You Have Hope, I Have Hope, They Have Hope {#PrisonerofHope}

Captives, yet not without hope.  Prisoners, but prisoners of hope.

prisonerof hope

I have two amazing friends who co-founded a ministry in Honduras over 10 years ago.  I love listening to each of them recount the moment God called her to begin Mi Esperanza, which is Spanish for My Hope.

I’ve visited this ministry on a few occasions.  I have also spent much time with each of its founders.  Both Lori and Janet have walked with me as I have navigated divorce.  My thankfulness to and for them is unending.

They are the “real deal” – real women who authentically live life following Jesus – admitting mistakes, seeking Him, and loving others well.  They’re helping me to fully understand and embrace that HE is enough.  Resting in Him to work all things together for good – good according to Him and in His time.

The organization God’s created through them educates women in Honduras in three areas:  sewing, cosmetology, and technology.  The success stories are many – women rising out of poverty and providing for their children using skills learned through Mi Esperanza. Some women accepted to and even offered scholarships from universities in Honduras.

It is remarkable.

Lives are changing for these women and their families as they learn skills that create sustainability – forever changing the trajectory of entire families from poverty to hope.

Mi Esperanza is asking each of us to become a prisoner of hope. It comes from Zechariah 9: 12…

Return to your fortress,you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

Commentary on this verse says:  Sinners are prisoners, but prisoners of hope.  Captives, yet not without hope.

This entire passage is more complicated than this post allows, but it’s speaking of a Messiah who will come humble, riding on a donkey (9:9).  A king who will bring peace on all nations. (9:10).  A God who made a covenant to set the prisoners free (9:11).

And we are all prisoners.

We are prisoners – captive by sin. Captive in this world because of our birthplace or our circumstances.  Because of our choices or the choices of others.  Because of that which we could or could not control.

YET.

We are NOT without hope.  Regardless of where we were born or what our hardships may be, He gives hope.  And on the surface that hope looks so different to each of us – to the wealthy women sipping lattes from Starbucks or to the poor women sipping dirty water from the stream.

But, that’s the surface.

At the heart, we are NOT without hope – wealthy or poor – for HE is enough.  He offers hope because He is a God of unfailing love in whom we can place our trust – and hope.  He will anchor us in and through the storms of life.

He holds us. Tight.  Loving and leading as we surrender to Him.

Today, can you help bring HOPE on His behalf? 

Global Giving will match all donations made today at 40%.  So, if you give just $10 to educating women in Honduras, you’re actually giving $14. (That’s help for the math challenged like me;)

From a US mobile phone, you can text GIVE 14549 to 80088 to donate $10. (NOTE: A reply text will ask you to respond “yes” then a follow-up message will confirm that your $10 will be added to your next phone bill.)

Or, you can donate here.

So simple.

So worth it.

Thanks for helping women you may never meet feed their babies, send their children to school, and break the cycle of poverty.

#prisonerofhope

When God Says Wait…Then Yes {My Sister is Having a Baby!}

My mom and I take seats beside one another in the hospital waiting room.

My dad is down the hall in ICU. My sister is downstairs having surgery after another miscarriage.

We sit.  We wait. I ride the elevator down and check in with my brother-in-law, Casey.  I ride back up and sit alongside my mom.

There are seasons in life when you can do nothing but look heavenward and ask, Why, Lord?  Why are you taking my dad?  Why did you take another one of my nieces or nephews?  And if you aren’t “doing it,” then why are you allowing it?

That was January 2008.  I still have no answers for the why, but I know the who – Jesus – much better.  I still don’t pretend to know his ways or his whys.

I do know this…

Tomorrow morning, I will take a seat beside my mom in the hospital waiting room once again.  My dad won’t be there, which is bittersweet.  But, this time my sister will not be on the surgical floor: She will be in labor and delivery.

If I am honest, I never thought I’d type those words.

My sister began trying to have a child in 1998.  She’d been married two years and desired nothing more than to be a momma.  She’s also Martha Stewart (minus jail sentences;)

A year later.  No children.

Years pass.  I give birth to a girl and a boy. But none of Dawnna’s pregnancies go past 13 weeks.  It makes no sense.  She uses a calendar, counts days, takes medicine, has procedures, and …nothing except heartache.

In the meantime, she raises my children as her own.  Continues reading about infertility and seeking expert advice.  In some seasons, she gives up. In other seasons, fresh resolve finds her with a new doctor or treatment plan.

All the while, we pray.  She prays. I pray.  Our momma prays.  Churches pray. Friends pray.  We KNOW others are interceding.

She avoids church on Mother’s Day and dreads baby showers. And these barely scratch the surface of the deep heartache each time she loses a child or each time she’s told a procedure isn’t successful.

