September 09, 2017

18 Months

18 months. It's been 18 months. 18 months since I held your hand. Kissed your lips. Heard your voice. Laughed with you. Talked to you. Argued with you. Played a game with you. Watched a movie with you. 18 months since I watched them turn off all the machines and all hope of your life on this earth continuing vanished.

A lot can happen in 18 months. The three of us have grown and changed. We've continued to laugh and cry. We've started a lot of things, yet finished very few. We have some new floors and new paint on the walls. We've survived a lot of firsts, all the while knowing we still have a lot of hard firsts and hard moments ahead of us. There's always an empty spot at the table. In the van. In every picture. The stories and memories and pictures are more precious than ever, but many days they just don't feel like enough.

I watched a movie just last night called In Lieu of Flowers. It was an indie fiick that wasn't really what I expected, but had some lines I couldn't shake out of my head. They seemed to so perfectly capture this thing, this seeming monster, called grief:

Therapist: "The Kubler-Ross model of 5 stages of grieving is really only supposed to act as a loose framework for everything from the grief of losing a loved one to the grief of someone who is dying himself."
Eric: "Is there a difference?"

Rachel: "I've been thinking about when I got mono in college. I mean, I know it's not uncommon, a lot of people get it at that age. But, I had it pretty bad. I was in bed for almost a month and my spleen was really swollen. Um, I know it sounds stupid, but, it was huge. The swelling just would not go down and I remember after about two weeks of it I honestly couldn't remember what it felt like to not be sick. To just feel healthy. Of course, two weeks later I was fine and I probably soon forgot what it had been like to feel so sick, but, um, with this, I can't seem to get to that point. For two years now I've been waiting for the swelling to go down. I've been waiting to feel healthy again. And I almost can't remember what that's like anymore."

Rachel: "Does it ever go away? 
Dad: "I don't know, Rachel. But it'll be different, I promise you. 
Rachel: "How? I mean, every time I feel like I might be getting a little bit better, I just go right back to where I was."
Dad: "Rachel, sweetie, that's just not true. Do you remember the first 6 months?"

Oh, how I often feel like I am not further along in this journey than I was that early morning 18 months ago. But that is simply not true. It is a lie of the enemy. I have learned and grown and changed. Perhaps not all the changes were good changes, or at least the changes I was wanting for my life, but I haven't been as stagnant as my mind is trying to make me feel.

Much of the last 18 months has been a blur, if I am honest. It's been a lot of other people picking up my slack and me learning that sometimes I just have to say no. It's been a lot of late night tears and having to admit to my kids I just don't have it all together most of the time. It's been learning to ask for and accept help. Here are some of the best things I've learned since my life was seemingly turned upside down 18 months ago:

God hears and answers our prayers. Not always in our timing or in the exact way we wanted, but it's always in the most perfect way. In the way that will be for our good and His glory. What could have been better for Kevin than eternal wholeness and healing? Yeah, that hurts here as we go on without him, but it's also been a reminder that my idea for Kevin's healing wasn't perfect, left a lot of room for pain and heartache for all three of us, and honestly, was kind of selfish on my part. But God knew, as He always does, what was best. There was no more gracious answer to our prayers for Kevin's healing than for his Father to welcome him home, whole, healed, no shame, no guilt.

I am grieving because my Father gives good gifts. If God hadn't given us the gift of a wonderful husband and father in the first place, we'd have no reason to grieve. We'd be missing nothing. Life would not have been interrupted at all. Each tear is a reminder that my Creator loves me and has lavished me with amazing gifts, each and every day. The pain sucks, but I wouldn't trade any of it if it would mean that we never had Kevin in our lives.

Being rooted in Christ has kept my head above water and was my sustenance when it felt like I was in the desert. It sounds cliche, I am sure, but it's true. The hardest days to keep walking were the days that I ignored my time in the word and refused to pour out my heart in prayer. He's a big God. He can take anything we throw at Him. I promise. His word is full of the words and concepts we need. Read it. Even when you don't feel like it. Even if just one chapter or just a few verses is all you can do that day. Read it. Even when you're angry. Or bitter. Or sad. Or depressed. Or lonely. Or making poor choice after poor choice. Scream your frustrations to Him. Tell Him you're afraid to ask Him anything else because last time you did, He let your husband die. Lay it all on the table. He'll listen. He'll comfort. He'll speak truth. He'll heal. He'll redeem. He'll rescue. He'll rebuild. But you can't walk away. Dig in. Even when it hurts. Even when it's the last thing you want to do. Dig into the word. Continue to pray. He'll show up.

Root yourself in a community committed to always pointing you back to Christ. It will make all the difference. When they hear or see your pain, they'll cry with you. They'll be angry with you. They'll be hurt with you. But they'll also pray over you. Speak scripture over you. Point out the enemy's lies as they cover you in God's truth. They'll make your bed. Brush your hair. Take care of your kids. Do your laundry. Sit next to you while you stare into space with nothing to say. Write thank you notes for you. I don't know how people survive anything in this life without this kind of support. I don't know how we survived when we were pulling ourselves away from it for so long. I believe wholeheartedly that if we'd pushed aside the shame and pride as soon as we realized we were dealing with addiction, Kevin would be sitting beside me as we watched The West Wing for the hundredth time right now.

I've learned so much more, but I have a headache and need to spend some time with the kids before they go to bed. I often go back and read my blogs and, though I can't remember even typing most of them, I am amazed at all that God has done through grief in my life.

Can I put in a little plug, that's time sensitive? If you are in Hannibal, MO Sept. 10 and Sept. 24, come to Calvary Baptist Church to hear the sermons those two mornings. You won't regret it. You'll learn just a few of the things that are essential to surviving in this lost, dark, broken world. You'll learn the truth that God really is in control and that His glory is far more important than my deliverance or comfort. And that's hard to hear. And it's painful in the moment. But, I am oh so glad His glory outlasts and outshines my pain! Our Lifegroups at Calvary will start digging into these concepts even deeper starting Sunday night. We'd love to have you join us. Don't go through the pain and the heartache alone!

September 03, 2017

Riding the Struggle Bus

I am in my seat, buckled up, and in that bus for the long haul, I am afraid. Please tell me I am not the only one?!?! Surely there are others that struggle with life, in big ways and small, and often feel there's no way they'll ever get things back on track again. Not that I would ever want someone else to struggle through their days and feel like there was no end to the hard, but, honestly, it makes me feel a little better about my days when I know I am not alone on this bus!

And there are so many different reasons one could be on the struggle bus. My reasons change daily. Hourly. By the minute, some days!  And some days, all.the.reasons. you are on the bus seem to just pile up all at once!

Why do I even have a ticket on the struggle bus?

