Wednesday, June 20, 2018

If the Wind Keeps Blowing and the Rain Keeps Falling...

I was telling my friend the story of this plant: I bought it on clearance just a tiny stick a few inches tall. I nursed it along for at least 3 years, it never amounting to much, some years thinking it was dead altogether. Last year, it finally climbed a few feet up and put on just a few flowers. But this year, it came in completely full and beautifully and covered itself with big white flowers. It was stunning and made me happy every time I looked at it. It was rewarding to know my years of patience and care had paid off. And my friend commented how similar that plant could be to our spiritual journey, how sometimes it felt like there was hardly anything there, we were just a withering stick or just trying to keep our faith alive, but eventually our patience and care would transform our hearts into the holy souls we desire to be and our faith would spread love to the world the way those white flowers grew and covered anything they could grasp onto.
Really beautiful stuff right? Except... then it hailed. And now this is what's left of my beautiful white flowers....

And then, I had a tough time getting my garden planted this year because it was so wet, but I finally got a dry day and a tiller and planted the whole garden in a weekend. And I looked back and admired the work and was so pleased. BUT...a week later, I'm looking at the pepper plants I planted only to discover that rabbits have eaten off an entire row of them. Which led me to look closer at the rows of beans next to them that I thought hadn't come up yet, and instead realized they had come up and were just being instantly eaten when the new stems popped out of the dirt.

Last week, the WIND blew so hard. All of the plants look exhausted and beat up. All of the flowers are gone.  I watched Sam try to pedal his bike against the wind and felt so bad for his struggle. This week, it just keeps raining, the sun doesn't shine and nothing is ever dry.

We know this struggle well don't we? We limp things along, we have patience, things are finally all just falling into place, and then it hails on us. The bottom falls out. We've spent years building something up, and it's washed away in an instant. Or maybe it just seems like the wind blows against us every single day, and it's exhausting.

Do you know what gets me through the days or seasons when everything is a struggle? And I'm not talking about rabbits eating my garden or flowers that disappear, but the really hard stuff that rocks us and turns our life upside down. Like the funeral I attended last week of a 33 year old man. Like the abuse and neglect the kids I care for experience or the worst, saddest and sickest stories on the news. The secret is my license plate.

A few years ago when we bought our used van from a dealership they applied for the license and it came in the mail. When I opened it, the numbers were 666. Lots of people that know the bible well know that this number is associated with the devil, specifically its the mark of the beast given in the book of revelation. I have to admit, when I first opened it I wondered for a long time if I should pay the money to order a new one. I mean, my family already has pretty strong feelings about me, I hate to give them some solidification! Ha. Somewhat kidding, but I will say that in the work that I do and the people I see, I get a lot of comments about my license plate numbers. So why did I decide to keep them?

Because they actually give me hope. I know a lot of people aren't used to even talking about the devil anymore, even though he is mentioned so many times in scripture, especially by Jesus. But its a part of his plan to be unknown, because his existence also proves the existence of God. And I think he often leaves people alone who aren't seeking God. But to those who believe, he is not always so hidden. If the devil is working hard to discourage you, it's because he's scared of you, scared of the relationship you have with God and of the good work you are doing for Jesus. But if we can recognize his work, every time the wind is blowing or trial after trial arrive in our life, it can bring us hope instead of despair, that's how God turns all those bad things, those evil works into His good and perfect plan. The license plate was meant to intimidate me, to remind me he's against me, to make me fearful of what horrible things he might do in my life next. But when I see it, I am encouraged. I know I'm doing good work and he is afraid enough to take the time to worry about me. And most of all, I know I'm on the side that always wins.

All of our encounters with evil God can use for good. Every death God allows (remember, God created us not for death but for life, death is the devils game, the result of sin), only snaps us out of our fixation on the immediate things of this world, and reminds us to live for the future of eternity in heaven. Every death gives God the opportunity to save us, to give us new life forever, a life that never again has to be afraid of death or separation.

