May 30, 2016

It Is Well

Joy in pain. Laughter through tears. Trust learned through sorrow and grief. We're getting pretty good at this as a Calvary Baptist Church family. It's not something we really ever wanted to be good at, BUT GOD has a different story for us than we would have chosen for ourselves. I am so thankful that God has shown up in every tough moment, has held us through every wave of grief, and that His word holds fast in every storm.

I got to share a bit of my testimony with my church family today and I wanted to share it here so that all the friends and family who couldn't be there could hear what God has been doing in my life, at least in a small way, over the last 2 1/2 months:
TESTIMONY

I also had the privilege to share a song close to my heart with my church family after my testimony video. Before you listen to it, know that I am not a solo singer, I was extremely nervous, and you'll need to ignore all my flat notes (I guess I didn't raise my eyebrows enough, Tomi!) Try to ignore how bad it sounds and rest in the truth of the words! It is because the waves and wind still know His name that we can trust His plan, even in the ones we don't understand, and He makes it possible for us to say "It is well with my soul."
It Is Well

Father, use this pain and sorrow to draw me closer to You. Use this pain and sorrow to draw my children to You. Lord, give me the courage and bravery to live this life with authenticity, truth, and trust in You, regardless of the storm swirling about me. Lord, teach me how to be light in the darkness so that my children will see You in all I say and do. Use this pain to open the eyes and hearts of my children to their need for Your salvation. Oh, Father, let today be the day of salvation for Sophie and Ethan. Redeem this pain. Redeem this story.

May 26, 2016

Overwhelmed

Today, right now actually, I just sat down and cried. It's the first time in several weeks that I've done this. The first time in several weeks that I've felt like I needed to do this. I was just overwhelmed by being overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed by thinking of all the things Kevin won't be here for in the future.
Overwhelmed by the emptiness of my closet.
Overwhelmed by the ants the rain brought to my house.
Overwhelmed by his dresser being empty of all his clothes.
Overwhelmed by grumpy children.
Overwhelmed by feeling like a #momfail because I just can't seem to get in a groove with the kids since we finished school.
Overwhelmed with anger at Kevin for leaving us too soon.
Overwhelmed with frustration at myself for being angry at Kevin when his death was really an answer to my months of pleading for healing.
Overwhelmed by all the wires and cables in the office that I just want out of my way so I can paint.
Overwhelmed by all the little things I keep finding here and there. It just never seems to be done.
Overwhelmed by sorrow and guilt at how sad, lonely, hurt, and hopeless Kevin felt for so long and I couldn't do anything to help.
Overwhelmed by how much laundry we produce.
Overwhelmed by how incapable I feel to parent these precious children God has given me.
Overwhelmed by how quickly the house gets dirty again.
Overwhelmed by how incapable I feel to homeschool these kiddos, yet confident that's what God has asked me to do.
Overwhelmed by the amount of time I've let the kids play on their tabs and watch TV in the last 2 1/2 months.
Overwhelmed by how stressed I feel when I think about doing even the smallest thing most days.
Overwhelmed by how awkward I feel around couples these days.
Overwhelmed by the fear that salvation won't come to my children.
Overwhelmed by the length of the to do list compared the the shortness of the amount of time to accomplish it all.
Overwhelmed by the fact that what would have been our 13th anniversary will be here in less than a month and I don't know that I can put on a brave face and make it through that day.
Overwhelmed by all the changes that need to be made to our school days.
Overwhelmed by taking out the trash.
Overwhelmed by doing all the things that Kevin did without having his help.
Overwhelmed by the thought that I have to pick out a headstone for my beloved.

Overwhelmed by the love lavished on us by my Savior and amazing church family.
Overwhelmed by the way others have stepped up to help us and do things for us and keep us going, even when life is crazy and hard for them.
Overwhelmed by the love and care and comfort the kids have provided to me, unprompted.
Overwhelmed by the millions of ways that God has provided for our every need.
Overwhelmed by the gift of music to soothe and calm my soul.
Overwhelmed by how spot on the Psalms I read each day feel for that day.
Overwhelmed by the fact that GOD IS FOR ME.
Overwhelmed by the fact that the JOY of the Lord is my strength.
Overwhelmed by the truth that, no matter my circumstance, God truly can help me say "It is well with my soul."
Overwhelmed by the gift of prayer, for and with others.
Overwhelmed by the amount of JOY that Facebook and Instagram brings each day.
Overwhelmed by the genuine worship I get to experience with my church family each week.
Overwhelmed by the truth that the God who created all things knows me, loves me, cares for me, sees me, provides for me, and is preparing a place for me to spend eternity with Him.

Oh, Father, teach my heart to be overwhelmed by You, not the things of this world!

May 23, 2016

Dreams

I don't know about you, but God has never spoken to me in a dream. Which makes me a little jealous. Because all the cool stories in the Bible where God spoke through dreams. But, alas, that has never happened.

