Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Prayer If You Please?

Dear Friends,
I was hoping you wouldn't mind it I asked you for your prayers tonight. Today was a pretty terrible day for me.

I had heard that grief has a tendency to sneak up on you when you least expect it. And in a way, I suppose I was expecting it to do just that. But I guess I had assumed it would come by way of a memory thought of that hadn't been recalled before, or by looking at a person, place or thing that reminded me of my Dad, or at least as a result of something that tied my life to his. I also figured it would feel like the grief I have already experienced. Something resembling a tug to the heart, followed by an aching sense of loss, rounded off with a healthy dose of tears.

What I wasn't expecting was to be on my way to church this morning, minding my own business, and then being completely side-swiped by what surely must have been a 350 pound linebacker armed with a missile of despair aimed straight at my gut. Out of nowhere I couldn't talk, I couldn't breathe, I just wanted to turn around, crawl into bed, and leave this world behind.

And the feeling didn't want to leave. It followed me through church, back to my home, through the rest of my morning, and right up until lunch when I finally gave in to it and wept until my soul was emptied of all the pain that had been fighting to find it's way out.

I still don't know what triggered it. But it drained me, and it has made me afraid of what's to come. It left me wondering if it's possible that I haven't even begun to grieve yet? This seems inconceivable, as for the last almost three months it feels as if I have been doing nothing but. This is all new territory for me, territory I just don't understand, and territory from which I want to find my way out. Although I have always been a sensitive person, I have also at least had a grip on my emotions, and have been able to channel them in appropriate ways, at appropriate times, and in front of appropriate people.

But today I had no control. You could have come up to me and commented on what a lovely morning it was, and ended up with an inconsolable, thirty-something pregnant women crying into your shoulder, staining your Sunday best with her ceaseless tears.

I just miss my Dad. I never knew what those words could contain until today. I thought I did, but I had no idea. The most simple phrases kept running through my head, and they held everything in them that I just couldn't bear in that moment to feel anymore...

"I miss him. He's not here. He's gone too soon. He should be here. This hurts too much. I can't make it through this. I need him here. I'm too young to not have a father. I miss him, I miss him, I just miss him."

I don't know when or if another day like today is going to happen. From everything I'm told, this is all part of the normal grieving process. All I know is that nothing about it seems normal. I feel as if today should have happened two months ago, not right now, and not without warning.

And so this is where I was hoping that when you say your prayers tonight you wouldn't mind saying an extra one for me, and my siblings, and my Mom. I don't know when a day like this is going to unexpectedly show up at their door, I'm sure in my Mom's case these days are probably more the rule than the exception, but please just pray that comfort and calm will reign in all of our hearts. Pray that following directly behind the pit of darkness will come blazing the Prince of Peace. Pray that grief does not lead our lives, but that we have the ability to find our rest in the arms of Jesus, knowing that He sees every tear that falls, and knows when the next one will follow.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day at a loss. I'm confused as to what happened today, how it happened, and what I should do when it happens again. I thought I had a handle on all of this, Lord. I thought I was doing pretty good. I thought the worst was behind me. Was I wrong?

This is when I find myself grateful that I serve a God who has been here before. A God who knows grief, who has experienced grief, and as a result has the heart to say to us, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted". You understand, Lord, and promise me that if I turn to You in the midst of my sorrow I will be blessed. Thank You, for this acknowledgement of our struggles and Your reward for our faithfulness in the middle of them.

I pray that You are near to my Mom tonight, and to my brother and sisters, as I know they are wrestling with life without my Dad too. Grant them Your presence and Your peace. Comfort them with thoughts of our future, together as a family once again, rejoicing and praising You for eternity. See us through to the end, Lord, and keep us close until then.

In Your Name I pray,

Friday, May 29, 2009

Half-Heartedly Here

According to my chart today at my doctor's appointment I am now 552 weeks pregnant. In other words, I have been with child since 1998. This probably could explain away alot of the fatigue I've been experiencing lately, and also why I'm feeling really, really ready to have this baby.

