Category Archives: Encouragement

No Vacancy

carols
With Halloween in the rearview mirror we are heading full steam ahead towards the holidays.  Someone told me just recently that they view Thanksgiving as the first Christmas celebration.  Doesn’t it feel that way sometimes?  The stores are already glimmering and shimmering with Christmas bling, encouraging us to shop early and beat the rush!  I sheepishly admit that I did cave into the pressure and bought the first presents of the year but I at least waited until Nov. 1.  As I look ahead to the Christmas season, I can feel one of two ways.  Tired already from thinking about the pressures of creating a storybook Christmas that will be remembered though family history as the best Christmas ever, or I can chuck all of what society tells me I need to make my holidays “merry and bright” and return to the basics, remember what is truly important, and not lose myself in the frantic, over-the-top, Christmas production.  I know that this is super early to even begin thinking along these lines but I wanted to be able to take a minute and encourage you while your mind is still relatively holiday-fog free.  When you feel yourself beginning to feel buried in Christmas, take a deep breath, remember this story and ask yourself, “What would Wally the inn-keeper do?”

For years now whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally’s performance in one annual production of the Nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old-timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.

Wally was 9 that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when the uncoordinated Wally would ask to play ball with them.

Most often they’d find a way to keep him off the field, but Wally would hang around anyway—not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who’d say, ‘Can’t they stay? They’re no bother.’

Wally fancied the idea of being in the Christmas pageant that year [as] a shepherd with a flute, but the play’s director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town’s Yuletide extravaganza of the crooks and crèches, of beards, crowns, halos, and a whole stage full of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn’t wander onstage before his cue.

Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.

“’What do you want?’ Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

“’We seek lodging.”

“’Seek it elsewhere,” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.”

“’Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”

“’There is no room in this inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.

“’Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”

Now for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

[Finally] the prompter whispered from the wings, [‘Wally, your line, it’s,] “No! Begone!”’

[And] Wally repeated automatically, “No! Begone!’”

[So] Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper, however, did not return inside his inn. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.

And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.

“’Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.’”

Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others—many, many others—who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

“You can have my room.”  In those words, we hear the love of Christ being born anew in the heart of a young boy, who had discovered the wonder of Christmas.  That instead of being caught up in the frenzy of the upcoming season we could instead become such a part of the story that we would offer Jesus room in our hearts, room in our homes, and rediscover the true wonder of the Christmas season.

**The story of Wallace Purling is from Dina Donahue’s Christmas story “Trouble at the Inn”

Originally published 11/5/13

A Lost Dog

Sometimes it can feel like the world around us is falling apart and we must intervene with our own set of plans. But with all of these “grand schemes, plots, and battle strategies” to save humanity, are we potentially missing the obvious problems in front of us?

“Maybe my Biggest Thing, isn’t a thing but instead living presently in the daily grind of life. A life filled with scars and struggles but also Love and Joy and I have been missing out as I have searched for it elsewhere.  I am understanding that my Big Thing doesn’t look like I thought it would and that’s how I have missed it for so long.”  An excerpt from Would You Like That Super-Sized published on 10/22/14.

Process and Collaboration

hospitalPlease have your driver’s license and insurance card ready…

I can’t believe I have been doing this for three years already.  The Main Campus of the Cleveland Clinic, the Cardiac MRI area. As I stand in line at the registration desk I can’t help but notice the faces of those in the waiting area.  The body language that speaks volumes. The worry, the fear and uncertainty, the fidgeting nervousness, the eye avoidance.  It takes me back…

Apr 20, 2012

My first official post-diagnosis Cardiac MRI. So much has happened to get to this point.  So many tests and re-tests and doctors.   The highlight of my day happened in the car on the way to the clinic. God speaks to us in such amazing ways and this morning he scored a direct hit. I had opened my bible app to re-read the story in Matthew 9:20-22 where a woman reaches out and touches Jesus robe in belief that she will be healed, and because of her faith and Jesus’ amazing love she was. But before I could even get there I read the verse of the day…

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10 (NIV)

There are no words to describe how amazing it is when God speaks to you, through the word, through the Holy Spirit, through others. It is awe-inspiring, and overwhelming, and comforting. I read that verse and to the very core of my soul knew that IT WOULD BE OKAY AND I WILL BE OK. No matter what this test said, or the next test, or the one after that, I have a promise, that I will be restored. The NLT version says, he will support, and strengthen you, and place you on a firm foundation and He already has…

“Mrs. Cunningham, you can come back now.  What is your birth date? You aren’t claustrophobic are you? You can change in here and then sit over there.”

