Monday, April 28, 2014

Blogs by Christian Women (Guest Post)



http://blogsbychristianwomen.com/2014/04/everything-is-not-awesome/



Check out my guest post today on Blogs by Christian Women here.





Thursday, April 24, 2014

Brother of My Heart - (the little years)



One night a few years ago, I was uploading photos of my children onto a photo sharing site.   I had done it hundreds of times.  

For whatever reason, on this particular night, the site popped up a window asking if I wanted to share the photos with an email address I hadn't seen in at least 8 years. 

I was thrown off-guard.

I sat frozen as I stared at my baby brother's email address-- it had not been used in almost a decade.

I barely remembered the playful emails we would exchange during his teenage years.  

I was hit in the gut.  

I crumpled in a heap, tears unstoppable and spilling all over the keyboard.    

He was my only brother-- much like a son to me-- since I was thirteen when he was born.  

His birth brought grace from heaven to my teenage years that were full of angst and confusion.

As I wept, my mind remembered stories from our past.  

I faded to the distant time when I was that teenager.

I remembered...

My sister and I helping mom decorate the nursery as her belly swelled.  

The room was an explosion of baby items-- new crib, bedding, toys, wrapping paper, and boxes from baby showers.  

We helped line the chair-railed walls with pale blue wallpaper marked with white pin-stripes.  

When that baby came home from the hospital, I rocked and rocked him in the chunky brown rocker.  I told Mom,  I like the smell of babies.




His fawn-colored hair brushed my cheek as I swayed with that bundled babe on my chest-- engulfed by an intense foreign love that I would not discover again until I fell in love with my own babies.

That boy's hair changed from brown to blond as he grew.  



And I remembered...
 
Singing Happy Birthday to blond-haired brother as he stood in a kitchen chair, his little body hovering over three lit candles atop his cake.  

His small hands extending up to cover his dark-hershey eyes like my own, as he silently made a wish before puffing out tiny flames.

We cheered and clapped.  His greatest fans.

Shadows of clouds swept gently across the ground that mild January day.  

Blond-haired brother laughed and pedaled his red trike fast, round and round the driveway as my sister and I chased.  

His little legs turned in circles.  One foot inevitably sock-less in navy blue Keds.   An Atlanta Braves hat loosely perched upon his 3-year old head.  

Dad stepped out of the house and the boy asked, I ride in Mr. P's jeep?

Our neighbor and closest family friends, the Powells, owned a Jeep Wrangler and my brother loved taking rides in it around the neighborhood.  A boy's dream.

We will see son, answered Dad.


Tyler and his buddy Mr. P

The highlight of that toddler's week was watching for the garbage truck to head down our street.  He also adored maneuvering locomotives, his twain twacks, that scattered our dining room floor.

Another cherished event was when he was 6-years old-- Kevin and I were dating-- we drove that sweet boy to see the Rodeo at the Montgomery Amphitheater.  

He clomped and shuffled in his leather cowboy boots, which were eventually handed down to my boys years later.

Etched in my mind...

Rodeo clowns. 

His hand tightly squeezing mine as we dodged crowds of people.

Horses barrel racing, cowboys bull-riding.

Smacking popcorn, and shelling roasted peanuts.

Our noses infused with the pungent odor of livestock, which whisked Alabama dirt into a frenzy-- fine dust encircling us in glowing rays of sunlight.
 
 

Ty's boots made it through 2 of my boys-- just a few more scuffs added

I also remember his Kindergarten Christmas program when he was 6-years old.  

I was a college student and was left in charge of him and my little sister for a few days while Mom and Dad were out of town on a business trip.

I videotaped and snickered throughout the program as that adorable 6-year old played the part of Rudolph.  

He was so embarrassed to wear a huge red nose.  

Every time he moved during the performance, the giant foam ball fell off and rolled across the stage.

He quickly deduced that holding his hand over his nose the entire performance was the best way to keep it in place.

Long lazy summer days were spent at our neighbors' pond fishing with Dad.  He also spent many days at the barn or horse shows with my mom and sis.


