unable to move and unable to breathe normally. - I felt like I was dying.

I was rescued by my Dad, who drove 30 minutes to help me get home.

From that day until now, I have been a different person.

My severe anxiety attack led to a fear of driving, a fear of public places and of crowds.

Suddenly, hiding from the world was my only mode of survival. And, in order to hide, I had to make excuses.

A friend might call and ask, "Do you want to go do ___________?"

I would freeze.

 "What if I go, and I have a panic attack while I'm there?"  "What if there is no way to escape?"  "What if I have to tell them what is going on?"  And the most troubling question, "What if they think I'm crazy?"

So I would come up with a lame excuse as to why I was unable to attend the function in question.

For the next 5 years, I would battle extreme social anxiety, hiding who I really was from almost everyone.

I sought perfectionism, and in my mind, a perfect person didn't admit that they were a mess. - And that's exactly what I was... A high-functioning mess, who was frequently sick due to the worry and fear that wrecked my body.

My 3rd child was a year old when I had to come out of hiding.

After 5 years of pretending I was okay.  After years of hiding in public restrooms and hyperventilating...praying for strength to get through the rest of my grocery shopping. After an incident that left me physically and emotionally ill, I admitted it was time to get help.

My husband drove me to my Doctor, where I told him the truth.  The nightmare I had been living in for the past 5 years.

I can still remember the tears that poured down my face, as he looked in my eyes and said, "Your body is sick...You need help."

Somehow, taking a pill to help me cope with life seemed like a cop-out, which is why I had never considered it before.  I wouldn't be controlled by anything.

And yet, here I was, nodding silently, as my caring Doctor wrote out the prescription that would alter my thought processes.  I was terrified.  But, I knew it was time to let my perfectionism go.

 I knew it was time to get well.

Those first few months weren't easy.  Adjusting to life-altering medication is no walk in the park.  I remember one particular instance in which I kept leaving a meeting I was in. The person leading it finally asked, "Are you okay? What's going on?"  I burst into tears, and confessed that I was on a new medication for anxiety.

 It was a wall that I was letting down.

I was slowly coming out of hiding.

That was 4 years ago.

I wish I could tell you that my hiding days are completely over. - They are not.

I am still tempted to hide from life, instead of hiding in the shelter that God offers. (Psalm 46:1-3 & Psalm 46:1)

I still experience a certain level of anxiety and fear, and yet I have such hope.

I am confident that God is working all things together for my good.

With prayer, support, and some fantastic coping mechanisms, I am making it in a way I didn't think possible.

I had a friend tell me to thank God for my anxiety.

I have done that.

I thank Him that He has given me insight into what so much of the world goes through.  I know what it's like to wake up each morning, uncertain if you can handle one thing well.

I am well acquainted with the fear that grips your mind as you push yourself W-A-Y out of your comfort zone.

And I am also acquainted with the courage that comes when you choose to rely on a strength that is not your own.

Nothing I have done has come easy, but I am stronger because of it.

So, I will thank God.  I will surrender to the plans He has for me.  I will give Him my worry-filled mind, and ask Him to renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10)

As I look back through my journal entries at the beginning of my experience with anxiety, I am struck with one in particular.

I wrote the following...

I'm trying so hard to keep my focus on God and His Word through this hard time.  I'm so ready to be "healed" instantly, but maybe that's not what God wants.  Maybe He has more for me to learn, so He doesn't want to let me just "get over it."   Right when I think I can't go on, He helps me through an especially hard time.  It's helping me to realize that He is right there beside me...I believe that He is refining me for a purpose I can't see clearly yet.  As a Pastor's wife, I will need to have extreme compassion and already these experiences have helped me to have more of that! Someday I pray that I will look back at this time in my life as a defining moment...when I overcame a huge obstacle with God's divine help.


So, if you are in the midst of your own season of hiding, know that you are not alone.

It's okay to open the door, and allow people into the space that you guard so carefully.

Ask for help.

Allow people the chance to show compassion.

Accept the fact that you are not perfect, and work on the areas you are lacking in from a place of purpose, rather than perfectionism.

Appreciate the intricate way your body is made, and the fact that it will let you know when something is not right.  Healing may take time, but healing will come.

It's easy to hide when you are hurting.  Whether the pain is physical or emotional, the desire to run from it is very real.

What I've found is that "hiding and hoping," is not as effective as "honesty and healing."

There may be times when you feel as if you can't meet up to your expectations, or the imagined expectations of others.

In those moments, remember that God created you exactly how He needed you to be, so that you could fulfill a role no one else could.

Take courage.

Be healed, not hidden.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hopeful Parenting

Image by: Photography by Jamie Taylor


I watch my children play in the sun-bathed yard. - It's an idyllic scene.

I walk by their pictures on the wall, and pause...contemplating what their future holds.

Life is unpredictable.  I've heard it all my life, and have put the rhetoric into practice.