Because all three of us are exhausted from a wonderfully beautiful weekend. Because that last sentence didn't say "all four of us." Because I want my pants to be a size smaller but I also want to eat and lay around doing nothing. Because third grade and sixth grade were hard enough the first time I went through them, they shouldn't be this hard the second time around. Because I so desire to love others well, in word and deed, but I just can't make myself do it. Because my daughter is in youth group. Because to serve my children better, I had to give up serving other people's children and quite frankly, I didn't want to give that up just yet. Because I've started watching episodes of Lab Rats from the Disney channel even when my kids aren't around. Because the Lord has sent my friends to the mission field and I've been left behind. Because I am just too tired to shower. Because Missouri is so far away from Texas and Alabama and Arkansas and Romania and South Africa and all.the.places. Because St. Louis often feels as far away as South Africa. Because my kids take so long to wake up in the mornings. Because my son will barely eat breakfast and five minutes later is asking for a snack. Because I feel inadequate for every task the Lord has placed in front of me and I just don't know what to do with that. Because I can sit around a fire with amazing people and laugh and be silly and talk deep things and just truly enjoy myself, and still feel that kick of sorrow and loneliness because I don't have a spouse to go home to at the end of the weekend. Because I look at my life, where I am now, and fear I wasted four years of college and thousands of my parent's dollars on two useless degrees I've done nothing with and can't really do anything with even if I wanted to, yet at the same time I rejoice because those four years brought me some of the best friends who've lived through more ups and downs with me than we ever thought possible.  Because chocolate chip cookie dough is not good for me in any way, but yet, it just tastes so good. Because addiction sucks. Because I am finally ready for fall and summer just now decides to show up. Because I fear my kids see too much of my weakness and will feel like they can never leave home because they don't want me to be alone. Because I want to be alone. Because I feel alone and I don't like it. Because I don't want my life to be about single parenthood and widowhood and addiction, yet I want these hard years and every tear to be redeemed for His glory while I am here on earth. Because publishing a book sounds really fun, yet I don't feel like I have anything new under the sun to say. Because people say I should publish a book and that sounds really scary. Because I feel like the gifts and skills I have are pretty shallow and hard to use in a way that draws attention to God and not to me. Because being a stay at home mom feels silly and lowly and fairly useless. Because the weight of motherhood is daunting and scary. Because I have a bookshelf full of books I have yet been able to start or finish. Because I want to cherish these years with my kiddos as I know they grow so quickly. Because all I have the energy to do most evenings is turn on a movie while we're all in the same room and they watch it while I sleep. Because I have friends who have grown to be deeper friends simply because we all know the sting of grief and that's a crappy (yet effective) way to have a relationship deepened. Because having these two frogs did turn out to be more fun, and more work, than I thought. Because my son wants to dye his hair blue and since I have purple in mine, how can I say no, so I bought blue hair dye. Because grief fights hard to win my days and I often let it. Because I know many of these things are lies from the devil, yet I do little or nothing to fight them. Because I know I must fight to cling to the Truth and to fill my mind with His word!

Father, the struggle (bus) is real. I don't want to be a permanent passenger! Enable my heart and mind and eyes to know the difference between Your truth and the enemy's lies. Give me the energy and ability to get back to memorizing the Word. Remind me that I have only one enemy, and he isn't flesh and blood. Remind me that, in every trial and storm and struggle, You are with me. You go before me. You hem me in on all sides. You see and You provide! Lord, provide perspective to me today and every day. Give me energy for making meal plans and school plans and having no plans so I can just enjoy my kiddos. Fill my mouth with Your words, no matter who I am speaking to at the time. Guide my fingers as I type blog posts, Facebook statuses, work on Bibleman posts, and type the words to speak in just 11 days to some beautiful women who want to know You more. Lord, move in me. Move me to be more like You. To love more like You. To listen to Your voice above all else.

August 28, 2017

How the Lord is Slowly Turning My Bitterness and Jealousy to Joy

One of the many things the Lord has been exposing to my heart in the last year and a half is how much bitterness and jealousy have made their homes there. It's not new. It didn't show up when grief became a new member of the family. It's been there a long time, grief just forced me to drop the mask and the facade, giving me eyes to see the truth that had been waiting there all along. And it is not pretty. At.all. I cannot be a good mother or daughter or sister or friend or anything, really, if bitterness is what fills my heart and thoughts.

Thankfully, the Lord is slowly chipping away that bitterness and jealousy and showing me how to replace the homes they have built with a palace of joy. He's actually doing this through my prayer times. I shouldn't be surprised by this. I know that prayer changes our hearts, but somehow, I wasn't expecting it to change mine. It's not happening as quickly as I would like, but the process is happening. And though it's slightly painful, it's also been beautiful.

In large part, it's because I started a prayer schedule a few weeks ago. Monday through Friday I have a specific focus each day to pray for my friends and family. I decided to do a schedule because, well, I just needed it in order to be intentional about praying. Without the schedule I would often forget to pray or just not make time for it. So, I bought a planner that was just broken down week by week with lots of space for writing prayer topics/needs. At first, I wasn't exactly sure how to go about it, but then I decided to choose one topic each day and under the topic I would list all of the people to pray for in regards to that topic. I often try to send those prayers to those I am praying for each day.

Of course, once I decided what I wanted to do, then I had to choose the topics to pray over each day. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to pray for or how to choose the topics. Then the Lord began to show me five areas where I struggled with bitterness and jealousy. And I knew. Those are the areas where I need to be praying for others (and sometimes myself or my children.)

So, here are the topics:

Monday: Marriage. Because they both start with "m". And I can imagine it doesn't take much thought to understand why I struggle with bitterness in this area. It's hard to look around and see all the other couples who have gotten to grow old together. Raise children together. Who get date nights and anniversary dinners. Who get to spend nights in the ER and the hospital nursing each other back to health. There's someone there to balance your crazy and provide a shoulder to cry on when you just can't take one.more.thing. As I look at all the years ahead of me without my man by my side, bitterness wins the battle. He was taken too early. Fifteen years together just wasn't enough. It doesn't take much for the bitterness in this area to well up within me. So I put it on the list. Every Monday I pray for the marriages around me; the marriages in my family, Kevin's family, and my precious friends. You know what? As I have prayed for these marriages I've slowly begun to enjoy holding the rope for these precious couples in this special way. I still have to fight that twinge of bitterness that the enemy throws my way as I start those prayers each Monday, but it's getting easier and easier to do each week. God is so good!

