Thursday, March 10, 2016

Julia is tiny.  Compared to many girls her age, she's a good bit shorter and lighter.  And she doesn't make herself known.  She sits back, does her thing, and allows her actions to speak.
When this basketball season started, she was completely unknown by the coaches.  I knew she was a good player.  But they didn't.  For several weeks I watched her sit on the bench, observing her teammates in the games, just waiting. She wasn't upset that she wasn't getting put in.  She was patient.  She went to practices, gave her best on the court, shot baskets at home to refine her talent, and waited. She watched other players receive recognition for their skill and effort and performance. She knew she had it in her to shine as they did, if only given the chance.  But she didn't become discouraged when the opportunity did not arise, and she didn't resent the girls who were given a place in the starting line-up.
Then one day, they saw it.  Someone suddenly noticed her speed, agility, and healthy aggression.  In just a matter of days she went from sitting on the bench in a clean uniform watching the clock run out, to becoming a starter and spending entire games on the court.
They began putting her in the game for the main purpose of stopping the ball.  Because although she is small, she is quick, and tough, and can steal a basketball before her opponent even realizes she's there.
And though she still isn't the player who makes the most points or receives the most attention, she is the only one who can fill that particular role with such consistency and effectiveness.
She went from unassuming, unnoticed, and sidelined…to recognized, respected, and chosen.
Julia was a dark horse.
I was reading from 2 Samuel this morning, about David and his exploits in battle.  He was revered as a mighty warrior, an honored king, and a man after God's heart. The guy screwed up a whole lot.  But at his core, he was a man of strength, courage, and nobility. He was an elite among men. Among his warriors, there were also some elites.  The most superior elect were "The Three", whose skillfulness in the fray were renowned and esteemed above all others. 
Then there was Abishai.
Abishai was likely a well-known warrior in his own hometown, and he was even a part of a select 30 who were recognized among David's men.  However, he never earned a place in The Three.
But Abi was eventually recognized and trusted with a very important role.  He became deeply valued for his resilience, performance, and talent.  So he was given a position for which he was the only qualified candidate.
Though not included among The Three, Abishai rose to be the chief of this trio of "MVPs". 
His commitment to his craft of battle and his bravery led him to step out of the shadow of these revered warriors, to emerge as their leader.
Abishai was a dark horse.
So as you watch others around you rise to positions to which you aspire, or you see God using someone in a way that you think you could be used even more effectively, remember that you don't have to be revered and elite to be relevant and essential.
And consider the possibility that God is biding His time with your talents.  Shaping you.  Refining you.  Changing you.
So that when He chooses to open the gate and set you loose to run with all the talent and training He has given you in the shadows, you burst forth into the light with the energy and passion to rise to the occasion, fill your unique role, and finish the race strong.
Maybe, just maybe, YOU are a dark horse.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