I was sure by now
God, You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say, “Amen” and it’s still raining*

This song…man it gets me.  I was sure.  Three years ago, I was sure that when they did that MRI they were not going to find any evidence of disease and illness.  My body was going to have been miraculously healed. The doctors would be befuddled and God would be glorified.  I prayed boldly and believed.  My God is a God of miracles and I was confident because I knew He could. It would have been beautiful…

And yet I am here…again…sitting in the appropriated chair…looking at the same picture on the wall from my last 6 visits, that both intrigues me and disturbs me at the same time and I am not sure why but I can’t stop studying it. I never can.  Process and Collaboration it’s called.
“Ready? You can come this way now.  We’ll get your IV started.  What is your birth date?”

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

“And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Matthew 21:22

“This is the confidence which we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” 1 John 5:14

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:12

“In that day you will not question Me about anything.  Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.  Until now you have asked for nothing so that your joy may be made full.” John 16:23-24

“The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” Psalm 34:17

“The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them.” Psalm 145: 18-19

How many times I have read these…I don’t even know.  Many, many times.

“Did you have to travel far to get here today? No? Ok, Mrs. Cunningham, big pinch.  There we go…now if you’ll come with me you can have a seat right over there and they will be right out for you.”

And so I sit and I wait.  And the guy next to me is feeling light-headed and nauseous and they bring him a bucket, just in case.  And they bring his wife back to sit with him.  And I am praying “Please Lord do not let this man throw up.  I do not think I could deal with that right now.”  And is wife is trying to make small talk with me about her granddaughter wanting to buy $800 OneDirection concert tickets and isn’t that frivolous…

“Mrs. Cunningham, you can come with me.”  (And we stand before a locked door.)  “What is your birth date?  You remember how this goes right?”  (And so it begins…)

“Take a deep breath.  Hold it…”

Please hear me right now if this is where you are…holding your breath and waiting on God.  If this is where you are let me say, I love you, because I know exactly that chair that you are sitting in. If you are waiting in certainty that you will be “healed” and it hasn’t happened, again, I  love you, but hear me when I say, it may not happen here. But that doesn’t mean that God didn’t hear or didn’t answer.  He always hears and He always answers just not always in the way that we want Him to.  It doesn’t mean that He has forgotten or abandon us.  He loves us!  Hear that ok? He loves us so much.  But that doesn’t mean that life will always be rainbows and gumdrops.  Every single one of us is terminal from the moment we are born.  We have taken those verses from above and latched onto them, and made them mean that we will get what we want always and on our time schedule.  We have come to expect that what we’ve prayed for will be delivered via overnight shipping because we want it, because we need it so badly.  And then when it doesn’t happen it becomes easy to question God.

When we face trouble or strife, when life isn’t going the way we think it should, we have bought into this belief that we will be rescued, and rescued quickly.  For some people that may be true.  God is still a God of miracles.  I have seen Him work with my own eyes, in my own family, so don’t stop believing and don’t stop praying bold prayers.  But it isn’t a blanket guarantee.  This isn’t a popular message but hear me gently when I say it’s truth.  And it’s a truth that’s filled with human disappointment and hurt.  And questions like, God, if you can, then why won’t you? I believed and I prayed and I am still being directed through a maze of hallways to sit in different chairs to be poked and prodded and injected. And you promised…

“And breathe.”

He did promise.

His name will be ‘Emmanuel,’ said the angel, which means ‘God with us.’ That God with us promise, that heaven-on-earth assurance, came true in Jesus.  ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’  That is the promise to stake your life on.