In actuality I still have another 8 weeks to go, which I guess will round me up to a nice, even 560. What's another couple months when you've got a decade under your belt already, right?

In all reality though I do feel as if I have hit a wall in this last week or so. For lack of a better, more journalistic term, I'm just feeling blah. Physically I'm tired, emotionally I'm always on the edge of a meltdown, and spiritually I am missing the energy necessary to invest 100% into my relationship with Christ. I have got the motions of my life down to a science, but ask me if it's really me behind any of it and I'd have to tell you no.

I like to think I'm still a loving wife, a doting mom, a good daughter, a decent friend, and a devoted seeker of Christ, but honestly I am only able to give half to any one of these areas that I normally would give my all to. And I feel terrible about it. The desire is there, but the action is not. I am unable, I am falling short, I am failing.

A friend of mine commented to me today about the fact that I haven't been writing on this blog as often as I had been. And she's (mostly) right. I still do write, pretty much every night, but everything I have been recording seems underdeveloped, uninspired, and unworthy of asking you to spend any time reading it. Even now, writing these words, I don't feel completely here, and I am unsure if posting it would be a waste of your time.

I can only assume that my lack of divine inspiration stems from the fact that I have been less than present in my devotional life lately. I have been half-heartedly reading my Bible, rushing through my prayers, and doing this at a time when all my body is telling me to do is to go to sleep.

How can I expect to be blessed when I am not even showing up to receive it?

So, for the rest of today, my goal is to put everything else on hold, and spend some good old fashioned quality time with Christ.

(And hopefully get my stats changed at the doctor's office before I end up on the cover on The National Enquirer.)

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray today for the ability to focus and follow-through in every part of my life, but especially in my relationship with You. I can tell You until I am blue in the face that my heart is in the right place, but I have done nothing to prove it.

Forgive me, Lord, for letting it become so easy to put You on the back-burner. I know how awesome my life can be when I am aligned with Your will, and yet somehow You are the first thing to be sacrificed when the going gets tough, and when I get tired. I am sorry, You deserve so much more from me.

I need Your help, Lord, through these next few months. I'm starting to become overwhelmed with everything that is expected of me, and I can feel myself slipping into self-indulgence and self-pity. Save me from this. Use Your mighty hands to tilt my stubborn head upward. Help me fight myself when my first inclination is to rely on me. It's only You, Lord. Only You can help guide me through these next months in a way that provides me with peace and security, rather than frustration and fear. Help send this message from my head to my heart, and help me to hold fast to it.

You are all I need. You are all I desire. Take my life and make it Yours again.

In Your Name I pray,

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Graveside Grief

I went to my Dad's grave for the first time since his funeral today. Until just recently I guess I didn't see the point. There was a large part of me that figured he wasn't there anyway, so why did I need to go? But in the last couple days I had felt something drawing me to his side. I'm not sure what it was, but I needed to go again to that small spot of land where we had left him.

I was not prepared to encounter the person I turned into upon first sight of the place where he is buried. Instead of relying on the knowledge that he wasn't there in that ground, it was all I could do not to claw my way through the earth to get to him. Everything that connected me to my belief that he was in heaven completely vanished, and everything that was earthly within me came rushing to the surface, pleading, imploring, begging him to please, please come back. Over and over again I found myself crying aloud, and asking of him, "How are you here? How are you here? How are you here?".

Next to the first time I was there, these were the worst moments of my life. Nothing made sense. I couldn't reconcile the memory I had of my strong, invincible father and this newly sodded ground that represented the battle he had lost to this life. My world was turned upside down. I kept waiting for relief, or comfort, or any other calming emotion that would tell me I had done the right thing in coming, but the only thing I felt was utterly helpless and broken.