I found out I was pregnant on the fourth of July.  
I wasn't thrilled.  To be honest, I was pretty upset.  The 4th was on a Saturday.  On Sunday, I laid in my bed and cried for three hours. I feared the extreme first trimester sickness.  I dreaded the weight gain and muscle loss.  I worried about the emotions that come with pregnancy hormones and how it all affects my family.
As the months went by, it didn't get much better.  I just couldn't get my mind right about this pregnancy.  I resented what it was taking away from me more than I appreciated the gift I was being given.
I loved this baby.  But I didn't love what was required of me to have her.
I prayed a lot.  For my attitude.  For thankfulness.  For perspective.
Slowly, my heart changed. But I still struggled with being excited about what I had been given, rather than merely accepting it.
Then one day, something completely shifted.
Over the past few months, my Instagram followers have been steadily growing.  I use Instagram to write and photograph about life, faith, lessons, struggles, and victories.  There are many people I don't personally know who follow along and are so gracious in their comments about my stories.  On this particular evening, a user tagged another user in her comment on one of my pictures and said to her friend, "I thought these words might help you".  I don't always do this, but I clicked on the name of the person who had been tagged in the comment.  It led me to the account of a beautiful, precious mother who had recently lost her baby at 37 weeks pregnant.  A daughter whom she clearly had anticipated with immeasurable joy and excitement.  A baby this mama still loved immensely.  A little girl lost.
It was as if God had taken hold of my shoulders and spun me around to face this grieving mama, look into her eyes, and see what I had been taking for granted.
Then He slowly turned me back to Him, cupped my face in His hands of grace, wiped my tears of repentance, and opened my eyes wide to the miracle still growing inside me.  My heart became swollen with love and thankfulness for my baby girl. I began to cherish each moment I had with her, knowing that every day is numbered for each of us, and there was no promise of feeling her precious kicks and hiccups in my belly.
When I went past my due date, it almost felt like I had been given a whole new gift.  Freedom from time and expectations of when she would arrive.  
Then, early Monday morning, when there were still hours left of darkness, I awoke with signs of impending labor.  Such clear signs that I became sure that we would have a baby by midday.  I began to pray for peace and rest and the preparation of my mind and heart for what was to come.  I slept and woke restlessly for the next few hours.  By the time the sun appeared, everything seemed calm.  Contractions had stopped and I just felt tired.  I told Justin what was happening and, despite my pressing him to go on with the day as planned, he decided to stay home from work.  Absolutely nothing interesting occurred over the next few hours.  No contracting.  No evidence of changes in my body.  At 10:30 we loaded the kids in the van and headed to the gym for an 11:00 workout.  I contracted every few minutes during the workout, but that's pretty normal for me in late pregnancy.  They were uncomfortable, but didn't feel like anything to get excited about.  We took our time and visited with gym friends when we were done, joking about the possibility of giving birth on the gym floor, then headed out to lunch.  By the time we arrived at the restaurant, contractions were coming every 4-5 minutes.  I was having to stop and breathe through them, but I told Justin I thought we had time to go ahead and eat there. When our food arrived, I was uncomfortable enough to refuse my salad.  Then, minutes later, I admitted that we may be cutting it close and told Justin that I needed to head home.  He quickly packed up the food and hurried the kids out.  In the 20 minute drive to the house, I had six good hard contractions.  Between each one, I calmly reprimanded Justin about texting while driving.  But he was almost frantically trying to get word out to everyone who planned to attend the birth.  He may have known better than I did that they all had very little time to get to the house if they were going to make it before baby arrived.
When we got home around 1:00, my mom had just pulled up. I immediately went inside and took up residence in the shower, my favorite place to labor.  Justin changed the bedsheets, double checked the birth supplies, settled the children, and began greeting the friends who quickly assembled to support, encourage, love on our family, and pray this new life into the world.
It was an unseasonably warm and gorgeous day, so when I emerged from the shower I decided to spend some time laboring outside.  I put on a long loose skirt and a sports bra, leaving my bulging belly exposed to the beautiful sunshine, and walked our land with bare feet, taking in the calm of nature, and stopping every few minutes to breathe and sway through the strong and steady waves of birthing progress. Children, some my own and some those of friends, eagerly followed me through the grass, watching with excitement.  Justin stood strong and steady while I leaned on him for physical support as the contractions became harder.  And my dear friends spoke gently to me, attended to the children, checked baby's heart rate with the doppler, and quietly made all the preparations for her arrival.
Knowing it was still too cold in February for baby to be born outside, I went back to the shower around 2:00.  As the contractions grew longer and stronger and closer together, I prayed.  For a relaxed body, a focused mind, a tender rather than angry heart in the pain, and protection over my baby as she made her way from my body to my arms.  My support team read scripture over me, prayed with me, reminded me to keep my muscles relaxed and my birth song (the unmistakable moaning of many women in the late stages of labor) low and loose.  I talked to my baby girl, urging her to come down gently.  I pictured her, fresh and pink, sleeping against my chest.  
When I began to feel the pressure of her descent, I left the shower to rest on the bed before the work that was coming very soon.  Justin pressed on my back.  Worship music filled the room.  The quiet voices of family and friends surrounded me.  
Soon, I knew it was time for the final work to start.  I forced myself onto my knees on the bed and worked through several hard contractions.  As the pressure intensified, I began gently pushing her through. The pain became more than I thought I could bear, as it always does in those final moments.  Tears filled my eyes as I felt my strength and will to press on faltering.  I knew I had to dig deeper to finish this.  So I did.  I prayed for strength, rose to standing on the bed, and allowed my moans to shift to guttural yells and my mind to shift to overcoming the obstacle of pain.
Julia planned to catch the baby, so when it was clear that birth was just moments away, she moved into position beside me. I stood, with the brave and strong hands of my 12 year old daughter hovering beneath me, awaiting the emergence of her baby sister.  When the moment came that I simply could not hold back any longer, I pushed with an equal measure of force and control.  
Her head came out, pressed and purple, with a rush of amniotic fluid pouring over Julia's arms.  And on the next push, at 3:42pm, the rest of her body came.  A friend unwrapped her cord from around her neck, I slowly lowered myself to the bed, and we all touched her and encouraged her to clear her lungs and breathe deeply.
And she did.  Sweet and beautiful breaths of life filled the room.  Every prayer had been answered.  Our wonderful baby girl had arrived.  And she was perfect.
The next hour were full of the glow that always comes with new life.  Her big brother cutting the cord, smiles, laughter, tears, admiration of the fresh little one, photos, and lots of kisses.
My heart had come full circle.
From mere acceptance to inexplicable joy.
Through pain, work, the gently leading hand of Grace, and the tender expression of His love through the gift of this baby girl, I was made new again.
Because He makes all things new. 
New hearts. New perspectives. And brand new lives to mold and cherish.
Maple Clementine Truly is our "new".  
We are so thankful for the privilege to unwrap the gift of her precious life and witness the gentle unfolding of God's plan for her.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