But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain, “I’m with you”
And as Your mercy falls I’ll raise my hands
And praise the God who gives and takes away*

And it’s hard.  It’s so very hard some days but don’t quit because…

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. I Peter 5:10

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. Romans 8:18

Know that this promise is truth.  God is with you in this and He will restore you one day.  It may not be here…and I am sorry for that.  So very sorry because that is terrifying.  But if you have experienced the Love of God, and accepted the Gift of Salvation, you have the Hope of Eternity. And if you haven’t, please don’t let another day go by without asking someone about that Hope of Restoration. You do not have to live in fear of disease or illness or death for another second.

“You are all finished Mrs. Cunningham.  See you next time.”  Because you are still sick…

And I’ll praise You in this storm and I will lift my hands
For You are who You are no matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried You hold in Your hand
You never left my side and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm*

*Casting Crowns – Praise You In This Storm

Would you like that Super-Sized?

It was dark when we finally got home last night and it was still dark when I again walked back in the door this morning.  The sun just hinting at it’s coming glory as it began to lighten the eastern horizon.  I wonder if it’s as tired as I am, and I know that’s ridiculous, and yet I still wonder…

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

Sunrise. Sunset. And a question…What did you do in My Name today?

Well God, I had some great ideas, I made some really Big Plans. We could change the world you know.  But that’s a lot of pressure, changing the world and the Big Things.  I have to get this right.  Maybe tomorrow I will know what to do.

Sunrise. Sunset.  And a question…What did you do in My Name today?

Um, today just flew by, what with the time spent in the “in between” and the kids and the cooking of the dinner…and well, I sang some songs to you.  We had a great jam session in the car and I thought  some more about those Big Plans.

Sunrise.  Sunset. And a question…What did you do in My Name today?

I made some mental notes today.  I think I could write about this…maybe that will be launching point of our Something Big. I am going to do Something Big Lord, I promise.  I just have to figure it out.  I know I was made for Big Things.

Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  And the cycle continues and nothing changes and I long for Big Things and I make Big Plans and I chase lightning in a bottle and I get tired of trying so hard to make something happen.  I get tired of peering around corners, knowing and expecting, that Something Big is just around the bend.

Aren’t we supposed to want Big things?  Aren’t we supposed to leave a Big Mark?

And then this question straight from the car speakers…Why are you striving these days? Why are you trying to earn grace?
Why are you crying?

I don’t know…I honestly don’t know…

I am a person of action words.  I don’t sit still.  I desire to be “doing” and I feel like Small isn’t Big Enough. But I am wrong, and I know this, but it doesn’t make it any easier.  I am trying to see Small for how Big it really can be.  And when my heart tells my brain, “it’s not enough,” I remember these words from Ann Voskamp that I have read so many times in recent days.

You don’t have to worry: We all get to make one unforgettable mark. And every day, with every word, we get to decide: Do we mar the world, or mark the world?

Why in the world disdain the small? It’s always the smallest strokes that add up to the greatest masterpieces.

Because the thing really is: Do we ever really know which mark we make — that will matter the most? The extraordinary things happen nowhere else but in the everyday and today can always be the beginning.

I know you’re brave … and you’re scared. Because you keep doing big things that seems so small and you wonder where all this is really going and you only get one life here —

And though you’re weary, you do hard things and you keep getting out of bed, and this is always the hardest part — you keep believing that Christ didn’t leave this world until He showed us His scars — and He won’t ever let you leave this world until you leave your most beautiful mark. To show Him.

We will probably have to be scarred.  In leaving our mark it will probably be messy and it probably will hurt, but maybe this is how we do our Biggest Thing.  Maybe our scars, bravely worn, show a hurting world His Glory and Comfort.  Maybe our stumbles and struggles handled honestly, and redeemed mercifully, show Love and Hope.

So Just For Today — listen: you’ve got to keep going.

His Kingdom is Upside Down and in Him your part is large and lovely and needed and art.

So go get the milk and take out the trash and throw in the laundry and wave giddy to the neighbors because there is a plan and there is a purpose and there is a God in heaven who didn’t just ink you onto the palm of His hands but etched your name right into Himself with nails and He’s hasn’t just got your number, He’s got your heart.

So really — you’ve got to believe it…really, it’s all working out okay.

