Lent 2017 {Preparing for Easter}

I’ve missed writing.

But, life in the new year began on a dead run  – and stayed that way.

Now, it’s time to slow down…

And although I don’t need a reason or excuse to hop off the busy bandwagon and into a slow, small space, I have one: Lent.

lent 2017

While my church doesn’t formally observe this season, I still do. And you can too. (Beginning tomorrow!)

It’s a time to take away; to fast. To humbly, quietly, and intentionally look toward the cross. To recenter and refocus. To sit in the stillness and ponder his promises.

It’s beautiful – like a long, deep breath then a restful, slow exhale.

So, for the next 40 days, I have chosen a “fast,” a book, an app, and an Audible book. Here’s a few resources if you’re interested in observing this season.

My book: Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey of Refinement by Kris Camealy Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 7.33.19 PM

What if for Lent this year, you gave up something other than chocolate or TV.? What if the thing God wants us to give up costs more than what we think we can bear? Writing as a friend and encourager, Kris offers hope and encouragement for the journey of moving from broken in sin (Holey) to learning to surrender (Wholly) to claiming the gift of grace through Christ (Holy).

My app: You are Mine: A Lenten Study of Isaiah by She Reads Truth (I paid $2.99 for the app, but you can also receive free emails.)

It is impossible to overstate our need for a Savior. During this Lent study, we will read the book of Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet who, more than any other, describes the coming of Christ in great detail. During the final week of Lent, we will read passages from the Gospels that correspond to the events of Holy Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 7.40.14 PMWeek, the final days of Christ’s journey to the cross. Isaiah’s message of repentance and restoration illustrates the salvation we so desperately need, and the Holy Week scriptures turn our eyes to the salvation already given us in the completed work of Christ. Join us as we observe Lent together.

My Audible book (for the car and mornings): From the Grave by A.W. Tozer

From the Grave, a 40-day Lent devotional, reflects on this critical spiritual dynamic. It features A. W. Tozer’s best insights on faith, repentance, suffering, and redemption. Gleaned from transcribed sermons, editorials, and published books, each moving reflection has been carefully selected for the season of Lent. It addresses themes like: Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. Mortification of the flesh. Self-denial and cross-bearing. New life in Christ. Christian obedience and resurrection hope. Each day features a brief portion of Scripture for Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 7.39.27 PMmeditation followed by a reflection from Tozer. Together the entries take you on a journey from the garden to the grave to light of day—the “pain-wracked path” to life.

Some other options I love…

Preparing for Easter by C.S. Lewis

Preparing for Easter is a concise, handy companion for the faithful of all Christian traditions and the curious to help them deepen their knowledge and consideration of this holy season—a time of reflection as we consider Jesus’s sacrifice and his joyous rise from the dead. Carefully curated, each selection in Preparing for Easter draws on a major theme in Lewis’s writings on the Christian life, as well as others that consider why we can have confident faith in what Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 7.46.09 PMhappened on the cross.

A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent by Walter Brueggemann

Lent recalls times of wilderness and wandering, from newly freed Hebrew slaves in exile to Jesus temptation in the desert. God has always called people out of their safe, walled cities into uncomfortable places, revealing paths they would never have chosen. Despite our culture of self-indulgence, we too are called to walk an alternative path one of humility, justice, and peace. Walter Brueggemann s thought-provoking reflections for the season of Lent invite us to consider the challenging, beautiful life that comes with walking the way of grace.

Eastertide: Prayers for Lent Through Easter from the Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle

“A wise rabbi once told me that it is not how many prayers we don’t say that matters to God, but rather how many we do. That is important to all of us, but especially for beginners. If this is your first attempt to return to this most ancient of Christian practices, it is wise to remember that you are entering into a discipline and, like all disciplines, this one sits hard Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 7.43.53 PMand heavy upon one at times. There are hours you will miss and/or some that you can’t even begin to figure out how to observe. That is all right, for either the joy will carry you into greater joy and transmute the discipline into privilege, or you will find yourself simply the wiser and the richer for such experience as you have had. As the rabbi said, that is what matters ultimately.” In her acclaimed trilogy, The Divine Hours, Phyllis Tickle introduced modern Christians to the time-honored practice of “praying the hours.” In this exquisite new volume, she provides a vibrant program of prayer dedicated to the anticipation of Christ’s resurrection.