Then, her high school friend has a sister who works at a doctor near Dawnna’s house {Shew, convoluted!}. This gal, Sarah, does all she can to work Dawnna into the doctor’s schedule, making sure Dawnna has the best care (and discounts for the costly treatment).

Hope rises.

We pray…continually.

It’s 2013. 15 years have passed.  Nothing has worked.  There’s one last round of medicine to take – one more chance to have a child.  Dawnna sits in the doctor’s office, preparing to take the final step – what seems like a final chance to have a child.

While at her doctor’s office to explore this last chance, a high school friend, Billie, notices her, says hello, and  keeps walking but feels God telling her to go back.  To talk to Dawnna.  To tell her that she’s going to have a child.  That she does not need this last round of medicine or this doctor’s help.

She’s going to have a child.

At first, Billie is resistant.  I would have been too.  Who stops and tells an old friend that she feels God is speaking to her heart ….about HER?  That she’s going to have a child when she knows that she’s miscarried over and over.

Yet, on faith, Billie walks out on the limb and finds Dawnna.  She tells her…you’re going to have a child.  Keep praying 1 Samuel.  Don’t go through with this last round of infertility treatment; you don’t need to.  God’s telling my heart you’re going to be a mom.

Dawnna wants to believe, but it’s all a little weird.  She wonders how Billie knows the verse she prays often, but decides to go through with the treatment.

It fails.

Even before this procedure, Casey and Dawnna had decided her body had been through enough.  Enough money had been spent.  Just enough.

So, she sits in the room she’d always thought would be a nursery.  There’s no crib or changing table.  It’s simply a spare room.  And Dawnna prays 1 Samuel aloud…

26 And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord {years ago}. 27 For this child I prayed,and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord. 1 Samuel 1: 26-28

quote on wall

These were the same words Hannah had spoken thousands of years before. In verse 10 she had gone to the temple weeping, asking the Lord to open her womb and give her a son, promising she’d give her son back to the Lord.

Yet, Hannah waited.  For years.

Dawnna waited.  For years.

And, finally, Hannah gives birth to a son, Samuel.

And, finally, Dawnna will give birth to a daughter, Chloe.

dawn front

dawn belly

Less than a month after her prayer in the would-be nursery, God answered yes instead of no or wait.  He filled her womb with a child, a girl.

In 1 Samuel 2:18 the Bible says, But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the LordChapter 2 also says Samuel grew up in God’s presence and grew in favor with the Lord and people.  In Chapter 3, the Bible again says:  Samuel served the Lord.

Samuel served the Lord. 

Tomorrow as I sit beside my mom again in the WAITING room, waiting to meet Chloe, praying for a safe and easy birth for my sister, thanking God for the gift of a child…

I will silently be giving Chloe back to the one who gave her to us.

As you grow, Chloe, I pray we say of you:  But Chloe, though she was only a girl, served the Lord.  She grew up in God’s presence and grew in favor with the Lord and people.  Yes, Chloe served the Lord. 

Because as we each walk on this earth, searching for meaning and purpose.  As we each wait for what will be and let go of what was not.  As we wait upon the Lord to heal or take us home.  As we wait on Him to open our womb or change our hearts.

As we wait.

There is only one thing…one thing that matters in the waiting and in the end.  For Dawnna and Casey.  For Chloe.

They served the Lord.

So as you wait, friend, I pray you love the Lord – and serve Him because you love Him.  Thank Him.  Worship Him.  The answer may be no.  It may be wait.  Or, after 16 years, it may be YES.

And while you wait?  Serve Him.  He loves you more than you can fathom.  He loves you in the no, in the wait, and in the yes.

——————————————————

We can’t wait to meet you, Chloe Grace!

chloe bag

ThanksSarah Gross for loving Dawnna and Casey and doing all you could to help them.

Thanks Billie Harding for taking a step of faith.

Thanks to our mom, Diana,  and our dad, Allen “Pud” Bailey, for loving us unconditionally and raising us “right”:)  We rest in knowing you will meet Chloe someday.

Thanks to each of you who has prayed and prayed.  We are beyond grateful.  Keep praying!

The Stranger and His Son {A Cure for Loneliness on Father’s Day}

It’s Father’s Day.

I am not a fan, especially not this year.

Today feels lonely…and wrong.

On a day normally filled with cookouts and laughter, I find myself alone. I drove to Wheeling for Owen’s baseball game, then waved goodbye as my kiddos left with their dad.  {As it should be.}

My dad is gone; I celebrate him in my heart only.

So.

What does one do with oneself?

I found myself entering Panera for lunch, walking just ahead of a father and his son, who looked about five.

father lead by the hand son

I held the door open, the dad thanking me.  I smiled as I listened to the boy talk to his dad, but I knew before turning that something was “wrong” with the little boy.