And then I couldn't leave him there. I couldn't bear to walk away from him. I couldn't stand the thought of abandoning him to this place where he didn't know anyone, where we weren't there to keep him company, where he couldn't see us keeping watch over him. Every irrational thought you can imagine ran through my head. Finally, I was able to stand up, get back in my car, and drive away, but not without many a look back, and not without an incredible sense of guilt following me every step of the way.

I wish I could say that the peace of God came over me then, and that I was reminded of where my father was spending his days. But this didn't happen. The protection that my faith had always provided me was gone. And along with the feeling that I had abandoned my Dad, I felt as if I had been abandoned as well, left alone to wade through this horrible pit of sorrow and confusion. In fact, I had not felt this alone since before my Dad was diagnosed with his horrible disease. Never once, until today, did I find myself questioning so sincerely the all-powerful presence of God in my life, which I have taken at face value since birth.

But, looking back now, I'm wondering if God let me fight through this alone on purpose. I'm wondering if His silence was His way of pushing me out of the nest a little bit, knowing that I would be okay, and trusting that I would not fall so far as to lose all sight of Him. I wonder if He knew that I needed to doubt Him in order to find my faith in Him again. If He knew that I needed to question His power in order to once again believe in His sovereignty over every situation. I wonder if He knew I needed to challenge His love for me in order to again feel His love for me.

I can tell you that my faith was shaken today. Not irreparably, but abundantly. My nerves are still raw, and I am almost wishing I never went there in the first place. But I also know that it was something I needed to do, something that God gave me the strength to do, and something that, when I make it through to the end of it, will not fail to restore and intensify my faith in Him.

Dear Lord in heaven,

I pray this day feeling exposed and vulnerable. I wasn't expecting to feel the way I did today when I went to see my father. I had figured my faith would carry me through, that the pain would easily give way to the assurance that he is with You. I had assumed that visiting him there was going to be no big deal. I was wrong, Lord. Instead I found myself questioning You and Your goodness, and doubting Your perfect plan for my Dad's life and Your wisdom in taking him away so soon.

But though You let me sort through these issues on my own, I know You never left me. And even now, as I sit here worn out and spent from the emotional roller coaster I unexpectedly found myself on, I know You are here.

Forgive me, Lord, if I struggle to find reasons to praise You tonight. Right now I just need to focus on picking up the pieces of my faith and putting them back together. I know they're all here, it's just a matter of studying them, familiarizing myself with them, and making this picture of You and me whole again.

You know I love You. Please, stay with me tonight while I sift and sort through all this extra stuff, until I am left once more with only You.

In Your Holy Name I pray,

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Love Conquers All

I'm very restless tonight, and I can't quite put my finger on the reason why. We just finished putting the kids to bed, the house is quiet, and normally this is the time of night I look forward to all day long.

(Did I just come off sounding like a bad Mom there? Because I love my girls and thoroughly enjoy spending time with them, I promise. But come seven-thirty at night my "Mom hat" starts sliding off a little bit, and it becomes alot harder to keep it in place. Especially when it's still slippery from the spilled chocolate milk and ketchup it was covered in earlier.)

As I sit here, trying to figure out what it is that will calm this anxious feeling, I am brought back to some verses that the Lord gave me a few weeks ago. I'm not sure if you recall or not, but I talked about it in a different post back in April. I didn't specify the exact passage I felt that He led me to, but I mentioned that I would talk about what the words meant to me at a later date. He gave the verses to me on a night similar to this one, when I was pacing about, trying to figure out what to do next, feeling as if I should be tending to some housework, or returning some emails, or trying to tire out the dog, when all that really sounded good to me was just spending some time with Him.

This is the passage He brought me to that night:

Psalm 42: 1-2 "As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?"

These verses again encapsulate everything I am feeling right now. I am unsettled, I am unsatisfied, I am seeking something. And the phrasing hits it right on the head when it talks about thirsting for Him. But actually the part of this psalm that jumps out at me is just one little word.