::: mirrors and other reflections :::
When I was a little girl, I had a big, beautiful, full-length, three way mirror.  It was framed with distressed pale yellow wood and was my favorite part of my bedroom.  The two mirrors flanking the tallest middle one were on hinges, so I could adjust them to capture myself from any angle.  When I was very small, I used to sit in front of it, enveloped on each side by the reflection of my profile, and practice emotions.  I counted my teeth, perfected my silly smile, and read books aloud to myself, rehearsing animated expressions and made-up accents.  It was through that mirror that I learned that my hazel eyes turned bright green when I cried. My time spent with my beloved mirror taught me a lot about how other people saw me. And it helped me look more deeply inside myself.  I watched myself grow up in it's reflective glass.
When I was about 9, I made a mistake.  I took nail polish into the carpeted family room, even though I knew I wasn't supposed to. I sat on the floor, with my new Cabbage Patch Doll, Sharon, on my lap, and carefully painted my fingernails.  Within minutes, the inevitable happened.  I spilled the polish.  Not much got on the carpet, but Sharon's pretty purple dress was covered in bright pink paint.  
I panicked.  
I stripped the dress from the doll, ran to my room, and threw it behind my beautiful mirror.
I never told anyone.
But for years, every time I looked into that mirror, I thought about what was on the other side.  I knew what I was hiding.  And it plagued me. The reflection was the same, but now there was more behind it.
Lately, as I go deeper into the Word, it becomes more and more like my favorite mirror.  Beautifully crafted, larger than life, allowing me to examine my heart from every angle.  When I stand before it, I see both an image of the good that God has put into me, and a reflection of what lies beneath the surface.  And it compels me to confession and change.  To take my soiled human heart, like that soiled purple dress, and present it before my holy God. And when I do, His unbreakable, eternal Love and forgiveness reflects back to me.

My children, you will make many mistakes and experience countless hurts in this life. They won't define you, but they have the potential to change how you see yourself. 
Don't hide from them.  Face them.  Confess them.  Accept them. Learn from them.  Embrace the ways they reshape your character.
I pray that you grow up in the loving rebuke and resulting grace of your Creator.  
And that your life, through all its changes and mistakes, will ultimately reflect His glory.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

In the summer of 1983 I discovered my superpower.
I was six years old. 
Most of my days were spent barefooted and muddy from running through sprinklers in the grass, and riding my dandelion-yellow banana seat bicycle, shirtless and sunburnt under the heat of the Florida sun.
I was a little girl with pigtails, missing teeth, and had a newly remarried Mama.
We had just moved into the house that my step-father and his 10 year old son shared.
I was the new kid on the block in every way.
My step-brother had three close friends who lived across the street.  They spent all their time together.  They were a gang of snaggletoothed, mismatched, sweaty little boys, but I longed to be one of them.
I would sit, daydreaming by myself on the driveway, watching them wrestle and race and peg each other with little bouncy balls until they tired of that and ran across the street on their gangly skinned-kneed legs to hang out in their treehouse.
It really wasn't much of anything.  Just some boards nailed to a trunk, forming a crude ladder, and a piece of plywood in the fork of the branches.  But in my six year old imagination it was full of magic and mystery and adventure.  And I wanted nothing more than to join them there.  But every time I asked, they just laughed and told me it was "top secret" and there were "no girls allowed".
Then one day, as I lay sprawled on the garage floor, escaping the sweltering heat and soaking up the coolness of the concrete, four rowdy boys came in with an unusually calm and quiet approach.  They stood over me, and I stared up at them.  They exchanged looks that were indiscernible to me, and nudged each other, harder and harder, until one of them spoke,
"…you want to go in the treehouse?"
I jumped to my feet, and one of my light blue flip flops flew off my foot and across the garage.  I giggled and ran to retrieve it, then turned to look at them.  I'm sure the excitement was all over my dirt-smudged freckled face as I eagerly shook my head and said , "Yes!"
Without another word, they took off ahead of me.  I ran, skipped, and maybe even floated on a cloud of elation as we crossed the street to the backyard where I was absolutely positive I would finally be let in on a wonderful secret.
I reached the tree, out of breath but full of joy.  The boys were standing in the dirt, absently kicking roots and hiding grins.  
"You go first," one of them encouraged.
I kicked off my shoes, wrapped my little hands around the second board and strained to lift my leg high enough to plant my foot on the first one.  As I climbed, I thought my heart might burst with joy and anticipation.  It wasn't a long climb, maybe 6 feet up, and I enjoyed every second of it.  They watched me and cheered me on as I reached the top, then hoisted my tiny body onto the the landing place.  
And that's when I felt it.  Puddles of something wet everywhere.  I smelled it too.  The unmistakable scent of fresh urine.
It was all over the tree.  And all over me.
I couldn't move.  I just stood up, my back to the boys, and stared straight ahead.  
They lumbered up the trunk, standing on the boards, laughing behind me.  
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to kick their taunting faces.
I wanted to run away.
The only way down was to jump off the opposite side of the tree, or turn around and climb past them.
I felt my chest rising and falling in deep, uneven breaths.  And I felt tears threatening to breach the fortress of my pride. 
At that moment I had a decision to make.  One that I didn't realize then would change something in me.  One that I can only see the magnitude of when I look back on it.  
I could be weak, or I could be strong.  I could be overcome with disappointment and despair, or I could walk away powerful and in control.
I didn't think it all through like that, of course.  I was only a little kid, after all.  But I knew that I didn't want to give those boys the satisfaction of seeing me cry.
So I spun around on my bare heel, glared at their smirking faces, and resolutely stomped down the boards, jumping off before I even got to the last one. I picked up my flip flops, and walked home with my shoulders back and head held high.