Tuesday: School. I'll be honest. Sometimes I am a little jealous of the families that send their kids to public school. Because I am selfish. And it would mean I'd be home all day alone, able to do all the computer work and such that I need to get done for my part-time job and other things I help with here and there. I look at other homeschooling families and I am jealous of how fun and exciting their school times appear. I am jealous that their kids seem to enjoy school and work so effortlessly. Their kids are ahead of mine and I convince myself my children will never be able to function in the real world. None of this, of course, is true. They are lies straight from the hand of the enemy. So, I decided that, not only would I pray for our school, I would pray for other homeschoolers I know to have good, successful days. I pray for many friends whose kiddos are in public school and struggling with new schools, new homework, tiring schedules, and all the conflicts that come with more than one child being in a room at a time. I pray for the amazing Christian teachers who pour themselves out daily to love children as Christ loves them and to give them a chance at an even better life than their parents have. Though this is also happening more slowly than I would like, my heart is changing in this area, too. Now I want to see these other homeschooling families succeed. I want my friends who have kids in public school see their children rise up and speak truth to their classmates. I want the teachers I know to have doors opened for them to share Jesus with their students and their parents. It's hard to feel deep jealousy when you are rooting so hard for those of whom you were once jealous. There is more jealousy to get rid of, but I am confident that God will do it, bit by bit.

Wednesday: Friendships. Believe it or not, friendships don't come easily or naturally to me. This summer I had a goal to deepen one friendship and make one new one. I failed on both parts. In fact, I made no effort on either one. I look around and see so many friendships blooming and growing and it has me in tears. I so desperately want to be a good friend, want to reach out to others, yet I just can't do it. I cannot make myself follow through on that desire. So, instead, I sit back and let the bitterness and jealousy grow as I watch others do what I, for reasons I can't name, cannot. So, every Wednesday, I thank the Lord for the beautiful friendships I do have and ask the Lord to bless those other friendships I see. I ask the Lord to build deep, godly friendships for my children and to enable me to encourage those friendships (another thing I find so difficult.) I also ask the Lord to enable me to deepen the friendships I have and even develop new ones. It feels like it's harder for my heart to be changed in this area, but He's s l o w l y doing, a little at a time.

Thursday: Children. The biggest area of bitterness and jealousy for me in this area is watching other people's children getting saved, while my sweet E just seems to not get it and not care. No matter how hard I try. He is just not interested. It means that I struggle to rejoice with others as their children are saved or show the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. So, I pray for their kids. I pray for their salvation. I pray for their obedience. I pray for their future spouses and careers and families. And then I pray the same prayers for my own children. And it has made the joy for the salvations and accomplishments for their children come much more quickly.

Friday: Ministry. Oh, how I struggle with this! I feel so passionless and useless and giftless at the moment. I think deep down, I know none of this is true, but it feels true right now. The enemy has taken full advantage of this and used it against me at every opportunity. He has me believing there's nothing I am doing now that is of any value and that, because of Kevin's choices and struggles, I'll never be able to do any kind of useful ministry. Of course, I am surrounded by those who have sold everything, literally, to go halfway around the world and serve those who so desperately need the Gospel. Those who have the most beautiful gift for knowing just what is needed and not hesitating to make sure it is provided. Those who have taken the hard steps, even when the results were not what was expected, to speak Truth to those being fed only lies. And I am convinced none of those could ever be me. Each Friday I battle those lies by laying the lives of those I know in various ministries around the world at the feet of the Father they so faithfully serve. I pray for their perseverance, friendships, open doors for the Gospel, wisdom, the loneliness that threatens to undo them. I pray for their financial support, mental support, emotional support. I pray for the people they meet with daily and the Divine encounters they will have. Some days I even pray the Lord will open my eyes to see where He would have me serve, using this crazy God-story He's given me to draw many to Him. (But I don't pray that as often as I should. It's combination of being afraid He wouldn't tell me anything and being afraid that He'd tell me just what to do and I wouldn't be up to the task! Both ridiculous things if I believe that He is always with me and enables me to do what He's called me to do.) As I pray for these sweet missionaries and pastors and pastor's wives and faithful servants, my heart is tied a little closer to theirs and I see the value and need of holding the rope from here for those all over the world.

I still struggle each day with bitterness and jealousy. It is not easily banished from our hearts. It takes the daily, intentional work of turning it over to God in prayer and believing God's truth over the enemy's lies. Of course, you have to know God's truths, so that takes intentional time in the Word. Let's be honest, there are many days we don't feel like praying or reading the word. But, the enemy wins if we choose to give in to that and do other things and forsake our time in the Word and prayer. So, some days, you don't do either with joy or passion, but because you know you need to, because you know it is what is best for you. Similar to getting up at 4:30 a.m. for that run or eating that salad for lunch instead of that large slice of cake. But, the more you choose the prayer and the Word, the easier that choice becomes. (And for the days that choice is hard, text a friend that will point you to truth, tell them your struggle, and let them encourage you to make the right choice.)

Father, thank You for the gift of prayer, even when I don't want to do it and don't see it as a gift. Thank You that even when I pray out of obligation, You still hear and You still change my heart. Thank You for the small changes I am already seeing in the few short weeks that I have been intentionally been covering in prayer, for myself and others. Please keep working! Keep molding and changing my heart. Make me one who is sensitive to the needs of others, lifts up those needs immediately, and takes any action that You ask in order to help with those needs.

August 22, 2017

Little Victories

One of the biggest, yet hardest, lessons I have learned in this grief journey I am now living is that you have to acknowledge and celebrate the little victories. Sometimes, they are all you have in a day.

Many of my days begin wanting to roll over, ignore the alarm and the day's responsibilities, and go back to sleep. Two mornings a week I meet two amazing ladies at the crack of dawn (before dawn, actually, because the sun is not up when we meet) to go for a run. I only get out of bed those days because I know others are waiting on me. The other three days of the week are a serious struggle. As I lay in bed I think ahead to my day and it wears me out, mentally and physically. And my feet haven't even hit the floor, yet! Before we've even done it, I know that math will be a struggle for all three of us, mostly involving tears. E will have to hear instructions, one at a time, over and over again before he can remember to do anything, S will cry if I edit any of her writing even though all I am changing is grammar, they're going to want three meals and a countless number of snacks. It's just too much for me to handle or think about first thing in the morning. I find myself complaining to God before the day even starts. I am questioning why in the world He would ask us homeschool, why my kids can't seem to listen, why they can't get along, why I am such a #parentfail when there's not another parent to bail my kids out. On and on the list goes of the failures and hardships that cloud my vision.

Most mornings I can feel myself slipping away into this pit and can stop, force myself to take a deep breath, and turn my complaining into prayers. Little Psalms if you will. I lay before God what I feel like my weaknesses are, thank Him that He has none of those weaknesses and makes up for them in my life, and then ask Him to enable me to see the truth about the situation, strengthen the areas where I am weak, and lead and guide me so that I can point my children and others to Christ. It's usually a long list. It takes a while. Close to an hour most days. And a good chunk of that praying is simply for the energy to even get out of bed and start the day. Once I do that, lay it all at His feet and ask Him to guide the day, starting the day doesn't feel so impossible.