I hope you’ll set aside the next 40 days to praise and ponder; wander and wonder; live and love; share and sacrifice; fast and forgive.  And I’d love to know how you’re choosing to observe Lent! Please share in the comments.

I plan to share some quotes and verses throughout my Lenten journey on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. If you have a great quote or verse, please share it. I’d love to pass it on too!

Leaving a Legacy {Remembering My Dad}

January 10.

The day I said goodbye to my dad for the last time, holding his hand, whispering “it’s ok, Dad, go on home.”

The day my Hannah will link arms with her team and dance during halftime of the #9 West Virginia University  vs. #1 Baylor basketball game. And as I spend this day remembering dad and traveling with Hannah, I am reminded that legacy – that which comes after us and from us –  isn’t about money. Or awards. Or grand scale, world-changing words.

Legacy is about how you live each day in your home, at your workplace, in your corner of the world.

Legacy is about the moments.

My Dad’s legacy…a legacy of moments.

My dad with his sisters and mom

My dad with his sisters and mom

My mom and dad

My mom and dad

My dad in 1956

My dad in 1956

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Miss Mountaineer and Mountaineer Parents of the Year

Screen shot 2012-01-09 at 11.12.05 PMCamping, swimming, twirling. Disciplining, loving, providing. Stitching us up. Taking others in. Day in. Day out. And now that he’s gone? His two daughters have two daughters and a son. None are famous or non profit founders. No gold medals. No accolades or awards to wow the masses.

But one is performing this evening in a place dad loved – for his favorite team.  I can see him sitting in the stands, popcorn and Pepsi in hand, watching his legacy, his granddaughter. I can see him cheering on the Mountaineers (while yelling at the referees!)

While he won’t be there, three parts of his legacy will be. And wherever we go, we are his daughters, his grandchildren.  We want to represent dad well…isn’t that the best way to honor his memory? To carry on his name? By living and loving well?

Out of love for Dad, for Poppy, we want to be people who love, who give. Just like him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And being those who love doesn’t happen in front of audiences. It rarely happens in the big or on Facebook. Love happens in the small. In the living rooms. On car rides. Beside hospital beds. In classroom and in cubicles.

So, today, friends, in honor of my Daddy – and our Father in Heaven-  I pray you love those who live under your roof and serve alongside you each day – even the unlovable ones. I pray you care for the widow and the orphan. I pray you cheer on your daughters and converse with your sons. I pray you desire to leave a REAL legacy of love…a legacy of moments.

And if you’re mourning alongside me today, I pray you see how your life carries your lost loved ones on…carry them well.

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As I wrote this post, I hummed this song. It’s my anthem; my prayer today. To be a child of mercy and grace who blessed your name unapologetically...Just want to hear, well done, good and faithful one.

Legacy by Nicole Nordemon

I don’t mind if you’ve got something nice to say about me

And I enjoy an accolade like the rest

And you can take my picture and hang it in a gallery

Of all the Who’s Who’s and So-and-So’s

That used to be the best at such-and-such

It wouldn’t matter much

I won’t lie, it feels all right to see your name in lights

We all need an “atta-boy” or “atta-girl”

But in the end I’d like to hang my hat on more besides

The temporary trappings of this world

I want to leave a legacy

How will they remember me?

Did I choose to love?

Did I point to You enough

To make a mark on things

I want to leave an offering

A child of mercy and grace

Who blessed Your name unapologetically

And leave that kind of legacy

I don’t have to look too far or too long a while

To make a lengthy list of all that I enjoy

It’s an accumulating trinket and a treasure pile

Where moth and rust, thieves and such

Will soon enough destroy…

Not well-traveled, not well-read

Not well-to-do or well-bred

Just want to hear instead

Well done, good and faithful one

Live Given {2017 One Word} {A Giveaway!}

When the new year approaches, most of us can’t help ourselves: we reflect on what has been and look forward to what might be. Me included. I love setting up my planner and writing in a new journal. 

But, this year’s been different. Little did I know, God began moving me toward the new year in August…

I am driving as my friend checks her email…

“I’ve not been reading Ann Voskamp’s blog lately, but listen to the one I just opened,” she says.

The summer I turned 40 — I felt a whole new kind of broken. Turns out what can happen when you’re halfway through your life, you wonder if you’ve found a truly meaningful way through your life?

