Strengthened through Struggle

 

weightliftingI hate it when my kids hurt!

All moms hate it when their kids hurt. And the worst hurts are the ones we can do nothing about. All moms know the deep soul ache of watching a child suffer, desperately wishing we could take the pain on ourselves for them.

In the midst of painful storms, difficult hurts and big disappointments with our children, we find comfort in knowing “this happened for a reason.” There is hope in knowing there must be some purpose for the trials God allows in our lives. But what is the reason? What is that purpose? Especially when what comes is so not what we expected and so terribly difficult that, as Paul says, “we despair even of life itself.” (2 Corinthians 1:8)

“No pain, no gain” is what athletes are told. To get faster and stronger, athletes train through pain, working their muscles to fatigue and even soreness. The not-so-technical explanation for this is that as muscles are strained with greater intensity, small tears are made in the muscle fibers. As those fibers heal, the muscle tissue grows stronger and able to work at higher levels. Over time, as muscles are worked, they grow bigger and stronger, able to do more work than before.

The scriptures tell us that this same principle is true with our hearts- with spiritual training. No pain, no gain. God uses trials to shape and sharpen us. And like a potter working his clay on the potter’s wheel, the pushing and prodding needed to transform the clod of clay into a beautiful vessel does not feel very good to the clay. So trials don’t feel very good to us, but some of the pain is soothed knowing there is a greater reason and purpose for the pain.

It is helpful to cast our struggling feelings against a backdrop of what we already know to be true. I find three things help me hold on through the hard.

  1. He is working all things together FOR US.

And we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28

We don’t need to see the good or know what it will be to trust God’s promise that that is what He is doing. He promises to work all things together- for those who love Him- for His purposes. As a weaver is working in different colors, textures and patterns, at times individual rows look quite ugly or out-of-place. But in the completed tapestry, all work together to produce a beautiful piece of art. We cannot see the completed work. We are only looking at this moment. But we can look at the Weaver and trust that He knows what He is doing.

  1. He is working IN US to make us more like His Son.

For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. Romans 8:28

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:8

 The work God is doing in us – and in our children – is molding us into the image of His Son. And He promises to complete that work. He wants us to be like Christ – wise and strong, compassionate and overflowing with unconditional love.

  1. He is readying to work THROUGH US to bring others to His grace.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Compassion and the God of all Comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 The struggles we face are not just for our good, but also for the good of those we will better serve in the future. We will greater offer grace and compassion when we have experienced them so greatly. Our hearts are softened to others’ struggles, and we more readily give comfort when we’ve been comforted. It may be years before we see this come to pass, but God will surprise us at the heart connections we will make with people facing similar trials.

God, show your mighty hand working for us, in us and through us. Even more, we ask you to show our children your mighty hand working for them, in them and through them in a way they can understand. May our hearts be strengthened through the struggles. Show your grace in the hard place. Write our story – and their story – for your glory.

 

 

 

Get Back Up On Your Horse

BarrelRacing

The barrel racing competition at the Red Ryder Round-Up Fourth of July Rodeo was thrilling! The beautiful young ladies took command of their faithful horses and guided them smoothly and quickly through the course. Their great challenge on this day was foot-deep mud from the afternoon monsoons. Fighting against the sloshing and slipping of the mud, they still made it through. (You should have seen the bull riders fall into this stuff!) The junior competition followed the adults, and – wow! – these little girls were incredible! Fearless and fast, their times came in in the same range as the adults. The youngest rider was 4 years old!

Brianna was 9 years old. Her horse flew around the barrels and then finished lightning fast. But then suddenly, the front legs of her speeding horse buckled under in the mud as they tried to stop short of the arena gate. Brianna went flying off over the front of their horse. Then a split second later, the entire body of that giant horse flipped up and over itself, looking to us like it would land upside down right on top of the girl. The stunned audience couldn’t process what was happening, but thankfully, as helped rushed to the scene, we could tell that the horse had just missed her.

Both Brianna and the horse were helped back to their feet. And before we could start a supportive (and relieved) cheer, a cowboy – I wonder if it was her daddy – swooped that little girl back up and set her up on top of that horse again! Then came the big cheer as we watched the limping horse walk away with his brave rider back in her place.