Now, that doesn't mean our days are all sunshine and roses by any means. I still say mean, stupid things to my children and friends. I'd like to blame that on grief, but I think the time for that has passed and I just have to accept that I am human and sometimes I say mean and stupid things. So far, they've all always forgiven me! We've only had two days of school and all three of us have cried through math both days. And Ethan is only in 3rd grade. There really shouldn't be anything to cry about in 3rd grade math. But, no worries, we found a way. I lose my temper at things that don't matter, my kids don't listen, and I still have to take a nap most days to make it to bedtime. I quickly jump to seeing the worst in me and my children. I get easily overwhelmed by dumb things of no eternal significance. I often choose complaining, crying, or weeping and gnashing of teeth over prayer and trust as things arise during the day. I have limits to what I can handle in a day. And I hate it. I want to be able to function like I used to, before grief stole my brain and hijacked everything (or so it feels.) But, you know, when I felt like I could do everything, I rarely asked God for help or direction or included Him in anything. Now I can't imagine going through the day without stopping everything to pray multiple times because it's the only way I can focus, catch a breath, or stop the panic from taking over.

But, still, I seem to be so much better at keeping track of defeats instead of victories. I guess the defeats are easier to see and name. But, I promise, those victories are all around you, you might just have to ask God to open your eyes to them and help train you to see them. I know I sure have. He has answered and, not only has He helped me to better see the victories, He has surrounded me with beautiful ladies who help to point them out to me when I can't see them.

Victory is: getting up at 4:30 a.m. twice a week to run; making something other than cereal for breakfast (even if it did come out of a can); reading even one chapter of a book out loud to the kids; praying before a meal; getting the dining room table cleaned off to have college students sit around it for lunch; taking a shower; not wearing today what you slept in last night; finishing a math paper in less than 2 hours; remembering to turn in your library books on time. The list could go on and on. It will look different for everyone. But, if you look, you'll see victories. Here are three of mine from today:

I know this doesn't look like much, but this little electric power washer was an answer to my prayers today. I felt so defeated after our morning of school. And it's only the second day. I wanted God to just give me one victory. One thing that I could be thankful I was able to do, on my own, no tears involved. Then I remembered that a young man in church, who had fixed my big, clunky power washer and sold it for me in order to purchase this, had delivered it to me Sunday and it was in the back of my car. I ran to get it, hooked it up (no screaming or crying at all---VICTORY!) and was able to clean my deck and one side of my house. Y'all, I forgot my deck wasn't black! I couldn't even tell you how long it has been since we've been able to see wood grain on that deck. (I know it looks black in this picture here, but that's just the reflection from the water.) It's still not the most beautiful deck in the world, but layers of dirt, grime, and mold are gone and I was able to do it without having to rely on someone else. It felt so good! #victory

 You may have seen on Facebook last week that I was tired of the poor way E's Legos were stored, so I bought some bins and a shelf and was determined to make it look neater, even if it really wasn't. The shelf came in today. First of all, just being able to carry that heavy box to the basement and not hurt myself was a victory! Second, S and I put this whole thing together all on our own. We didn't scream. We didn't cry. No curse words went flying. Now, I am quite sure it took us longer than it should have, but we did it! #victory (Now, to figure out where to hang that picture! It's too big for the spot I really wanted to hang it so now I am perplexed. I guess that will just be a #victory for another day!)
 We had an old, non-working security camera on our back power pole that I really wanted/needed to come down. But I don't do heights. And it was really high in the air (at least to me). One of the awesome guys from my small group came by today and took it down for me. E was so excited and could not wait bust the glass to get inside and take it all a part. I am pretty sure I sighed. And there was probably some eye rolling. From me. Not him. (I am almost 38. Eye rolling doesn't look good on me.) Tinkering with the camera just for the sake of tinkering with it did not fit into my plan for the day. If you know me at all, you know I do not improv well, on stage or in life. If there is a schedule it is meant to be followed. I really wanted to just throw the camera in the trash and move on with my day. But then, as I saw it sitting on the counter and the excitement in E's face at the thought of taking it apart, all I could see was Kevin in my sweet boy. So, we made a deal. He had to finish his math, then he could destroy the camera. Math was still hard (not because of lack of skill, but lack of desire to do the work), but the rest of his school work went so smoothly after he destroyed the camera. He did a great job with school and had so much fun finding all the right tools to do what he was wanting to do. I let go of the plan and let him have fun. We both won. #victory

So, as you head to bed tonight or start your day in the morning, ask the Lord for eyes to see the victories, big and small. You see, when we see those, we are seeing the hand of God actively working in our lives and the lives of those around us. When you are looking for the victories, those defeats grow strangely dim in comparison. I have not mastered this and still have to ask God for His vision each day. I sent a frantic voice text to several of my tribe today because all I could see was the defeat of math. But, you know what, our God has conquered math! I mean, if He has conquered death and the grave, math is no match for Him!

August 18, 2017

Year 7

On August 21 we'll be starting our seventh year of homeschooling. We started this journey, rather unexpectedly and having no idea what we were doing, when Sophie started kindergarten. I really didn't think we'd still be here all these years later.

I feel just as ill-prepared this year as I did that first year. And much more tired. And much more overwhelmed. And much more worried about whether or not I am getting any of this right. Because now their needing to get into college/or get a real job one day feels so much closer than it did seven years ago, all the little things of each day seem so much more important. Every decision feels huge! The last two years feel like a bit of a waste because, well, there were many days when not much got done. It makes me thankful that the Lord can do a lot even when all we can give is a little!

Believe it or not, though I ended up with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Arts and a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication, I actually started out as a Secondary Education History major. This major was chosen based on two things: I love history and, at the time, it made sense that it was a job I could wear a costume for every day. Clearly, no one was surprised when, barely halfway through the first semester (and without having taken even one education class), I switched my major.

So I was probably the most surprised when God whispered homeschooling into my ear. I have no training at all in education. I had barely even ever taught a Sunday School class, let alone being in charge of the entire education of a child! But, the Lord has been gracious to us. He has surrounded us with many who are ahead of us on this journey and can offer us wisdom. We have a great Co-Op that fills in a lot of gaps and makes school lots of fun.

I wish that I was more creative when it came to teaching, but we've made it, one year at a time, so far. We did lots of fun stuff when she was younger, but I find that harder and harder to do as she gets older. And is learning things I barely understood when I was in school. See why I am a little worried for their future? Oh my!

In the seven years we've been on this journey we have yet to repeat a daily schedule. We just kind of go with the flow and change things around when needed. In the last year or two I've realized they actually do better with doing some lessons in the evening after dinner. Family devotion works best at breakfast. Just little things that I've switched around here and there. This year will be the same way, trying things until we find what works. I am trying an entirely new curriculum for Ethan (other than math) this year. This makes me nervous, but I am hoping it goes well. He needed a change. I hope this is the right one!