I know that I can't predict what will happen next year, next month, or even in the next minute.


It has always been my preference to keep a controlled hand on the unfolding pages of my story.

I wrote the "Once upon a time," and "They lived happily ever after" stories as a young girl.

Every girl got her guy. Every sunset was glorious, and every character was the picture of perfection.

If I could edit those childish stories now, I would add a whole layer of realistic drama to the story lines.  
Isn't it funny how life works?

My husband and I are raising 4 unpredictable human beings, who will undoubtedly have their own versions of the family story we are creating.

We don't know who they will end up becoming, what they will end up creating, or how they will end up living.


It occurred to me the other day that my children will most likely have some type of "smart device" in their possession in the near future.  I realized that even if I tried to protect them from these limitless investigators into the internet, they will at some point be exposed to the vastness of the world-wide-web.

I don't mind telling you the momentary feeling of terror that gripped me right then.

I found myself asking questions in my mind...

"How will I keep them from the evil out there?"

"How will I convince them that there are beneficial paths to walk upon?"

"How can I control the outcome of their lives?"

You see, I realize that no matter how many boundaries I put around them, no matter how many filters or safeguards I put in place, there will come a day when the choice will become their own.

I've read statistics about the psychological harm that comes with exposure to explicit content.

I've read about the torment they have to endure replaying all the things they have seen, read, or listened to.

And I look at my children's generation, many of whom are in possession of unlimited internet access late at night or the ability to watch TV from the comfort of their bedroom, and I wonder...

What baggage will this generation be dealing with?

What images will they be unable to force out of their tortured minds?

Which lyrics will play over and over in their heads as they attempt to sleep?

And, then, how many of them will believe that behavior like that is some version of normal?



The truth is, I'm something of an idealist.

I am a firm believer that just because there is potential for failure, does not mean it has to turn into a reality.

I've seen enough parents raise outstanding children when the odds were not in their favor.

I've seen young men who were written off as societal failures turn into men of integrity and faithfulness.

I've seen young women who were plagued by painful memories of destructive behavior, transformed into delightful emissaries of grace, who are desperate to rescue anyone from the possibility of their past.

Because redemption is a reality.

Change is possible.

Breaking generational curses is something I know is within reach.


I guess that is why I have hope.

I was there when my parents raised me.

I know what I was capable of.

I saw the person I could have turned out to be (and still could if I made wrong choices).

I know what happened in my mind when their control over me loosened.


I have no trouble recalling the time when it occurred to me that I was free to make my own choices.

Suddenly I had the ability to go anywhere I felt like, watch and listen to anything I wanted, and become the person I decided I should be.

How liberating, you might say...

And yet, I could not get my parent's voices out of my head!

Every snippet of wisdom, every instruction, every purposeful discipline was with me forever.

It still is...more than a decade after leaving home.

And, truthfully, I wouldn't have it any other way.



Because you see, I know what I am capable of.

I am aware of the temptations that come my way daily.

And I am also very much aware of the consequences of any poor choices I may contemplate.

Because of the faithful instruction of loving parents, I know that the things I choose to dwell on will determine the trajectory of my life.


And while I can't control who my children end up becoming, any more than my parents could with me, I can follow in their footsteps.


There are no guarantees with parenting.

Discipline, instruction, boundaries...all are needed, but don't guarantee a promising future.

But, there is one method of parenting that I believe our children can never ignore.

That is, the consistent declaration of God's will and purpose over their lives.

They may choose to follow unhealthy patterns of living, but when they come to the end of their proverbial rope, one strand of hope will endure.  

"The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." 
(James 5:16 NLT)

I am choosing to hold on to the promises that my parents held on to, and are still trusting in.

Prayer will be the foundation of my parenting.

Guidance and instruction will be lovingly encircled with the fervent prayer of this Mommy.

I don't know what I'm going to think of our parenting skills when I look back.

But, one thing I am sure of... I will do my best to pray with expectancy, knowing that the same God that answered my parent's prayers, is the One who will hear my cry.


I pray  with fervent hope...and I trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to "equip [them] with all [they] need for doing his will. [That] he produce in [them], through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen." (from Hebrews 13:21).


I leave you with the prayer that I pray almost every night over our children:



"All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children."
 (Isaiah 54:13)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Don't judge me




How many of us are perfect?

How many of us can say that we do things well every single day?

I would venture to say that no one can answer that positively.

Of course we know that we are not perfect.

As a Christ follower, I believe that I have a great need for Jesus because when I come to God on my own, I cannot please Him. 

 I am sinful.

I am flawed.

I cannot stand as righteous before Him.


But, when I accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on my behalf,
I am named a child of the King.

And, while I am forgiven of my sin,
I cannot ignore and gloss over sin.

Repentance includes a turn from wrong.

It indicates a pursuit of what is right.