The image of that little girl being lifted back up on her horse will be in my mind a long time, even more so then the horse’s body flipping up and over itself.

Everyone agreed that was the best thing they could have done – for Brianna and for the horse. Whereas I’m the mom who would’ve wanted to just hug her and hold her and share a good cry, I appreciate now why getting back up on the horse was the right thing to do. A quick hug is of course warranted, but the wise parent knows to help a hurting child face their fears right away- before they escalate and settle in. Get back up on your horse!

My daughter is on the high school diving team. She was working on a difficult dive when she over-rotated and hit the water very hard face first and hurt her head. The coach helped her up out of the pool, then helped her walk over to the diving board and told her to do the dive again. Then once she had faced that fear and done it again, they tended to her needs. I understand better now why that was important.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.  Isaiah 40:30-31

Our children will stumble and fall, and we as parents can learn to help them face their fears and keep pressing on. We can err on the side of too much hugging and holding, which hinders their ability to overcome the fear and grow stronger through it. And we can err on the side of shame and blame, expressing our disappointment and lowering our expectations for their future. Or, with God’s help, we can give a quick hug of assurance, and help them push through the fears showing them that we believe in them. They need to know we have their best interest in mind, and they need to know without a doubt we are on their side!

Get back up on your horse- I am here for you! You can do this! Keep going!

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:13-14

So then I think about my own falls. And I think I need to learn this lesson for myself as well. How do I need to get back up on my horse- face my fears- and keep riding?

The image of the man lifting that little girl back up on the horse will remind me that my Heavenly Father is right there waiting to do the same for me. He knows what’s best for me and I can face my fears in the strength He provides. My flesh is quick to shame and blame myself, wallowing in the pain of the failure, throwing myself a pity party.

I am quick to get stuck down in the mud, when what I need is to lift my eyes to the One who is strong enough and wise enough to get me back up on my horse.

Get back up on your horse- He is here for you! He will give you strength to do this! Keep going!

I sought the LORD and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  Psalm 34:4-5

Lord, help us look to you to get back up on the horse you have given us to ride today. Help us press on to what you have ahead, not stuck in what we’ve left behind. Give us courage to ride- and in that be glorified.

 

 

 

 

If the LORD had not been on our side

WomanPraising

If the LORD had not been on our side- let Israel say- If the LORD had not been on our side.  Psalm 124:1-2

 Pause with me for a moment and consider what might have been, what could have happened, where we might have ended up- had God not been on our side. I can think about each member of our family- and imagine a completely different outcome in several of our most difficult situations- if the LORD had not been on our side.

It’s a little scary- well, actually, downright frightening- to imagine the pain and loss and tragedy the enemy may have wreaked in our lives- or we may have wreaked in our lives ourselves.

There are several scenarios the Psalmist considers:

“When men attacked us” (v.2)- The attacks of men take many forms- criticism, rejection, slander, or “anger flaring against us” (v. 3). Knowing the LORD is on our side, we are able to stand strong on truth, trusting that it is not men who define us but the God who created the universe. We are able to “take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the enemy.” (Ephesians 6:16). And ultimately, we are able to find healing from the hurt, and freedom found in forgiveness. The attacks of men leave deep wounds- but God protects us from hopelessness and provides for healing and even reconciliation.

“The flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away” (v. 4-5)- The storms of this fallen world beat against us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet, how often can we proclaim, “this could have been so much worse”? We see God sparing us from total ruin and disaster, even in the hardest circumstances.

Paul writes of these near-death trials:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Corinthians 4:8-9

 We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  2 Corinthians 1:8-9

 Continuing in Psalm 124, a third scenario is described like this:

“Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.” (v. 6-7)- A predator has captured it’s prey, ready to devour it. But the snare is broken, and the prey escapes. Our predator is Satan himself, and just when He was set to devour us, His snare was broken.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?  1 Corinthians 15:55

 Praise the LORD!  The death and resurrection of the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ Himself, broke the snare of Satan’s grasp on humanity. He died and rose again, breaking the power of sin and death- setting us free to live in all the fullness of the abundant life He gives.