His speech wasn’t clear and his conversation skills didn’t match his size.  His dad continually explained to him what they were doing and why.

As we stood in line, the boy grew agitated, and I knew:  He’s autistic.  His sounds weren’t cries exactly…more high-pitched, fearful moans.

The dad spoke patiently to his son, trying to soothe him.

Just a minute. We only need a drink.  It won’t take long.

Except those in front of us were taking FOREVER. The man in front of me kept turning, looking disapprovingly at the boy.  {Evidently thinking his noises were too loud for a restaurant.}

I turned to the little boy and smiled. Knowing that a stranger talking to an autistic child can spell disaster sometimes, I kept my attention to him brief, but I wanted to let the dad know: It’s ok to have him here.

The boy met my eyes and said hi, then resumed his moans now turned squeals.  And then I met the dad’s eyes.  They said, I am sorry.  And I smiled and said….you can go ahead. 

A simple gesture, really.  We’ve all allowed someone with fewer items or restless children to go ahead of us in a line.  But, today…

This dad looked at me with grateful eyes.   He thanked me at the register then again at the drink machine. The sweet little boy stood beside me enthralled as my diet Pepsi ran from the machine into my cup.

Pop,  he said.

 Yes, pop, I replied and smiled.

And he laughed, clutching a bottle of water tightly to his chest as his dad searched for a lid.

His dad turned, thanking me again and out the door they sauntered, hand in hand.

I don’t know this dad.  I will probably never see him again.  But, I am thankful to this patient, loving father for reminding me today {in the midst of my pity party} of my heavenly Father.

The One who allows me to moan and squeal when agitated.  The One who loves me even when others are looking on with disapproval.  The One that smiles when I smile and laughs when I laugh. The One who speaks soothing words as I wait, agitated.  The One who walks hand in hand with me as I walk through each door.

If you’re alone today, I am sorry. I really am.  Whether your dad is gone or living in another place.  Whether you’re divorced or mourning your spouse’s death.

I know you feel lonely.  And in your loneliness, I pray you remember…He is there. Always.  He loves you.

{Happy Father’s Day, Dad…I look forward to the day we once again celebrate together.}

{Happy Father’s Day, Dad in Panera.  You’re doing so well!}

ms mountaineer dad

I Graduated 20 Years Ago {Veering from the Predictable Path}

The class of 1994.

grad announcement

Twenty years since my high school graduation.

I hate to sound like my grandmother, but it seems like yesterday {most days}.

On June 1, 1994, I took my seat as one of three valedictorians at Poca High School.  Dallas, Jason, and I were rebels {sorta}, decorating our caps with a W, a V, and a U for West Virginia University, the college we’d all be attending.

My proud dad tried to tape (VHS!) my valedictory speech, but he’d pressed pause.  He couldn’t see the word on the screen because the words were hidden in the flowers placed on the podium.  Still makes me smile today.

I’ll spare you a 20 year reflection.  Of course, looking back, if you’d have told me I’d be sitting in this seat in 20 years, I’d never have believed you.  My instinct is to say…

Thank God they do not check in with past “Most Likely to Succeed” superlative winners.

Because…

By culture’s standards, I’ve not succeeded.  A year ago…I looked like success {emphasis on the word looked}.  Today, not so much.

Because when you “fail,” you realize your measure of success – the “American dream”  measure of success {Bigger and better.  A big house, nice car.  Perfect family.  Talented children. Insert your own pressures here.} is broken and elusive.

I began to realize this while sitting at On the Border in Columbus, Ohio, with three of my closest friends.  During our conversation about the public education system, I said I was valedictorian and mentioned I took AP Calculus so I could be valedictorian.

My friend, Krysten, looked at me and said, “Why? Why did you want to be valedictorian?” {As if I were crazy;}

And, I had no idea.  I wanted to “beat” the boys.  But, otherwise? Clueless.

My parents didn’t expect it.  I wanted to make them proud in return for all the sacrifices they’d made for me, but they NEVER pressured me to be anything other than their Sarah Beth.

So, why?

Why valedictorian?  College?  Summa cum laude?  Miss Mountaineer?  Marriage? 9 to 5 job?  Children? Master’s Degree?  New career?  Leader?  Homeschooling mom? Stay-at-home mom?  Volunteer here and there and everywhere?

Why?

Is this how God wired me?  Or am I driven by something other than my Creator? {Divine intervention aside as I know He intervened more than once.}

At 38, I decided to sit down and ask…What in the world has driven my decisions for the past 20 years?

{Warning: Don’t ask God a question unless you are SURE you want the answer – HIS answer.}

I asked that question almost two weeks ago. I don’t have all the answers yet, but here’s what I do know….