Ty at about age 5 or 6-years old with a big one"
He enjoyed swimming in our backyard pool and exploring the fields behind our home with our loyal Golden Retriever, Amber.

He had a quiet strength and brilliance.  He was loyal to friends and stood up against a kid that was bullying a smaller child on the playground one day in Kindergarten.  His teacher later told my mom that Ty actually placed himself between the two kids and physically restrained the bully.

He was also very curious.  Our den had a vaulted ceiling with bookshelves that went to the top.  My mom had an old hat box as a decoration on one of the highest shelves.  Ty's curiosity got the better of him one day and he climbed to the very tip-top to discover the hat box had absolutely. nothing. in. it. 

As that little boy grew,  twain twacks and trikes were replaced by a BB gun, 4wheeler, telescope, swords, and dart guns.  

Maturity also brought a departure from his toddler years of being horrified of wizards (lizards);  yet, he never gave up his strong disdain for any food item that included yunyons (onions). 

He was my buddy-- even as he grew-- he was always enthusiastic about an opportunity to spend time with me. 

I am forever grateful for so many precious memories. 

Brother of my heart.

Read more of my brother's story here.






 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1Peter 5:10)



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On Being the 3rd Mama


Photo credit:  Alan Matthews Photography

I hesitated several times before making this post- for many reasons. 

One, because we have a fairly easy case, relatively speaking, in the world of foster care. 

But, really, no case is easy.  My heart aches on a daily basis for Little Bitty and her siblings.

Another reason is I believe everything in Little Bitty's life has been providentially planned.  Her coming to us when she did was all part of a perfect plan.

Foster care still comes with a cost and there was grieving and adjustments that took place when she moved to our home.  But, we absolutely know it was His perfect plan and we are trusting Him in that.   

Also, we are so thankful-- more than words --for our agency (Lifeline), the foster families, social workers, transporters, and a host of others placed in our lives through this ministry.

We have been stretched, but abundantly blessed.  Our struggles have not been the super hard cases.  But our battles are still real.  And heart-breaking.   Especially for a deep feeler like myself. 

The cycles of abuse, neglect, and addictions.  Children stuck in the system for years.  

We see hope and beautiful stories of redemption, but we also see the stories that often don't end well. 

Life after the Fall is hard.  I long for Heaven.

So, how do I love well, without killing my desire for more?  How do I love without wanting to protect my heart?

I ache for Little Bitty and her brothers to have a permanent home, a forever place where they know they will stay. 

It is hard to have a child see me as just a string of mamas that have entered her existence.  Somehow it is normalized in her mind that having three mamas is just a part of life.

Does she wonder when her fourth mama is coming?

How do I respond to a a little one who innocently (and truthfully) says on a regular basis that she has three mamas, as she holds up three tiny brown fingers?

Selfishly, I want to stomp my foot and insist I am her only mama.

And that is true in the present day-to-day life-- I am the one mama who cares for her and meets her needs.

Yet, my insistence (in my heart) to be the one and only, does not honor her past-- who she is.

So my response is normally this:  yes, God has given you three different mamas.  Your first mama that carried you in her belly was ______, and Mrs. Stephanie was your second mama, and now you are here and I am your mama in this family.
 
And I fiercely want to be able to tell her that we will be her last family.  Her forever family.  
But I can't say that.  This case is still uncertain.   

Her birth mama carried her in her womb, labored, and swaddled her close in an heirloom crocheted blanket.

Then came her second mama-- the longest mama Little Bitty has known-- our sweet foster mama friend Stephanie and her husband Steven, who poured the gospel and endless love into her for almost two-years of her little life.

It was such grace and we are infinitely grateful she was in such an adoring family.  We are reaping all of the benefits from her time with this amazing family. 

During this time, we also had the privilege of establishing a relationship with Little Bitty for over a year as her respite family (we would get her when Stephanie and Steven went on vacation, etc.).  