Because God’s writing your story and He never leaves you alone in your story, and His perfect love absorbs all your fear and His perfect grace carries all your burdens, and your story is a happily ever after because Christ bought your happily ever after so you always know how this story ends.

Maybe my Biggest Thing, isn’t a thing but instead living presently in the daily grind of life. A life filled with scars and struggles but also Love and Joy and I have been missing out as I have searched for it elsewhere.  I am understanding that my Big Thing doesn’t look like I thought it would and that’s how I have missed it for so long.

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. (Acts 20:24)

in Him your part is large and lovely and needed.  It is the true meaning that I had confused for so long in Ephesians 3:20.  “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work withing us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  We have no idea what Big looks like from the other side…

Sunrise.  Sunset. And a question…What did you do in My Name today?

Standing With The Trees

Maybe it’s because 13 years ago today I woke up never knowing what the week had in store, never knowing that in just 5 days we would be burying our son.  Ignorance is bliss.

Maybe it’s because this season is marred by so many anniversaries.  Anniversaries marking the passage of time from “the before.” Before we knew “that” grief, before we knew “that” fear.

Maybe it’s because I can identify with the tree, but I read this and I can’t get it out of my head. Beating like a drum…

All through the woods, the trees are letting go.

I told the Farmer on the way home from Sunday chapel—when we came up to the top of Bobbie Johnson’s corner, and just before he turned, where you could look long to the northwest and out across Gingerich’s cornfield to their woodlot with the embers of maple — that it was brave, the way the trees made dying look glorious.

How did you let go and relinquish glory and be willing to stand bare, straight into wind?

(How The Brave Deal With Losses, Ann VosKamp)

I read the rest of the article but I kept coming back to this, a question for the trees. How do you let go and relinquish glory and be willing to stand bare, straight into the wind?  It keeps echoing in my head.

So, maybe it’s all those things and probably so much more…

There are so many things that strip us bare, aren’t there?  Death and disease have both stripped me down and left me standing bare, and vulnerable, and exposed. They come like a thief in the night stealing away swiftly all that we have known and come to count on and love.

And I thought of this tree, letting go because that is what it has to do. The tree, no matter how badly it wants to, cannot make it’s leaves last another season. And my heart hurts for the tree and for what it is losing.

fall tree

And I thought of these words…

Love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight
Of His wind and mercy

The tree, beaten, bruised, and whipped by the wind. Bent and broken under the forces it endures, but rooted still…

How do we let go…of a person, of control, of a dream?  How do we let go and relinquish our beautiful leaves when they have reached their vibrant best?  But the Autumn tree, it lets go and I am reminded of the rest of the song.

When all of a sudden, I am unaware
Of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me.
(How He Loves, David Crowder Band)

The glory eclipses the pain of affliction. It doesn’t erase it, it doesn’t negate it. You don’t forget, you never forget. The pain is still there but it fades under the shine of His glory when our eyes shift from “it” to Him.

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. (Psalms 73:26 NLT)

winter treeAnd so we trust. We trust that this isn’t it. This isn’t the end. We know that as trusters and believers glory lies ahead for us. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. (Romans 8:18 NLT)

And we hold onto hope. Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and will rest in safety. (Job 11:18 NLT)

While we may stand stripped bare, as autumn turns colder, facing straight into the howling winter winds remember the spring will come.

spring tree

“My kids are doing a really good job of raising themselves.”

Yes.  You read that correctly and yes, those words did actually come out of my mouth.  The scary thing is that I really meant them.  I said this after our son decided (all on his own) in 8th grade that he wasn’t dating anyone until Sophomore year. A self-imposed dating ban that I have grabbed a hold of and remind him of from time to time.  But he had decided that he didn’t want the pressures of dating and that there was plenty of time for that down the road. Huh?!  Now you are beginning to have an understanding of why I said what I said.

Never, have I ever felt so wholly unequipped to do a job.  My husband and I have had this conversation many times.  I look at these two growing, maturing people that God has blessed me with and I am in awe and totally in over my head. I believe that this is part of God’s plan. We need God’s help and guidance in this if we are going to get it right.  And we don’t always get it right but we have learned to own up to our mistakes, apologize and ask forgiveness, especially as parents.  Humbling ourselves before God and our kids.  You don’t have to be perfect in our house, just forgiving.