So I have been surprised at how often since Kevin died I have felt like Satan is attacking me using dreams. Kevin suffered terribly for horrible, realistic nightmares most of his life. He would wake up feeling so heavy with the weight of the evil and darkness of his dreams most nights, but I have never had this happen. Until Kevin passed away. My dreams are nowhere near as dark or evil as his, but clearly meant to make me question everything about Kevin; his life, his character, his love for me and the kids. I hate it. I wake up in tears when I have these dreams because they were so real and it is so hard to shake, even when I am fully awake. I was not prepared for this kind of battle. Thankfully it doesn't happen every night, but when it does, it really shakes me.

But even in these attacks the Lord has shown Himself faithful and true. Every time I have had one of those dreams the Lord has given me confirmation of Kevin's salvation and character the very next day. After one dream a friend told me of a picture the Lord gave her of Kevin during our worship service that day where Jesus was washing his feet in heaven. After another I found Kevin's old Bible cover full of sermon notes and devotional questions. After this last one I found this sweet note Kevin had written to Sophie last year and slipped into her suitcase for her first year away at camp:

I just sat on the floor and cried after I read that note because it was just what I needed the day after a horrible dream.

I don't know why God isn't answering the prayer to remove these dreams, but I am entranced and enthralled by the sweetness of His love toward me in the wake of the dreams. Oh, Father, teach me to have the same love and tenderness toward my children that they may see their Father in heaven and run to You, accept Your free gift of salvation, and live their lives poured out for You! Let us look back on this note one day and be able to declare it was answered with salvation for both Ethan and Sophie!

May 20, 2016

Deception and Stolen Joy

This week has been long. And extremely hard.

I got Kevin's death certificates this week and everything suddenly felt so much more final. A sweet friend was in the hospital with her husband in the midst of a scary, scary situation. The to-do list before we head off for time with friends and Kevin's family seems to get bigger and bigger while the time to do it gets shorter and shorter. I filmed a testimony to share with my church family and the Lord had me live every.hard.word of it the day I filmed it. A hard anniversary for precious friends loomed closer and closer. Nothing this week was simple, easy, or just pure fun.

And Satan took full advantage of it this week. I struggled this week in a way that caught me off guard and left me speechless and somewhat numb most of the week. There's a truth that I've known for some time, but it never really seemed to affect me, so I tucked it away in the back of my mind and forgot about it. It felt like something that would never affect me so I didn't really need it, right?

That truth? We won't be married to our earthly spouses in heaven. What we have here on earth, that's it. There's a reason our vows say, "Til death do us part." I admit, I am no expert on heaven. In fact, I still feel a little afraid of that moment when my eyes open and there I am, in Christ's presence, eternally (not afraid of how I'll get there, just afraid of being there. There's so much I don't know or understand. So much I can't control that it's a bit scary to me.) But I know that we will not be married or given in marriage. Until this week, that truth had no affect on me. But this week, it hit me hard. And Satan used it to deceive me and steal my joy.

I was overwhelmed that, though I will recognize Kevin when I see him in heaven, there won't be the joyous reunion of husband and wife. There won't be walks along the crystal sea, hand in hand, enjoying the beauty around us, like we we would have here on earth. There won't be  a moment of seeing my groom, him seeing his bride, and beaming with joy that we are together again, husband and wife. Satan then planted the thought in my head, "Then how will there be joy there? What will there be to rejoice in if not in being reunited with my husband?" That thought removed any joy or excitement, little though it may have been, from the idea of heaven. Satan had me deceived and was robbing me of joy and hope in this magnificent place the Lord is preparing for us.

I am so thankful the Lord did not leave me in that place for long. Yes, He let me wrestle and cry it out for a bit, but, as He always does, He came in and whispered much needed truth to my soul. True, Kevin and I will not be husband and wife in heaven, because God has something better. The marriage of Christ with His church (that's us!) Our marriage here on earth was but a faint picture of the marriage we will experience with Him. There will be no lows, no sad moments, no fights, no arguments, only love, joy, peace. All the good things. Kevin and I will share that. We will share that with our kids (I hope with all my heart the Lord will bring salvation to them!) That will be deeper and more joyful than any marriage here on earth, even the precious one I shared with my beloved these last 13 years.

Even more than that, I was reminded that the joy of heaven isn't in being reunited with loved ones. It isn't in seeing our Bible heroes up close. It isn't in the beauty we will see or the magnificence of walking on streets of gold. It's in being with our Savior, as we were always meant to be. It's in seeing Christ and spending an eternity worshiping Him, as we were always meant to be. It's in no more pain, tears, sorrow, grief, or sin. For all eternity. Admittedly, while that brings much joy, it also bring a little fear because I just can't fathom a life that beautiful. That joyful. That peaceful. That perfect.