Every time I go to a court hearing and listen to the insanity of the way people make decisions about the life of a child, I long for heaven more than ever, for a world ruled by a God who knows what this child needs more than he himself, instead of a judge whose never met him and people who have the wrong motivations.

Every time we send another baby to heaven I remember this life is so incredibly short and we will be reunited in "just a few days in the scope of eternity" as St. Therese said.
Every horrible story on the news tears at our hearts and we know so clearly that we were made for more than this.

It's hard to go all the way to "thankful" for all the strong winds that make our journey hard, the hail that destroys our flowers or the rabbits that eat everything we plant. And it's harder yet to be grateful for the horrible thing that is death. And yet, as Christians that's exactly what we do, because without death we would never have eternal life with God. And without all of the really earth shattering things that happen in our life, we might not realize we need God at all.

I grabbed this sign at thrift store this spring, it was only $3 but I was so happy with it and it brought me a lot of joy. I really wanted to work on embracing this concept of being grateful for ALL things, the good and the bad and the boring, etc.  I put it up in the bay window, because apparently this is my first week as a parent and I thought my three toddlers would just leave it alone? I'm not sure what I was thinking. Of course you more experienced (I really mean smarter) parents know it was only there for about 10 minutes before it was broken in half.

I came in to the room to the "uh-oh" and stared at the "new" sign split in two pieces and thought to myself: "I'm really NOT grateful that this is broken!" I set it up on the kitchen counter hoping to glue it back together later. But after a few days of looking at it broken, I decided it was better this way. Because it's easy to look at that sign and think about all the good things in our life we're grateful for, but I truly did buy it because I believe in being grateful for the broken things too. All of these things, God has allowed to bring us closer to Him. It's not always easy to mean it when I'm the in the midst of hurting, but my prayer today and every day is that the Holy Spirit can help me to be grateful for all things, the wind, the rain, the hail, even the broken things, maybe even especially the broken things, because they are exactly what I need.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Don't be Afraid, Spring is Coming