"When can I go and meet with God?"

This word leaps off the page and hits me smack dab in the middle of my stubborn, egocentric, preoccupied self.

I have the opportunity to meet with God anytime. All the time. Everytime I desire. I can call upon the Creator of the Universe at a moment's notice. I just need to make a point of doing it. He is never too busy for me. I need not schedule an appointment for later tonight, or tomorrow, or next week. He doesn't have to check His planner and get back to me. He's waiting for me to show up at His door and make it a date.

So, what am I waiting for?

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day amazed at how You choose to make Yourself so accessible to me. (Is it okay if I have a favorite part of believing in You? Because the ease of having a relationship with You has got to be up there.) It just doesn't seem right that I should be able to talk to You whenever I want, wherever I want, about whatever I want. I feel like there should be some sort of ritual I should perform before I can call upon Your name. A cleansing maybe, or a chant or two, or perhaps some special clothing which needs to be put on before I even think about addressing You.

This place, my place, just doesn't seem worthy of You. To ask You to come and meet me in this sinful, filthy realm which I inhabit, and to talk with me among the muck and grime of my everyday life feels wrong. You are too good for this, Lord. Your robes are too white, Your feet too clean, Your soul too pure to partake in this depraved world which I call home.

But yet here You are. Waiting for me to ask for You, willing to come down, wanting to get dirty. This shouldn't surprise me, should it, as You chose to come down long before I ever asked You to. I'm sure the rocks and grit from the road to the Cross, and the rust and dirt from the nails that pierced You remain forever fresh in Your mind.

I hear Your message loud and clear tonight, Lord. You're here because You love me.

You love me.

You love me...

You loved me enough to come down 2000 years ago and die for me, and you continue to love me enough to come down every single time I ask You to. You don't tire of me, You don't overlook me, You don't see me as just one of the bunch, You love me as if it were only me down here depending on You and needing Your love.

And this makes perfect sense why just a little while ago when I was feeling so uneasy, when I could sense that You were trying to tell me something, when I was trying to concentrate enough to hear what You wanted to say to me, there was only one thought that kept running repeatedly through my mind:

"I love You, Lord."

"I love You, Lord"

"I love You, Lord..."

And oh, how I do love You. And I also love how You make it so unbelievably easy to do so.

In Your awesome Name I pray,

Monday, May 18, 2009

Safe and Sound

When my Dad first got sick I stopped wearing make-up to church.

This probably sounds a little strange to you, or maybe you know exactly where I'm going with this because you've been there yourself.

Inevitably, every Sunday morning as I was sitting next to my father, the Holy Spirit would take over my worship, and my heart would be filled with His presence to the point where tears would be pouring down my cheeks. Once in awhile these would be tears of sadness as I thought of everything my father had gone through and the long fight he still had in front of him, but most often they were tears of relief and joy as I was reminded that both he and I were serving a good God, a God who loved us, and a God who would never leave us.

Sunday mornings are not the same without him. These days they consist of walking in, going to my mailbox knowing I'm not going to run into my Dad on the way there, walking to my seat knowing I'm not going to see him talking with a friend and waving and smiling at me as I go by, and sitting down, knowing he's not going to be taking his usual seat next to me. Knowing all of these things in advance hasn't made them any easier to get used to.

It still seems like he's supposed to be there. I still see him everywhere he used to be. I still feel him next to me.

And yesterday I found myself crying, yet again, but it was for a different reason. It wasn't because I missed him by my side, although I did. It wasn't because I had already heard his name mentioned by multiple people that morning in regard to what a wonderful man he was, because I had. It wasn't because I was reminded by two individuals of how my Dad had been faithful in being at church early every week to pray over the upcoming service, although I was. It wasn't even because during the middle of the service my Mom showed me a letter she had found in my Dad's Bible that he had written containing seven things he wanted most from this life, with every one of them being directly related to his love for God, his family, and God's people, although she did.

