On The Cover

The cover of my life displays three beautiful boys and a wonderful husband. But if you lift the thick, protective jacket, you will see intertwined in our storyline complexity, uncertainty and burdens.

We love to share with others our best moments, fun adventures, amazing trips and huge accomplishments, but behind the cover of life’s book – attractively decorated with bookmarks of success and ribbons of bliss – is the narrative called reality. Everyone has a unique one. The cover does not adequately display our life; it’s only our showcase. The cover is only what we want others to see.

Certainly, reality has countless moments of sweetness, joy and satisfaction, but it’s not full of fun adventures and stress-releasing vacations, as we like to portray. Often, it’s habitual, challenging, sorrowful or even ugly.

Because this is real life, folks.

I always wanted a family. Always. I could’ve gone to college or an art school, but I chose to work instead. I wanted nothing holding me back when the time came to start a family. And I wanted to devote myself fulltime to raising my children.

I was around children all my life so I was not naïve when I became a mother, however nothing could prepare me for my own. Continue reading “On The Cover”

Because Of – So That

Many years ago I sat in my lonely apartment in the lowest point in my life. It was the furthest I ever ran from God, I was heavily medicated for chronic pain, I barely had two pennies to rub together and I was living a life in sin. I had lost all hope. The only person I could see was me and the only problems that existed were mine.

How did I get here? What did I do wrong? I pleaded with God. You must just hate me. You just want to punish me.

More than once my dad discipled me over the phone. In so many words, he’d tell me to get over myself and stop the pity party. Of course, he was more gentle and loving, but it pierced my heart nonetheless. It was apparent I needed to stop dwelling inwardly and start reaching out.

He was right. I could not expect to see anything or anyone else if I was only looking at me. I needed to lift my eyes.

Psalm 121:1-3
I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made the heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.

When troubles, trials and pain overwhelm our lives, we tend to hurdle into self-blame bitterness. Because of me these trials have come, because of my sins, because of my lack of faith in God, because of my selfishness, because of my weaknesses and failures.

When a loved one is ripped from us we suppose God took them because of our lack of appreciation of our dear one,  or perhaps our own disobedience or lack of faith. When we lose a job we suppose God took it because of our ungratefulness or reckless finances. When we receive a chronic or incurable report at the doctors, we suppose God gave the illness because of our carelessness toward our health. When we fail to conceive a child, we assume it’s because of our unlikelihood to be good parents. When day after day we’re stuck in a meaningless job or a difficult living situation we assume it’s because of our worthless identity. When things don’t go our way we suppose God just doesn’t love us enough.

But we need to start changing our “because of” perspective to a “so that”. So that through these difficult circumstances, hardships, and heartbreaks, we depend not on ourselves (and our vast inabilities and inconsistencies), but solely on God, who is all we need.

The tragedies and hardships aren’t necessarily because of us, but God allows them so that He can use them in our lives; so that we will trust Him in a deeper and more meaningful way, so that others may see Christ in us, so that we can minister and support another in their hardship.

A because of mindset indicates an inward view. We are looking within for cause, purpose or excuse. But a so that mindset requires an outward, heavenly view; to look to God – the Creator of the universe, the One who makes the impossible possible, whom works and wills His perfect plan. We have each been given our own specific and one-size-does-not-fit-all set of trials. The exact ones which would bring about His perfect plan for our lives, bring us closer to Him, allow us to reach others for Christ and bring Him all the glory and honor.

God has His best interests in mind, not ours. And what He deems best is what’s best for us. It may not create circumstantial happiness, but it creates holiness and eternal joy.

James 1:2-4
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9
For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Think Before You Judge

Going anywhere with three boys aged between two and five years old is rarely simple or quick. In fact, some days if I’m not in the frame of mind to handle the challenge we simply stay home.

This morning, with no advanced warning, I ask the boys to get their shoes on. They eagerly obliged, which is normally their reaction. I had some errands to run, so not feeling up to the task was not an option.