I am praying that this is our best year yet! Father, fill all three of us with a love for learning. Give us eyes to see how our lessons and subjects teach us more about God and who He is, as well as how they equip us to tell others about Him. Lord, lead and guide each day. Give me wisdom to know what needs to get done and what needs to be dropped from the schedule each day. Give me a sensitive spirit to know just what each of my children need, day by day. Oh, Father, draw us to You as we spend time learning about the people and the world You created! Use this gift of homeschooling to draw us together. Grant us sweet memories, laughter, and a year of knowing You more!

August 09, 2017

518 Days

I didn't really count days until May 2015. That's when we started counting how many days Kevin had survived without fentanyl. Since March 10, 2016, I've been counting (some days trying not to count) the days we've lived without Kevin. It's 518, by the way.

Part of me feels like a bad Christian that I look at it, most of the time, as the number of days I have lived without him. Shouldn't I be looking at it as the number of days he's been healed, whole, and living with his Savior? Some days, that's what I think. But honestly? More often than not it's the number of days I have survived without him.

Without him here to speak logic to my drama. Without him here to clean the kitchen. Without him here to lead our family devotions. Without him here to deal with insurance companies. Without him here to prepare Sophie for middle school and the youth group. Without him here to teach Ethan how to be a loving, godly man. Without him here to take out the trash on those really cold nights. Without him here to watch The West Wing with over and over. Without him here to wipe away the tears of insecurity and worry and fear. Without him beside me for year 7 of homeschooling.Without him beside me to laugh and rejoice and fight with and fight for and grow old with over the years. Without him. Without him. Without him.

And it sucks. Most days involve tears at some point. Some are tears of frustration. Some of loneliness. Some of fear. Some of confusion. Some just because I don't know what else to do. I shed more tears than my kids will ever know. I am sure they shed more tears than I know. His absence is felt in every moment, whether in that moment or when replaying that moment later. The regrets are piled high. The guilt and shame follow me everywhere I go. Most days it's a fight to find a silver lining and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

It's hard not to compare my life with the lives of those around me. It's hard not to be jealous that other daughters and sons get to have their daddies around. Hard not to be bitter that others around me get to grow old with the love of their lives and I don't. It's hard not to wish I was sitting in a hospital room taking care of my man, regardless of why he's there, because that would at least mean he was still with us. It's hard to see why others can walk away and leave addiction behind but it plagued Kevin until the day he died. Did I not pray enough? Trust enough? Fight hard enough?

But, at the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that His ways are higher than my ways. I cannot know the plans or reasons of the Lord here on earth. Once in Heaven, I am not sure those ways or reasons will matter all that much. There is a time and a season for everything, whether I understand or ever know the reason that accompanies the season. Still, I must trust. Can I say, as Job did, even with a broken heart (as I am sure Job had), "You give and take away, blessed be the name of the Lord?" Do I sin by charging God with wrongdoing or do I let go of my agenda and need for control and trust that He knows best? Do I believe that Psalm 147:3 (He heals the brokenhearted, He binds up their wounds) is true? Do I believe Psalm 139 when it says that He knows all about me and has seen every one of my days already? Do I believe that He is with me, has left His perfect peace within me, and leads and guides me in every moment?

If I am honest, I don't always. I spend a lot of time whining and complaining and throwing temper tantrums because this life has not turned out the way I wanted it. I question God's wisdom and decisions. (Why let me get married when You knew I would be left here without him? Why allow us to have kids when you knew the heartbreak they would face living this life fatherless? Why give me dreams and hopes for my marriage and family when you knew both would be torn apart?) I want everything to be back to normal right now. I want renewed energy right now. I want life to be happy and easy and nothing but joy. Right now. But this is a broken world filled with sin, so that is not possible.

On the days that I am intentional to start the day in the Word and prayer, I find myself to be more productive, more joyful, and less bitter. Yet, I still, far too often, choose laying in bed and letting myself wallow over choosing what I know is best for me. As it says in Romans 7:15-20, 24-25 "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do--this I keep doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it...What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord."  Oh, how desperately I want to stay close to the Lord, to trust Him with everything on this crazy planet, and to live my life in a way that brings Him glory and points others to Him. But I also want to stay in bed all day and not be a parent. I want to hide away from the world that often now feels foreign, harsh, and cold. I don't want to reach for my Bible. I'd rather just sit and cry and throw myself a pity party. It's so much easier to be a slave to all the emotions.

That is not what God wants for me. John 10:10 assures us that Christ came to give life. Not just the surviving by the skin of your teeth, holding on with white knuckles hoping to make to the end of the day, kind of life. He came to give full life. Abundant life. But I can't have that life if I leave Him out of the equation. No matter how easy it is to forget about Him. To walk away from Him and toward the grief and despair.

So, yes, it's another 10th of the month. And another 10th that happens to be a Thursday (he died on a 10th that was a Thursday). Yet, today can be a day of hope. Peace. Trust. Rest. Being rooted in the only One that enables me to grow and find joy. In just about a month I will be speaking to a group of precious women and the Lord has had a word in my mind for months as a theme: Rooted. Oh, how I wanted to be rooted in Christ. To be rooted in Christ I must be rooted in the Word, in prayer, and in community that will point me to Him at all times. Man, it's hard when He makes you live out the words He asks you to speak!

Oh, Father, fill me with Your hope today. Let this be a day of sweet memories of days gone by, sweet memories made in the moment with my kiddos, and of choosing celebration for Your gifts of forgiveness, healing, and an eternal home with You. Fill this day with Divine energy. Divine motivation. Divine grace. Oh, Father, give me abundant life through You. Remind me of Your promises and all the ways You have filled them.

August 02, 2017

One Little Picture

It's amazing to me how powerful pictures are. When I was in college we didn't have cell phones (I know, I am old) or digital cameras, so taking pictures was actually a bit of a chore. I didn't take very many pictures. I wish I had taken more just so I could remember more of that fun, life-changing time.

Thanks to time and the many seasons of life I have lived, I now value pictures much more than I ever thought I would. I take more pictures than I know what to do with most days. Of course, I take pretty much every picture on my phone and print very few of them. But, thanks to technology and Google Photos, I can pull up those pictures anytime.

It wasn't until after Kevin died that I really felt the power of pictures. Even one single, simple picture can make years seem to melt away and drastically change my mood to match the mood of the day captured in a picture. I can't explain it, but just looking at a picture of Kevin makes it seem so surreal that he's no longer with us. It tricks my mind into thinking he's just out on a job and he'll come through that door any minute. It makes the years of addiction and pain melt away to look at a picture of him before addiction. Happy. Young. The man I married.