I have learned (and re-learned in some cases) so much for and from my kids. Algebra, sentence diagramming, and then there is this…”Hey mom, what do a deaf person’s thoughts sound like?  Our thoughts are framed in our minds as spoken words but if you have never heard words how could you form a thought?” Wait, what? You cannot ask me this question at 9:30 at night when my brain is mush and expect me to wrap my mind around it let alone have an answer.  And then, “Well, what about colors?  I see the trees in what I call green, but what if my green looks like your purple?  We would never know because it’s what I have always called green and you have always called purple.”  Heaven help me…I’ve got nothing.  We’re just going to have to Google it.  When I do this…when I listen, look up, teach, I am giving them my time, my attention.  Even if I don’t have the answers I am giving them something of me

kidsHere is where this gets bigger, they don’t realize this but they are constantly pushing me to be a better version of myself. I think of Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” They are causing me to dig deeper, to be on my face in front of God begging Him to make me the mother they need and constantly laying them down before Him.  Let me tell you, as a parent, for me, this is where it begins and ends, at the foot of the throne.  Without God, all of my talking, preaching, begging, and cajoling will amount to nothing.

…we need to intercede for our children.  Pray that they will make the right friends and the right choices.  Pray that their conscience will keep them on the straight and narrow.  Pray that they won’t just survive; pray that they will thrive.  If your kids have a difficult time discerning or doing the will of God, you may even have to agonize in prayer for them like Jesus did in Gethsemane.  This kind of prayer is part of parenting.  You’ve got to pay the price – and the price is blood, sweat, and tears. (Praying Circles around Your Children, Mark Batterson, emphasis mine)(This, by the way, is a great short read)

I admit that I don’t feel like I know what I am doing.  I feel like I am making this up as I am going so please don’t mistake this for an attempt at parenting advice.  I have always, always sworn that is one topic I would avoid other than to say, get on your knees.  That’s all I’ve got.  With God as our guide I can assure you we will stumble and bumble our way to adulthood.  I don’t know what struggles or obstacles lie ahead of us only that they do.  Those uncertain, scary days may be where you find yourself on this journey, and I again go to the words of Mark Batterson for a reminder of encouragement.

Even when things look hopeless and you feel helpless, you need to keep circling the promises of God.  I’m not saying that God will override the free will of our children, but He can do a miracle in their hearts…Is there a lot of healing that must still take place?  Absolutely.  You don’t solve ten years of problems in ten minutes or ten days.  I’m not saying that God cannot bring immediate healing or instantaneous deliverance, but we often have to get out of problems the way we got into them – one step at a time.  Prayer is the first step.  And that one small step can turn into a giant leap.

A child should never be tormented by things as nebulous as their own thoughts.  That is where our daughter found herself this past summer and her torment absolutely shredded my heart.  She faced down her own personal demons through massive amounts of prayer and support and hand-holding (both hers and ours.)  She wrote these words to me which are an encouragement that it’s the little things that are making a difference.  We don’t have to be superhero parents…offer an ear, a hug, let them know they are loved and that they are being prayed for.  My kids are they way they are by the grace of God, despite my inadequacies.

Mom, you have all the qualities that make a great mother and your hard works makes you an even greater mom.  You have the warmest hug ever.  I will always need you and you will always be there for me.  You pray for me to live a good Christian life and you show me how to live a good Christian life.  When I see you smile, I always feel better.  You have loved me, and will continue to love me for years to come.  You have always given me kisses no matter what.  You are such a beautiful woman and I want to grow up to be just like you…

Blood, sweat, and many, many tears.  God is doing an amazing work. My kids are doing a really good job of raising themselves.  And, me? Well, I am just thankful to have a front row seat in all of it. (My husband says he is thankful to have not been thrown out of the theater for throwing popcorn at the screen.)