Instead of feeling victimized that day, I chose to feel victorious.
Rather than letting them steal my grit, I reached deep into myself and found my power.

Looking back on that day, I can't help but tell myself that if the little girl me can do that, then the big girl me can do it too.
And so can the big girl you.
God's word tells us that we are made in His image, and I believe that refers to the deepest parts of our souls and spirits.
We are human, but God created us as a mirror of His spiritual, intellectual, emotional, motivational, and confidently sturdy nature.

The more we are in His presence, filled with His Spirit, relying on his influence, the stronger that power to overcome grows.
When we define who we are by the reflected image of Christ in us, we have found our driving force, our supernatural strength that shoots forth from our many fault lines of weakness, our Superpower.

And there's no stopping a girl who has discovered her Superpower.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence." 2 Peter 1:3

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Two nights ago, Julia wanted to talk about her adoption.  Although I have told her many times that I want her to be completely free to ask any questions and always tell me how she feels, she still doesn't bring it up often.  But this time, she was clearly craving information about her beginnings.  
"Do I look anything like my birthfather?"
"How do you know he was really my father if they weren't married?"
"Do you think I would have my own bedroom if they had kept me?"
"What makes a mother decide to let her baby go join a different family?"
She didn't appear to be too affected by our answers to her questions until she asked this:
"Did they think about keeping me after I was born?"
We all stood in the kitchen together, the other kids nearly as interested in my answers as she was.  Everyone was waiting for me to say something.
I paused.  Unsure how much to give.  But I have always promised her that I would be completely honest with her and tell her all I know to the best of my recollection.  So I responded:
"When we saw you for the first time, the two of them were sitting on the hospital bed and you were in her arms.  It was a small room, so even though he whispered I heard him say to her with tears in his eyes ,"Do you think we should keep her?  We can keep her if you want to."  And she looked up at him and replied, "No.  We are not keeping her."

My girl became silent and I saw a flash of something I couldn't identify settle on her beautiful face.  Julia isn't a very emotional young woman, but this news clearly affected her.  She stood still for a few seconds, then ripped a paper towel off the roll behind her, wet it in the sink, and started wiping the counters.  

I walked up behind her, wrapped my arms around her, and told her how much I love her and how much her birthparents loved her to be able to choose what they believed was best for her, no matter how hard it may have been for them.  She stopped cleaning and let me hold her.  Then, in his typical compassionate fashion, Asa came over and made it a group hug. He told her that he loved her and that his life wouldn't be nearly as good without her.  When she looked up, Ethan said, "I'm really glad you're my sister".  Astrid skipped over and added, "I would have had to sleep in a room by myself all this time if you weren't here!  I wouldn't like that at all!"  Justin told her what an amazing daughter she is and reassured her again how much her birthparents loved her.

The details surrounding adoption can be a rocky terrain for any family to travel.  For there is the fragile heart of a child to consider, and the heavy weight of what can feel like rejection to help her carry.

But don't we all bear that weight on our hearts sometimes? We all long to be wanted.  It can be painful to feel as if someone had the choice to be with us, but chose something different.

This is why we cannot base how we feel about ourselves upon the choices of another person.  No matter how deeply those choices affect our lives.  It is a dangerous place to live, measuring your worth against the arbitrary decisions of a fellow fallen human.

Our identity has to be rooted in soil that is deeper and richer and painstakingly cultivated to fulfill the needs of our hearts.

Infinite worth is found in our relationship with an unchanging God.

Human hearts, plagued with hurts and scars and selfish ambitions cannot fill our need for unwavering love, but "who can separate us from the love of Christ?  Can trials, or distress, or mistreatment, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or weapons", or anything else?  (Romans 8:35)

He is where our identity is secure.
He is where our hearts can be filled to overflowing.
He is the only one who will always and forever say, "I'm keeping her."

Thursday, December 17, 2015

I want to do something. Something significant. 

Not for recognition or pride. 

I want to do good for goodness sake. 

I want to be life giving, empowering. 

I want to point people to their loving Creator. 

But something paralyzes me. 
It's not fear. 
Not complacency. 
Not confusion. 
Not even comparison. 
It's a debilitating need to be different. 

A mental battle with conformity.

And sometimes it causes me to talk myself out of His work in me.

I can love people. But so can countless others. 
I could start a movement. 