What can happen is you would give nearly everything for more time just to get more right, less wrong. You can change — change into someone who’s begun embracing a love so large it broke her heart all over again in a thousand aching places, a woman who surprises you by longing to meet the world’s suffering with her own, because she knows that wounds can heal wounds.  

You can find out your heart is exploding and love and suffering are kin in ways we may not want to admit.

Honestly, what happened is — I didn’t quite know the way to put all these broken pieces back into place. And maybe that was the point?

Maybe — maybe instead of trying to put all the broken pieces of your life together again — maybe there’s deeper peace in reaching out to give those broken pieces away?

That’s what I had done. Instead of trying to put the pieces of my brokenness back together again, I began to give the pieces of my broken heart away though I didn’t know how, and I didn’t often want to even—didn’t even know what it truly meant. And I got it all wrong—in countless ways.

As I sat in the summer of age 40, these were my questions too. I’d like more time to get less wrong and more right. I mourn the relationships left in shambles. And in the midst of this, I find myself feeling just Ann described: completely broken for this world, longing to meet the world’s suffering with my own.

I wouldn’t read Ann’s book until October, but these words lingered…the question she asks became the one I ask:

What do you do with this one broken heart? This one broken life?

Because I did NOT want another program, diet plan, or Bible study. Not another self-help, how-to-get-better book. Instead of feeling anxious about what to do or follow next, I wanted peace…Jesus.

It sounds so simple. If I were reading this, I might say, “Oh goodness, the Jesus card.” {Eye roll.}

But, what God began in my heart with an August blog post, He continued in so many ways. A retreat in August when God spoke Isaiah 58 to me. When He showed me that silence and Sabbath are gifts. A prayer time in Honduras when a missionary humbly shared the futility of striving and list making and worrying. Want more Jesus, she said. Just follow after Him; He takes care of the rest.

And then the book from the blog post arrives on my doorstep in early October: The Broken Way. Page after page – highlighted, underlined, noted, and cross referenced with His word. A message resonating so deeply in my heart that I can barely speak of it…

For God so loves that He gave…Is there any word more power than giving? Thanksgiving. Forgiving. Care-giving. Life-giving. Everything that matters in living comes down to giving. (p. 67)

Our loves are formed by our daily habits. Our loves are formed by our daily liturgies. We are made into what we make habits…The self is ultimately never really sacrificed in giving, but our real self is ultimately found. In the sacrificial giving of ourselves, we give ourselves back our real selves, the self we were made to be – blessed to bless, given to givenness, loved to love…

Jesus said, ‘Whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

Jesus risked himself on me. How can I not risk my life on you? You may not love me back. You may humble me, humiliate me, reject me, shatter my heart, and drive the shards into my soul – but this is not the part that matters…What matters most is not if our love makes other people change, but that in loving, we change. What matters is that in the sacrificing to love someone, we become more like Someone…

I am what I love and I will love like Jesus, because of Jesus, through the strength of Jesus. I will love when I’m not loved back. I will love when I’m hurt and disappointed and betrayed and inconvenienced and rejected. I simply will love, no expectations, no conditions, no demands. Love is not always agreement with someone, but it always sacrifice for someone…

Love defies logic and keeps on loving when it makes no sense because that is that love does.

Giving away the heart – heals the heart. (pgs. 118-120)

As I read these words, chapter after chapter, one phrase becomes God’s answer to every prayer I pray: Live Given.

Losing weight, saving money, reconciling relationships, extending forgiveness, embracing silence and Sabbath, serving His people…the answer to each prayer? Live Given.

Give away the extra food and money saved. Give away gifts and money each month for His glory. Give away your comfort; be inconvenienced; placed others before self; give away time on self for time with Me. Give away your abilities and talents and time to serve others.

Live a life given away for Me.

So, I wrote my kiddos a Christmas poem and a letter. From Haiti to Honduras to Cambodia to Syria; to our church and community; to one another –  it’s our year to Live Given.

live-given

And when I doubt and think, “what do I have to give? As a single mom with a tight budget and busy schedule, what can I “afford” to give away? How will this work?”

God sends a reminder through my pastor’s wife through one verse: The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing. Psalm 23:1

Sarah, you lack nothing. In me, you already have the abundance necessary to live given.