In a rare burst of energy the other day I decided to clean out the junk drawer in the kitchen. That's when I found this picture:

I remember this picture. It was the summer of 2001. I had just graduated from college and I was spending the summer traveling with a few other members of Praise Song to do a camp at Windermere. Our group was with the 6th graders and we were leading worship for them. (I promise, I was doing actions for the song "Ain't No Rock" when this picture was taken. "Ain't no bird, gonna flap it's feathers...") Kevin and I had only been dating since February, but I already knew he was the one. There was not a doubt in my mind. I fell even more in love with him on this trip. He was such a gifted worship leader. I know those that only knew him in the last 4 years wouldn't believe he was much more than a good guitar player with lots of issues, but believe me, he loved the Lord. He loved using his gift of music to point others to Christ. He was a natural worship leader, despite his numerous other faults. I wish more of the people I now know and love could have known the Kevin from this picture.

But when I found this picture (which I am fairly sure had been on the driver's side sun visor of his truck for years), I noticed something I had never noticed before and it quickly became my favorite picture. He's looking at me. Really looking at me. And he's proud of me. And he loves me. And because honesty seems to be my thing, it felt like he hadn't looked at me, really looked at me, in years. Addiction got in the way.

He knew I was there. He didn't doubt my love or support, but he didn't look at me. Didn't see me. And, honestly, it felt like that meant he didn't really care about me. Need me. Want me. Because that's what the enemy does. He lies. He is the father of lies. Every nightmare and bad dream I have had about Kevin since his death, and even before, have been rooted in this: he didn't see me. He didn't love me. I was nothing to him. He's not even on this earth anymore and the enemy is still using that fear and doubt to lie to me and make me question everything about Kevin, his life, our marriage, and our family.

And it's the same thing the enemy does in our relationship with God. Satan convinces us that, because life is hard and not what we envisioned, that God doesn't see us. Doesn't care about us. Doesn't need us. Doesn't want us. He never did and never will. And that makes it easier to walk away. Easier to choose anything but Christ. Anything but joy.

Please believe me, no matter your scars, poor choices, or hard circumstances, God loves you! He sees you. He knows you. He works things for His glory and your good. Dear brother or sister, listen to the words of life those who love you speak over You. He has not left you. He has not forsaken you. He has much more love in his eyes for you than Kevin has in this picture. There's no comparison. He wants you to grow and know Him more deeply. Sometimes that means a change in jobs. A change in relationships. A change in homes. A change in marital status. A change in continents. A change in family number. Sometimes it doesn't feel good. That's when satan swoops in and begins to plant those lies.

Please believe me when I say that I've had lots of moments of doubt in the last few years. I've done my best to be open and honest, but I don't share everything. I don't share the temper tantrums I throw at God. I don't share the times I shout at Him for leaving me here on my own or crying over not being seen. I don't share the complaints of having to be the one to deal with insurance, take out the trash, and kill all the bugs. He hadn't done most of that in at least two years (a loving God graciously preparing me for what He already knew was ahead in the picture of my earthly life), so I've been complaining about those things for a long time. I get it. I know your hurt. Here's what I want to say: scream. Shout. Tell God how you really feel. He can take it. He's so much bigger than we even realize. Your questions and doubts and misunderstanding Him won't change Him or make him smaller.

But, when you've exhausted your words and your energy is spent, sit. Be still. Listen for Him to declare His love to you. It could come through His word, a sweet friend, a card in the mail, someone at work who doesn't even know God. Be still. Let Him speak. Let Him move. He'll prove that He sees you. Every.time.

Oh, Father, remove the lies. Show Your love and care for us each day. Fill our minds with Your truth so when satan's lies come our way we can recognize them immediately. Break through the darkness of our circumstances with the light of Your truth.

July 30, 2017

A Few New Things....

So, if you've been to my blog before, you'll notice a few new things.

New title.

New pictures.

New font.

But the address is still the same.

We had family pictures taken this past week and it just felt like it was time for some newness on here to match the newness of family pictures that only have three of us in them. And I really liked the words the Lord gave me for one of the pictures: I love this glorious mess.

That's what life feels like sometimes, isn't it? A mess. A hot, chaotic, is anyone even in charge kind of mess. But, as Corrie ten Boom so beautifully puts it, what looks like a mess to us is a beautiful picture to God. Because He sees the whole picture, start to finish. He sees the beauty and glory that He has woven into each moment. Each hard, crappy, human moment has been gloriously and divinely touched by our Creator. Making each mess a glorious mess.

If I ever get around to writing that book (or really, just getting someone to publish blog posts I've already written), that just might be the title: This Glorious Mess. And one of these pictures (so beautifully captured by Lydia at Bright and Beautiful Photography) just might make the cover:

July 16, 2017

The Episode I Can't Quit Watching

Sherlock. Series 4. Episode 2. I cannot get enough of this episode. I watched it at least once, sometimes two or three times, on every flight to and from South Africa last month. I had already watched it 4 or 5 times at home. It's beautiful. It's raw. It's real. It's why I love acting. It's so much more than entertaining. It makes you think, with your head and your heart. You should all go to Netflix and watch it. I'll apologize now for some of the language, but, after all, it is lost people writing a show about lost people in a broken world. Language happens. (Please, don't scream at me for watching it. If you disagree, just don't watch it.) I don't really know how to describe my love for this episode and why it touches my heart so much other than sharing my favorite quotes and why I love them.

**SPOILER ALERT** Important things, crucial to the plot, will most likely be shared. If you watch the show but haven't caught up to Series 4, what in the world have you been doing?!? Seriously, if you aren't caught up, you may want to watch first then come back and read it. If you've never watched it before, you can read this and watch the episode and be just fine. But I'll warn you, it might make you want to watch all.the.episodes.

To start, you need to realize that Mary, John Watson's wife, has been killed. Sherlock caused the woman to shoot at him and Mary jumped in the way. This is the first episode after we've seen that happen.

Therapist: Tell me about your morning. Start from the beginning. 
John: I woke up.
Therapist: How did you sleep?
John: I didn't. I don't.
Therapist: You just said you woke up.
John: I stopped lying down.
Therapist: Alone?
 John: Of course, alone.
Therapist: I mean Rosie, your daughter.
John: Uh, she's with friends.
Therapist: Why?
John: Can't always cope....and, uh, last night wasn't...good.
Therapist: That's understandable.
John: It is? Why? Why is it understandable? Why does everything have to be understandable? Why can't some things be unacceptable and we just say that?
Therapist: I only mean it's okay.
John: I'm letting my daughter down. How is that okay?
Therapist: You just lost your wife.
John: And Rosie just lost her mother.
Therapist: You are holding yourself to an unreasonable standard.
John: No, I'm failing to.

This scene is so real. I had to hold myself back on the airplane from shouting, "Yes! That's exactly how it feels. Every word of it!" For months there's little to no sleeping, you just stop lying down. Hello survival mode. It's a wonderful gift that Lord gives you to get through those hard months. Thankfully, for most people, it doesn't last forever. For a short period of time, it's a protection for you, something that keeps you living when your brain can't always tell you what to do. For the short term, it keeps you functioning when your body refuses to eat or sleep. Now, if you live like this long term, it might kill you because you don't even realize the stress that you're under while you're in survival mode.