But so many people are already moving in bigger and better ways. 
I have gifts. 

But they aren't unique. 

They are gifts shared by any number of humans everywhere. 

I'm just not that special. 

But this is what separates the humble from the holy: 

offering your simple gifts for His sacred purposes. 
Trusting the talents He has given. 

And knowing they were given to be offered back. 
What He makes of them is not for your concern. 
How and when He transforms the common into the consecrated is His secret alone. 
And even if I'm not in on the secret, I want to be a part of the whispered glory revealed in it. 
My talents aren't unique. 
But they are offered back. 
And the offering makes all the difference.

  1. What is your most overwhelming mental battle?  How does it cripple your effectiveness?
  2. What does it mean in your own life and with your own talents to offer your gifts in the way God plans to use them rather than the way you think they should be used?
  3. In what ways does offering yourself require strength?  In what ways does it also require weakness?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Do you think all women are desperate?"
His question surprised me because I had no idea where it was coming from.  
And the Super Girl in me bristled.
"Desperate for what?" I asked.  I'm pretty sure I also scowled a little.
"I was just listening to a radio program on the way home from work today and it was talking about the emotional desperation of all women."  
He looked right at me, waiting for my response.  He knows me. And he knew this wouldn't sit well.
I got up from the floor where I had just completed my third set of 20 push ups.  Red faced and feeling the blood pumping through my arms I answered him simply, "no".  

Before I was even born, I was fatherless.  The world just isn't a safe place for children.  Maybe that's the real reason that we are all born with fisted hands.  
We have to come out ready to fight.  I came slowly and painfully to my first breath of life and into the arms of a mama who loved me completely and grandparents 
who saw me as their gift of joy and repayment for all the pain the world had inflicted upon them.  I was cherished and treasured and adored.  But I was never 
Daddy's little girl.  I'm sure I babbled on and on about "dadadadadadada" in my first year, as most babies do.  But there was no dada to light up with joy and puff 
his chest out with pride at the sound of his name emerging from my drooling lips.  And even though I was surrounded on every side by people who poured love out 
to me in such great amounts that I could have very well drowned in it if they weren't also the people who carried me through deep waters, there was a part of my 
heart that felt forsaken.  A part of my tiny girl soul that cried out for his strong arms to wrap around me and the stubble on his chin to get caught in my hair when 
he leaned down to kiss my forehead.  I needed daddy.

Thirty seven years and countless challenges, disappointments, joys, emotional pits, and life lessons later, I realize the strength that follows need.  
There is a deep need in you to be valued.
There is a deep need in you to be loved.
There is a deep need in you to be cherished.
There is a deep need in you to be connected.
These are not weaknesses.  They are human needs.  Placed there by the God who carefully crafted every aspect of your heart.
In you there is also strength. 
In you there is also resilience.
In you there is also the ability to peer down into the well of need in another heart, pull your own bucket from its depths, and pour into their emptiness.  
And through some miracle that we may never fully comprehend, to see life giving water rise to the brim of your own well as a result.
Strength, for the woman of God, isn't what gives you power over another person.  Strength is what gives you the power to lift another person higher.
But how do you turn a need into the ability to meet one?
By seeing yourself in others.  

Being a woman of strength requires a willingness to use that strength to benefit others.
Using your gifts and grit for another's growth and good.

  1. Are your life experiences solely for your lessons learned, or are they useful for bringing strength to others?  Have you been using them for that purpose?
  2. Are there areas of your life where you are still letting old scars tighten the skin around your heart?  If so, how is that working for you?  And how can you, instead, let God make those scars work for Him?
  3. In your weakness, He is strong.  Daily remind yourself that weakness is not failure or punishment, it is a beautiful opportunity for the Spirit of God make you more dependent upon Him.  

Saturday, December 12, 2015

I've been contemplating recently what it means to be a woman.
Specifically, a woman who is a follower of Christ.
Scripture talks about women having "a gentle and quiet spirit". 
Many of us read this and our hackles go up. 
We fear that "gentle" means "weak".
But I'm quite sure that it doesn't.
Gentleness is spiritual fruit.
Spiritual fruit comes straight from the Spirit of God.  It is His character being fleshed out in our lives.
Therefore, God is gentle.
And God is not weak.
So, gentleness and weakness are not synonymous.
I believe it's actually the opposite. 
Gentleness is the height of strength.  
It is a characteristic of Christ, and not counteractive of leadership and confidence.
True gentleness is a rarely found mix of fortitude and nurture.
It's a choice to acknowledge your power, but to make that power submissive to your love.
There is a beautiful courage in the gentle spirit.

Imagine something known to be strong.  Like wildfire.  It possesses power and strength.  But it lacks control.  There is no gentleness.  

Now picture a tame horse. Think of how this powerful beast allows her handler to lead her, discipline her, direct her.  Consider her gentleness with riders and the delicate manner in which she takes an apple from the hand of a child.  Is it because she's weak?  Not at all!  A horse is strong, her presence commanding and her power potentially intimidating.  She knows her strength.  And she chooses gentleness.  