No, I shed tears, I cried, and I wept because for the first time all week it felt safe to do so.

My daughters were in nursery and Sunday School, my Mom and my husband sat on either side of me, and my sister was within reaching distance. But most importantly, this was where my earthly father had felt most at home, and this was my heavenly Father's house. Nothing could harm me here. This was the place where my tears would be most understood by man and God alike. All the sadness I had shoved aside all week because it just wasn't the time or place to indulge it came rushing to the surface, and I couldn't hold it in any longer. And being there, flanked on all sides by my family and sitting in the presence my God, I knew I didn't have to, and I was able to just let go.

I could go on and on with reasons why I love my church. From the staff, to the congregation, to the opportunities it provides for service, and provides for my family, etc., etc., etc. But none of these reasons come close to the real reason this one building holds such a huge place in my heart. It's because, without fail, I know I can meet God there every time I walk in those doors. No matter how busy my week has been, no matter how many times I've pushed Him aside, no matter how frazzled I am from trying to get everyone out the door to make it there on time, I know that the minute I enter in that building He is waiting for me. Waiting for me to be real with Him, waiting for me to worship Him, waiting for me to come to Him, waiting for me to pour out my soul (and if necessary, my tears) to Him.

I know I don't have to wait to enter into a church to find Him. I know I can find Him everywhere and anywhere I want to if I devote enough energy into doing so. But it seems as if lately I just need to know there is one place I'm guaranteed to meet Him face to face. One place I can go where I don't need to be concerned about my home, or my work, or anything other than what is happening between Him and I. One place I can empty myself of everything that is me, and be filled with everything that is Him. One place I can count on to feel safe.

And He was faithful in providing this for me. Again. And I know no matter what my next week holds I can depend on going to this place next Sunday, baring my soul, and finding Him ready to receive me in all my rundown, weary mess. Again. And again and again and again, for as long as I make it a point to go looking for Him there.

So, if you were one of the lucky ones who got to see me yesterday morning with my tear-soaked shirt and my bloodshot eyes, please know that I am, in fact, okay. These tears were actually brought about by the power of the Lord in my life at that moment, in that place, and you will most likely see the same thing if you happen to run into me next week.

Just be grateful I decided to leave the mascara at home.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day praising You for Your perfect understanding of my human needs, and knowing that I need a place to go where I can always depend on finding You, regardless of how much distance I have put between us in the past week, and no matter what condition I am in. You love me, You see me, and You just want to me feel safe with You. Which I do, Lord, I do.
It says so much about You, that I feel the most secure and the most alive when I am with You. The minute I surrender to the peace of Your embrace my life comes back into perspective, and I am given that elemental renewal and sense of confidence that I can make it through another week as long as I allow You to be a part of it.
Nothing in this world comes close to the wholeness that goes hand in hand with being a Child of the King.
Thank You for being there for me, and for giving me the assurance that the day will never come where this will not be true. If there is one certainty in my life, it is that if ever I need You, I will find You. What would I possibly do without You?
I love You, Lord. In my house, in Your house, everywhere, I love You.
In Your Name I pray,

Friday, May 15, 2009

Under Cover(s)

I do not, I repeat, do not like thunderstorms. They terrify me. I revert back to being a scared, shaking little girl with hands cupped over her ears praying for it to just stop already. Remember the scene in "The Sound Of Music" where all the kids pile onto their governess's bed during the storm while she sings to them about her favorite things? I'd be the one you never see that refuses to come out from under the covers, the one not caring a single bit about "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens". Just close those windows and hold me tight, Maria, thank you very much.

When this last storm hit, prior to Dana's imminent arrival into our bedroom clutching her pillow and blankie (a girl after my own heart), I found myself laying in bed, praying over and over to God, "Protect this house, and everyone in it. Protect this house, and everyone in it. Protect this house, and everyone in it", all the while waiting for the inevitable tree to come crashing through the roof.