If the LORD had not been on my side, I would still be striving hard after the approval of man. I would be struggling to find significance and meaning in this world. I would be seeking after my own glory- trampling on others all along the way. And I truly don’t know what I would have done in the countless tragedies that we have faced. I fear I would be lost in the hopelessness and despair, totally unaware that God is working all things for my good.

If the LORD had not been on my side, I don’t think I would have many friends, and I know I would make a pretty awful wife and mother. And maybe more than anything, I would be stuck in the shallow perspective of living only for this world, unable to see the greater blessings of an eternal outlook.

Praise the LORD! God Himself has been on our side. Let us all resound as we consider the what-might-have-been’s. Let us cling to Him and trust in Him and seek His glory in all we do.

What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? …Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  Romans 8:31-37

Only a Mom

mothersdayflowers

On most days my first born little girl woke up happy. We would hear her in her crib just talking to herself and singing away, waiting for one of us to get up and start her day. But I remember one morning when I heard a different sound.  It wasn’t all the way to a cry, but it was definitely a sound of distress. As I approached the door, the smell announced that something was definitely wrong. And when I opened the door, there stood my fussing child absolutely covered in vomit- along with the crib, the wall, and the surrounding carpet. I’ll never forget her pitiful little voice telling me, “Mama, I had big burp!”

I will also never forget the great motherhood revelation I had that morning. As I looked on the mess, while taking in the awful smell, I had two thoughts. First, “Where’s my mom when I need her?” My mother can take on anything, and has rescued me from many of the messes I’ve faced in life. But she lives a thousand miles away. So my next thought was, “Do you realize there is no one else on the planet who can clean up this mess?” I could hear a voice prodding me on with the thought that only a mom could handle this mess, and I was the only mom this poor child had. I had to clean it up!

The revelation that morning has stuck with me- the great privilege and challenge that there is no one else on the planet who can be the mother of my children. That realization should guide my priorities and greatly impact how I choose to spend my days. Motherhood is one of my primary roles- a role that only I can play. Along with motherhood of course is my marriage, and also my other family relationships. Only I can be a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter. Secondary roles are those responsibilities that I have been called to, like my role with my job or at my church. It is an important role, but it is a role that another person could serve. (Someone else served it before me, and someone else will serve it after me). Keeping primary roles primary, and secondary roles secondary is the great challenge for all moms.

There has been a gradual, but major shift in our culture in the last 50 years devaluing the role of motherhood. Perhaps through the rise of feminism (when women demanded equality with men), or the legalizing of abortion (when motherhood became optional), motherhood no longer was held in such high regard. While progress has brought many more opportunities for women to be successful outside of the home, being successful inside the home has become progressively less important. I know this shift has impacted me, and my prayer is that I can strive to honor God first in my home, and second in the outside-of-home places He’s called me to serve. I’m the only mom my kiddos have, and that role has great value.

Motherhood is challenging, rewarding, confusing, fun and exhausting.

Motherhood is a great joy, yet brings great sorrows.

Motherhood is an adventure, always bringing something new.

Motherhood is a gift.

As we honor mothers this week, I am thankful for the woman who has served that primary role in my life. Only my mom has been there in my darkest moments and in my greatest joys. Only my mom has a sixth sense that tells her exactly when to call in a time of crisis. Only my mom would greatly love my husband and children, and encourage me to be the strong, loving mom for them that she has been to me.

May we greater value our roles as moms. May we see motherhood as the high calling which it is, with eternal rewards that far outweigh the messes we must clean along the way.  May we raise our little girls to look forward to and anticipate their roles as moms.  And may we pause at each day’s end to hear the voice, “Well done, good and faithful mom.”

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive your reward. You are serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Colossians. 3:23-24

 

Crucified with Christ

EmptyCross

Good Friday.