Do not be afraid. That's what He keeps telling me. I keep worrying. He keeps telling me. In the song "Fear is a Liar" that keeps playing in my head. In the words of dear friends, in prayer, in the sunshine. Tonight I clicked on a video lesson on the bible, and there the speaker quoted Phil 4: "Be anxious about nothing, but in everything with prayer and thanksgiving make your requests known to God." He's trying to hard to teach me this lesson and I am so slow to learn it.
Right now there is a 7 month old baby sleeping upstairs who I have cared for as my own his entire life minus 3 days. Every time he cries at night I am there to feed him, to comfort him. Every new thing he has learned, I have watched/taught/rejoiced with him. He looks to me and reaches for me, he cries when I walk out of the room. Every day for 7 months I have never let him down, I have always been there when he needed something. In my heart he is my child, and in his heart, I am his mom. But on paper, he is a foster child, with another mother who shares his blood, and a handful of other social workers, attorneys and judges that have the right to make decisions about him, and I am simply "foster home 1". Fear reminds me of this often. Every time I watch him giggling as his brothers jump around him making silly noises to make him laugh, as the joy is about to overflow in my heart, fear wonders if their tiny hearts will have to suffer the loss of another sibling who they love as their own. Every time I see him sitting on Dan's lap looking like the happiest baby in the world, fear reminds me this may not be forever. I find myself everyday feeling so stuck in the middle of complete bliss with this incredible family I've been given, and incredible fear and despair of the inability to protect and care for our child.
I know in my head that worry and fear are born of a lack of trust. Apparently, then I still don't trust God. This was news to me as I've spent most of my life trying to follow where He's leading, and I've trusted Him quite a bit along the way. It's actually, I suppose what got me here to this messy place. But its true, that if I am so fearful, so worried, it's because I am not trusting God to take care of me and this little boy. I have once again tried to jump into the drivers seat and take control, which is pretty ridiculous since I don't have a map and have no idea where we're going.
Every time he looks into my eyes with that true love gaze that only a mother and child share, fear tries to steal that moment with the reality that this child may be taken from me. And each time that fear sneaks in, God whispers "don't be afraid." He reminds me of the other 4 children in my home, and how each one is here because we weren't "too" afraid to take a risk of getting our hearts broken. That even though some of their situations drug on for years, it was all ok even though I had so many fears.
It's been one of the longest winters many of us have ever known. It was freezing in October, cold all winter and we've had blizzard after blizzard well into April. It's been hard to believe that spring will come. But we know it will, because it does every year.  Just like I know He is right when He tells me it will all be ok. Because it is ok. It's not always the outcome that I want, but He makes it all ok.
I'm still finding my way navigating this place in between joy and fear. Some days I can live in the moment, focus on today, and those are really wonderful days. Some days, I let fear steal the joy from these moments, and take the beauty that God is giving me in the moment. But He is patient with me as I learn and re-learn and re-re-learn this lesson on trust. Why wouldn't I trust him? Its hard to answer when I look at the faces around my dining room table. He has brought me this far, I know He will do what's best in this situation too.
I spoke to a group of new foster parents last week, and I honestly felt terribly as I was asked questions about some of our experiences with foster care and especially our current situation. I was so afraid they would be scared away from doing foster care because I thought I might have run away if I had heard those things 5 years ago. But when put on the spot to give one final piece of advice to them, all I could say was "don't be afraid". I know it sounds horrible to give your heart away over and over again just to have it broken. I know it seems like you could never deal with the pain of knowing your child thinks you abandoned them because you never came for them after someone took them away. But that's fear telling you that you can't do it. That's fear that makes you want to run the other direction, away from where you're being called. That's fear that makes you imagine things that might never happen or makes you fearful you won't be able to handle things when they do happen.
I've been there, but I've also been on the other side of horrible. And it is horrible, and yet, God is there too, so I did actually survive it. "I wouldn't trade one minute" I told the foster parents that day. I wouldn't give back one minute with any of those children to save myself a heartache. God knows the joy is worth it, even if it's a short time. He knows He'll be there for us and for these children using all the good and bad to bring about His plan for all of our lives. Why am I always listening to the voice of the liar, instead of the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep?
"For the thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly." Jn 10:10 Surely I can trust the God who wants nothing but the best for me and these children. Surely I can not be afraid. Spring will come, some years slowly and steadily and some years the day after a blizzard, but it always comes.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Best Wait

I'm not very good at waiting. I can't stand being on committees because I would much rather get things done than talk about doing them. I'm pretty impatient. When I decide what I want or where I'm being called, I want it now. I suppose this is exactly why God has called me to a life of waiting. We waited for 4 very long years before we got to hear the cries of a baby in our empty house. We wait months and years for court dates and adoption finalization's to finally breathe with relief that we can now protect our children. We wait for so many other things God has placed on our hearts that we know will happen but He isn't providing for right now.

When I left my full time job as a Human Resources Director to be a full-time mom and better care for our foster children, I was given the opportunity to take a job coordinating TEC retreats for our diocese. It was just a few hours a week, mostly from home but with some travel. It worked well for me at the time and it was a blessing to get to be a part of the good work. I have just discerned that it is time for me to leave the position. It's difficult to walk away from something that is so good, but as following God always does, the decision, although difficult, has brought me a lot of peace that I know I am right where I am supposed to be. With 5 children so little, a very little amount of sleep and it being very difficult to be gone for long periods of time, I wasn't doing the job well and I was also not giving my family the time they needed.
So even though I have considered myself a full-time stay-at-home mom in the past, now, leaving the job, I will finally be JUST a mom. No title behind my name, no other accomplishments to make me feel good, all that I am and all that I do will be defined by my role as wife and mother.
This is wonderful and also somewhat scary. It's really great work, it's the best work there is I think. And yet how many days do I just try to make it through to bed-time? And how many days have I wondered if I have completely lost myself? That I don't recognize who I am anymore and that this life of changing diapers and making meals and breaking up fights and folding load after load of laundry just doesn't always seem to be the best use of my talents. And wasn't life easier when I was a youth minister? I was really good at that job, I never yelled at those kids... Absolutely I would feel more important if there was a title behind my name, or if I felt I was contributing anything else to society, but He has called me here to wait for that.
But this wait is different.
This time, I am not merely waiting. This time I realize that the wait is probably the most important part of my life.
Earlier this week I read a reflection on the period between the ascension of Jesus and Pentecost, when the risen Jesus left the earth and told the disciples to wait for the coming of the spirit.  The author spoke about how the disciples must have been scared and even felt abandoned. They must have wanted to DO something, fill their time, even return to their former jobs, because for a long time, nothing was happening. Here are the lines I really loved:
"This is a period of blessed communal waiting in trust and obedience, a period that appears empty, a great holding of the breath, but also a period that in fact is the time of greatest divine activity within the disciples' souls, a period of radical internalization when nothing appears to be happening only because they are doing very little." Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, The Way of the Disciple