Expectation can and will drive us when we don’t take time to pray through the next step, especially when we want to “fit in” or “look like everyone else.” And, I didn’t even realize I wanted this.

Yet, I followed the predictable path.

High school.  College.  Marriage.  Children.  {Career optional, but you still need the college degree.}  Raise children.  Go to church.  Serve in the church and community.

And, let me be VERY clear…

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this path.  NOTHING.

Sisters, these life situations we compare and allow to divide us almost always have NOTHING to do with right or wrong; we’re just different, fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator who delights in our uniqueness.  And, I am in this sweet spot with Jesus today because I am allowing Him to guide and direct my life onto a VERY different path – the path He made for me. He wastes nothing.

So, while I will never know which turns I took on the journey that weren’t of Him, what matters is that from this moment forward I seek Him and not what is expected or prescribed by the world.

He is enough.  Anything He adds to your life beyond Him is a gift.

And I don’t know the path now.  I’ve gone from season to season  - almost without thought.

Now… I wait.  Twenty years of living and striving and moving forward didn’t lead to an amazing public relations career or a perfect family. {What I thought I wanted.}

It lead to something better…

sweet times with two beautiful children who are simply fun to talk with…

authentic friendships that are teaching me what it means to be still and focused on Him alone…

a sad realization that I loved the church more than Jesus, so Jesus and I are building again…

a precious niece whom we will welcome to the world in the next few weeks…

and most of all…

A new quiet in my soul beginning to accept that He alone is enough.  That I never want to be trapped again by the world and its expectations.

2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” 3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,  “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.” 4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.   I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods  or take up their names on my lips. 5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. 7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord.  With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. 11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16

The Lawyer and the Mean Boy {Don’t Give Up on Anyone}

He solemnly looks at the principal.

Is it true?  Did you say this?

Yes, it’s true.

Give him points for admission.

This is the same kid who gave me a book a few months ago called One Fat Summer and told me it was the perfect book for me.  (Teaching isn’t for the thin-skinned.)

book

Yet, here I am, listening to this boy and the principal discuss how he’s hurt another student with his words.    And my tears pool.

Geezzzz…this boy has hurt my feelings and disrespected me more times than I can count.  I’ve sequestered him, reasoned with him, and yelled at him.  Not much works.  But when I look at him, I just can’t see the disrespectful bully.

I see hurt.   And I hurt for him.

 I see a boy who wants to be loved.  I see a boy who desires attention and acceptance.

———————————————————————————————–

He looks at me with disdain and arrogance.

Are you going to sign or not? {loosely paraphrased}

I am trying to understand what it’s saying, I say as tears cloud my vision.  .

He rolls his eyes, shuffles papers, and shakes his head.

And I hate him.

I hate him for making me feel less than and dumb. I understand that part of being a lawyer might be intimidation.  But heartless and hateful?  Not necessary.

I want to be spiteful and not sign just to tick him off. {mature, huh?} My daughter is watching me, and in my head I hear…this is not who you are, Sarah.  Hate and spite.

I sign.  The court date comes, and once again, he talks to me as if I am four. I don’t loathe anyone really, except this man.

Today I go to his office to sign the last papers. My stomach tossing and turning as I drive. I pray…mercy, Lord.  I just want to sign and leave.

Prayer granted.  No enemy sighting.  But, as I drove away, I felt God saying…he’s just like that student. He really is.

——————————————————————————————-

The student. The lawyer.  Both crying out for attention in their own way.

One refusing to work and causing trouble

Another racking up case wins and belittling comments.

One using his ignorance and the other using his intelligence to make others feel less than…to make himself feel better.

And my heart has to admit that the root of the insults is almost always {somewhere deep}  a desire for love, attention, and acceptance.

We all want this, huh?  Love (we are worthy).  Attention (we matter). Acceptance (we are liked and included as we are).

Still… I ponder the young boy’s “hope and future,” deciding his future is bleak at best.

As I continue listening to the principal /student interchange, I hear the boy say he goes to church.  {I can’t share what prompted the conversation to head this way, but this boy knows the Bible. It’s evident.}

He gets to church on a bus driven by Miss Mary. {name changed}

And I know…his “hope and  future”?  The one that looks VERY bleak?  The future that to my human eyes seems sad, a bit hopeless?  I’m judging too soon.

Because…

Miss Mary is sewing into this boy.  She is seed planting then watering, tending, pruning, and picking.  She’s faithful.

And I bet Miss Mary would like to throw her hands up some Wednesdays and Sundays as she listens to him drop the F-bomb in her church van. I might have kicked him out.  If you knew this child, you might write him off.

Not Miss Mary. She’s pouring in.