As a teen, I remember coming to the realization of the gravity, and really the gruesomeness, of the crucifixion of Christ and wondering why we call it Good Friday. It certainly didn’t seem good that Jesus was put to death on a cruel cross. It didn’t seem good that the One who had the week before paraded triumphantly through a crowd shouting “Hosanna!” was now laid bare to suffer before a crowd hurling insults. And it didn’t seem good that God’s One and Only Son bore the fullness of our sin and was separated from His Father in death.

Now later, I see the goodness- the very good-ness- of our Savior’s death. It is good that He would choose to take on our sin and once for all pay its penalty. It is good that the sacrifice of this sinless Lamb of God brought us righteousness and reconciliation with God.

God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Colossians 1:19-20

Because He died for our sins, we are counted sinless before God- and that is good. It pleases God.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  Matthew 16:24-25

Yes Jesus died for us, but He also asks us to follow Him in that dying. He invites us to die with Him- not in a literal dying as He did on the cross (though some will be called to pay the ultimate price for their faith), but He calls us to die to our sinful nature.

Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Galatians 5:24

Followers of Jesus crucify their sinful natures by (1) denying themselves, (2) taking up their cross, and (3) following Christ.

Denying myself- Clearly we sinners most naturally think of ourselves first. We like the world to revolve around me, myself, and I. Yet we are called to deny ourselves- for the sake of Christ. What I have found to be true through many different challenging circumstances, is that the Lord will set before me ways to learn to deny myself. Or as I call them, “flesh killers.” When I was planning a special “me” day shopping and getting a manicure, and my child turned up sick, He gracefully forced me to deny myself. When I thought I had a new direction, and my husband and friends agreed it was not right, I had to “kill the flesh” again.

While daily we face short-term interruptions and inconveniences that cause us to conform our will to His, many of us face “long-term flesh killers.” A chronic illness for parent or child, a child whose physical and emotional and mental needs are ongoing and long-term, a husband who is absent- either literally or figuratively. These extreme challenges force us to daily deny ourselves as they whittle away- sometimes gash away- the flesh within. I wonder if we can learn to welcome them more as we see their benefit in this war against self-centered sin.

Taking up my cross- As the cross was where our Lord suffered, so our cross represents the sufferings of this life that we are called upon to carry. He did not promise that we would be free from suffering, but promised rather to be with us through all the suffering that comes.

All in this world suffer much- in many different ways. What Christ promises, if we will deny ourselves, is the peace and the power to persevere. And in that we experience the joy of “sharing in His sufferings” (Philippians 2:10).

We can all think back through the most difficult seasons of our lives- and there we see God’s nearness was most evident. He is here in the hard. Though it would have been hard to say it then, I would not have traded those hard days, for in them I grew closer and more dependent on God. Lord, give us the faith to ask you- “Jesus bring the rain.”

Following Christ- Our Lord calls us to follow Him in daily Christ-likeness- in the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and faithfulness of His Spirit. (Galatians 5:22). His life as told in the gospels clearly displays this godly example. We are told in Romans 8:29, that we have been “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” The beauty of sanctification is that Chris is making us more like Himself, and giving us a heart more ready to follow Him.

Denying myself. Taking up my cross. Following Christ. Here’s where I want the fullness of this Good Friday to settle into my mind and heart.

As we honor the crucifixion of Christ, may we join Him in the crucifixion of ourselves.

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.   Galatians 2:20

 

Hope Surrenders to God’s Whisper

Stillplace

Over the past two years, we have looked at hope- special hope- as it holds as an anchor for moms of children with many unique needs. We have seen that hope trusts and hope rejoices. And we have seen that hope surrenders- to God’s will, His way and His word. Now here we look at how hope allows us to surrender to His whisper. 

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:21

 You’ve heard that voice before. In a moment of fear or uncertainty, you heard it. Or in chaos or confusion, it’s been there. In the loud, it has reached you. God’s whisper.

His Spirit comes near in our times of need and gently instructs us on how we should go. He speaks quietly, but clearly, to our souls, and we can choose to listen and obey, or go our own way.  With our hope secure in God, we can surrender to His whisper, even when it seems to go directly against our gut feeling.