Satan convinced me to think of heaven in earthly terms. In the earthly things that won't be in heaven. But, sweet friends, when we think of heaven in earthly terms our thinking is marred, short-sighted, and just plain missing the mark. Our earthly minds can never fathom heaven in its fullest because we've never known life on this planet without pain and grief and tears and sin. It's so easy to think of all we'll miss on earth while in heaven (graduations, weddings, smiles, movie nights, all the big milestones), but heaven offers so much more than anything this earth and this earthly life offers.

Oh, Father, give me right thinking about heaven. Give me joy and passion and excitement for heaven, not because I'll see Kevin again, but because I will be with You. Remind me heaven is not about me. It's not about Kevin. It's not about anyone else that has gone before, but it's about You. I don't think I'll ever fully grasp it here on earth, but I know You can instill in me a loving desire and joy as I look ahead to entering those gates and worshiping You for all eternity. Fill my children with a longing for heaven, not because they want to see Daddy again, but because they love You and want to spend eternity with You. Let today be the day of salvation for my children. Set eternity in all our hearts, with much joyful anticipation. Teach us how to live here in such a way that points others to You and displays a joyful excitement for the life to come.

May 19, 2016

How to Survive Bringing Your Children With You To Corporate Worship

I love having children in our worship services. I love having my children in our worship services. It's not always easy and the three of us don't always enjoy it (if I am being honest), but it's good for all of us. Every time.


Our church doesn't specifically design the service with children in mind and leaves it up to the parents whether or not their kids stay for the sermon (4 yrs and up all come to the music portion then 4 yrs to 3rd grade can go to children's church during the sermon.) However, our church is very welcoming to all children who are in our services. (A little secret, I love, love, love hearing the sounds of children in the worship service. This has not always been true for me, but now, it's one of my favorite things.)

One of the things each church must decide, once they decide to welcome children into the service, is whether or not to gear the service toward children. I don't feel like you need to tailor the service to children, but train and give parents tools to help them lead their children during worship (worship through music and worship through the preaching of the Word.) The following are some examples, just based on the trial and error of the last 5 years with my two children (one girl and one boy who couldn't be more different from each other in how they respond to and participate in the service): 

Music: If you think your child doesn't know or understand the song, explain it to them while you sing. More than likely, if you are doing any kind of family worship or devotion at home, there will be words in the songs that are familiar to them. When one of those words comes up, you turn to them quietly and say, "We're singing about the cross (or whatever word or words are familiar.) Who died on the cross?" This may lead to other questions from them, but even if it doesn't, you've reinforced something you want them to know. When my son was learning to read he would get so excited when he saw a word in the song he could actually read. Those are also little teaching moments when you can read more words to them or ask them if they know what those words mean. The bonus of doing this is that it makes you think much more about the words that you are singing and the meaning of each song. It's good for you and your children.

Prepare them for what's about to happen:Go over the order of service with your child before the service starts (which would also allow a time to explain songs or even read the scriptures ahead of time.) My son always wants to know how close we are to being done (yeah, he's not real spiritual, yet), so it helps when I walk him through the order of service and let him mark off each thing as we do it. He sees where we are and that ends his constantly asking me, "Are we almost done?"

When your child isn't the one with their hands raised, eyes closed, singing: It's OK if your child isn't worshiping (especially if they aren't saved) or worshiping just like you (my son DOES NOT like to sing and refuses to do so in church. It seems to me that he's tuned out, but when he gets home he's humming the songs we were singing and it gives us another chance to talk about them.) I do my best to get him to at least stand with us, as a sign of respect for God and for those leading us in worship, but some weeks that is a fight not worth having. At one point, I made egg shakers (plastic Easter eggs filled with rice and taped closed-just tape them VERY WELL) they could use each week during the music. My daughter absolutely loved it every week and, honestly, it really even added to my worship to hear her playing along to the songs. My son liked it for awhile, but he prefers to use a pen on the back of the seat in front of him to drum. I say, whatever works to keep their attention and help them see they are part of worship, too. Not every adult in your service worships the same way, so why should the kids?

But they are so squirmy: It's OK not to expect them to sit perfectly still (in my opinion, they aren't coming to worship to learn how to sit still. They practice every day at school.They are there to experience what it's like to gather as a church family, to learn from God's word, and to join in corporate worship) and some kids need something in their hands to focus (that would be Ethan.) Don't be frustrated if you feel they aren't paying attention because they are squirming or moving around. You may be surprised if you ask them questions about the sermon and music on the way home and they can answer every one. Just because they are drawing or using their pens as rocket ships doesn’t mean they are tuned out.

Prepare them by reading the Bible with them at home and participating in other programs at church: My kids get so excited when they hear a Family Quest verse (our church’s Wednesday night family Bible study program. It's amazing! I'd love to tell you more about it if you are interested) or a verse we read during devotions in the sermon. For that to happen, it means parents have to be pouring God's word into them at home. This doesn't have to be terribly time consuming, but it does have to be a priority. There are all kinds of children's Bibles, devotional Bibles, and family Bibles that have reading plans and pretty much do all the work for you. Grab one and get started. That's what it takes, friends. Just.get.started. Even reading one chapter or a few verses a day is laying a foundation for your children. The Bible promises that His word will not return void, so get as much of the Word in them as you can.  