This helped tremendously for a smooth transition when Little Bitty moved in with us last October.

So, just before she turned 3-years old, we stepped in as her new family.  Celebrating her birthday as blended families- beauty.


I have been her third mama for the past 6 months.

I want to fix the messiness-- make it nice and tidy. 
But there is nothing neat or certain about foster care.  
It is so unpredictable and broken. 

To paraphrase my foster mama friend, Catie, foster care is such an unnatural ministry-- this is not God's original design.  It's difficult to love a child deeply as your own with hands that are open.  Loving a child with the whole of your being, when the child's heart may long for another and/or battle a host of other difficult circumstances from their pasts.

It is only the work of the Lord that we can enter into these places.  We know this is our calling.

We have only scratched the surface in our journey of nearly two years of foster care.

So, really what is there to complain about?  We signed up for this and knew what we were getting into, right?

Is that how you'd respond to a foreign missionary who is struggling on the mission field? 

It is a ceaseless dance-- the attempt to love well in the midst of the chaos of birth family visits, court dates, social worker visits, etc.  There is always drama and last minute changes.

Trying to waltz through the unknowns is like staggering through a minefield-- loving a dear one that may not stay.  

Don't get me wrong, we want what is best for Little Bitty.  If that means returning to her family, then that is what we desire. 

However, if my eyes become fixed on the situation at hand, it can feel utterly hopeless-- combining my own sin with the fractured lives that cause children to wind up in foster care, along with a broken system with over-worked employees-- I can quickly head down the path of despair. 

I get frustrated.  I want justice and quick-resolution. 

Yet, I am reminded this is why He came.  To be light in the darkness.  Rescue the broken.  Carry the burden.  Give rest to the weary.  Protect the least of these.  Execute justice.

So, as I watch Little Bitty's sheer delight as she twirls like a princess in her new spring clothes, I feel the prick of my heart.


The answers are not found in my plans.  But in His plans.  His ways.  

Dying to self and surrendering to the Only One who knows the outcome.  He has written her story. 

Clenched fists can't receive.

Clawing hands do not belong to a soul that rests in Him.

And I can't muster up a heart of surrender in my own strength.

Because I naturally clench and claw.

It takes the work of the Father to give me open hands.

An open heart.

A love without bounds.

And, again, He runs to me with overflowing love.

Grace, sweet grace.


Mama, we are married!




 


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Monday, April 21, 2014

Sunrise with My Girl



We rise early before break of dawn

Hand in hand, pajama-clad, bed-head and a yawn

My beloved coffee near, we slip unnoticed barefoot through wild sea oats

All is gray and still, except scurrying crabs and sound of soft flow of waves-- sand in our toes

We stand facing east-- rows of quaint cottages bordering our left side

She jumps and shrieks with delight, clapping her hands, as white rays peek out from horizon line

Golden sphere, still hidden, blazes bright yellow streaks and glorious pink shades

The shore transforms as light envelops and darkness fades

Reflections of glowing beauty casts off our faces, the shoreline, and waves

She gazes up at me with a grin, grabs my hand-- a perfect start to our day





Friday, April 18, 2014

Living Water


photo credit: www.wildindiana.comcom

...but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.  (John 4:14)




Is it any wonder that the pulse of hope
Comes through the heartbeat of Son?
He walked the path of thorns and pain.
My story seems marred with much the same.
In His life, tragedy was not spared.
I still shake my fist, it doesn't seem fair.
My finite mind can't comprehend. 
Only the Trinity can understand.
Through the grimy, messy, sooty ash,
Many of my desires seem to be dashed.
Somehow, the pathway to joy is through disruption.
The sorrow and grief forges reconstruction.
Father's hand reaches into dark cave for incision--
Heart, stony dry, replaced with fresh rhythm.
Mighty One, your ways I can not fathom.
Great Lover holds my hand in gloomy cavern.
Ribbons of living water trickle across my feet.
As I cling to Mighty Oak, water curves into a stream.
River develops into a tidal wave of abundant life,
Which often emerges through pain and strife--
Joy an outcropping of suffering and failure.
Otherwise, I would not intimately experience my Savior.
My life feels inconceivable, never how I planned.
My hope only found through His constant grip on my hand.