The LORD said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  1 Kings 19:11-12

 We sometimes look for God to come in the loud thunder of the wind, earthquake, or fire. Send me a sign, Lord! Yet, often He comes in a gentle whisper, speaking softly to our heart and mind to assure us of His presence and direct us in His peace.

Can we listen for that whisper- even in the loud we often find ourselves in? Crying kids, fighting kids, even just laughing kids, can be very loud- bringing on “mommy” headaches that can be excruciating. We know we have to keep our cool even the crazy, or else we will all lose it, right?

Susanna Wesley was the mother of famous preacher John Wesley in the late 1600s and early 1700s. She birthed 19 children of her own, though 9 of them died in childhood. She was responsible for managing the household and all of the children’s education. Talk about crazy!

Susanna is known for her very strong faith and commitment to God. In their small and crowded  home, she would make time to sit in her rocking chair and lift up her apron to cover her face. This was her “prayer closet” time, and all of the children knew to leave her alone for those important moments.

How can we follow this example? We can be committed to our quiet time with God, even in the chaos. We can intentionally listen for God’s whisper even in the noise. That may happen for just a moment in the bathroom (yes, you have the right to go to the bathroom by yourself!), in the shower or in your car once the kids are dropped off (you will be amazed at what you will hear if you’ll turn off the radio!).

My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  John 11:27

 Jesus is the Good Shepherd, laying down His life to protect and provide for His sheep. We can hear His voice if we’ll listen above the noise of the other sheep. We can know His voice, as it is very different from the voice of the world or of Satan who wants to steal, kill and destroy.  He knows us, and we can follow Him.

Susanna Wesley was a woman full of wisdom, and thankfully, much of it has been passed down through the generations. One quote of hers that I find especially encouraging is this one:

“I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified.”

What little space has he placed me in? What small voice is He speaking to me with? Have I tried to make life more grandiose, glamorous and complicated? Have I surrendered to the whisper of His will, His Word, and His ways?

When I surrender, there is serenity.

When I pause, there is peace.

When I believe, I am blessed.

When I stop wrestling, I can rest.

 

Calf Muscles and a Reminder of Who’s in Charge

growing-boy2

Last night my husband was out of town, and my son asked if he could “have a sleepover.” At 5 foot, 5 inches tall and fourteen years old, he still loves sleeping in our bed when one of us is away. I love that!  Around 3:00am, I got up to let the dog out, and as I crawled back in bed, there was a very long, bony leg that had stretched over on to my side of the bed. That thing was hard! And big! As I grabbed ahold of his calf muscle to move the leg back to his side, I had a flashback that brought me to tears.

See, when Zach was about two weeks old, we flew to a family reunion. On that trip, I carried him in my front pack baby carrier (which, by the way, we had not had for baby daughters 1 and 2, but my goodness, did it come in handy for baby #3!). I very clearly remember wrapping my thumb and first finger around his teeny, tiny little calf muscle. My finger went around his leg and nearly as tight as it could get back to my thumb to encircle the calf. I asked God in that moment to help me always remember how little that leg was- and how little my son had begun.

The Lord was faithful to answer that prayer last night as my same thumb and first finger can no longer come even close to touching around that calf muscle. It is bigger and stronger, and runs faster and jumps higher.

And I have had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Now, of course, we have provided our son with food, clothing and shelter needed to grow. But I have not put any effort or resource into growing that calf muscle. God has just done it!

And isn’t it by God’s grace that we have provided the food, clothing and shelter anyway?

It is God who works in you to will and act according to His good pleasure. Philippians 2:19

 God is the Creator- and He is still faithfully working to shape my son into the man He made Him to be. He is working in him to grow him physically and spiritually and intellectually and emotionally. GOD is doing that, not me.

It is God who works in my son to will and act according to His good pleasure.

We as moms are pretty good “control freaks.” We are good at working hard to keep everything in control. We work to control our family’s schedule, our family’s meals, our family’s behavior and our family’s appearance. But we are also pretty good at forgetting who’s really in charge.

Last night as I held that giant leg, once so tiny in my fingers, I was reminded of who’s really in charge. God created my son just as he was born- fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139: 13-14). And God is still the One working in Him to grow Him exactly how He has ordained. He invites me to be a part of this process, but I need to remember that this child is not mine to grow. He is God’s.