Now, I don't mean to say that stay-at-home moms do very little. This is by far, the most exhausting job I've ever had. But we often feel we are accomplishing very little. This period of motherhood often feels like waiting, like our lives are on hold.  I was struck by this paragraph because it was so fitting for this time of motherhood. Trust and obedience. We've been asked to serve in this way, and it is often lonely, and sometimes feels empty, and in those moments there can be a temptation to run from that. To fill the empty with other things, to seek out something different when every day is the same. But as the disciples were asked to wait and they obediently did so because they trusted Jesus, we are asked to give the same trust. And if we do, this period that seems like nothing is happening, might actually be when our hearts are changed the most. I think about my last four years at home with my children, and I have not had the opportunities to worship the way I used to, I have not had the chance to be immersed in the community the way I used to, I have not had the chance to attend big seminars or long retreats, it has been the least amount of public ministry I have ever done, and yet I can see the way my heart has grown more than it ever has before.
We may feel we are doing very little professionally, very little in the community, even very little in our spiritual lives, but daily we are given the opportunity to place another before ourselves. Every minute we are asked to make a choice who we will serve. And each time I choose to let go of a little more of myself, my heart becomes more like His, and isn't that our prayer? It's quite alright, I decided, if I lose myself, if I can hardly recognize the me I used to be, as long as my heart looks more like the heart of Jesus. And here in this "wait" He is doing the greatest work on my heart that He's ever done. And here in this wait, I might find I am right where I am meant to be, right where Jesus meets me each day in tiny toddlers snuggling on my lap to read a book, in school-age children who forgive my daily failings and still love me unconditionally, in the perfect-love gaze of a six month old baby.
Maybe your wait is for a new job, a baby, a new house, the end of an illness, maybe even the end of this life. But maybe your wait isn't really a wait at all, but exactly where you are supposed to be, for the best part of your life, for the time of "greatest divine activity" in your soul.

Thank you God that I can hardly recognize myself. Please keep doing your good work on my heart until they can't see me at all, but only You.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

You Didn't Get a Christmas Card from Me because My Life is a Mess

Literally, it took a while to find the computer under the heap of papers on the desk! And in a lot of other ways our life is a mess right now. I think this every time I sweep the floor and marvel at how much mess little people can make in the 20 minutes since I swept it last! And every time I look at my kitchen counters with barely an inch of space visible and cringe. But more than the physical mess, this year has been messy all around.

Don’t misunderstand, it was a good year, it was so full of blessings and I absolutely have SO much to be grateful for. It was a year when we added not one but two children (for now) to our family. In February we welcomed J who was then 17 months old but not yet crawling or standing. (She has come so far and is now running after her brothers!) And in September her brand new little brother came to live with us just 4 days old.  They are so fun, beautiful children who we are so grateful for the time we get with them. But 5 kids, Nathaniel (6), Samuel (3), Bella (2), J (2) and Tiny (3 months) brought a lot of challenges and is wonderful and hard. And foster care is wonderful and hard. And the ups and downs and worry (I know I’m not supposed to worry, I’m a work in progress) was a lot to handle. Just navigating time with the kids birth parents and answering all the kids questions and trying to help them work through it is hard. Sometimes, they just cry, because it’s a very hard thing. It’s a mess really. I know in those moments most of all, when I’m trying to explain how a mother can’t care for her child, that the world is such a mess. When my child cries himself to sleep because he misses his sister or because he’s worried about his foster sister leaving, it’s obvious we have made quite a mess out of this world. We know in the core of our being that we weren’t meant for this.