Talk to your pastor: Ask the pastor ahead of time what his sermon title and scripture are so you can be reading and talking about it with your kids during the week. I have done this a lot with my pastor and he was very generous to give me what I was asking for each time. For awhile, I was even making a worship notebook for each child, each week, based on what the pastor gave me. I included coloring pages on the topic, words to listen for (be careful when you ask the pastor for a word he will use frequently because he may give you a word that he will say in every sentence and your child  may be so excited to hear the word he's looking for that he squeals loudly with delight and repeats the word every time he hears it. Not that that's happened to me or anything...), a generic page for taking notes, and a spot to write or draw about what they remember from the service. Admittedly, this is a lot of work to do each week. It was truly something I enjoyed for about a year, then life took over, and it became too much for me. You can find many of these types of pages for free online and even some bound books that do basically the same thing on Amazon.


Don't be frustrated that they don't understand everything that is said: God's word will not return void. If they hear it, He'll use it. Lord willing, they won't hear that concept or theology just that one time, so if they don't "get it" after one sermon (how many adults do???), it's OK. You're building foundation. You can continue to follow up at home. Because we homeschool, our kids get the Bible on their level in school, Family Quest, and Sunday School, so I think it's good for them to hear it on another level once a week. Do they always enjoy it? No. Do they hate me for it, time will tell. But, testimonies take time and change rarely happens overnight (I have to remind myself of that often.) I have always found that when I take the time to answer their questions and point things out to them I learn more than when I am just taking notes. It forces me to pay attention and dig into the word to be able to find the answers they seek. Trust me, it is possible to answer their questions and not totally disrupt the service. (Sometimes the people around you even learn something, too!)

I hope this was helpful and encourages you to give taking your children with you to worship a try, even if it's just once a month for awhile. Check out these links for some great resources that I have enjoyed over the years:

May 14, 2016

Today...

Today, I got step one (of LOTS of steps) done toward converting Kevin's office into our schoolroom. I didn't cry nearly as much as I thought I would.

Today, I was undone by a sewing machine. And not knowing how to fix it. Or make it work at all. My daughter needed my help and I could do nothing for her. Except cry right along with her.

Today, I was reminded, painfully, how much better life goes when you pray. Pray constantly. Fervently. Over even the smallest thing.

Today, this whole single parent thing felt so impossible.

Today, my mind was overcome with thoughts of how much better and easier life was with Kevin. He was a blessing in so many ways. Life in this broken world is hard. For all of us. It's just not the way the Lord intended it to be. It makes me long a little more for Heaven. And plead more fervently for the salvation of my children.

Today, I had some sweet time, one on one, with my sweet little Ethan.

Today, my sweet Sophie and I enjoyed some Food Truck Race together.

Today, I was loved on through sweet text messages when I was at the end of my rope.

Today, three plates felt like a lot less than four.

Today, the scale screamed at me to slow down on the eating (and so did my clothes!)

Today, I put away the laundry and was again blown away by the excess amount of clothes I have. That's a little less after today.

Today, I really had to fight being angry that Kevin wasn't here to fix the sewing machine, find the Lego, and deliver inventory to his clients. And, if I'm being honest, to clean his own office.

Today, I really wanted a massage.

Today, I had to remind myself that "You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them" because the waves were higher than I could handle.

Today, I didn't even use a brush on my hair.

Today, my daughter had to wrap me up and hug me and tell me it would all be OK because Mrs. Marilyn is coming to help us with the sewing machine.

Today, I cleaned one area and made a huge mess out of another.

Today, I felt lots of excitement, and even some trepidation, at the thought of rearranging the office for a new school room. New paint, new desk arrangement, a reading corner. So.much.fun. (But, also, so much work to do!)

Today, that empty place in the driveway felt much bigger than it did yesterday.

Today, I noticed that several rosebuds are almost ready to bloom.

Today, I went to bed with a headache, totally exhausted, and ready for worship with my church family tomorrow.

May 13, 2016

We've Made It Two Months

Two.months. It's already been two months since Kevin breathed his last here on earth and stepped into the presence of his Savior. Some days it feels like just yesterday, some days it feels so long ago. There have been a lot of ups and downs. He's been missed like crazy, by us and many others. There has been shock, fear, doubt, joy, tears, laughter, confusion, anxiety, and pretty much any other emotion you can think of in this house in the last two months. And not just from our tween daughter!