Of course, not one of my children is perfect- from a human perspective. Each has their unique challenges and weaknesses, strengths and gifts. Their uniqueness-es serve only to more magnificently glorify the great creative Creator. My power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). They also serve as reminders of who is in control- and who is not.

How can we better remember that God is in charge- working His will in our children’s lives?

Reflect on the past and the progress that has been made. Think back on where you were a year ago, five years ago, or where you were when your child was born. How has he or she made progress- even if only small steps- in the last week, month and year? Look at old pictures and reminisce together. Most importantly, look for God’s touch, His presence, along this journey- and give Him great thanks and praise!

Ponder the possibilities and dream big for what is to come. You know better than anyone else what all is packed inside each of your children. Imagine where God is headed with that! Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Glance ahead to the beautiful unfolding of all God brought this chosen child here to be and do.

And pause to be thankful and content for what is. Still your heart from all the rush and stress daily living can often bring, and be thankful. Make a list of things you’re thankful for today- even the littlest things. Rejoice always, pray continuously, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:16-18).

I’m so thankful God is in charge- and I am not. There is a deep peace that comes in the surrendering of my way, my control, my plan, to His. His is far better than I can imagine. He has wisdom and power and resources beyond all human knowing. And He is working all on our behalf- for our good and for His glory.

Take this scripture and fill in the name of your child- and remember God is working in him or her. (You can also try plugging in the name of your husband, or your frustrating coworker or family member, or anyone whom you need to remember is in God’s hand too).

It is God who works in ______to will and act according to His good purposes. Philippians 2:19

You Came!

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Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come!  Luke 1:68

He didn’t leave us here alone. He came!

A long-awaited father returns from war. A surprise guest makes it in for a special performance. A far-away grandparent travels in for a holiday. You came!

When we were scheduled to deliver our first-born daughter, we had this romantic idea that we wanted to do the whole birthing process by ourselves. Our mothers had both come in town, but we had politely asked them to stay home until the baby had come and we were ready for guests.

We did pretty well- for a while. But then the baby went into to distress, and I was really struggling to push through to deliver her. The doctor told us we would need to do an emergency C-section. As a first-time mom, I was scared to death! I remember tears streaming down my cheeks as I laid there with all the tubes and monitors on me, contractions still coming, completely frightened. (I’m guessing my husband was as afraid as I was in that moment too). Then, by God’s moving alone (since this was before cell phones), the door to our room swung open, and my mom walked in. She and my mother-in-law had decided to sneak on down to the hospital against our wishes, but what a saving grace they were for both of us.

I remember the rush of emotions when my mom appeared. All my fears released, and so did a greater flow of tears. I was relieved that we didn’t have to do this alone. I was comforted by her presence. Oh, thank God, you came!

The angel told Joseph to name the son Mary would bear Jesus, “because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). He came as a Savior- on a rescue mission to save the people He loved from the pain and fear of their sins. He knew they couldn’t do it on their own- as much as they may have thought they could. For years, the people had tried. Then, “when the fullness of time appeared,” He came!

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus proclaimed prophecy from Isaiah, which put forth the true purpose of His coming.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Luke 4:18-19

He came to preach good news to the poor. Good news brings hope. And hope pulls the hurting forward one small step at a time. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2).

He came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. Imagine the cold, dark, lonely, harsh conditions of an ancient prison. Imagine many that exist today, where captives are held by religious and political conflict. And then imagine the rush of a rescue mission making it in to set the captive free. Scripture tells us we were enslaved to our sin, held captive by our shame and fears, our pride and our hurts. But then our Rescuer, the promised Redeemer, made it in to set us free. He came!