I have no idea where this paranoia comes from. It doesn't stem from any specific childhood trauma, I was never left out in a storm, I've never been trapped in a flood, I've never had my house hit by lightening (a special thank you goes out to my good friend, Rhonda, by the way, for the petrifying imagery she left me with yesterday. Now I not only have to think about my house being done in by an old toppley tree, but exploding sky high into flames as well). No, the fear has just always been in me, for as long as I can remember.

But this last storm really got me thinking about a concept that the Lord has placed on my heart and in my mind over the last months. A concept that sounds so sweet, yet can be so bitter.


I have felt Him nudging me repeatedly over this last year to surrender my worries, surrender my fears, surrender my sin, and (the most difficult) surrender my husband and children to Him. He wants me to act on the faith I proclaim when I say that He is a God who is in control, and He wants me to prove to Him that I love Him and trust Him as much as I declare I do.

I am not very good at this. Don't get me wrong, I love to give everything I have to Him. I trust implicitly when I do so that I am doing the right thing. I can very easily and very willingly let go of anything in my life that I am holding dear.

That is, until the moment I feel it is being threatened, and then I snatch it right back.

Where's the trust in that?

"Here God, take my life, take my concerns, take my marriage, take my kids, take it all!!! But wait! There's a problem? Oh, don't worry about it, God, I've got it under control. This is all my stuff anyway, nothing here You need to bother Yourself with."

In other words, "I don't trust You to handle this the way I think it should be handled, and am deathly afraid that the outcome is going to hurt me or those around me, so I'll take care of it".

This is a sin of mine that has really started to plague me lately. If I can only trust Him with part of me, part of the time, am I really trusting Him at all?

He's telling me no.

Which brings me back to the night before last, when in the midst of my pleading for protection, I heard Him asking me if I was willing to surrender the fate of my family to Him, trusting that whatever happens will be done for their good, and His glory.

And while it was hard for me to imagine how all of us getting smushed when my house caves in would be for our good, I had to make a decision in that second to trust Him, or to not. And to not trust Him seemed even scarier than anything the weather could ever do to us. So I trusted Him. And it felt good. And I felt calm. And He left all my trees standing, and He kept us all safe.

Will I have to surrender this fear to Him again the next time a storm hits? I wish I could say it won't be necessary, that I've done it once, and I won't ever need to do it again. But I know myself too well to claim that victory. I know that I will probably always be a "serial surrender-er", having to hand myself and my family over to Him again, and again, and again, everyday for the rest of my life. But I'm going to keep trying, and with His ability to change my heart, maybe there will come a day when I can fully accept and rely on the truth that He understands my fears, He will fulfill His purpose for me (whatever that may be), and He loves my husband and children more than I ever could.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day for the ability to once and for all surrender it all to You. I'm tired of taking it back, when I know that once I leave it in Your hands it is in the best place it can be.

You are our powerful, Almighty King, and nothing happens to any of us, Lord, that You do not see, and You do not allow. Please help my desire to honor and glorify You in all I do become more than just words, but the way I live my life everyday, in every circumstance, during every storm.

You have shown Yourself to be worthy, over and over again in my life. You have been faithful, You have been good, You have provided for my needs, You have guided me, You have showed me what it means to be able to serve the God of the Universe, and also to call Him my friend.

Help me to surrender to all of these things I know to be true of You, and to trust that You cannot change.

I'm not there yet, Lord, but with Your help I can get to where I need to and want to be... resting easy in You with empty hands, and a contented heart.

In Your Holy Name I pray,

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dana Jae, Resident Comedian

"Yes, Momma, but I don't understand grass! And I don't understand trees!"

This from the mouth of my almost four year old daughter after she was caught pushing her sister, and after I had spent the prior five minutes explaining to her why it is completely unacceptable do such things. And did she understand what I was telling her?