So, I want to begin 2017 with giving! Thanks to Blog About, I have a copy of The Broken Way and The Broken Way Bible study and DVD to give away! You can enter by commenting on this blog, commenting on the Facebook post, or sharing this post on Facebook. I’d love to hear your “theme” or “one word” for 2017!

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Happy New Year!


Thanks to Stephanie Alton from Blog About and Tara Brown from Givingtons for coordinating the purchase of 144 The Broken Way books for missionaries living and serving in Honduras. Without you, we would have never been able to deliver those books in time.

 

Our Christmas Poem {Live Given 2017}

Live Given

Christmas Poem 2016

My poem this year is different

Perhaps not as funny or bright,

Because I know in our hearts

we’d like to see wrongs made right.

We see Aleppo and refugees

Looking for room at the inn,

But no one even offers a stable,

And it frustrates us to no end.

How can we help? What can we do?

We ask ourselves everyday.

But then we make no real move

To seek Him, sacrifice, and pray.

So may this year be a bit different,

My hope is we move into action!

We will seek to love and give

To every group and faction

I know it’s easier to stay at home

And not work toward justice for others,

But Jesus didn’t call us to comfort

He called us to love our brother

What will this look like?  How will we afford it?

These answers I do not know.

But I do know when we ask Jesus

The answers He will surely show.

We don’t have to do it on our own-

Jesus has never worked that way.

We have to seek his strength and guidance

As we go throughout each day.

His word says to find your life you’ll lose it,

To seek and you will find.

To knock and the door will open to you-

That it’s always good to be kind.

We’ll call this living given –

Living life focused less on me.

And I bet at the end of this year

Our hearts will feel more free.

So as we go about our days

And live life following Him,

May we always be most aware

Of how we can cut and trim.

Our time, our cents, our talents

All can be used for His glory;

I hope the ways in which we live given

Become the central part of our story.

I think we are up to this mighty call

Or God would not lay it on my heart;

And perhaps today is the day

That we commit to this with a start

On the tree you’ll find Daniella-

A picture for each of you.

And our 2017 of living given

Will begin with giving her new-

A new chance at life in Honduras

With education, food, and clothes.

We will be her biggest fans and sponsors,

Loving her from her head to her toes.

In my heart I know one thing for sure

That gifts are nice and fun;

But the greatest gift I can give you both

Is the gift of God’s only son.

And Jesus commands his disciples

In three very specific ways:

To deny self, take up our cross, and follow

For every single one of our days.

So here goes this journey, little ones!

Disciples we will be

Denying, taking up, and following

All to show our love and give glory to Thee.

Remember the Signs {even at Christmas}

But, first, remember, remember, remember…” C.S. Lewis

I open the book and see this quote. I have seen it before.

But as Christmas draws near, remembering grows harder. Sometimes my memories of Christmas before divorce and before my dad’s death bring a smile. More often they bring tears. Sometimes I just want life as it used to be with little kiddos who wake up early on Christmas morning to rip open presents and a  Dad who gathers wrapping paper and stuffs it into trash bags before we can even get our box open. (I swear he threw away gifts accidentally!)

When the remembering causes an ache, why bother?

I write this question and the Spirit whispers…because of the signs.

The signs. I know what this is. It’s the rest of this remember, remember, remember quote.

In the Chronicles of Narnia (The Silver Chair), Jill is off to rescue the Prince, but before she descends off the mountain and into the valley, Aslan tells her to remember…

But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.

remember-the-signs

When you rise up and when you lie down, say the signs to yourself.

Why bother?

Because here on the mountain we can all see so clearly: the air is clear, our minds are clear. We feel close to Him. We hear, see, and feel Him ever so clearly as our eyes look upon the expanse of His kingdom. Our hearts overflow, and we know He is a good, good Father.

And we must remember the signs – these times on the mountain.

Why bother?

Because when we descend to the valley, the air thickens – the pressure, stress, inadequacy, and hurt rise to the surface as the fog envelopes us, making us self-focused.  We struggle to see further, to find the signs, to hear His voice, to feel his presence.  If we don’t remember the signs, we pay attention only to the suffering and brokenness instead of the Savior.

So, I remember, remember, remember the signs. Every promise from His word. Every adventure with my dad. Every moment with my children.  Because when I follow the signs – His signs – they all point to a Savior. I see His hand in every hurt…every happiness. And I am grateful for every single moment.