Because Miss Mary knows something we all should learn:  her work isn’t about the now…the immediate behavior…it’s about eternity.

Because I know my efforts to be kind to the mean lawyer are not about the now…his immediate behavior….it’s about eternity. {even if my heart is NOT following any kindness…sadly}

When we say a kind word, love others, and walk alongside them – pouring in – the work is heart work. When we follow our Creator, faithful to a child – or even the lawyer  – He works in ways we don’t understand. Ways we can’t see.

Your faithfulness and work?   It might manifest as better “behavior” someday, but for now, stay faithful.  We’re counting on you – He’s counting on you – to keep pouring in quietly and faithfully.

To your children.  To her children.  To the neighbor boy.  To the gal at church.  To your children’s friends.

It really does take a village, especially if a child’s village is at war. Not paying attention. Self-focused.  Fighting.

My human, judgmental eyes might want to say…don’t waste your time, Miss Mary, or your van’s gas.  But, I suspect Miss Mary knows:  it’s not a waste.  It’s a calling she’s living out each time she pulls up to his house.  She may never know the “fruit” of her labor.

But.

I’m choosing to believe today  the one who died for ALL our sins sees the boy and the lawyer as HIS. Souls he created to glorify Him. And if I believe in a God who knows the numbers of stars in the sky, hairs on my head, grains of sand on the beach…a God who loves me and wants to commune with me daily…

I  must believe in a God who loves and desires communion with the boy and the lawyer.

And you.

All. Equally.  None better than another.

 7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 1 John 4: 7-12

11 Minutes {Life Changes Quickly}

A police car’s flashing lights draw my attention.  I slow down and look to see why two cops are standing on the house’s porch. {Ok, I know it’s not polite, but I’m nosy.}

She sat on the porch wrapped in a blanket, holding a toddler tightly.  Tears streaming.  Fear evident.

The cops stood at the home’s entrance.  A shirtless man in the doorway.  Other activity in the house hidden from my view.

I don’t know the (very) young woman’s story.  But, in that moment my heart hurt on her behalf. What little girl dreams of sitting on a porch, wrapped in a blanket, hugging a small child while cops pace her porch?

Not that girl…not any girl.

I wonder…how did she end up there?  What happened to her or those around her putting her in such a place – in need of protecting?

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

I heard my own footsteps echoing on the courthouse floor.  Ascending the stairs toward the courtroom reminded me of walking the aisle to the altar. Both times I looked ahead and my husband awaited.

I took a seat across the waiting area on a wooden bench, which eerily reminded me of  a pew.  The similarities of the two days breaking my heart.

Where did you park, he asked.

In the lot, I say.

I keep my head down, repeating:  I will not cry, I do not care, I will not cry, I do not care.

(All lies…I cry. I care.)

The judge appears in the doorway…Farish…it’s our turn.

We stand and walk toward the door – my husband ahead with his lawyer – me alone because I chose to represent myself.

We take seats on opposite sides of the small room, each stating our names and addresses loudly and clearly for the record. The judge reads the names of my children, and it’s too much.  I break into sobs.

The judge stands, walks around her bench, and hands me a box of tissues. A gift of grace.

Repeating my I will not cry mantra doesn’t seem to be working.  So, I look around the room, searching for something on which to focus.  Just above the door – off to the right – is a pipe with color samples tucked behind it.

Six shades of gray.  I keep thinking…how appropriate.  Six shades of gray in a courtroom.  The irony isn’t lost on me as I listen to his lawyer ask questions for formality’s sake.

There’s a moment in which I almost forget where I am.  It’s surreal.  Like…this isn’t happening…none of it has happened…I am about to wake up.  Because even though it’s what I want to happen – it’s what I know MUST happen – a divorce – I am still sad.

My turn comes.  His lawyer repeats the questions.  I answer.

I hereby declare this marriage dissolved.  {or some such statement}

That was that.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

Eleven minutes.

11

My divorce took 11 minutes.

That young gal on the porch?  Her life changed in less than 11 minutes.

Eleven minutes.

You have cancer.  You’re going to be a mom.  Will you marry me?  He’s gone.  She cheated. I don’t love you.

A wedding.  A meeting.  An audition.  A breakup. A diploma.  An abuse.  A murder.  An accident.  An award.

You’re invited (or you’re not).  Welcome to our church.  I am so sorry.  You’re fired.  You’re hired.  You made it!

A missed meal.  A false accusation.  An unfair assumption.

Eleven minutes.

Words of joy, words of affirmation.  Words of hate, words of dismissal.

All take less than a minute to utter, but stick in our hearts forever.

Eleven minutes can “make” or “break” us, huh?  Those minutes can change your life forever.

An altar and a courtroom – both 11 minutes.