At Walmart – as I routinely stroll with two carts through the store, pushing one and pulling the other behind – several people made comments. One remarked, “You won’t see men doing that!” Though I’m sure there have been plenty of fathers who have trudged through a store with an engine-caboose-cart-train hauling three boys. Another sought me out to comment that he just “had no words.” “I have so much respect for you.” Another woman commented, as I turned the corner with ease, “You are super-mom.” And she quickly added, “They are so well-behaved.” “Why do you think they are in the cart?” I replied with a sly smile.

It would seem easy to take these comments conceitedly, but I know the truth lurking behind our facade as we seem to perfectly and smoothly stroll through Walmart. No, they were taken as encouragement for this struggling mom. Most days I struggle. I struggle in the home; I struggle taking the boys out. This is not a plea for pity and it’s not because there aren’t any good moments or that I regret having them so closely aged (though God had more to do with that than us). But it is a continual struggle to keep a good attitude and patiently guide them, whether we’re in the boundaries of our home or out amongst the public eye.

I just pulled all three boys out of the carts right inside the exit and ask them to wait as I put the carts back. I turned around to grab the two hands which were beside me as my two-year-old took off out the door, running across the pedestrian walk. I yelled “Stop!” A horn honked. I immediately was upset. He did not have to slam his brakes; he had plenty of time to stop. I called out, “Why are you honking? You are supposed to stop for people crossing.” Continue reading “Think Before You Judge”

Blessings Abound

Are you willing to say, Lord, do what You will with my life?

We really have no choice anyhow, but there’s much less agony in our souls if we just submit to God’s will. It may even be a life of more blessing than despair.

But you may ask, have you seen the way of our world? Have you seen the wickedness in the hearts of the people around us? Have you seen the evil in my own heart?

Yes. But despite the grim future of our fallen world, despite the sin in our own hearts, look at it this way: life is completely full and overflowing of blessings. More blessings than blows. You may argue, but unfortunately, we have a keen awareness for spotting the negative. Everything – I mean everything – is a blessing if only we have the right mindset.

We have our futures all mapped out.  We all have preconceived expectations, risky or perhaps even legitimate goals, concrete plans, the perfectly suitable spouse, a retirement full of financial freedom and time for traveling, a direct path to success, wild and amazing accomplishments, initials before or after our names which publicly note our achievements and define our worth, and even daily hopes and desires.

But God holds our life’s blueprint.

What happens when our expectations aren’t met, our plans crumble, obstacles flood our path or tragedy and hardship invades our perfectly, beautiful life? See, the blessing isn’t necessarily in each circumstance or occasion as they quickly pass by and time forces them to fade.  When we set our hope and satisfaction in our temporary enjoyments and happiness, we are let down as soon as the emotional high subsides. Sorrow and agony seeks us as our expectations and hopes are dashed, but peace and joy is given by God even through the direst hardships. Instead, the true blessings are in our mind and heart. These blessings are received through a godly perspective, our spiritual growth, a heart that serves others and lastly, but most importantly, Christ as our single heart’s desire. These will last throughout our lifetime and will bring eternal reward.

Philippians 4:4 says Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. It does not say rejoice in the accomplishment of our goals or our met expectations nor the happiness borne of a blissful circumstance, but simply rejoice in the LORD. For our hope is in Him Who is faithful and steadfast and our rejoicing is always; despite the easy or difficult situations or even the daily hub-bub of our day.

If we allow our minds to see God through those raw times and even in the little routine things of life, we see the beautiful blessings hiding all through the shadows. God loves us beyond the here and now, beyond the tragedy, beyond the joy, beyond our failures, beyond our plans and desires. His love spanned from the before and into the forever. And so is His plan for each of our lives and it’s far better than we could ever imagine.

Psalm 139:16
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Proverbs 19:21
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

I appreciate the words to Laura Story’s song:

“Blessings”
(I did not include all the words.)

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise
 
Proverbs 27:1
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.

I don’t know what my future may hold, but I know Who holds the future. –Ralph Abernathy

The Same Battle

Everyone has struggles – annoying, chronic, acute or fatal – but we all fight the same bottom-line battle. The opponent in our fighting ring may look different, but the way we fight and win the match is the identical.