PS I LOVE CHRISTMAS! And I LOVE GIFT GIVING!  So, next week I’ll be giving two gifts on the blog thanks to the lovely ladies at Blog About: a copy of The Broken Way  and a copy of The Broken Way study guide and DVD! See you next week!

Waiting for Christmas {When the World Feels Weighty}

Twinkling lights and colorful packages.  Family gatherings and field trips with friends. Carols and baking.  Giving and loving.  

My favorite time of year:  Christmas.  

And perhaps I anticipate Christmas this year more than any other because the world feels heavy: Elections and refugees. Water pipeline protests and police shootings. I can’t open my email, sign on to social media, or turn toward the TV without feeling the weight of wilderness wandering…a hopelessness as I struggle to trust Him. As I forget his faithfulness.  

When do we speak and when should we remain silent? How do we pray? Where do we fit in this divisive culture? My heart is broken for this world, and I want to move into the darkness instead of sitting paralyzed by it.

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So. when the light of Christmas begins to twinkle, I feel the hope and the promise. He is still there. He’s still coming just as He said. He was faithful in the wilderness and will be faithful today.

Perhaps that’s why I love the Advent season so very much. It gives me permission to pause and ponder. To wait with wonder. It keeps gift giving from overtaking me. Advent reminds me there’s joy and peace in the waiting.  There’s a Savior who was born and will come again. Hallelujah. 

If you’re not familiar with Advent…

“The Advent season lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas…Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year…the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people…” (More about Advent here.)

That’s the official “what is Advent” explanation, but my personal definition is…a time to slow down and focus on Jesus during a season that’s known for busy and buying.  A time to look at what He has done, is doing, and will do according to His word.

So, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite ways to embrace, observe, and celebrate Advent.

A few months ago I got an early copy of Come, Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting – a beautiful book by my friend, Kris Camealy.  This book will point you again and again to Jesus: Come, Lord Jesus is a companion in the waiting season of Advent. It’s a quiet invitation to sit with the weight of waiting, and recount the faithfulness of God, to trace the hope of Christmas, and prepare the way for Jesus’ coming into the world, into our own hearts, into our everyday, ordinary time. With its offering of a daily reading, a reflection, prayer and one, or two reflective questions for you to contemplate, this book is a welcome “friend” to readers during the Advent, or any other season of waiting.

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I also LOVE Kari Denker’s Journal Doodle Bible Studies, and she has a new Advent study!  You can check out her studies at Stone Soup for Five, but I am excited to do Kari’s The Promises Advent Study with my kiddos this year…

Start this Christmas season by looking back to the long awaited Messiah through a 24 day Advent study about Old Testament prophecy and their fulfillment in Christ in the New Testament. Each day has a short Bible study, journaling ideas, Christmas challenge ideas, and more than 50 coloring pages to go along with each day’s study. Dig in, de-stress, and enjoy this Christmas season in a whole new way with Journal and Doodle Bible Studies!

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If you want a paperback of the Promises Advent study, you’ll find it on Amazon, but if you want to download and print the study, use this link to the Stone Soup site. (I thought this download and print option might be great for my friends in Honduras!)

I also ordered Light Upon Light  compiled by Sarah Arthur. I’ve not read a page of it yet, but it appealed to my liturgical and literary sides. I simply love liturgy (raised a Methodist) and my English teacher heart loves that this book includes poems by Donne and Rossetti as well as pieces by Dickens and Eliot – woohoo! So, this is probably for the nerds among us. But, I plan to pick and choose from it throughout the season. The description…

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This collection contains daily and weekly inspirational readings to help the reader prayerfully experience God through the liturgical seasons of winter. Well-loved classics by Andersen, Dickens, and Eliot join contemporary works by Frederick Buechner and Gary Schmidt. Poems by Donne, Herbert, and Rossetti are paired with newer voices: Scott Cairns, Benjamín Alire Sáenz, Susanna Childress, and Amit Majmudar. Readers are invited to experience Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany in its raw strangeness, stripped of sentiment, and to turn toward Emmanuel.

If you’re one who colors (not me:), Hannah and I loved this book when she spotted it at Lifeway: All is Bright: A Devotional Journey to Color Your Way to Christmas. I LOVE all things Nancy Guthrie, and the few pages I read were great. Nancy’s solid Biblical teaching inspires me each time I study with one of her guides.