photo credit:  www.smartlivingnetwork.com

 
 


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

True Hope


 The tomb is empty - without this, we would have no hope

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 
(Heb 11:13)


Saints of old clutched tightly to a sure hope
Trusting One bigger, although they wouldn't survive
To witness the fulfillment of ancient oath
Forever confident in a faraway countryside
Securely grasping that this territory is not our true home
Perfect Master felt deserted in the garden, weeping in profound anguish
Yet never losing hope despite all He would lose
He freely walked the trail of suffering, knowing He would perish
His closest friends walked away, but it was still love He would choose
The agony, atonement, spilling of blood, this was not the end 
For new life, fresh hope, rolling away of stone, this is where life truly begins
 

Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection, because it is entirely uncontrived. They do not invite us to look at themselves, as they invite us to look at the empty tomb and the collapsed graveclothes and the Lord whom they had seen. We can see the change in them without being asked to look. The men who figure in the pages of the Gospels are new and different men in the Acts of the Apostles, the New Testament book that tells the story of the first Christians. The death of their Master left them despondent, disillusioned and near to despair. But in Acts they emerge as those who risk their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and who turn the world upside down. [1]


My Prayer

Holy presence sink deeper within
carving out more of me
making larger your home
mold me like clay
abide, Abba
abide

invade deeper into the hollow
that holds anger, anxiety, control
dive deep into this space
transform, purify
indwell, sweet lover
indwell 

when I doubt and my feet slip
remind me who I am
hold me 
cleanse me
forgive me 
renew, Holy Rescuer
renew
  







[1] John W. Stott, Basic Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), 70.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Days like these...



If I'm honest, I rarely pray in the midst of the dysfunction of our lives- it comes later in tears as I throw myself onto my bed in desperation before the throne of God or before my children in repentance. 

Mostly in my children's midst,  I am the mean mom they have so accurately named me.  I know it's sometimes just a convenient name because they don't want to obey.

I'm a little jealous they love their Daddy so much and cry for him when I'm in a tantrum, but that's another issue.

I desperately don't want my children looking to me.  I will never love them perfectly.  I want them to look to Christ.

Always.  

Run to Him when I'm crazy.  

Run to Him when I'm joyful.  

Run to Him always.

A few months ago, I woke up to a taste of Heaven.  Little Bitty singing this song over the baby monitor.  A Sunday morning before church.  

Ahhh...beauty. 
 I wept. 




Literally a few minutes after this beautiful moment, I stepped into the kitchen for breakfast to hear one of my children spouting out a new curse word.  What!?

Welcome to life after the Fall.   
Tastes of Heaven mixed with crazy messy.
 
And so about today...

A migraine sent me to bed early last night, which meant I rose early this morning -- incidentally with two little people sleeping in my room because Daddy's not here.  

They miss him.  We all do.

Usually my quiet time is during nap time-- in the middle of  the day.  

Today it was early silence with the Lord, since I rose before sunrise.  

My journal consisted of 5 words:

 refuge, rest, be still, fortress.  
(Psalm 46)

Then I entered the chaos of a mama's life.  Slipping in conversations about Proverbs 9, Amos, and Jeremiah.  

Praying in the midst of cinnamon toast crumbs, jelly biscuits, and orange juice.  

Cleaning breakfast dishes and juggling math word problems is hard work for me.  

I think I have ADD.   

And probably anger management issues of some sort.

One child is always inevitably removed from the breakfast (lunch and dinner) table to eat in another area. 

Mornings are for quiet and coffee.  Right?

Our house is a tidal wave of noise, rambunctious behavior, and ear-piercing volumes.  

None of which I handle well.  

And the Spirit whispers...

 Be still and know that I am God.

As a homeschooling mama, I often have to step away to assist other children.  

