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. 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 was...is 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. All.day.long. 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.