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And I will ALWAYS recommend both of Ann Voskamp’s Advent books: The Greatest GiftVoskamp reaches back into the pages of the Old Testament to explore the lineage of Jesus — the greatest gift — through the majestic advent tradition of “The Jesse Tree… retracing the epic pageantry of mankind, from Adam to the Messiah, with each day’s profound reading pointing to the coming promise of Christ, so that come Christmas morning you find that the season hasn’t blurred past you but your heart’s fully unwrapped the greatest gift you’ve always yearned for.

And Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of ChristmasEach day, families can read the provided Scripture passage (in connection with the original book), engage with a specially written devotion to help children of all ages understand the Advent theme for the day, and participate in suggested activities to apply the theme. 

My kids and I have had a Jesse for a few years, and although this book is for younger children, my big kiddos still love and learn from it.

And if you’re not into books and prefer something simpler, I LOVE (I know, lots of LOVE in this post;) She Reads Truth. The IF: Gathering and She Reads are celebrating Advent together by reading Christ was Born for This.

Beginning Sunday, 11/27, we’ll spend the Advent season exploring the Old Testament roles of prophet, priest, and king, and the way in which Christ came to perfectly fill each of them, as well as a week in Luke’s beloved narrative of Christ’s birth.

You can get this study FREE in your inbox – sign up at shereadstruth.com – or you can purchase it for $1.99 after downloading the She Read Truth app.  

I’d love to hear all about your Advent plans!  Please share with me what you’re reading, doing, giving, baking – whatever. I love new ideas and old traditions. 

Celebrating Another Year of Owen

“He’s not breathing”.

My mom shouts as she changes his diaper. I panic in slow motion as the words sink in: He’s not breathing.

Before I get to his room, he coughs. He’s fine except for a purple tinge circling his lips.

The doctor hospitalizes him for 24 hours, telling us there’s a small hole in his heart that will heal in time; it does.

But after RSV and jaundice, we are tired of trips to the hospital. It seems he can’t eat anything. Breastfeeding is an epic fail.  He feels fragile. I hover, checking him many times in the night. It seems he will never be well.

Hour after hour I pray and wonder: Will this season ever pass, Lord? Will I have a healthy boy? Will he ever give up his sippy cup? Pacifier? Blankies? Teddy bear? When in the world will he be potty trained? Will he ever color since he hates the feel of crayon papers?

I sit for hours praying him past the difficulty; praying his life away.  

I hear this familiar lament often when I am with the moms of littles. I wish he’d walk or talk. I wish she’d eat with a spoon. Others look on and judge the parenting: should she still have a pacifier? Shouldn’t he be potty trained? How long will they carry that bottle? He doesn’t know how to ride a bike? Oh, he can’t read at 4? If he doesn’t get on a good travel soccer team soon, he will miss the boat; that opportunity will pass him by.

Sisters, don’t worry about the pacifier or travel soccer. Let her start dance classes when she’s ready to twirl around the room. If he prefers legos to letters, then build away.

Because they grow up.

When you’re bundling your baby in winter or teetering with a toddler in spring, you don’t see it coming. And people like me say…oh, it goes by so fast. And you secretly think, oh, I wish this season would pass. But, I pray you hear: it goes by so fast.

The baby who overcame a stop breathing incident, jaundice, and sensory issues woke this morning as a 14-year-old young man.

He doesn’t have a sippy cup; he’s a great reader. After years of travel soccer, he’s settled on tennis and bowling – although he might try swimming in high school next year. He might roll his eyes, but no temper tantrums remain. He no longer needs me to dress him or clean his room.

He loves storytelling and conversation. He loves Student Council and volunteers for just about anything. His heart breaks when we speak of the Syrian refugee crisis. After we listened to a podcast series on Syria, Owen prayed they’d be allowed to go home.

Much to my dismay, he likes country music and doesn’t know many hymns (oh, how this inner Methodist cringed while explaining that we used to sing from books called hymnals, not screens and ProPresenter!)

On Friday, I met his girlfriend and her mom at the mall, then left him there with her for dinner and a movie. It felt a little like the end of the world.

He does dishes, laundry, and takes out trash. He loves his family deeply, always considering everyone’s feelings. He’s an amazing cousin to Chloe; her face lights up and she extends her arms as soon as Owen enters a room.