Acknowledging your power to harm or heal is a choice.
Awareness of your actions and responsibilities is a choice.
Doing your very best to be gentle is a choice.
But ultimately, true godly gentleness isn't yours to choose or achieve.

Gentleness is not inherent to my human heart.
But it is inherent to the Spirit living in me.

My inclination is to exert my power and will.
His invitation is to give me the gift of living in His power and will.

Gentleness is one of my weaknesses.
A place in my heart where Christ in me makes all the difference.

  1. How have you defined gentleness?  As a weakness or as a strength?
  2. What do you believe about the Spirit of God?  Does allowing the Spirit to be strong in your weakness make you feel weaker or stronger?
  3. And the big question, HOW do we let God produce spiritual fruit in us and what role does our own will and choice play in it?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It happened again.

That moment when you realize that you've let something emerge from the fetid swamp of your heart and the creature has wrapped its claws around one of your children before you could stop it.

He just wanted to please me.  To surprise me.  To make me happy.  He just wanted a hug.  A smile.
But I made him cry.  It wasn't intentional.  But it didn't matter.

Sometimes the absence of intentionality is the worst of all.

He spoke to her harshly.  The sweet little sister whose heart is almost unnaturally pure and kind.  She was just looking for her shoes.  I had asked her to find them as we rushed rushed rushed out of the house to get someplace.  Someplace insignificant enough that I can't even recall where it was, but in that distracted and impatient moment it apparently seemed important to enough to break his spirit over arriving there on time.  I snarled at him.  I'm sure if I'd had a mirror, even I would have been wounded by the darts of disapproval shooting from my eyes.

"YOU WILL SPEAK WITH LOVE AND KINDNESS!", I growled. The tone of my statement seeped with irony and contradiction.
"But Mama-"
"Stop! It is not your job to tell her what to do!"
His little chin trembled.
"No!  Don't talk back to me." my irritation was taking on  red hot life of its own.  Doesn't this child know who I am?  Doesn't he realize I'm in charge?  And in a hurry?!?
A tear spilled down his freckled pink cheek.
" don't undersatnd...i just...." his words came slow and choppy, interrupted by jagged breaths.  "Mama....I didn't want her to get the bags out of the closet to get her shoes because I put them in there so you wouldn't see..."
"Why in the world would you put bags full of shoes and toys and junk in the closet?" I'm sure I narrowed my eyes at him.
"....because I didn't have time to put everything away.....I cleaned the van out....for you.  I wanted to..... surprise you.  I threw all the trash away..... and since we were in a hurry..... I put the other bags of stuff in the closet.  I just wanted you to be happy..... when you got in the van."

My heart crumbled into a thousand bitter pieces of shame and regret.

But I couldn't take it back.

Isn't that the hard, convicting truth about words and unintentional moments?  You can never take them back.

Once, when I was small, I was wounded by my own impulsive carelessness.  I was doing my homework at the kitchen table, doodling in the margins of my math paper, wishing for a distraction.  Suddenly my Granni's voice broke the monotony, like a life preserver to a kid drowning in numbers and equations.  She had stopped by for an unexpected visit and I couldn't have been more excited to see her!  I leapt from my seat and, in my hurry, the freshly sharpened pencil I was holding gouged forcefully into my thigh.  Reactively, I pulled my hand back, breaking the lead off under my skin.  It hurt.  A lot.  But even more disturbing was the sight of the black lead now permanently embedded in my leg.  Almost thirty years later, it's still there.  A small, dark circle.  Never taken back.  A reminder of impulsiveness and lack of thought.  It's permanence and tendency to wound.

The words I spat to my son that lead.  Sharp and black.  Wounding.  Permanent.  Void of intention but full of ire.

It's easy to move through life as if little things don't matter.  Letting our emotions and circumstances dictate our actions.  Surrendering to what we feel at any given moment.  Moments are like pieces of a puzzle.  Each one small, but every piece fitting together to complete the picture.  Every piece matters.  And you can't just throw the pieces on the table and expect that they will create something beautiful on their own.  You must think.  You must take care.  You must be intentional.  Lack of intentionality just results in an unfinished mess of pieces.

In His great love for us, He mercifully breaks our hearts with our own ugliness.

Then gathers the broken pieces, carefully realigns them, smooths rough edges, and puts it all back together.
Sometimes He has to break us so He can build us.

Life is marked by moments.  Intentional moments.  Unintentional moments.  And those moments leave marks.  Marks that can never be taken back.

I pray that the moments that I bring life to my children's hearts will be fondly remembered.  And, by His grace, the moments when I fail to do that will be gently redeemed.