Sometimes the things that come out of her mouth catch me completely off guard, and leave me gagging and sputtering as I try my hardest to not let her see me laughing hysterically through the hands clenched tightly over my mouth.

Wait a minute, she doesn't understand what?

And where in the world do I go from here?

Would it be best to ignore her earnest declaration about things which genuinely confuse her, and bypass the opportunity to teach her about grass and trees? Do I try to somehow incorporate said grass and trees into my lesson about respecting one another? (Example: The trees and the grass live side by side in harmony. We don't see the trees pushing the grass over in an effort to make it over to the swingset first, now, do we?) Do I call her out on her seemingly sneaky way of avoiding the topic at hand, and firmly tell her that understanding grass and trees has absolutely nothing to do with understanding that violence of any nature is wrong?

Well, today I did none of the above. Normally, I do just ignore these little outbursts that accompany the lack of a filter between the preschoolers brain and mouth. And then as soon as the situation is rectified I run over to the notebook I keep for such occasions and record verbatim every word of our interaction.

But, nope, today I failed miserably at being the calm, cool, and collected parent. After she said this to me, I stood there staring at her in shock for a second or two, and then burst out laughing. I sat down on her bed, pulled her over to me, squeezed her tight, and giggled heartily into her silky blonde hair. It took her a second to recognize that her "talking to" was over, and I don't think she understood at all what was going on, but she sure jumped right in on the excitement when she saw just how happy she had somehow made her Momma.

Sometimes it's the little things that can make the most impact on a child. For the rest of the afternoon she was a complete charmer, trying her hardest to make me laugh again, and attempting to figure out the magic formula that had gotten her out of a scolding and into my arms.

I'm sure I've probably confused her to no end. I'm sure for the next couple of weeks I'm going to have to put up with monkey-like antics and funny faces every time I attempt to correct her for anything. Who knows? I've probably gone and convinced her it's downright hilarious to push her little sister around.

But for today, for the smiles it brought to both of us, for the memory it left indelibly on my mind and in my heart, it was so worth it.

Now, off to figure out how explaining grass and trees can get her to eat her vegetables...

Dear Lord in heaven,

I pray this day thankful for Dana, and the heartwarming sincerity which radiates from every inch of her little four year old self. Thank You for bringing her into my life, for trusting me with her life, and for enriching the lives of everyone in this family with her innocence and candor. She is nothing short of a blessing, Lord, and a blessing which could only have been created and molded by You.
Help us to raise her to embrace what makes her unique, to teach her that it's okay to ask questions when she doesn't understand, but to do so with a firm sense of respect and honor for those You have placed in authority over her. She has so many wonderful qualities, Lord. Help us to nurture these in her, and give her the confidence that she has the ability to conquer the world as long as she believes in herself, and believes in Your perfect plan for her life.
Thank You for the precious moments I had the chance to spend with her today, and the excuse to simply soak in her beautiful smile and laughter.
You handed me joy the day You handed me her, Lord. And from the bottom of my heart, I thank You.

In Your wonderful Name I pray,

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Musings

I woke up this morning to a delicious breakfast lovingly prepared for me (starting the night before!) by my awesome husband for Mother's Day. It even came complete with extra hugs and kisses from my beautiful daughters and a "good morning" kick from the little blessing in my belly.

Then we got in the car and went to church, where I was saluted for being a mother by many friends and loved ones, and was reminded during the service of how fortunate I am to have been raised by a Christian mother, and for my husband to have been raised in a Christian home as well.

While I was there I reflected on all the wonderful mothers in my life. From my sisters, to my peers, to women a generation above me in my small group who are willing to share endless morsels of wisdom with me, and back again to my own treasured mother and mother-in-law. I also thought of my Dad, and how he gets to spend Mother's Day with his own mother for the first time in over a decade, and what a celebration this will surely be for the both of them.