Last week I was too late catching one of the girls banging this poor angel on the table, and I couldn’t help but think it was a pretty good visual of how I’ve been feeling, and maybe how a lot of us feel around this time of year.

I even wrote a blog post that I never posted about the reason to be joyful at Christmas. But this month I was painfully reminded how little control I have over our life and how powerless I am to protect our foster children. After a phone call with the social worker I was feeling so fearful and sad and Nathaniel who didn't know what was going on was jamming to Christmas music all day. I found it so difficult to be joyful with that music playing so opposite what I was feeling in my heart. Christmas seems to be all about joy and hope and that can almost make it worse when you feel so differently. I was reminded how even though the birth of a baby is a beautiful thing, there was a lot weighing down the heart of our holy mother back then too. As I held this 3 month old precious baby boy in my arms that night and wondered what his life might be, what hardships he might face that I may not be able to protect him from, I realized Mary could have held Jesus and wondered the same. And I realized that God didn’t have to wonder, he knew (HE KNEW!!) and he handed him over still.

I think the saints mastered feeling joyful even in the absolute worst life had to offer. I know sometimes I can do this and sometimes I'm not there yet, but I know that no matter how we're feeling at Christmas time, no matter what mess our lives have become that God who is perfect, loves us enough to enter into the imperfect and the hurt with us. If being born in a barn, literally right into our manure, isn’t proof enough that there’s no where he wouldn’t go to be with us, I don’t know what is. Mary knew this, that even though she was facing something so hard, this baby was here because God hadn't forgotten about us, he came to save us from our mess.

So my life is a mess. I have more children than you can count on your fingers, and most aren’t living. One lives with her birth mom and I get to see her every few weeks on the weekend. 5 live with us, one of those has down syndrome and parenting her as a toddler has been harder than I expected, one of those refuses to use the toilet every other day, one of those is determined to break me by asking to play the iPad every 3 minutes, and two of those I have cared for as my own but I sit in the back of courtrooms while lawyers make decisions about them. I can count the number of adults I talk to in a typical week on one hand. Must-socialize-always-me, now is a hermit. I miss my church family where I used to practically live and now I visit for just an hour on Sundays.  I miss the staff and the residents at the nursing home where I used to work that I’m never able to visit anymore. I miss friends I used to have and wonder if people think I forgot about them. I haven’t, I think about you often, but that’s all I have time for between diaper changes and late night feedings,  home school lessons and meal after meal after meal (did I even leave the kitchen today?) Sometimes Dan and I dance in the kitchen, and sometimes we realize all we’ve said to each other that day is “can you pick up milk from the store? Where did you hide toys X, Y and Z? Did you pay the rural water bill (No is usually the answer, why is that so hard for me to remember!)  and my personal favorite, “Can you watch the kids, I need to walk to the mailbox. And yes, I know you already got the mail.”

But Thank You God, that you came to be with me right here in this mess. Because at supper Nathaniel was making silly faces at J and she was laughing so hard she almost fell off her chair. And because Samuel and I ran from alligators and were safe on our pretend boat and Bella loved her sled ride. Because Tiny smiles and my heart can hardly contain it. This is Emmanuel, God with us. "Whoever receives one child such as this receives me." Mt 18:5 This is how he comes to us, in these people, in these children. How silly are we to think we might find joy in any thing else? And even if we've made it a mess, even if we continue to mess it up daily (just ask my kids how many times I lose it a day), there is He is, right in our mess, right there with us.