He came to proclaim recovery of sight for the blind. I’ve been blessed with good vision, but my middle-aged eyes are beginning to fail at close distances- and it is really quite frustrating. I can’t imagine the frustrations and fears of total blindness. As my reading glasses bring clarity, surely the recovery of sight for the blind brings immeasurable healing and freedom and direction. We were blind in our sin- and He came with recovery. I believe some of the best clarity He brings is a greater glimpse of all that He is as Redeemer, and Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

He came to release the oppressed. One of the dictionary definitions of “oppressed” is “to make someone feel sad or worried for a long period of time.” God’s people had surely been sad and worried for the long period of time when He was silent. It’s hard to hold on to hope when the waiting goes on and on, without an end in sight. But Jesus came to release that waiting and renew the hope. The souls of the released leap into their restored freedom.

The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in His wings, and you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.  Malachi 4:2

He came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. The angel and the great company of the heavenly host proclaimed to the shepherds,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men, on whom His favor rests.  Luke 2:14

As I taught first graders this week, the word “favor” makes me think of “favorite.” The favor of God rests on us- His favorite children- because His Son has come to make us His own. He is due all the glory in heaven- and we are blessed with His peace here on earth. We are no longer under the curse of our sin, no longer slaves to our former selves, we have been set free in the year of the Lord’s favor.

This Christmas, may we be more aware of the lonely and dark, hurting place we were before Christ came into our lives. Not to further add shame but to greater realize the thrill of His coming.

I was alone. I was lost. I was restless to find peace on my own.

I was poor, blind and captive.  But then you came!

Oh, thank God, you came!

Not What I Expected

pregnant-woman-outsideParenting has not been what I expected.

I expected that I would roll smoothly into this new role as a mother, and begin to flourish in my new life of caring for this precious newborn child. What I didn’t expect was to learn how self-centered I was, and to become aware of how much of my motivation was to make me, myself and I look good. I had to completely switch gears, and turn my focus onto this little one who needed constant care. She began to draw me away from thinking only of myself, and that has been harder on some days than on others.

I expected to be able to implement ideas from our multiple positive parenting classes and produce perfectly-behaved children. I naively expected these discipline formulas to work flawlessly as the children began to assert their own wills contrary to mine. What I didn’t expect is that each personality and each behavior challenge and each situation would be different, and would require a different set of words and actions in response from me. What I didn’t expect is that some times that would go well, and other times it would be a complete disaster. I had to learn to give my children and myself a lot more grace to grow, and I had to rely more fully on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (My favorite parenting verse is John 14:26, “The Holy Spirit will teach you all things.)

I expected to bring a child into this world who would be healthy physically. What I didn’t expect is that she would be critically-ill and need major surgery just 8 days in. Or that her younger sister would have ongoing health and growth challenges. Or that their younger brother would need two sets of stitches in one week when he was only 2 years old. Or that their younger sister would need glasses. (And of course this list goes on…). No, I didn’t expect all the physical and mental health challenges we have faced. I didn’t anticipate how thankful we would be for health insurance. And as I pause to reflect on this, I guess I was not accounting for the fact that these four that I’ve been entrusted with were born into the same broken world that I was. And as much as I hate watching them hurt or struggle and face these difficulties in their lives, I know as God has been with me, so will He be with them to be the peace in the midst of the hard. As He is my Healer and Helper, I pray He will continue to be that even more for my children.

I expected that my husband, my parents, my friends and neighbors would always be there to support me on my motherhood journey, and that we would all be like-minded and share the same priorities. Since “it takes a village,” I looked forward to teaming up in harmony with the other adults in our world to raise these kids up right. What I didn’t expect was that we wouldn’t always agree on what is best for them, and things that are really important to me may not always be important to others. I can now testify to how much I’ve learned from others’ perspective, and also to how many times I’ve had to press in to hear God’s voice among the others to be faithful to what He has called me to do for my family.

And I also didn’t expect how much of this journey I would walk alone. Many times in raising my children I am the only adult around. And in those times I have to dig deeper to parent in a way that pleases God alone- my audience of One. Yes, wiping dirty bottoms, cleaning up vomit, caring for a sleepless child in the middle of the night, are all times my motivation and integrity are tested. Who will I be when no one is watching me? But, oh yes, there is someone watching me. God Himself is there- but also each of the four sets of eyes in my care are watching me too.