As our Pastor said recently, "you cannot pursue Jesus and pursue sin at the same time."


Why is it that "modern Christians" don't want to live that out?

We want  Jesus to have our back, but do not want to live the sacrificial life that comes with declaring Christ to be the Lord of our lives.

The Boss.

The One who calls the shots.

The One who is allowed to point out sin in our lives.


When you take the time to study God's Word, you 
 find a system of church leadership in the Bible.

We are to submit to "biblical leaders" who have authority over us.

We look to them for guidance...for encouragement...for accountability.

And yet I notice an interesting trend in the modern church world.


People are not interested in being guided.

If you confront anyone on sin in their life you will receive a fascinating response...

"You are a sinner, so you can't judge me."


So, let me get this straight?

Me telling you the good news about Jesus...God in human form, who has taken
 the penalty of our sins on himself when we repent (turn) from our sins is "judging you?"

He invites you to repent and leave your life of sin...not me.

If I am telling you that a sin is harmful and should be eradicated from your life,
 I am judging you?

If I am warning you that following in that path will lead to a life of pain, I am judging you?

Please forgive me...I was trying to help.


I, as a believer in the inspired Word of God believe that 
when we are told to flee from sin, it's kind of important.

It almost gets comical at times.


It's like the man that just murdered someone is looking at a child who just stole a cookie from the cookie jar, and says, "You are a sinner too, so don't tell me what I just did was wrong."

Was the child stealing from the cookie jar wrong?

Of course!

It was a sin, and if that child knows it to be a sin, they should make it right.

But does that mean, he can't look at a murderer and say to that person,
 "Murder is a sin, and you shouldn't do it?"

Of course not!

That would be insanity in it's purest form.


Would you agree that some counterfeit Christians have messed up the system?

Have some hypocrites given us pause when it comes to true accountability?

Of course.



Christianity, lived out in the way it was created to be lived out brings healing, restoration, community, and wholeness.



It involves wiser Christians who have gone before us, 
mentoring those of us who are young in the faith.

It involves a loving rebuke of sin.

It is characterized by carefulness.

It is life to the lifeless.

Hope to those in despair.

Rescue to those who are in trouble.

Freedom for those who are in bondage.


Because the wages of sin is DEATH.

Because the extra pain that comes from a sinful life can be avoided.

We will have trouble in this world because it is a fallen world.


But, why would you want more pain than necessary?

God has given us a road map in His Word.


Is it restrictive?

YES.

Are there rules?

Boundaries?

Yes.

The fences keep us safe.


Why would we rebel against safety that comes from the God of Heaven and of Earth?

He created us.

He knitted us together in our Mother's wombs.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

And God, who made us, knows the things that will harm us.

He has given warnings in His "love letter" to us.

He wants to free us from the power of:

Deceitfulness
Pride
Anger
Lack of Self-control
Sexual Sin


This small list of sins that tempts us everyday will destroy our peace, our joy, and the fulfilling life that God wants to give us.


As loving parents we want to shield our children from things that harm them.  
We have an ideal plan for helping our children flourish in the best way possible.

Can we not see that God (the ultimate Father) has done that for us?

He has given us a choice.

We can pursue sin.

We can live a life that leads to destruction.

But, He calls us without condemnation, and welcomes us into His loving embrace.



To my friends who are followers of The Way,
keep focused on what is important.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind,
and your neighbor as yourself. (from Matthew 22)

But, in loving your neighbor as yourself...

Call sin what it is...
Sin.

Whether it is found in your life, or in the life of your neighbor.

Don't be afraid to call it sin.


And, look to Jesus...The author and finisher of our faith.

I know He can rescue someone from the pursuit of sin, because He rescued me.

I don't say that to brag on my own feeble attempts at perfection.

I testify to the fact that Christ has placed within me 
His power, His strength, and His perfect love.

Because of that change in my life, I see sin for what it truly is.

Disgusting.
Sick.
Filthy.

And, quite frankly something I want nothing to do with.

I am not perfect.

Rather, by God's grace, I am being perfected.

One moment at a time.


When I fall, I fall forward towards the Son of God who rescued me.

I refuse to pursue a life of sin.

And, I declare that all sin is harmful.



 I will no longer be afraid to speak out about
 what is considered "acceptable sin," 
just because a fallen world tells me I cannot.

I don't care what sin we choose to partake in...

All of it will bring us pain.


May we seek healing from the One who is waiting for us.

The Healer.

The Redeemer.

The Savior of the World.


And allow Him to create in us a clean heart...to bend our will to the curve of His own.

And rely on His strength to live out our faith in a faithless world.


Not in absolute perfection.

Not with performance-based religion.

But armed with prayer, steadied by peace, and confident in purpose,
may we live a courageous life.


Unafraid to call sin what it is, and denounce it's power in our lives.

A possibility only through the Spirit of the living God.