My walk may be cluttered with grief, a struggle with time management, an unpleasant attitude, struggling to raise three little blondies (to name a few), and your walk may be cluttered with the loss of another kind, or a marriage struggle, or a financial or family situation. But the battle, the lesson, the answer is the same for all of us.

Continue reading “The Same Battle”

The Undefined Answer

The end of this past week was amazing, but full of emotions, worry and uncertainty.

Four days ago marked the first anniversary since my dad’s death. We spent the day with my mom and my sister and three nephews, who were visiting from out of the country. There was sad reminiscing of the events a year ago, but it was also filled with smiles and laughter and wonderful memories. God’s grace held us and grace carried us throughout the day.

Thank you for the outpouring of prayers and encouragement! It was certainly a clear demonstration of God’s love and grace.

I often look back wondering if my dad was aware he was nearing the end; if somehow he knew he’d soon be at heaven’s gate, soon to see Jesus face-to-face. A friend shared the words to this hymn:

But just think of stepping on shore and finding it heaven;
Of touching a hand and finding it God’s;
Of breathing new air and finding it celestial;
Of waking up in glory and finding it home! (Finally Home)

Can you imagine?! As your eyes open to glory, your mouth struggling to find words to describe the astounding beauty they behold and the only response you can muster is a silent awe. And then you glance up into the radiant, majestic face of your beloved Master as He says, “Welcome home, child.” Of course, I’m totally using human expressions, but it gives great comfort to know believers do have an incredibly amazing future ahead of us and to our loved ones who share our faith!

Three days ago, I had a hysteroscopy and biopsy of my uterus.  Or so I was scheduled. Continue reading “The Undefined Answer”

One Year

When you hear “one year anniversary” it typically signifies a positive accomplishment and therefore causes a celebratory feeling. But for some of us, it brings only heartache as we are forced to relive certain events we’d rather have never experienced. And it further confirms there was an end to a love we never wanted to be without.

Exactly one year ago today – April 20, 2016 – we watched my dad struggle to take his last breaths until there were no more. God called him home.

The movie reel in my head plays freshly as if it happened just yesterday: the messy emotions, the finality, the extreme sadness of his departure, the darkness of death, the disbelief and shock as if I were walking in a dream world, the immediate perspective change. I hesitated to leave the hospital, as if I was leaving him behind. It was very unsettling, as my heart and mind argued that he was truly gone. I remember pumping gas right after leaving the hospital and thinking how meaningless it felt in comparison to the death I just witnessed. I don’t have time for this, I thought. I remember feeling the urgency to just run, to escape, to hide. Somewhere, anywhere. Perhaps to a place no one knew me. I remember feeling marked, as if I carried a sign that read “I just lost my dad” around my neck. And yet still I wanted to tell someone, anyone who might care.

But still, amidst all these emotions, there was peace. I had no uncertainty my dad had stepped into the presence of Jesus. Heaven never felt more real. In fact, more than ever I wanted to be there too. (A week or so before his death, I told him I was a little jealous that he may see Jesus soon. He smiled and said, “I bet.”)

God’s grace, it never depleted. It picked me up and carried me over the next few days, weeks and months. It was also seen through the love of others who poured out their kindness and generosity on our family.

On March 22nd (just a few weeks ago) I wrote, “If you were to ask me what my current feelings are at one year, I would have to say: sadness (always!) with tiny splashes of anger and acceptance here and there. Within that array of emotions there is no longer room for shock.  I suppose my mind has finally accepted the reality of his death, but my heart isn’t quite sure.” However, I cannot say I’m in that place now. Tomorrow I’m having a biopsy of my uterus to see if it’s cancerous and this has caused a re-experiencing of sorts and a complete overload of emotions. To survive this overload, I’ve put myself into a protective state – not allowing myself to think or feel too deeply, at least until I find out the results in a few weeks. On the surface, I may appear fine, but I need to hold it together because if I expose any emotions then all of me will fall apart.

On January 13, 2016 – five weeks before my dad was taken to the emergency room – I wrote this in my journal: Continue reading “One Year”