And, yes, sometimes life sucks and it should be OK for someone to say that. There shouldn't have to be a mask or a pretending that things are fine and OK when they aren't. It's also OK not to have any words for someone grieving. It's OK to not understand, not like the situation, for their life to suck right now and all you can do is cry with them. Pray with them. Sit with them. Laugh when they laugh. Mourn as they mourn.

Boy, do I know that feeling of failure. Of not being able to cope. Of letting my kids down in every area, because I am mom and teacher. It feels like they can't escape my crazy. They can't get away from my anxiety and fear and not being able to stay awake to even read them a story. They don't get all the fun and excitement that other families get because I just don't have the bandwidth for fun most days. Kevin was the fun one. The steady one. Now, they're stuck with just me. Oh, how hard it is to fight against the enemies lies in this area. I am not good at that battle. It takes daily reminding myself of God's truth and provision for our family and our current season.

Sherlock: Taking your own life. Interesting expression. Taking it from who? Oh, once it's over it's not you who'll miss it. Your own death is something that happens to everybody else. Your life is not your own. Keep your hands off it.

I love these words. I did not expect them to come from such a source. And don't I know how true it is that one's death is something that happens to everyone else. Especially for the believer. For the believer, death is a grace. A joy. But it is grief and sorrow for those left behind. Even when they know it was a grace and joy for their loved one. For me, the truth of this sentence proves that every life matters. If life didn't matter, there would be mo grieving and no sorrow. There would be no impact felt for the death of a loved one by those left behind.

And hear this, oh believer, your life is not your own. It belongs to Your loving Creator. So live like it. Don't waste one moment or one second of this short earthly existence you have. I know that here, the reference is to suicide, and I agree with it in that context, too. But for me, as a believer, I must remember that my life is not my own so I need to keep my hands off it and keep turning it over to God daily. Daily choosing obedience over comfort. Daily choosing to love God and love people. Daily choosing to step away from your plans to follow God's plans. Man, that is not easy to do. But, we must, if we want the abundant life God promises those who follow Him. Yes, in this world you will have trouble. But, take heart, Christ has overcome the world.

After realizing Sherlock loves someone but won't even text her...
John: Just text her. Phone her. Do something while there's still a chance, because that chance doesn't last forever. Trust me, Sherlock: it's gone before you know it. She was wrong about me. 
Sherlock: Mary? How so?
John: She thought that if you put yourself in harm's way I'd...I'd rescue you or something. But I didn't--not til she told me to. And that's how this works. That's what you're missing. She taught me to be the man she already thought I was. Get yourself a piece of that....(to the Mary he's been seeing since she died) I'm not that man you thought I was; I'm not that guy. I never could be. But that's the point. Who you thought I the man who I want to be.

I just...I cry, so hard, at this scene every time. It's so true. The chance to love those around you doesn't last forever. Husbands and wives, this is the only chance you get. Right here, on this broken, dying planet. There's no do over. There's no second chance in a better place without sin getting in the way. Right here. Right now. It's all you get. Don't waste it. Make that apology. Schedule that babysitter. Watch that show he/she loves that you don't. Hold that hand. Give that extra kiss goodbye tomorrow morning. It could be your last chance. Ever. Don't waste it.

What a beautiful statement of what marriage can and should be; a husband and wife making each other better day by day, year by year. Isn't that what Christ does in us? Makes us more like Him each day we spend with Him. Oh, this grieves me so. I know that I was not the woman Kevin believed I was. He did not get the best version of me. I know this because it was only through his death that Christ has made me the woman he always thought I was. Or, at least much closer to the woman he always thought I was. And he deserved that woman. And didn't get her. And that just sucks. But, it is what it is (and if you've watched the episode I'll let you finish that statement) and I can't go back and change in this life and I won't have the chance to change it in the next. So, I'll occasionally weep deeply over the life I wish I had, then wash my face, and hold tightly to the hand of my Savior as He walks me through the life I do have. (Thanks, John Piper, for that thought!) I'll be the best woman I can be as a mom and teacher and friend and servant.

Father, thank you for the gift of acting and writing and creativity. Thank you that you can even use something not written to give You glory, to shout Your truth to my aching heart. Thank You that, though the enemy would try to make me feel this way, I do not walk this world alone. You are with me at all times. You go before me and behind me. You hem me in on all sides. Remind me each day that my life is yours, not mine. That I need to make the most of the time You give me with those right in front of me. Oh, Father, use me for Your glory in all I say and do.

Of Fear, Anxiety, and Trusting My Life to the One Who Created Me

As I drove home from church today there was one question just ringing in my mind: How did we get here?

Where's here?  Well, there are several "heres":

My daughter will be in middle school this fall! And the youth group. And she wears my clothes. And my shoes. And she's almost as tall as me. What in the world!?!?! Wasn't it just yesterday I was finding out we were very unexpectedly pregnant? We were in TX with friends while on a break during the Bibleman tour back in late summer 2005. We were visiting friends (Kevin and Lauren Allen) and the guys had gone to Schlitterbahn for the day, so Lauren and I were at home. And I thought I just better take a pregnancy test before taking the next round of birth control pills. And lo and behold it was positive! Then I realized that my Kevin would kill me if he found out I took the test without him (I honestly didn't think it would be positive or I would have waited) so Lauren and I went out and got another test for me to take and pretend to be surprised with Kevin (see, all those theatre hours in college really did pay off!) I never told him that wasn't the first test I took or that Lauren knew I was pregnant before he did.

And now she's starting the youth group and looks older than most of the high school girls (thank you, grief!) I am so not ready for this. Not ready for the talks about boys and sex and broken hearts she'll have along the way. I am not ready for the times when she just needs a daddy to tell her she's beautiful and he's proud of her, but he's not here to do those things. I am not ready for the new friendships and hard times and all that growing up brings. I feel so inadequate for the task. Speechless. Helpless.

But, I must remember that I can trust her life to the God who created it. He is faithful. He is loving. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. He will see every tear, make a way when there seems to be no way, see to every need. No matter her age. Or height. Or shoe size. Or broken heart.

My son is quickly becoming a little man. I have no idea what to do with a little man! I come from a family of all girls! Thankfully, Trail Life is a huge help here, but, despite my desperate pleas, I cannot convince them that they also should just go ahead and teach about the body and its changes and all that jazz (and I am only kidding, they totally should NOT teach that!) Of course, I was planning on Kevin being here to teach all that boy stuff to him, and he did do the initial teaching shortly before he died, but the bulk of it is left to me. And I already feel anxious about it. Yikes! How did I end up here?!?! I need a how-to, step-by-step book for this one. I have had some awesome books to talk through all this with Sophie, but where are all the same kinds of books for boys? They don't exist, I tell you! Shame! (I picked that one up in South Africa. You'll probably hear it a lot!) Could someone write something quickly so I can have some help?