Some of the best and most vivid memories of my childhood occurred when I was 5 and 6.  That was the year that my mama and I moved out on our own.  Until then, we had lived at my grandparents house and, though I loved them both very much, it felt so good to have my mama all to myself.  It was just a sparsely furnished two bedroom apartment whose biggest selling point was probably the fact that you could get from one end of the place to the other in ten steps or less, depending on the breadth of your stride.  
I'm sure I did some big stuff that year, trips or birthday parties or other "special" events.  
I don't remember any of them.
What I remember is mama.
I can still smell the fish sticks and vegetable soup and I can hear her laughing at me as I waited for dinner with all the patience a 5 year old could muster, sitting on my hands and bouncing in my seat and swinging my legs, wishing mama could just hurry up and make it ready faster.  
I can still see the sleek black talking car and the dark living room aglow with the flickering light of the television as mama and I sat and watched Knight Rider together. 
I can feel the scratchy softness of a bare mattress against my cheek as I lay sick in mama's bed, admiring her while she sewed cloth baby dolls to sell for extra money.  
I can still feel the quickened pace of my heart and the unbound excitement, listening to mama's end of the conversation as she talked on the phone to grandaddy about what they were going to name their new chihuahua.  Tiger!  The name I had chosen for him!
There are so many more things that I don't even remember with words or details or mental pictures.
I remember them with a feeling.
Of presence.  

Oh mamas…my heart aches for you to embrace the truth that it's not about what you can give your children.  It's about WHO you can give them.  

This morning my 8 year old daughter snuggled up next to me on the couch, looked into my tired eyes with her sparkling green ones, crinkled her freckled nose and said. "Mama, do you remember that time in our old house when we sat on my bed after I just woke up and we laughed so much?"  She chuckled at the memory then rested her pigtailed head against my shoulder.  I didn't have any idea what she was talking about.  But I wrapped my arms around her, pulled her closer and said, "I love laughing with you."  Against my arm, I could feel her cheeks swell into a smile.

They may have your Pinterest inspired table decorations securely nestled in their memories for all time.  But it's more likely that their hearts will take them back to the time spent with you around that table.  And those memories will envelope their tender souls like emotional bubble wrap, protecting them from the barrage of hurts that will inevitably assault them as they move through life.

You won't parent perfectly all the time.  Chances are, you won't even parent perfectly for an entire day at a time.  
But your children don't need you to be perfect.  They need you to be present.

He will remember how you looked straight into his eyes instead of at your phone when he told you exactly how he came up with his idea for his latest fabulous lego creation.
She will remember that time she beat you at Memory, and you tickled her until she could hardly breathe with laughter and you told her the only way to get free was to declare you the winner.  And she did, with rosy cheeks and leftover giggles.
One day, he will find himself picking up a can of squirtable cheese for his own children, not because it tastes good but because seeing it made him laugh in the middle of the store aisle at the memory of you squirting it on your face in the shape of a processed orange mustache.  
One day she will smile and sigh contentedly when she recalls lying on the sofa with her head on your lap while you read a book and softly combed your fingers through her tangled little girl hair.

You may not get your bed made every morning.  You may not even get it made for the next 12 years.  But they won't remember your unmade bed.  They'll remember you inviting them to skip their chores and cuddle up beside you in it to watch a movie on a rainy day.
She won't remember that you rarely get around to showering before lunch.  Or that, even more rarely, you get around to wearing anything other than yoga pants.  She will remember that you spent the morning reading her books and laughing with her at the funny parts.
He probably won't recall everyone who was there when he blew out the candles on his birthday cakes.  What he will remember is the way your eyes lit up when he walked into the room.

I've had a lot of fish sticks in my life.  But the only ones I can still taste are the ones that were served by mama in our little apartment.

These babies of yours, they will grow.  Out of your arms and into the world.  
When they set out on their own journeys through life, and they take a long nostalgic look over their shoulder, what do you want them to see?

Let it be you, mama.  Let it be you.  

So when they turn back around and face the rocky road ahead, they'll know without a doubt who is behind them. 

They'll know that you are present.
Then.  Now.  Always.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

It's funny.  You can be waiting for something wonderful to happen for a really long time.  Days go by, weeks, and months, all at the speed with which they would have passed even if you were not waiting.  But it's those final days and hours, when the arrival of your gift feels so imminent...that pass with almost painful sluggishness.  Every second seems to linger and loiter, and taunt.  Your rational mind tells you to enjoy the time.  Appreciate the anticipation of being on the brink.  Savor every moment to the bittersweet end.  And sometimes you can do that.  But sometimes the "next thing" looms so brilliant and beautiful before you that it overshadows all the moments surrounding it.  

Such is birth.

That brilliant and beautiful moment.

No matter how many times I experience it.  No matter how much struggle or pain it brings.  It's the brilliance and beauty that my heart remembers.

I woke up on the morning of May 6, 2013 with slightly uncomfortable contractions about 10-12 minutes apart.  This had been happening nearly every morning for several days though, and I knew they would subside as soon as I got out of bed.  I lay there for about an hour, visualizing my body preparing for labor, and wiling it to continue its work even after I rolled myself out of the bed.  Just as I expected though, as soon as I got up it stopped.  I led the kids through morning chores, loaded everyone in the van, and headed to my mom's house to go through the kid's clothes that I have stored in her attic.  Aunt Carol and Mimi made them a yummy brunch while I sorted and sifted through boxes and bins.  For the two hours we spent there, not one noticeable contraction passed through my body.  I left for home with plans to do some laundry, clean my house, and hit the gym before dinner time.