Near Misses

thankful protection

Have you ever really stopped to think about all of the near misses that we are protected from? Pulling out of a parking spot and narrowly missing a car that you did not see. Running late and pulling up on the scene of an accident that’s just happened. Both of these are things that we are aware of missing. But have you ever thought about the things that you don’t know you’ve avoided? We don’t typically give a whole lot of thought space to the “things that could’ve happened but didn’t. “

Just recently some pieces from my past fit together and made me realize how lucky both my son and I are to be alive.

In the two years since my Takayasu’s arteritus (TA) diagnosis I have had countless doctors appointments and each time I learn a little bit more about the disease, treatment, side effects, etc. In a recent appointment I learned that one of the trickier elements to manage in a patient with TA is blood pressure during pregnancy. A lightbulb went off.

20140822-134234-49354012.jpg
My beautiful, scrawny baby boy. He’s come a long way. At 14 he is closing in on 6’2″ with lots of room left to grow.

Almost fifteen years ago when our son was born, the doctor that delivered him (not my regular doctor) said “Yep, he looks like a high blood pressure baby.” I had no idea what she was talking about other than she had just called my beautiful first child scrawny and gangly. (He was but that was beside the point. There was nothing plump or chubby on this 6lb 3oz baby.) Plus the fact that (to my knowledge) I had never had high blood pressure.

Here’s why the doctor said it…my chart indicated possible preeclampsia, a potentially fatal pregnancy condition. They had thrown that word around at one point but I had never been treated for it because while I had all of the other symptoms including vision loss (then attributed to migraines) and excessive weight gain and swelling (I was put on a low sodium diet) I never had the key indicator, high blood pressure. That was until the day I delivered my son, two weeks early. High blood pressure was the reason they induced delivery and also the reason, just hours after he was born they wanted to take him from me and place me on a magnesium sulfate drip.

I could never figure out why he would have been a “high blood pressure baby” though until this recent conversation. My normal left arm reading is 60-70/40. (Yes, I should be dead according to those numbers.) So a “normal” blood pressure reading for me, because of the TA, is at least 50 points high. So take what is considered normal, add 50 points to it, (170+ possibly at times) and that’s what my blood pressure was as I carried out my pregnancy complete with vision loss and edema which first showed up very early on. I was a essentially a ticking time bomb and we were blissfully unaware.

How long have I had TA? No one can say for sure but I would be willing to bet it has been at least 15 years. In that time, God protected me, and during that pregnancy, He protected my son, without us having any idea what we were up against. Until now…

There is hope, for me yet,
Because God won’t forget,
All the plans He’s made for me
I have to wait and see,
He’s not finished with me yet.
-Wait and See, Brandon Heath

 

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29‬:‭11‬ NLT)

There will be days in our lives where we will have to see this promised good veiled through death and disease, and hurt and struggle. It is in these days where my faith has had the opportunity to grow. There will also be days where we don’t necessarily see the good because it is veiled in the ordinary. But it is there all the same. Stack a couple bad days up and you will realize what a true gift the ordinary is.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a promise. God has a plan and a purpose for your life. Sometimes, we are blessed with a peek into how wide and vast his mercy and protection are in carrying out this promise. But many times we have absolutely no idea what we have nearly missed. I can’t think of a better reason to thank God this afternoon.

Today if you’re struggling, if you’re looking for something to be grateful for, here it is. You are still here. God has brought you to this point and it may not have been an easy journey. You may find yourself beat up and bruised but He has a plan. It may seem that His protection has failed. I have been there. My second pregnancy ended in tragedy at 34 weeks and we buried our second son. The question in those moments becomes will you let Him use you, use your struggle for good? Will you let Him use your hurt for someone else’s comfort?

I am here for a purpose, His purpose….He’s not finished with me yet.

It’s Really NOT The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

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Here is where this week finds me…struggling.  This is back to school week and while I hear so many moms singing the praises of back to school I am being drug along, trying to dig my heels in, all the while screaming, “STOP!”  No other time of year so poignantly accentuates the passing of time and this year marks both firsts and lasts in our house. The first year of high school and the last year of elementary. I am taking this harder than any other milestone to date, birthdays included. Why? Because I feel like I am running out of time and I’m not done yet!