If you've been keeping up with my blog, then you pretty much know what's going on around here. I've done my best to be honest and real because, let's face it, fake helps no one. The days are always better than the nights, when I am finally alone with my thoughts and memories and fears and doubts. That's usually when the tears come. That's usually when I feel the most overwhelmed. During the day I can stay busy and not think about things too much, but at night, there's not much else to do but think. If I can focus on the here and now and not get too far ahead of myself, I can usually keep things in check. I totally understand now why Christ instructed us to not worry about tomorrow. Worrying about tomorrow, thinking too far ahead, only steals the JOY from the present moment and brings fear and worry and doubt about the unknown and a lot of things over which you have no control.

I have tried to be better about knowing when I need to say no and only say those best yeses. I admit, I don't like that. It makes me feel like a failure and a slacker. It makes me feel like I'm putting others in a bind and expecting them to do my work for me. It completely goes against my people pleasing, worker bee personality, but I know that it's good for me and good for those around me. I feel confident there are those that haven't been able to use their gifts and do what God has created them to do because I've just been doing everything, even things that my gifts are not suited for and I have not been called to do. My stepping down will allow them to be obedient and allow them and their ministry to thrive. Admittedly, there is fear in this, too. Fear that people will see I am not nearly as needed as I want them to think I am. Fear that they will see my skill set is very limited and specific and that I am not of much use at this point. I know these are not thoughts given to me by my Creator who loves me and knows me better than anyone else. It's hard work to push away those lies.

I am thankful and blessed to be able to say that I've only had one complete, total, "are you going to survive this" meltdown. I am still frustrated that it happened on a night when I was supposed to be celebrating a sweet friend heading to the mission field and I couldn't pull myself out of it in time to be with her at a special time. However, I know for a fact that the only reason I can say this has only happened once isn't because I'm not sad or not missing Kevin, but because I have the best family and friends on the planet. I can text them at any hour. I can call them for anything. No request or thought is too silly and they will be here at a moment's notice, regardless of what they have going on in their own lives. This has kept me safe, grounded, and focused. I don't know how people survive grief and the loss of loved ones without this kind of support. They've sent scriptures just when I needed them. They've listened to the Spirit every time He's told them to pray for our family. They've shared sweet, precious, funny, and spiritual memories of Kevin just when I needed them. They've dropped by to say hi and stayed to help me fold laundry or make my bed. They've done pretty much anything you can imagine. And they'd do it all again. And for any friend. They love God and love people well.

Honest moment here (I've had a lot of those lately): since Kevin passed away I've taken to doing pretty much everything but eating breakfast in my room. I get ready in here, including doing my make up in my room. We even did most of our school in here that last month. It's comfortable, easy, and warm. (The warmness factor is huge to me. I am always cold and the basement has been so cold I can't stay down there very long!) We even do our night time reading, thankful jar, and prayer time in here. It makes me feel so lazy, yet so at home at the same time. (And I have no idea why I felt the need to share that with you.) Oh, hey, on a side note, I made my bed by myself for the first time in two months. Big step. Huge.I did shed a few tears while doing it, but I survived! I've even washed, dried, folded, and put away numerous loads of laundry. It's the little things, people. Step by step. One foot in front of the other. And some days, that's much harder than it should be. BUT GOD gives grace upon grace and keeps me moving.

I still find it hard to think of myself as a single parent. Or even single. I can't imagine ever taking my rings off for more than making noodles or doing papier mache. It's hard to imagine visiting his family without him. Some days it just feels like he's on a business trip and will be home in a few days. The kids have really done so well. I am so proud of them. They've asked some hard questions, but for the most part they feel a genuine joy that daddy is no longer sad or in pain. They love sharing funny stories and memories of daddy and we've had a lot of laughs, even though they are sometimes mingled with tears. Ethan has already asked if we can celebrate Father's Day the way we celebrated Kevin's birthday. I guess I need to start working on that, huh? (I was totally not expecting him to ask that, but it warms my heart to know that he enjoyed serving others and wants to do it again.)

We've had a lot of great conversations about heaven, mostly due to the fact that we're studying it in Family Quest right now. We've teared up a few times (me more than the kids), but the JOY that lights up their faces every time we're asked to list what we think might be in heaven and both of them immediately answer, "Daddy!" Oh, how I beg God daily for their salvation. And I pray that it's not just so they can see daddy again, but because God has placed that call and desire in their hearts.

I am looking forward to a laid back summer that includes lots of time with friends we don't get to see very often. I am praying that it is restful and energizing so I can have the brain power and excitement I need to start our school year off right this fall. (Here's hoping I can get the office cleaned out in time to make it a school room before we actually start school. Right now, that feels like a pipe dream!)