A porch and a policeman – 11 minutes (or less).

Friend, today you’ll get to live 11 minutes about 130 times.  I know you have meals to fix, errands to run, conversations to have, meetings to attend, people to love.

And, 11 minutes will pass – and keep passing – without you even realizing it. But, as I passed a girl on a porch this morning, I felt God reminding me…

The next 11 minutes are different for everyone.  Some pain-filled and others joy-filled. Some life-changing and others nondescript.

I am driving to school and you’re heading to bed after the night shift.  I am saying hello, and you’re saying goodbye.  I am living in the States raising a family, and you’re across the globe raising a village.

All our minutes can look very different.

Yet.

When you happen upon the withdrawn, quiet gal or the loud, exuberant gal.  When you can’t stand all her drama or decide to embrace all her beauty.  When you think she’s broken (and don’t have time for it) or think she’s amazing.  When you roll your eyes or reach for a hug.

Remember…she’s just lived 11 minutes. In a divorce court.  In a happy marriage.  With the knowledge of an affair.  With the compliment of her friend.  After the phone call.  After the news.

Embrace her with grace.  With love and understanding. Ask, don’t assume.  Lean toward love and not “she’s less than.”

Most of all…

Consider the cross.

He knew you (and her) before you lived your first 11 minutes.  He knows each of the 11 minutes you’ve lived and has stood sovereign over all – as hard as that may be to swallow.

He’s in the courtroom and on the porch.

He’s holding you, interceding on your behalf to His Father.  Extending grace and judgment.  Love and mercy. Consequences and help.  Dancing or weeping alongside you.

So, whether your last minutes brought pain or progress – delight or devastation – look up.  That’s where our help and hope come from.

19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf…Hebrews 6:19-20

To the Mom Who… {We Are All Mothers}

Today I celebrate an amazing mom. I can’t tag her- she’s facebookless. I won’t get to see her because I am being a mom today.  But, she knows…she is an amazing woman, not because she gave birth, but because she loves unconditionally.  [And NO one loves better than my MOMMA!]

mom w kids

Because THAT’s what makes a mom – unconditionally loving another, not simply giving birth.

To the mom who stays at home day in and day out.  Changing diapers and speaking baby babble…homeschooling…happy day.  I know you often feel lonely, but you are loved. And when your teen stands in front of you, you’ll say, “I am thankful for those years.”

To the mom who can’t stay home.  The mom who gets up, gets them ready, rushes out the door each day – either by choice or necessity – happy day.  The single mom.  The mom who chooses to make more to give more.  The mom whose salary is needed.   The mom who juggles child rearing, money making, dinner cooking, house cleaning, and much more. You are loved.

To the barren mom.  The mom with the ovulation calendar. The one who has been artificially inseminated and invitro fertilized.  I can’t imagine how this day feels to you.  Pictures on Facebook, wanting to celebrate your own momma, but feeling the weight of never having bore a child.  As if you’ve failed. You’re not fully a woman; a piece of you is missing.

I know you.  My sister, Dawnna, dwelled in your shoes for over 15 years. Waiting, praying.  She prayed aloud in the room she thought would be a nursery. She cried and yelled “why” toward heaven. She gave up.  She mothered my children as if they were her own.

mom and dawn

And today?  She’s awaiting June 25 and Chloe Grace.  Not because she prayed hard or “deserves” a child, but because this is a sovereign God’s plan – for her.  She has said…we all deserve nothing; it’s only by His grace and mercy and that we “get” anything.

And barren one?  You are loved.

me praying

To the mom-to-be.  My sister.  Oh, my word I am soooo excited for you!  Whether you’ve tried for 15 years or for one day, your world is about to change.  And you may already feel loved, but know that when those little eyes look into yours and those little hands grasp yours and that first cry wells from her chest, you will know love.

dawn and casey

To the one whose mom is gone. I am so sorry.  It’s not a happy day, and I will not even pretend to know how you feel. I won’t offer empty words or ask you to put a smile on your face.  Ugh! But, friend, you are loved.  You really are. He loves you. I love you.  I pray you see some love today.

To the one who has no relationship with her mom.  I don’t know why. I don’t know what she did to you or what you did to her, but I am so sorry.  Life is messy. Unfair. Often ugly.  And I pray for your heart today.  The heart looking around, asking God, Why isn’t my mom like that? Why didn’t she love me as I needed to be loved?  Why did she give me up, abuse me, act indifferently?  Was I not good enough to have a mom like the others? 

Yes, you are good enough- more than “good” enough. You are loved.  I can’t even offer understanding, but my heart hurts for you today.  I pray His peace for you.