I hope you know even though we didn't have time to send out a card this year, that we are so thankful for you and the way you bring God to us. We could never do any of this without Him and without you. Your constant outpouring of support as we follow where He's leading us on the crazy adventure is priceless to us.
Praying you find Him this Christmas season and this year in your good times and especially in your mess.
The Full's


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Smallest Yes

I don’t think she really knew what she was getting in to.  Mary, when the angel announces that she will be the mother of the savior of the world, gives her “yes,“ Let it be done to me according to your word.” It was a pretty big “yes”, it was a surrender of her life, of any plans she might have had, a letting go of her cares of what people might think and any type or normalcy. And we know she would have understood that suffering would be involved. But surely she never pictured walking the bloody road to Calvary with her precious child someday. If so, would that “yes” have come so joyfully, so instantly?

This was his design I’m sure. I don’t doubt that Mary would have refused God anything, but I believe He laid her life out as an example for all of us. Dr. Edward Sri discusses the many times Mary says “yes” to God after her big “yes” to the angel in his book Walking with Mary. He talks about how she was given opportunities at his presentation in the temple, the wedding at Cana, etc each time learning a little more about how His life and hers would unfold, each time getting another opportunity to say yes or no.

Dan and I are celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary this week. We’ve been reflecting a lot about the promises we made ten years ago, about the people we were back then, and most of all how we really had no idea back then how our lives would unfold. We realize, when we said “I do” we really had no idea what we were getting in to.

Had I stood on that altar ten years ago and someone asked me “will you suffer loss after loss of your biological children for the rest of your marriage?” would my answer still have been yes? Had they told me I was signing up for the heartache of saying goodbye to babies I raised as a social worker drives them away to parents who have abused them in the past, would I have run out of that church? If they said “your yes today means the rest of your life will be filled with a roller coaster of custody battles and children who trust you to protect them but someone else controls their future,” I just can’t imagine I could have choked out an “I will.”

We didn’t know all of that. We knew it would be hard, just laying down our lives for the other, and it was…still is. It was a big yes, to give our lives in service to God and to each other, laying aside any plans we might have for the new journey God would take us on. But in his wisdom, He really let us give a small yes. A “yes” to inviting life into our marriage. To letting the holy spirit work. A yes that led to heartbreak, that would have been easy to see from a distance.

But a Yes that also led to peace, growth, understanding, compassion, and even (especially) joy. I would not have been convinced of this until I was there. I wouldn’t have believed as a 22 year old bride that this suffering would be in fact a great gift. That it would be used to draw me closer to Him, draw us closer to each other, and draw others to Him. I wouldn’t have believed the incredible way I would experience the love of God through his presence and through community when I came to the absolute end of myself. I wouldn’t have guessed we could see the absolute worst in each other and actually love each other more.

So he asked for a little yes instead. And I joyfully gave it. And when our babies died we gave another little “yes”, to a different plan He might have. And when a little boy came to live at our house, our yes to him turned into a yes to foster care, a yes I don’t know we would have ever said otherwise. And the heartache is terrible.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, to raise a baby for a year and say goodbye. And I wish it for everyone. Because I got to love that baby for a year and I can’t imagine my life had she not been a part of it. Because I got to love like there was no tomorrow. Because she is made in the likeness of God, and each tiny person that comes through these doors shows me another side of Him I never knew. Mary kept saying yes because she knew the beautiful truth, that the hardest things are the best things. It didn’t really matter what the suffering was, because she was with God himself, and that’s always a good place to be.  

This scary, difficult life has brought us the joy of Nathaniel, Samuel, Isabella and so many others whose names I can’t share.  So now the phone rings and we say a little yes. Never really knowing what we’re getting into except that it will probably be hard, it will probably be joyful, and certainly God will be there.

These last few weeks we’ve been in complete wonder at the gift of life and the journey God has brought us on as we welcomed a brand new baby boy in September. We’re calling him “Tiny”, and we’re all in love with him. In true stork fashion, he was delivered to our doorstep just a few days old, less than 8 lbs and the most precious thing we’ve ever seen.