We have made it through the bickering, he’s-touching-me, she-started-it years. The years I thought would never end have suddenly disappeared and now the floodgates have opened and the days are flying by.  Our babies have turned into these really cool people who I love being with.  Not just because I am their mom and I have to, but because I like them.  Their passions are developing and are contagious, the “why” questions are so much deeper, and harder to answer, but spur conversation and debate and I have always loved a good argument. (Right dad and mom?) Now I have children who are giving me a run for my money. And we’re having fun, big-kid fun, road-trip fun, card night fun, crazy, laughing, singing Zac Brown Band and Lynard Skinnard, and sometimes even Journey, at the top of our lungs fun…and my heart is aching because I know how fast this is happening and I am helpless to stop it.  I just want to hang out here for awhile. I am discovering that this is parenting at its best and worst and I love it and I hate it. There are days when I don’t think my heart is big enough to hold it all. And that is where I am. And that is why I am struggling.

The world is a twisted, messed up, broken place and hard as I try I can’t protect them from it but we are striving to give them the tools to thrive within it. Not only do I want them to be the light on the hilltop, I want them to want it too.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:14,16 NLT)

But so often that means saying no when everyone is saying yes, or yes when everyone else is saying no. It’s counter-cultural and attention-grabbing during a time in their lives when everyone is seeking to be invisible or homogenous. And that’s scary…

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. (Ephesians 6:10, 11 NLT)

My mom passed down this advice to me which was once given to her…”You think your kids need you when they are little, and they do, but they need you so much more when they are older.” And I am seeing that more and more everyday.

As parents, I truly believe one of the best legacies we can leave our children is prayer. Pray with them, pray over them, pray for them. Pray like it’s your job, because it is. Just pray! They will see it, hear it, and learn it, even when they are pretending otherwise. And I can promise you will feel better afterwards. We are not meant to be in this alone. Through prayer, we invite God into the fray with us. And I know there are days I need all the help I can get, like today.

I shared this Back To School Prayer last year and find it no less true this year. This is a portion of my prayer as I send my growing-up-too-fast kids back to school.

I want more first days, a lot more. I know they are mine for just a moment, but they are yours, God, for eternity. Keep them safe God, and if you would, just fill in the gaps with the things I forgot to say because I was too busy or too distracted. That would be great. That would be really, really, great.

We all know someone who is going back to school, be it a child or a teacher. Would you join me in praying for them?

You’ll Thank Yourself In The Morning

packyourbagsBefore I go any further, let me say Thank You.  You have chosen to read my words and I cannot express how much that means to me.  There is so much noise vying for our attention and the fact that you are taking the time to allow me some of that space is not lost on me!  I was a bit overcome by that this morning, so thank you, thank you, thank you!

Yesterday was a good day.  I woke up singing the praises of the hours between 6-8 (yes, AM!) because of how productive they have been over the last two weeks.  Football two-a-days have had us rising at 5 am and on the road by 5:30 (my dear husband has been out of town for 7 of the 9 days leaving me the sole taxi driver.) But, they have also brought with them these magical hours of productivity.  (However, don’t ask me to be anything other than semi-comatose after 9 pm.)  Yesterday felt like a gift.  We had the opportunity to spend the afternoon surrounded by family at a double header between the Cleveland Indians and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Progressive Field in Cleveland.  We had “sweet” suite seats, the weather was custom-made for baseball, and we got to cheer on our neighbor in his first ever MLB start as a pitcher.  He has such a feel-good story that we even got our “suite” neighbors on the Andrew Chafin bandwagon, cheering for the away team at a home game!  At some point deep in the 3rd inning of the 1st game my 11 year old daughter looked at me and said, “When is the game going to start?” Oh dear child, we obviously have a lot to learn about baseball. I am not sure what she thought had been going on but we all shared a good laugh.  One of many for the afternoon.  This was our quintessential American summer day. However, with all of the poster-making, jumbo-tron dancing, hot dog eating excitement of yesterday afternoon, it wasn’t until we were on our way home (at 10:30 pm) that I realized I still had two pair of football pants that needed to be washed (spray the Shout, scrub the stains, wash, rinse, repeat if necessary) and more importantly dry by the wee hours of the morning.  Fun has a price.  So, while I waited on the washing machine to do it’s thing, I thought, “You should pack Ty’s lunch.  You will thank yourself in the morning when all you have to do is roll out of bed, grab a coffee, and head out the door.”  I also searched out socks (why does this always seem to be the one missing item?) and had his football bag otherwise packed and ready to go because I knew neither of us would be functional this morning.  And I was right.  And I did thank myself.  On my drive back home from the football field this morning, as the coffee began to work and my brain began to wake up I had a thought. I remembered something I had heard a very long time ago and thought it was a great reminder for all of us.