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He tender-heartedly loves. Always giving the benefit of the doubt. Always giving hugs and “I love yous.”

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So, see? They grow up. Quickly. They become young men (and women) with their own personalities, likes, and dislikes. Quirks and preferences.

And as I ponder the parenting of this 14-year-old and his 16-year-old sister I am sure of one thing: Raising an athlete or dancer should never be the priority – even for a season. Raising straight A students makes me proud, but it’s not “the thing.” Having popular kids who win awards and appear as angels to those looking on is not relevant.

The goal? The only REAL goal? To love them unconditionally and show them Jesus. In my coming and my going, speak of Jesus.

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Of all the great things I could share about and pray for Owen on his birthday, my prayer is simple – that he continues to heed the words given to the Israelites…Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. Commit to His commands, Owen. And as your mom, I pray we continue to speak often of Jesus and his love in our home. When we sit and when we rise. That we never avoid the hard conversation or the “I just don’t understands.”

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

And whether or not you’re ever state champion this or that. Honor cord wearer or award winner, know this: your first and foremost a Jesus follower. And when you focus on the cross, the rest will take care of itself.

Happy 14th Birthday, Owen! I love you deeply, and I am so proud to parent you every day. You’re a gift!

 

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Finding Him in Jeremie, Haiti {Day 6}

Today I heard of 128 killed in Jeremie, Haiti, by Hurricane Matthew.

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My sister’s church is deeply invested there. They’ve built schools and planted gardens. They bought 55 goats at Christmas. Some have adopted children from Jeremie.

I sent this to my sister after seeing it  on Facebook:

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She says…

They lost their gardens and livestock. And it’s possible their fresh water well was contaminated by seawater. Hard to understand.

I see Jesus in Dawnna and her church. The ways in which they’ve gone into all the world to love and share Jesus through education and resources.  I see her church family sharing news of Jeremie; their hearts breaking for what breaks the heart of God. The Jesus in my sister and her church is evident as they pray and plan to keep loving the people of Jeremie – all the while wondering…who is gone? Can those who remain survive?

Friends, if I am honest, I am having trouble seeing Jesus in “the people are alive…they survived. But soon, they may starve. They’re cutoff.”

I know He’s there and I pray the survivors can feel him. But, like my sister, I just don’t understand. And I know His ways are not my ways and He allows and the world is broken. I know all of that. I promise.

But, all I can do is watch video and hear stories while clutching a tissue. I will never understand why I sit comfortably in sizable brick home with a refrigerator full of food while someone born in another place fights for life in the midst of wind and water while wondering if they’ll starve to death.

My heart has no idea what to do with that today. But, I am asking you, friends, to pray. There’s power in prayer.  Keep asking God for more mercy.  Ask Him to hold those in Jeremie, Haiti tight. Intercede for those who remain in Matthew’s path.

Lord, we love and trust you. We may not understand, but we don’t have to. We simply keep loving and giving.

Finding Him in Memories of My Dad {Day 4}

A glance at my phone about 4:30 this morning wasn’t even necessary.  I don’t need Apple to tell me it’s October 4. It’s a day I can feel coming in the deepest part of my heart.

My Dad’s birthday.

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He would have been 67, but on January 10, 2008, God thought Dad’s time on earth had ended. And as I held tightly to his hand and whispered “it’s ok to go, Dad,” he took one last breath.

I disagreed with God.

I had a 7 and 5 year old who adored their Poppy  – the Poppy who played with toys and hunted eggs and gave piggy back rides. How could God take my Daddy? Their Poppy? My Momma’s husband? How could this be? My parents had worked so very hard all their lives. These were supposed to be the good years – the “well done” restful years of retirement. Not goodbye.

So every October 4 and January 10, God and I have the same conversation. Me telling Him how I wish it could have been – how I wish it could be for me, my sister, our kiddos, and my Momma. Of course, I never win.  I know God listens and sees each tear. But, Dad still isn’t here. And I still don’t understand.

I think my sister described this struggle best…

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 67. My first thoughts are…he would be retired…he would love Chloe (her daughter/my niece who is 2)…he’d be proud of Hannah and Owen (my kiddos)…he’d still be following Poca football (the high school my entire family attended)…we’ve been cheated by not having him here for the past 8 years.