I am so thankful to all the amazing ways the Lord has provided for us. And continues to provide for us. I couldn't even remember them all to list them here, but I wish I could. He's paid bills, provided gift cards, sent meals, you name it. For the near future, He's provided the money we need to allow me to continue homeschooling. As of now, there's still not really much left over for saving or a rainy day, so I know the time is quickly approaching when I am going to have to get out there and find at least a part-time job so I can assure we can be ready for any financial surprises that may come our way. This scares me to death. To.death. I haven't worked outside my home (or inside my home for anyone other than my family) for seven years. I don't even know what I would put on a resume. I have some great skills, but they aren't really marketable skills. At least not around here. I know this is another way that God is asking me to lay something at His feet and trust that He will provide. I want to do this, but y'all, that's so hard to do. To really do. And mean it. And leave it there. Father, I need You to fill me with the courage to trust You to provide, in whatever way You know is best. And I have to be honest, Lord, You're going to have to do this every day.

Father, continue to mold and shape me into the mother and woman You want me to be. Give me a love and passion for Your word. Give me a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Lord, give me the energy and JOY to love and lead my children well. Teach me to make the most of my every moment; to teach You to my children, to draw close to You by prayer and time in the Word, and even the time to eat well and exercise so I can be healthy to do all You call me to do. Oh, Father, pour out Your salvation on Sophie and Ethan. Let today be the day of salvation in our home. Adopt them and give them a deep love for you and a desire to obey and serve You with every day You give them. Lord, give me an excitement for heaven. Remove my fear of death and meeting You face to face. Replace that fear with JOY, hope, and passionate excitement for real life to begin. Give me an excitement and love for this world You have placed me in for this time, that they may see You in me and call on You and accept Your free gift of salvation. Father, I want to live well for you with every breath I have, but I don't know just how to do that. I feel lost and small and insignificant and passionless and confused. Use me anyway? Bring glory to Yourself through my inadequacies. Use my weaknesses to point my children to You. Use my weaknesses to point those I meet to You. Every.day.

May 08, 2016

A Note to the Precious Lives That Made Me a Mother

To my Gift Girl and Blessing Boy,

There is so much I want to say and so much I want you to know. I've tried to start this letter more times than I can count, but I get overwhelmed by not knowing where to start and give up. Every.time. Not this time. There are some things I need to pass on to you and be sure that you know.

First, God loves you more than you can ever imagine. He desires a deep, personal relationship with you and sent His Son to die on the cross to make it possible. Each day you wake up He is offering His free gift of salvation to you. Oh, how I pray you'll accept this gift and spend your lives living courageously for Him, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you.

Daddy loved you with his whole heart. You were his pride and joy. You made him smile, laugh, and have a reason to get up each morning. More than anything, he prayed that you would accept God's free gift of salvation and live your lives for His glory. I will continue to pray this same thing, even in his absence. It is my heart's greatest desire for you. I promise to do the best I can to follow Christ and obey His call on my life, even in the hard. Even when I am tired. Even when other things look easier and more fun. I will do my best to live in such a way that God's presence is clear to you in every moment.

Other than my pleas for your salvation, this may be the most important thing I pray for you: love the Lord with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength. This will impact and change everything you do in this life. It won't always make things easy or perfect, but it will always mold you a little more into a woman and man who is more like Jesus every day, in every way. It will give you the strength and bravery to face anything that comes your way.

Remember who created you. You were knit together by the very hand of God. He knew your name before you were even a thought to anyone here on earth. He saw each one of your days before they were even lived. You are loved and personally designed by the God who spoke all things into existence.

Remember that everyone you meet, regardless of skin color or economic class or social status was knit together by the very hand of God. He loves each of them as much as He loves you. He desires a deep, personal relationship with each of them as much as He desires the same with you. He sent His Son to die in their place, too. Oh, precious children, love people. Love.People. Love them because of your love for God and your desire to love what He loves. Love them so they can see the God is real. That's all the reason you need. Every life is valuable because they were made by God and He loves them fiercely. Loving people is hard and messy and scary. BUT GOD commands it, blesses it, and gives you all the strength and patience you need to love others as He loves them.

If you can do those last three things, the life you create will be God-honoring, point many to Christ, and be the most amazing, crazy, hard, spectacular, ugly beautiful adventure you will ever know. If you do those things then your job won't be a job, but just one more way to love God and love people. It will enable you to be God's hands and feet here on Earth, which is what God asks His children to be. Oh, how I pray that salvation comes to your souls while you are young so you have many years to know Him, love Him, and serve Him. How I pray that my failures and shortcomings serve to show you even more of God's grace, mercy, and love.

Father, let my life, in every area, declare You to my children. Let them see You in my every action and word. Give me the bravery and strength and love to pour myself out for you in my home, in my church, and wherever You place me on any given day. Be the father they no longer have here on earth. Draw them close. Whisper Your love to them every day. Declare Your goodness in each moment. Use our little family, broken and human as it is, to declare You to a lost and dying world.