You have to live ready.

Tomorrow may be a good day or tomorrow may be a nightmare.  Will you be ready?  Is your faith something you are building and strengthening everyday?  Is your relationship with Jesus something you are nurturing?  Or, are these just things that get dusted off, possibly on Sunday, and otherwise left alone only to be unpacked In Case Of Emergency.  Are you waiting for “tomorrow” to explore this Jesus-thing a little bit deeper? If this is where you find yourself, please, wake up! 

When the alarm goes off at 5am after too few hours of sleep, is your bag packed?  Do you have clean matching socks and a lunch or are you scrambling to pull it together? We have to live ready because we don’t know when the crisis alarm is going to go off.  We don’t get a notification in the mail that says, next month you will be diagnosed with a life-altering disease, please plan accordingly.  We don’t receive a call that says, please make sure you have appropriate clothing you will be attending a funeral next week. (Maybe yours?  I am sorry.  That is harsh but it is also reality.)  Ready or not, here it comes, with no warning. 

We have to live ready!  We need to use and strengthen our “faith muscles” every day because if we wait until crisis strikes they will be sluggish and sleepy when we need them most. We will have to dust our faith off and hope that we remember how to work it.  It is so very easy to let our faith and relationship with Jesus rest in hibernation, only to be awakened in crisis. 

This is a slippery slope, and I know because I have been there.  I grew up in a solid Christian home, was involved in church.  We were bringing our children up to love and fear the Lord.  I thought I got it.  Then God let me really have it! Oh, foolish proud heart.  I have realized that I had nothing without Him. I am nothing without Him.

The problem with crisis is that we don’t know when the alarm is going to go off.  When crisis strikes, your brain tends to go into default mode. So what is your default?  You want live ready?  Nurture your relationship with God.  If you don’t have one, start one!  If you don’t know how, ask me, I would love to help you figure this out.  Dig into His Word for nourishment, spend time in prayer, communicating with our Father.  Listen for His voice instead of just talking at Him. I don’t have all the answers.  There is not an Easy 5 Step Plan For Readiness but we can stumble and bumble through this together. There are some things you will never be ready for but with faith you can survive them with hope for a better day ahead.  The point is, don’t wait.

I can remember playing Parcheesi with my son and mom, 6 years ago at least.  In the spirit of competition there was a little smack-talk going on and my son looked at my mom and told her, “Pack your bags your going home!”  This my friends, is great advice, pack your bags.  Live ready.  You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

 

Dear Me – Get out of the way

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Dear Me,
Remember when this used to hang on your refrigerator? At some point you took it down and put it in a box.

Today, it’s a good reminder to quit meddling. God has heard your prayers and will answer them in His way, in His timing. It may not look like what you have been praying for (re-read the 3rd arrow point) but you know that God is at work, even when you can’t see it. He has plans for your good, hold onto that!

Remember what Moses told the Israelites as they faced the Red Sea…Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. (Exodus‬ ‭14‬:‭13‬ NLT). Hey busy body…Get out of the way, be still, quit trying to do this your way!

You know what, self? Because I know you, I know how hard this is for you. Doing nothing when your brain is screaming, do somethingcan be scary. But remember that going rouge never works out well. Maybe you should hang the sign back up.

Father, you know what every single one of us is facing today. You know our struggles and our heartaches. You also see our dreams and our desires. In all of these things, help me to get out of your way. Help me to sit on my hands and quit manipulating things in an effort to speed them along or fix them. Lord, align my heart with your plan. Fill me with patience for your time table. Help me cling to your promise that YOU are able to do more than I could ever dream possible when I surrender all that I am and all that I have for your glory. Amen.