However, I trust in a sovereign God that works all things for the good of my family because we love Him. While today is no easier than any other day since my Dad went home to Heaven, I’m so thankful knowing he’s there and I’ll be with him again someday. Happy birthday, Dad. I love you and I miss you so much.

And in the comments of her post…

Pud was a great family man.  From my sister’s friend.

Happy Heavenly Birthday to the best dad I have ever known. From a high school friend

I often think of the great times we had together watching Poca football or WVU or Dallas after the game on Friday night and making candy.  From a dear friend of my parents

Love love loved your daddy! From a high school friend

So many loved and respected my Dad.

And this is where I see Jesus today. In memories of my Dad. Jesus knew my Dad’s days were numbered, so we didn’t waste time on accumulating wealth or stuff; we didn’t waste time on what others thought or on trying to move up the social ladder. My dad focused on his family. And because he considered Husband, Dad, and Poppy to be his greatest achievements in life, we are left with an abundance of sweet (and many hilarious) memories.

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Remembering who he was and how he loved sustains us until one day we see him again.

Happy Birthday, Dad.  We talk of you often and remember you always. We wish we could celebrate alongside you today, but instead we will celebrate in our hearts, remembering the dad who followed us to every event, who was the Mountaineer Parent of the Year, who twirled a baton and fixed fried bologna. Who took us camping and made us clean our rooms. Who taught us to drive and how to love. Who took in every person that ever needed a place to lay his/her head -even if we didn’t have room.  We didn’t know it, but we were watching and gathering every moment into our hearts. We’ll hold them tightly until forever comes.

Finding Him in Youth Sports {Day 3}

He comes down the stairs clad in his tennis sweatshirt and warm-up pants. Uniform on. Hair gelled. Teeth brushed. His official “tennis” shoes tied tightly.  It’s championship day, and his seed looks as best it can.

I fry his egg and make his sandwich. Fill his water bottle and place his favorites in a cooler.  We are ready for a day of tennis.

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I watch him sit quietly at the table. We engage in small talk, but I think he’s nervous. He’s a serious child who wants to please and do well. Don’t we all?

As his momma, I want him to win. Not so I can post pictures on Facebook and take credit for his superior tennis skills (I have zero athletic ability), but because I love this boy and want him to be confident and successful.

I say a prayer as I follow him out the door. Lord, be near today.

We arrive at the courts, sing the National Anthem, and head to Court 4. 

Again, silent prayers for calm nerves and accurate shots. I know, you may say, it’s middle school tennis. That’s a bit shallow. To which I’d say: I am his MOMMA. Momma’s cheer on and pray for their littles regardless of the situation and score. 

Yet, as I say a prayer and take a deep breath on his behalf, I am aware of those around me. A long time friend pulls for his son on my left. Another friend coaches the boy playing my son. I see my son’s opponent’s mom sitting to my far right, folding her hands and staring intently at the courts.  I notice her stand a bit later.

I watch a dad hug his kid and give him a tickle after a tough loss. I listen to the parents of the bottom #8 seed stand behind me and say in a most encouraging tone…oh man, thought he had that one. Good try!  That was a tough one.  (Too many sweet moments to mention!)

As I survey the 10 courts with parents and grandparents and coaches lining the fences, I am reminded that so many kids are well-loved and supported.  God also reminds me: every person here is pulling for someone. Many prayers are going up for calm nerves and accurate shots. Captain Obvious, huh?

But do we always remember this? That we’re all in this together?

While I fully realize and say often “this is middle school tennis and no one will remember in two years who won these matches,” something inside us wants our people to come out on top. And that’s ok, normal, well and good – especially in middle school tennis (as long as we act civil and kind;)

But, what about in life? After the days of youth sports pass, is that always our goal? To come out on top at the expense of another? Does someone have to lose for me to win? Does some one have to be less than for me to be more?

Because that’s where I saw and heard Jesus today. My son doesn’t have to win anything or be great at anything to be loved by God. I don’t have to focus on making Sarah great again. My kiddos don’t need the highest grades or best serve or front row spot.  That’s not the goal of this life. The goal of this life is to love God and love others.  Sure we run the race, persevere, learn, and come out better than we were. But ultimately, we have to stay focused on the real race. The real reason we walk this earth: To make Jesus famous. And when we are focused on loving our neighbors, not besting them, we see His kingdom come to earth as it is in Heaven.