May 04, 2016

A Snapshot of Our Journey and the Power of Prayer

March 2014
It was during this month that Kevin finally admitted that the struggles he was having were due to an addiction to a strong pain medication he was taking. We searched and found what was supposed to be the best rehab facility in the state. We drove to St. Louis once a week for a little over a month. It was one of the worst times in our lives and this place was honestly a joke. They had never even heard of the medication Kevin was addicted to and literally googled it while we were sitting there to see what it was. They were no help at all and actually made things worse for Kevin. It left me praying harder for healing and left Kevin feeling hopeless and stuck. If this place, the best in the state, couldn't help him, no one could.

April 2015
It was April 2 when Kevin called and told me he had been taken to the ER because of an overdose of this same medication we had sought treatment for a year before in St. Louis. That was the longest drive from the church to the hospital. I have never seen my husband so hopeless, so humiliated, or so angry that others knew of his pain and weakness. After much fighting and cajoling, we checked him in to another facility near St. Louis where he spent 5 days. 5 agonizing, horrible, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest type days. He missed Easter and both of our children's birthdays. They got him through the worst of the withdrawal, but did nothing to aid him in dealing with cravings or everyday life without this drug. His time there ended with him again hopeless and me not knowing what in the world our next step was.

Addiction does terrible things to great people. It twists their mind and makes it impossible for them to feel joy, hope, or see a way out. Your brain is literally telling you that if you don't have the drug it wants that you will die. So, your choice is to get the drug or die. The choice is never your family or the drug. It's always life or death. At least that is what your brain is telling you. Your whole life has been kidnapped and held hostage on the premise that this drug is the only means of your survival. I admit, I couldn't see that at the time. It always felt like he was choosing that drug over us when he knew better. The truth is, he was choosing us. He was choosing life the only way his body was telling him he could. When Kevin got his prescription for this medicine refilled on April 22, he didn't tell me. On April 23 he woke up and starting abusing it again. I asked him several times if he had refilled his medication and he told me no every time. Hear me, he was not a liar. He was not a man who sought the dark and loved lying to his wife. His body just had him convinced that the only way to live and share another day with the wife and children he loved was to get this medicine into his system, and his brain knew that if I knew he had the medicine I would take it so he couldn't have it, which to his mind, meant certain death. But, I knew he wasn't telling the truth. Once I finally had confirmation that he was lying, I had a choice to make. Stand by and let him continue down this path or draw a line in the sand and do my best to force him to get help. As any recovering addict will tell you, they never get help until they are as low as they can possibly go, which typically means losing their job and their family. After a lot of talking with someone who had been where Kevin was, I did the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life: I packed up the kids and left. I had no idea what would happen, but I knew he wouldn't get help unless he was desperate. I knew that not having us in his life would bring him to that point. For two weeks I had absolutely no contact with my husband; no texts, no phone calls, nothing (not even Facebook, and you know how hard that was for me!) I cried everyday and I my heart felt ripped in two. His birthday was during those two weeks and we didn't call or text, even then. (Which is hard now because that means we didn't get one last birthday with him here on earth.)

I had no idea that back here in Hannibal my not having contact with him on his birthday was the last straw for him. He just felt so hopeless. He didn't know where to turn. I told him the kids and I would have no contact with him until he checked into a rehab facility, but in his mind, he'd already been to the best there was and it had been no help. Where was he to turn? Unbeknownst to me, he decided on his birthday, April 28, 2015, that he would end his life. He had a doctor's appointment on May 5 where he would get a new prescription of his pain medication. He decided that he would spend that day with his dad and brother (who were in town), then right before bed that night he would take his entire prescription and just not wake up the next morning. His mind was telling him that would be best for everyone. It would allow us to come home, he would no longer be in pain, and none of us would have to fight this seemingly impossible fight of addiction any longer.

May 5, 2015
The morning of May 5 I awoke at my parent's house with an urgency to pray like I have never felt, before or since. (Remember, I hadn't had contact with Kevin in almost two weeks and had no idea that this was the day he had chosen to take his life.) I couldn't wake myself up fast enough to start praying. After months of literally only being able to pray, "Help! Help! Help!", here was my prayer that day, "Father, thank You for my husband. Thank You for all he's done for me, my family, and our children. I thank You that he's still buried in there somewhere. Father, bring him back. Break the chains of addiction, depression, and anxiety in his mind, body, and heart. He;s Your child and You love him more than I ever can. Show him Your love today. Melt his heart. Fight for him. He cannot fight for himself today, so fight for him. Remind me that this battle is not against flesh and blood, so flesh and blood can't fight or win it, but You can. Lord, I declare, in Your powerful and holy name, that Satan has no dominion over Kevin or our home...By the power of Jesus' blood I decare our home to be God;s and there is no place for Satan there, because it is anointed with the power and protection of Christ's blood...The only weapons Satan has are lies and deceit and in Jesus' holy and powerful name, Satan's mouth is shut and his lies and deceit will stop in Kevin's life, my life, and the lives of my children." No grand words. Nothing long and drawn out. Just the honest, desperate plea of a wife begging God for the life of her husband.