Most days I feel like I'm trying to juggle wild tigers.  

When I leave the room, I typically do not return to a room of  perfectly-behaved children working on their assignments.  

Today I stepped away for 5 minutes and I returned to a daughter who later told me she was suddenly transformed into an adventurer who had to take a phone call.   

I give her credit-- it was a very animated pretend conversation.



she also has her all-important purse for her adventure

As I fully enter the room, her brother has tied his foot to his school chair, his body flailed over the couch.  What!?




Both are in their own imaginary domains.  

Neither of them doing what I asked.

Sometimes I yell.  

Sometimes I shame.  

Sometimes I laugh.  

Today I laughed.  (And took pictures).

Later in the day, curiosity got the better of me and I asked my son what he was doing with the rope thing.  

He was a dog tied up.  

Of course.  

Because that's where my mind first goes in the middle of a math lesson.  

Tie myself to a chair. 
 
So, as the girls roll their backpacks up and down my spine (the hardwood floors) on a trip to Washington, DC, I am interrupted again.  Divine interventions.

I encourage them to quietly take their trip to their bedroom.  

and. close. the. door. 

Another intrusion occurs as a child enters to battle me to my bloody death about a writing assignment. 

Sin suffocating the space between us.

He huffs from the room in anger.  And I speak the words out loud:

Be still and know that I am God

I'm not sure if I've ever spoken scripture during an argument, except maybe to rebuke a child. 

Today I blurted out loud the words of scripture and something happened within my soul.  

In an instant, I felt peace in the midst of chaos and arguing.

A taste of Heaven.

If I'm being truthful, I do a pretty good job of living an orphan life-- living absent from Christ and training my children to live that way as well.

suck it up.  get your work done.  dry up those tears. 
clean your room....

It is only by His Spirit that we are all alive at day's end.  

Seriously.  Every breath a grace.

Anything my children reap that is good, is by His grace.  His spirit. 

Today as my little girl cried over a splinter in her foot.  I told her to go soak it in warm water.

A few minutes later I turned the corner to see 3 little people soaking in the tub.  
And I lost it.  

Warming up lunch and dictating a passage to my 5th grader, and the last thing I needed was wet children.  3 of them.
 
Windows were open and I'm sure neighbors heard my freak-out.  

The faces of my children certainly registered the state of my heart towards them-- my voice resonated through the walls of our home and neighborhood.  

One child left the house in his hurt.  

Slamming the door.

Screamed at me that he didn't care.

I peered out the kitchen window to see him in the front yard violently stomping dandelions with both feet.  We will be paying for counseling at some point of their lives.   

Wait, we're already doing that now.  Oh yeah.  

I chase him through the yard trying to get him to listen.  He jumps the fence.

Finally, I yell out the front door that I'm going to call 911 because I have a runaway child.   

It worked.  (Again, back to the whole counseling issue).

Thankfully, that boy came back.  And we had a sweet moment together.  

And I had tender moments with the other children.  

Grace.  Forgiveness.  Redemption.


Because He enters into our chaos.  He is bigger.

And then I'm back to warming up lunch and a little voice shyly asks me to come outside in the sunshine on a patchwork quilt to have lunch alone with him.   

And I say yes.

And I am reminded that I don't have to do it right.  I already have someone that's done that for me.  

That is the resurrection.  empty tomb. new life.  new hearts. 

So I laid on that patchwork quilt with my boy while he ate his lunch.  

Sunlight spilling on our upturned faces.  

Yard thick with clover, wild onion, and crushed dandelions.  

Under twisted limbs of oak tree with hints of spring-- bright green leaves unraveling overhead, pink azaleas in full bloom behind us, and yellow dust covering everything, he smiled a sly smile to have me all to himself.  

Because our days are about the resurrected life.  

Redemption.  

Tastes of Heaven in the mess.  

Hope in the storm.  

Grace in the moment.

Joy in the crazy.

Laughter through the the tears.

Because He has risen.



One of many dandelions crushed





Snuggles of grace at the semi-end of my day