But again, I can trust his life to the God who created it. He is still faithful. He is still loving. He is still all-knowing and all-powerful. He will see every tear, make a way when there seems to be no way, see to every need. No matter his age. Or height. Or mounting body odor. Or broken heart.

My children wear me out. Whether it's school or just life, they are tiring to me. This hasn't always been the case, but is yet another casualty of grief. I begged God this year to let me send them to school outside of our house. The teachers would be better. The education would be better. We'd all probably be happier. He said no. I cried. Then He led me to some new curriculum and is holding my hand the whole way. My heart races when I think of starting lessons. My head pounds and starts to hurt. I can hardly breathe. But I know that obedience is the only option.

I feel like such a parent fail that even having a conversation with my kids makes me need a nap. They have so.many.words. It raises my blood pressure and makes me want to crawl under the covers thinking about it. What a horrible parent! I love my kids. They are sweet and smart and silly. They make me laugh and cry. I HATE GRIEF for doing this to me. It's slowly getting better, but it's also getting really, really old.

But, I know that I can trust all of our lives to the God who created each one of us. He is faithful. He is loving. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. He will see every tear, make a way when there seems to be no way, see to every need. No matter the blood pressure. Or the lack of energy level. Or the fear of screwing up my kids.

God is bigger than any mistake I might make. He's bigger than any wrong words I can say. He's bigger than the lack of an earthly father. These things I have to repeat constantly or the fear and anxiety win. The craziness gets the upper hand. The enemy gets the victory in that battle.

Oh, Father, keep me calm. Focus my heart and mind and eyes on You. When the fear and anxiety creep in, speak Your words of truth loudly to my heart. Drown out the enemy's noise. Remind me that You alone are the anchor in the storm.

July 03, 2017

Lessons Learned From My Journey To South Africa

I recently returned from a mission trip to South Africa. I went with a group of 8 people from my church and it was an amazing trip. It was hard, exciting, crazy, and filled with laughter and tears. It was a joy to see sweet friends in what I am now convinced is their natural habitat. It was a privilege to meet the precious souls who serve alongside them and those sweet children they pour their lives into each and every day. If my kids had been with me, I would have stayed another month. I am so humbled by the beautiful way these souls have sacrificed and given so freely of themselves so others can know Christ. I want to be them when I grow up! Here are just a few things I learned on this trip:

The Lord is sovereign, even over government paperwork. There were some tense moments when we thought half of the team was going to be stranded in London.  Stress was high and emotions were even higher. Emergency texts went out and our desperate prayers went up. I am so humbled at the way the Lord allowed us to watch Him work, a little at a time. He provided a worker from British Airways who was calm and truly had a helping spirit. She fought for us, called the right people, and did what was needed to move things along. He parted the waters so we could walk through on dry ground. And it was beautiful! It reminded us that, big or small, the work we were going to do was important. It was a beautiful reminder that no matter how hard satan tries to stop the Lord's work, God wins.

Others don't need our saving, they need the Savior. It is so easy to think that the rest of the world just needs our American money and ways and for us to ride in on our white horse so we can solve all their problems and save them from their horrible fate. While they do need help, what they need most is the Savior, so everything we do must be done in order to point them to Him. Yes, they need teachers and doctors and nurses and engineers and parents and so many other things, but those all pale in comparison to their need for Christ. And we must love them enough to do whatever it takes to share Christ with them. We must learn their language, understand their culture, listen to their stories, and put our pride aside. None of this is easy, but things worth doing so rarely are.

Living life with others is truly the holy hard and the ugly beautiful that God will use to change hearts and lives. It was such a joy to see these beautiful families the Lord is weaving together as only He can. These beautiful parents who have poured their heart and soul into raising these sweet kiddos, even in the hard and pain of their lives, and being so intentional to pour God's truth into their lives at every opportunity. It was humbling to watch those who gave up everything here in America to head to this foreign land to serve, not consider any of it a sacrifice in comparison to the joy of pouring their lives into the lives of the parents and children there, all so many more would know Christ and make Him known. I am amazed by how quickly they learned their names, ages, interests, skills, struggles, and stories. I am jealous of how quickly they were able to fall in love with the people, latch onto the languages, and dive right into life with them. Sometimes that means inviting them to dinner at their home, sometimes it's playing net ball all afternoon, sometimes it's sitting down making jewelry or working on a maintenance project. All the time it's dropping the mask, being real and raw, and letting God use the hard of your life to reach the hard of their lives. God is good! I pray that I can live my life with just a fraction of the passion and love these beautiful people have for their work and the people there.

Tea time should be instituted here. Yes, Tea time is now my favorite time of day. Each day at 10 a.m. they stop whatever they are doing and gather for tea, toast, and fellowship. I think we would all be nicer people if we did tea time each day.

Grief and anxiety are real, no matter what continent we're on at the time. This is true for me and true for others. Hard is hard. Grief enters our lives, holds on as tight as possible, as does all it can to rob us of all joy, hope, and peace. It's heartbreaking to see this in the lives of children so young, who have faced such hard things at such a young age. But grief can also be the great equalizer. We've all faced it, to varying degrees. We've seen how it changes us; our reactions to the simplest things, the tears that flow much more easily, that vacant look in your eyes when you just can't focus. It gives us a connection point, a way to relate. It sucks that it works that way, but God can use even our grief to draw us closer to others and closer to Him. Praise God! I hate to admit it, but I had my first panic attack in a long time while we were there. It was over the silliest thing. I felt so stupid, but I couldn't make it stop. It's been several months since I've felt so helpless, out of control, and at a loss to do anything. Bless the precious people going on this trip with me, who had to think I was crazy that I couldn't handle the simplest of games, but who surrounded me with prayer. Bless my sweet friend, who has suffered great loss and been in the throes of panic attacks herself, who hugged me and loved me, even though I couldn't bring myself to do the one thing she was asking me to do: play a simple game with the ones she has come to love like family. I am so blessed, even in my crazy! And what a reminder those tense moments were of my complete dependence on Christ.

I must love people here as well as those in South Africa love the people there. It is so easy to love people a world away from our real lives, isn't it? But when it comes to pouring out love on people in our everyday lives, it feels so impossible! I am asking the Lord to enable me to see the needs around me and give me the energy and courage to step out in obedience to serve them as He would have me to serve them.

Father, thank You so much for the honor of going on this beautiful trip. Thank you for the new friendships and the encouragement You brought into my life through this trip. Lord, show me the next steps You have for me here. Continually bring to my mind the beautiful people of Bethesda and give me a discerning spirit to know just how to pray for them. Lord, let what I learned on this trip stay with me and affect me for the rest of my life.