Not long after I penned this prayer, Kevin headed to his appointment. Unknown to Kevin, his doctor had been filled in on what was happening with Kevin by another doctor, so his doctor refused to refill Kevin's prescription and his plan to end his life was ruined. The next day, desperate and at the end of his rope, Kevin agreed to head to Booneville, MO for in-patient rehabilitation treatment. That was such a gift of grace from God's hand. They helped both of us to better understand the disease of addiction and how to better help each other through the many hard days ahead.

Kevin had a one-time relapse in September of 2015 and then, of course, in March of this year, when he passed away.  These last two years have been the hardest of our lives, but I am here to say, cling to Christ. Don't stop praying! When God lays someone or something on your heart to pray, do it! He clearly answered my prayer May 5, 2015 and spared my husband's life. When Kevin read that and connected the dates, that gave him the hope and courage to keep pressing forward, even in the hard days. It was the reminder he needed that God saw him, God knew him, and God loved him.

Every day from May 15, 2015 to March 9, 2016 I prayed for God to bring complete and total healing to my husband. I have no idea why He answered the first prayer by prolonging Kevin's life here on earth and answered the second prayer by beginning his eternal life in Heaven, but make no mistake, God brought complete and total healing to Kevin March 10, 2016 when he welcomed him to his true home.

Wives, pray for your husbands. Moms, pray for your children. Don't stop. Don't give up. Beg. Plead. Cry out! He hears your desperate cries for help and mercy. I can't promise that you will see answers right away and I can't promise you that God's perfect answer will be the one you are hoping for as you pray. But, I can promise you that God loves your loved one(s) more than you could ever imagine. He desires relationship with them and calls to them. Remember, no matter what things look like on this side, Satan DOES NOT WIN! We already know the outcome of the battle. God wins. Satan loses. It is so hard for me to not say that Kevin lost his fight with addiction. In earthly terms, that's true. But, in spiritual terms, that couldn't be farther from the truth. That may be what took him from earth, but God won. Kevin is spending eternity with the Savior who died on the cross for him while he was still a sinner. Satan used addiction to get the best of Kevin and he thinks he won. He lost. He lost in a big way. Kevin is sitting at Christ's feet joining in the song of the Redeemed, whole, healthy, and more joyful than he ever was here on earth. That's victory, friends. That's answer to prayer. That's complete and total healing.

May 01, 2016

The Waves and Wind Still Know His Name...

When I first heard Bethel's "It Is Well" I was immediately drawn to it. Not because of any particular circumstance in my life or because of the beauty of the music. It was the line, "...the waves and wind still know His name."

My mind was immediately taken back to 2009 when we were preparing for the birth of our second child. We had found out we were having a boy and were trying to decide on a name. Neither Kevin or I were good decision makers and your child's name is a BIG decision! We went back and forth and didn't really find anything we liked. I really wanted something with a good meaning or family history to it. Sophie's name means wisdom (which I wanted because it's something I felt like I don't have and I wanted to be able to pray that she would grow into her name.) I decided I wanted to find a boy's name that also meant wisdom. Y'all. Not possible. There is not a male name that means wisdom. At least not one that I was willing to name my child. So I kept looking.

Then I learned that there was one man, second only to King Solomon, in the Bible who was considered wise. Ethan the Ezrahite. I thought, "I could do Ethan. It doesn't mean wisdom, but it at least has a connection to wisdom. I like that name." Then I found out that Ethan the Ezrahite wrote Psalm 89. What a beautiful Psalm. It is honest and heartfelt. Ethan spells out the many ways God has blessed, loved, and protected His people Israel. He begs God to remember the covenant He made with David, to protect His lineage, as times for God's people were hard. Psalm 89:9 jumped right out at me and it's been a favorite of mine ever since. It says, "You rule the raging of the sea; when it's waves rise, You still them."

Can I get an AMEN!?!?! That verse. If I can remember that verse, I can cling to God through anything. The waves and wind of any storm still know His name. His voice still calms the storm. That is why I can say, "It is well." That is why I can lay my life, my children's lives, at His feet and let go of my white knuckle grip on this temporary life here on earth. No storm comes that He didn't see, prepare, or that He can't calm. Amen!

As soon as the reality hit that I was indeed going to have to plan a funeral for my beloved, I didn't even hesitate when it came to choosing that song for the occasion. This is the biggest, scariest, hardest storm I've ever been in. But His Truth still stands: He rules the raging of the sea; when it's waves rise, He stills them. So, each morning I choose to let go, hand this weary life over to the one whose voice commands every wind and every wave, and walk ahead being able to truly say, "It is well, it is well, with my soul."

We'll be singing this in church soon. The best church family I have ever known will be standing beside me, holding my hand, and raising their voices with me to declare the truth that God is sovereign, He's in control, and he allows us to know that all is well when life looks anything but. Amen! Thank You, Father! You are perfect in all Your ways to me. "You rule the raging of sea; when it's waves rise, You still them."