To the single gal who wants nothing more than to be a mom.  I know how much baby showers and Mother’s Days and weddings hurt your heart. You smile big.  You show up (mostly) with a gift and congratulations. But somewhere deep you wonder.  Why not? Why me?

I want to remind you:  you are loved by so many.  You ARE a mother.  To each child you love – teaching, caring, adopting, hugging, and encouraging.  The children of your heart – they’re yours too. In fact…

We are all mothers.  To be a mom is to love another unconditionally. To offer yourself sacrificially for another.

So, to each of you.  Whatever today “feels” like… I invite you to step beyond the feel to the One.  Your Creator. The one who chose you to be a daughter.  With your birth, he gave the title Mom to another.  Step toward Him because…

HE loves you. 

Maybe the world doesn’t love you. Maybe you don’t feel much love from your husband. Maybe you’re alone, feeling unloved.  Maybe today just stinks because you just got divorced and your own mom is hundreds of miles away (ahem;).

Today, choose to remember that your Father loves you. For He so loved you that he sent His only child – a son – to die a brutal death for you (John 3:16).  And he wants nothing more than to join the joy or fill the ache of your Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day, Sisters. I celebrate EACH and every one of you today.

(And to my precious kiddos…I love you!  I am honored to be your Mom!)

mom and owen     mom and han

I’d Still Have Said I Do {Even if Tomorrow is I Don’t}

The beginning and ending could not be more different.

In 1998 I walked through the doors of Poca United Methodist Church on my Daddy’s arm.  Excited.  Nervous.  Smiling from ear to ear. As I walked the aisle, familiar faces greeted each glance. Friends and family filling each pew.

WeddingHeader

My dress wasn’t expensive, but I loved it.  My fiancé, family, and friends  - all stood at the front, waiting, smiling. Flowers and tulle adorned the pews.

It was a dream day.

Did issues exist behind the smiles? Yes.  Red flags?  A few.  But, I felt God joining us together. Any obstacle we faced, we would face as one.

I have wondered often…if the next 15 years had flashed before me prior to the wedding, what would I have done?  Would I have walked away or said I do?

Walking away would have saved me much pain.  Right, divorced friend? Hurting friend?  Widowed friend?  Lonely friend? If we’d have known then what we know now, we could have avoided it all.

No marriage…no pain.

No commitment to love…no pain.

Right?  Wherever you sit today, if given the chance, would you have skipped the hard?  The humbling?  The heartache?  If my life had flashed before my eyes…

I’d have said I do anyway.

And I’d have changed my decisions and my actions and my reactions. I’d have uttered one (or 20)  less critical word(s) and worried less.  I’d have lived less hum drum and more happy day.

Would it have worked?  I have no idea.  Still…

I’d have said I do.

Because amidst the pain, I’d have spotted the joy.  The joy of having two beautiful children. The joy of loving. The joy of knowing Biblical marriage and redemption – even if it didn’t last.

That day, August 1, 1998, a picture-perfect Saturday was the beginning.

And, tomorrow, May 7, 2014, a non-descript Wednesday will be the ending.

I won’t walk into the courtroom on my Daddy’s arm. He’s gone now. There will be no smiling friends or family (although my momma has asked me 100 times if I need her to attend).  Only a judge will be waiting at the aisle’s end.

Questions will be asked and answers given. And in a matter of minutes – as quick as we said I do – we will say I don’t.  For better or for worse? No. In sickness and in health?  For richer or for poorer?  No and no.  All that we vowed to one another and to our Creator…gone.

Just gone.

We won’t walk out arm and arm. I’ll leave alone – him with his lawyer.  Separate cars.  Separate houses

It sucks, huh? (Really sucks.)

And I am scared.  Scared to live alone and raise kids alone. Scared that I can’t keep all the balls in the air. Even knowing the verses about fear – that I have not been given a spirit of fear but one of power and love (2 Timothy 1:7).  I know it…I recite it…I believe it.

But still.

Tomorrow (about 8:45 am) I ask you to pray. For both of us.  Regardless of who did what, it’s just sad.  The hope we had on that day in 1998 is gone, and lost hope is always sad.

Have you lost hope?  Do you look back, wishing for a do over? Would you have said I don’t instead of I do to marriage, to friendship, to a job, to loving, to payments, to God’s call, to  _________?  

Really? It’s ok to say yes or no.

But…

Don’t overlook the joy.

I’ve lost all hope for my marriage, but I’ve not lost all hope.  While I am sad today, I am still hoping. Hoping in Him for a new life – a life that He uses for His glory.

While that life seems far away – for me and maybe for you.  While we may feel sad and stuck. Let’s hope.  Let’s keep looking up and moving forward…it’s hard, but He’s near.

Returning to the Classroom {My New Job – MORE Writing!}

In 2011 I left my job as a high school English teacher to home school my children.  Well, on the surface that’s why I left.  But, it was a loaded decision.