We could have said no, with a 6 year old and three toddlers our house is pretty full as it is and so are our hands (people keep reminding us when we’re out in public.) There’s a good chance this little guy will incredibly break my heart. But I’m thanking God tonight that I had no idea ten years ago what I was getting into and that I have no idea right now exactly what I said yes to. Because the only thing I know for certain when I look into his beautiful brown eyes, is that God is here. And yes is always the best answer when God is asking the question.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

I Think the Baby Broke My Wife

“I think she’s broken. I think the baby broke my wife and I’d like you to fix her.”

That’s what a husband of newborn babies said to the doctor on the “This is Us” tv show I saw on an airplane on our trip to Florida last winter. I remember wondering just how many husbands have thought those same words but never voiced them aloud. Baby’s change us.  And it’s not a slow change but an instant one that can leave a husband wondering, what happened to my wife? The calm, decisive, always-knew-what-she-wanted woman that he married is now the one who just spent twenty minutes selecting a diaper cream, and tears came at 10 minutes with a “this shouldn’t be this hard!” temper tantrum to follow. Yoga pants and tshirts become daily attire even for the woman who "always" dressed up, and happy and upbeat personalities become worrisome and exhausted.

But below the surface changes of motherhood, there was a deeper brokenness this man was talking about, because one of their three babies had died. It was that baby that had really broken his wife. It was that one who had taken the light from her eyes and drained the love from her heart. It was then that she became just a shell of a person, who looked fairly normal to the outward person but felt so empty inside.

I remember feeling this way in our early years of marriage during the loss of our first children. With every loss I was more and more broken. I remember realizing one day the broken state I was in, and wondering if I would ever again be the person I used to be. I knew the answer was “No.” I could never go back there even though I wanted to desperately.  These children, losing them, had changed me forever.

But there was a time I saw that light did come back into my eyes. That I would never be the same person I used to be, but different didn’t have to mean worse. There was a long time that I felt healed, that I know the Holy Spirit filled in those gaps and actually left me better than before.

And then last year something changed. I didn’t see it right away, I knew I was sad and hurting, and I knew I never got over it, but I didn’t realize just how badly I had been broken by saying goodbye to M. I didn’t see it until she came back to visit and we were a whole family again. I didn’t realize how hard my heart was until she was here and I was able to love so well. I didn’t know I was angry about it until a friend pointed it out.

The problem is that I wanted God to fix the situation and to fix me. But I was thinking about that man’s words to the doctor, and what my response would have been to him or what it would be to any new parents: “Don’t worry, this is not what has broken her, it’s actually what is fixing her.” It refines us, molds us, bends us, stretches us. Motherhood completely changes us, and it’s a good thing. It doesn’t seem so good at first as we stumble along trying to get the hang of it, hormones taking us on a ride. But motherhood is the ultimate cure for selfishness. It’s the end of pride and the beginning of humility. Its life’s greatest teacher in putting another before ourselves and trusting God with the million things we cannot control.  It’s just shocking for us because most of us didn’t realize we were so broken to begin with, so it’s hard to understand when God takes the chisel of motherhood and starts fixing. We pull away, we try to run from it, it seems to be wrecking the beautiful work of art that we believe we are. Except the sculptor knows what He's doing. He sees our beautiful potential and he knows just how to bring it out. But it's probably going to hurt a little.

So if those words echo in my heart, that means that this too, this desert I have walked for the last year, this pain of missing her and worrying about her, is really not breaking me but fixing me. It means there is some serious repair needed in my heart and this is the circumstance He’s using to do it.
It's not the way I would have chosen, but I trust that this is exactly the chisel He knows that I need.
Don't worry, you're not broken're just a work in progress....aren't we all?
Prayers for you today as you trust Him in the hardest times. After all, faith and trust when we don't see or understand is the most beautiful faith of all.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dear Graduates...Dear Moms...Dear Everyone: Be Kind to Yourself