The expectations I had at the front end of motherhood were limited at best, and at times just flat out “off.” While some of those expectations were broken into disappointment, still many others have been surpassed with the surprise blessings that have come along the way. I didn’t expect that watching a child sleep (as newborns, and even now as teenagers) would bring such peace to my heart. I didn’t expect the full joy that would come wearing preschooler-made Mother’s Day jewelry. I didn’t expect the deep warmth of a child’s hug (and sometimes a slobbery kiss!). And I didn’t expect the relief and gratitude that comes with a doctor’s “We’re making progress.”

Watching each one grow, at their own pace, in their own strengths and challenges, physically and emotionally and spiritually, has been a great adventure. And true, it hasn’t been what I expected.

It has been so much more.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.  2 Corinthians 2:9

Thankful for Dads

DadandLori1

I woke up this morning 750 miles away from my Dad. For the last 20 years, I have worked to celebrate him on Father’s Day, usually from my far away adult world, while also celebrating the great dad that my husband is to our family. The more years that pass, the more I realize what a gift I have in my dad. I realize that his faithfulness, kindness and unconditional love are rare. And I realize that his character has helped me better understand the character of God.

I’m thankful for years of special memories- hiking the Colorado mountains, fishing New Mexico streams, cross-country camper trips to my Grammy’s house, and always seeing him in the stands for my volleyball games. My dad was present, and very active in our lives. (And he still is). He took time to pass along wisdom and life tips to my sister and me. (And he still does). He always knew what to do in a crisis, and he always told too many “punny” jokes. For all he gave, and all he shared, and all he taught, I am very thankful.

Years ago I was in a Bible Study that looked at the influence our earthly fathers have on our understanding of our Heavenly Father. We filled out a chart with lots of characteristics, both positive and negative, and checked those that described our earthly dad. Then we turned the page and did the same for how we view God. And then on the third page, we laid the two sets of answers on top of each other. It was so insightful to see how similar the two lists were. People who had angry fathers tended to see God as angry, or people who had strong fathers tended to see God as strong, etc.

I am thankful for my own father, who wasn’t perfect, but had many God-like characteristics for me to experience, and for so many fathers I see that are living out the love, strength, wisdom and closeness of God for their families.

Thankful for dads who play. Dads are usually better than moms at play time- or at least that has been my experience. Dads communicate a lot of love through teasing and wrestling and joking and giggling. Moms tend to be more preoccupied with the “serious” things and taking care of all the details for daily living. Playing dads teach us to be happy and joyful, and not take life or ourselves too seriously.

May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.  Psalm 68:3

Thankful for dads who pray. Dads who set an example and lead out spiritually for their families teach more by their actions, than by their wise words. Guiding their children with wisdom they have sought from God, and extending God-like compassion and grace, set a life-long impression of their Heavenly Father.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

Thankful for dads who stay. Several years ago I helped our church start an outreach for parents of children with special needs. I was expecting moms and dads to come, and share an encouraging Bible Study, and support one another on this hard journey. What I didn’t expect though, was that the parents who came would be primarily single mothers. Single moms raising one or more children with special needs on their own. Yes, I had read of the high divorce rates of these families, but I didn’t want to believe dads could actually leave their wives and children with so many challenges. Yet it happens more often than not.

Two things I would like to say in light of this. First, if you are a dad who is staying, thank you. And if you are a wife of a dad who is staying, be thankful. Be very thankful. Press in close to God for strength and cling tightly to each other through the hard. You will display the faithfulness of God as you do.

Second, if you are a mother raising children on your own, you too can press in close to God for strength. He is your perfect Heavenly Father, and He is that for your children. He loves each of them more than you do, and promises to take care of their every need. My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

God is your heavenly husband: For your Maker is your husband, the LORD Almighty is His name. Isaiah 54:5 (Read the whole chapter for more promises).

God is their heavenly father: A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows. Psalm 68:8

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  I John 3:1

As we honor fathers on Father’s Day, let’s be thankful for the dads who have been a part of our lives and our children’s lives. And let’s work to  trust our Heavenly Father to heal our hurts and meet our unmet needs with his perfect Fatherly love, compassion and care.

Is He not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?  Deuteronomy 32:6

The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8