I found my identity in teaching.  I was a good teacher, often complimented by students and parents alike.  I took great pride in my job and loved teaching each and every student.  But, when my family began to fall apart, I could not hold teaching and family together.  I tried.  The last few months of my teaching career were nothing short of embarrassing. I fell far short of my standard {which is…each child is someone’s daughter or son.  I will not waste that child’s time because that parent has entrusted him/her to me}.

I felt God calling me to stay home.  Away from teaching.  Away from outside distractions.  He was calling me to be a wife and mom.

So, I walked away.

And it was gut-wrenching.

And I let tons of people down. Parents, students, fellow teachers.

But, I could tell no one…either I do this or I {will probably} lose my family.  I did not reject teaching, I chose my family. A decision between my husband, God, and me.  I had no heart energy for defending my choice.

For the next two years I home schooled Hannah and Owen.  And while I missed teaching teenagers, those two years were a complete JOY.  I love{d} spending time with my children. They are a delight.

I rested, focused.

It was a good season…and then life turned again.

This time, our marriage never recovered.

So, as a single mom, I began looking for employment again…a bit discouraged.  With some dread.

But, God.

I am excited to return to a school I love this fall.  The high school Hannah will attend next year:  Parkersburg South High School.

Yay!

Best of all, I get to teach what I love:  Creative Writing.

creative_writing

I will also teach fine arts and {potentially} some other arts electives, but I am super excited about the opportunity to create my own writing curriculum and {prayerfully} build a program in which students engage fully in writing…to discover what they think, how they feel, where they have been, and where they are going.

Did I say “YAY!” yet?

Because…YAY!

Thanks, Father, for this gift.

{And may I still be calling this a “gift” this time next year ;) }

Looking for Something to Listen To? {Good Stuff}

Last Sunday I spent about five hours in the car alone. You should know: I HATE being alone. Yet, I know it’s essential sometimes. During this time, I listened to these three sermons and spent some time praying.  Whew. It was good time for my weary heart.

I hope these messages are good for your heart too. I agree wholeheartedly with two of them.  One gave me pause in a few places, but I question everything.  (So, that’s my disclaimer;)

Louie Giglio - Wounded: Stop and Stare- If you’re suffering or have ever suffered {all of us}, this message is for you.  Giglio suggests we focus on the cross, viewing our hurts in light of His love and sacrifice.  If you’re like me, you’re waiting and perhaps working toward healing.  But consider this:

“Our healing doesn’t begin when we make other people pay.  Our healing begins we realize we made Jesus pay.”

If you’re in the midst of a storm, please listen to this.  It’s heart changing.

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Andy Stanley- Putting Religion in Its Place - We want answers for life’s mysteries. Is there an afterlife? Will I see my mom again? What does the Bible say about divorce? Does the Bible say we have to give ten percent of our money to the church?

Religion tries to answer those questions. Religion is about answers, order, predictability. Unfortunately, life isn’t about any of those things. Life can be messy. Religion has a place in our lives, but Jesus taught us it’s not the first place. When religion takes first place, it begins flexing its muscles at the expense of mercy.

My favorite quotes from this message:

  • Jesus consistently prioritized people over his own religion – his own customs and his own traditions.
  • Jesus would disregard the law for the sake of someone in need.
  • God didn’t create people for the law. He created the law for people.
  • Don’t leverage the law of God to hurt the people of God.
  • When you don’t know what to do, do what love requires of you.
  • Jesus never let theology get in the way of ministry.  He never leveraged theology in order to mistreat a person or to say, “I’d really love to help you out, but this is what I believe.”
  • Religion allows others to feel less than.
  • You are more important to me than my views.

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Matt Chandler - Acts: The Second Wave - from the message: Paul begins to speak, and the Bible says Lydia’s eyes are opened. Her heart is opened, and she hears Paul, and she is baptized. What you have here is a wealthy businesswoman who is an extremely successful businesswoman who is moral and religious and at church but is not necessarily a follower of Christ. She is morally upright, and she is actively involved in church, but she has not laid her yes down and said, “I am a follower of Christ, and my life will be shaped by following Christ.”

Yet it’s in this space that Jesus steps in and saves. Such were some of us. When I say that, I don’t mean some of us were women with houses in London and Paris who were in the fashion industry and lived moral lives. I’m saying this was some of us in that we were religious and morally good according to the world’s standards (whatever those are). This is where Jesus found us. We were Christmas/Easter people. We were church folk. We would have defined ourselves as Christians, saw ourselves and, in comparison with others, we looked really good.

Then in the middle of that, Jesus saved us. He rescued us. There was a turn there from us no longer just being church folk…

Happy Easter!