This theme of needing to be kind to ourselves has been popping up in my life over the past couple of weeks, and I wanted to share it with those who recently graduated. But the more and more I reflect on it the more I believe we all need to hear it or be reminded of it no matter what stage of life we are in. Therefore...
Dear Graduates, (Dear Mom's, Dear Everyone,)
This is such an exciting time in your life, to celebrate accomplishments and look forward with hope to all that the future could bring. Over the course of your graduation and transition to your next endeavor I'm sure you'll hear so much advice on how to be successful. You'll hear beautiful speeches about achieving your dreams and receive flowers and cards filled with wonderful words of congratulations and praise. You will celebrate your success and you should, because it is a great one!! I am proud of you!
But one thing that is rarely talked about on these days of celebration and dreaming about a wonderful future, is that there's a very good chance you will fail. I don't mean to rain on your parade or discourage you from chasing your dreams. I mean that on the path to success there are obstacles and risks and everyone who has ever been successful has also failed, often many, many times before finally finding their way. What separates the very successful, of course, is how they handle their failure. Do they get discouraged? Do they give up? Do they continue doing the same things expecting different results?  No! They keep trying. They learn from their mistakes and change their actions. They don't dwell on their failings but on their talents and potential to be successful next time.

So the advice I want to share with you as you set out into the world is: Be kind to yourself. When you fail, because you will, at something, or at a lot of kind to yourself. No one says worse things to us than we say to ourselves. And it's the negative voice that makes us want to give up, or makes us believe we won't ever succeed. So, when you fail, be kind. Talk to yourself as you would to a friend. Use encouraging words, see your positive attributes and your potential to succeed.

The second part to this advice, is that most of all, I'm not really talking about your success or failure with your career, although it relates as well. I'm really talking about your success and failure with relationships. Because those are the ones we really lose sleep over. At the end of the day, at the end of your life, the successes and failures at work will matter so very little, but the ones that will weigh heavy on your heart or fill it with joy have to do with the way you are in relationship with people.

This has been so prevalent in my life right now as a stay-at-home-mom, because honestly, most days I feel like a complete failure. There are 4 tiny people completely dependent on me for their every need. It has pushed me to the end of myself when I feel I have nothing left to give. And at that place I am not the mom I want to be. I fail them. I fail myself. I fail my husband. No failure I have ever made in the classroom or at work has ever left me with the terrible feeling that sits in my gut after I have lost my temper with these precious tiny people. I always tell people, I used to think I was a pretty good person, and then I got married.  My flaws were a lot more obvious when I was living with another person, but having children brought sins to the surface I had no idea were in me!

It's so ugly really, selfishness in all it's forms as a parent. And it comes out in a lack of patience, in harsh words, in LOUD words, in words that fail to see good. Maybe it's a whole terrible day, but most often its five minutes that I can't take back, words I can't retrieve, a tone I can't soften.

Maybe for you it's a family member you struggle to repair a relationship with. Maybe judgment always trumps love. Maybe you try and try but it always ends the same. Maybe its a friendship that seems irreparable. Maybe its the way you spoke to someone at Walmart that you may never see again. Maybe you really want to overcome this sin but your best efforts fail. When we know we were made to be better, but we fail, it hurts the most.

It's good that we feel that way to some degree, we need to know the difference between right and wrong, good choices and bad. We need to want to do better. But there is a danger of getting stuck in the guilt and rut of failure, and not believing we can get out. This is when it is so important to be kind to yourself. When you are at your lowest, when you see your failures, when you feel that hurt in your gut, when you know you were made to be kind. Because the voice saying all those terrible things about you isn't the voice of God. He still sees your potential. He still see's the good. He still thinks your worth dying for.

If He believes in you, then you should too. You will fail, at one, or ten or fifty relationships with friends, and coworkers and family and especially the people closest to you. When you do, be kind, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, try again. This is what defines successful people, at work and in relationship, they continue to try.

Saint Francis de Sales said it much better than I have:

"Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about redeeming them--every day begin anew."

Every Day Begin Anew.

Sometimes I even begin the day anew at lunch time.

The same day I read the quote from St Francis this song came across my phone...pretty amazing the way God reminds me that He's paying attention to me. I've been letting the refrain replay over and over again as I go about my day, I hope you will too.

Praying for you to be kind to yourself today!