I arrived home around 12:15pm.  A few minutes after 12:30 I got on the treadmill (the first of my two planned workouts for the day) and set it at my regular pace.  Within the first three minutes I had to cut the speed in half because a shockingly uncomfortable contraction gripped my back and belly.  I thought little of it, assuming I just needed to slow down.  Less than 5 minutes later, it happened again.  Something just felt different about these.  Not like the practice my body had been doing for months.  I knew when my back felt them too, that there was a stronger chance that they meant something.  I walked around the house for awhile, not really timing anything, but noticing that they were coming about every 4-5 minutes.  And noticing that they weren't polite little pains. I sat on the birthing ball and they spaced out some, but didn't stop.  Checkpoint #2, they didn't go away when my activity changed.  Justin was at work preparing for an important presentation he had the next day, so I was slow to contact him and share the recent developments.  Right around 1:00 I texted him and told him that I was having some "decently uncomfortable" contractions, but it wasn't urgent and I would keep him updated.  Over the next hour they became more and more intense, and moved to 3 minutes apart.  I took a shower, because no matter how much pain I was already feeling, there was no way I was going to have a baby unshowered and with hairy legs!  A little after 2:00 I was feeling confident things were progressing and I called and told him he should maybe head home.  I texted my mom and said I thought today was the day.  About that time I also informed my midwife, Lucy, that I was having contractions, but that she didn't need to rush over.  Over the next 20 minutes I texted friends who planned to be present for the birth, just to give them a heads up that things were happening.  Everyone wanted to come right away.  But I put them all off, saying no one needed to hurry.  Justin arrived home around 2:30, saw how real the labor already was, and called Lucy to tell her to ignore whatever I had said and go ahead and come over.  When Lucy arrived at 3:00, contractions were about 2 minutes apart.  She asked how I was doing and I told her "great!", which is what I had been telling myself as my own cheerleader for the previous couple of hours.

Sometime between 3:00 and 3:45, most everyone else arrived.  My mom, Dana (Lucy's apprentice), and my friends Lori (and her daughter, Ayla) and Alli.  It wasn't long before I could concentrate on nothing other than the work that my body and mind were doing to bring this baby to meet its family.  Justin was rubbing my back and pressing it as hard as he could as I breathed through the surges and held a picture in my mind of my sweet baby descending.

When my friend Anne Marie (and her 6 kids) arrived, I heard her voice in the house and felt her touch my back, but I wasn't even able to open my eyes to see her.  Sometime around 4:00, I got into the shower, looking for something to relieve the pain and pressure.

While in the shower, I was fully aware of when my labor changed to the transition stage.  I began vocalizing during each contraction, that low moaning sound that Justin loves to laugh about after every birth.  I was talking myself through every wave and settling myself during every break.  The pressure became intense, surging all the way into my legs until I felt that I could no longer stand.  I knew I needed to lie down.  So I left the comfort of the warm water beating on my back and went to my bed.

Justin continued to press on my back, though nothing really offered much relief.

The pressure rapidly intensified.  I began to tell myself that it was time.  My body agreed.  My water had not yet broken but I knew the baby was so close, and I knew that if I just changed positions then my water would likely break and we would be minutes away from meeting our baby.  So I took all the strength I could gather and sat up, pulling myself onto my knees.

And it happened. A POP and  rush of fluid.  And right away I felt the urge to push.  I sat there on my knees, leaning onto Justin's back while he acted as a stool propped on his elbows in front of me on the bed, and felt the little one descending through my body.  I heard encouragement from the crowd waiting behind me (11 other people in the room, including a few kids).  I knew the moment had arrived.  That brilliant and beautiful moment that overshadows all the others.  I pushed slowly and deliberately, easing her head out, then gave one more small push and a sweet little precious baby girl bursted into the room, bringing relief and unspeakable joy with her.  Lucy unwrapped the cord from her neck as I melted onto the bed in exhaustion and brought my gift to my chest.

Over the next couple of hours, friends and family and brothers and sisters basked in the joy and beauty of this much anticipated new life.  Baby girl and I relaxed in an herb bath together.  And she was weighed and measured.

The waiting was over.  The next wonderful thing had arrived.  

On her third day of life she received a name.

Dahlia Dove Nanette Allen. Our stunning flower.  Our peaceful bird.  And her Mimi's namesake.

May 6, 2013, 4:32pm.  6 pounds, 1 ounce.  19 inches.

Daddy calls her Dahlia or Doll, and Mama likes to call her Dove.

Thank you, Lord, for this much anticipated gift.  And for her journey into my arms.  Even amidst the pain...something brilliant and beautiful for my heart to always remember.