The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, it was a good day to praise the Lord for the limitless blessings in my life.

But by the time I got home I was feeling heavy and burdened, and as if there was a weight that had been placed directly on my shoulders.

"What is going on here?", I thought to myself. This is a great day! I am surrounded by amazing people who love me, I am heading home to enjoy a day of whatever it is I want to do, I should be basking in the glory of my fortune and privilege.

And that's when I figured out that my fortune and my privilege is exactly what has me feeling so uneasy.

I have had this one thought in the back of my head for a long time now that continues to bother me off and on. And today it came rushing to the forefront of my mind, and did not want to leave. It is a thought that has the ability shake my beliefs to the core, and leaves me every time with more questions than answers.

I asked myself, if I had not been born into this life of blessing, would I still love Christ with the same fervor and devotion that I do today, or am I just a product of my environment?

You see, on paper my life thus far has been nothing short of idyllic. Born to two loving, Christian parents in an affluent community. Raised in the Christian church, attended private Christian schools, surrounded by Christian organizations ready to help me along in my faith in whatever capacity I would ask them to. Married a Christian man, settled our home in the same affluent area, blessed with two healthy children with another one on the way. When you enter into my home you can find Bibles in all sorts of colors and translations, cupboards stocked to the brim with enough food for an impromptu dinner party of eight, an embarrassing amount of toys for my kids to play with, and enough money in the checkbook that we don't need to worry about anything in the near future other than if we're going to order pizza tonight from Vitale's or Jet's.

I can't help but think, what if instead of enjoying this life of ease, I spent my days living on the street? Or grew up with abusive parents? Or didn't have enough food to feed my starving children? Or lived in a country where the Bible was forbidden to read under penalty of death? Or a place where I would be executed on the spot if I was heard even mentioning the name of Jesus?

Would I still have found my way to Jesus Christ, boldly claimed Him as my Savior, fearlessly and publicly worshiped Him, and surrendered my life to Him? Or would I have denied His existence, convinced myself that He wasn't real, and went about my days living only for myself with no consideration or thought given to the life that awaits me beyond this one? What would happen to me then?

Obviously, these are questions I will never have the answers to. I will never know the in's and out's of anyone elses life but my own, or what I would have done in any of the above-mentioned situations. But what I do want to be assured of is that I love my Lord for real reasons, in spite of the upbringing I had and the environment in which I was raised and continue to live in today.

I want to know that no matter what happens in my life, that the belief I have in Him is true and unshakable.

I want to be assured that even if my house burns down around me, even if my family gets taken from me, even if I am struck with illness, I will still feel this same love for my Savior, and find myself depending on and trusting only Him for the rest of my days.

How does one ever really know this?

Right now there is much I don't know, but the one thing I do know is that I want to be boldly, publicly, unashamedly His, with no strings attached.

Dear Lord in heaven,

I pray this day searching for certainty. I do not know why You blessed me with the life You have given me. I could just have easily been born into a different family, a different neighborhood, a different country, a different faith. I don't know why You chose to make it so easy for me. I never had to fight to find You, You have always been right there in front of me, with no opposition present to prohibit me from serving You. You have always been the natural, logical path for me to follow.

Please don't hear this as complaining, Lord. If anything, with every day that goes by and the more I am exposed to the world around me I am reminded repeatedly of the blessing You have heaped upon my life, and how it would be a sin to ever take it for granted. I just want to make sure that what I have with You is real, and not just a by-product of my childhood. I want to make sure that I love You because of what You have come to mean in my life, not because this is what I have been taught to do since infancy.

Let me learn to love You, Lord, because it's what I need to do, not because it what I've been trained to do. Let me learn to love You because there's no other option that can even compare with what You have to offer me. Let me learn to love You like I was just introduced to Your love, just encountered Your grace, and met Your Son only yesterday.

Reveal Yourself to me. Get back to the basics with me. Let me start at the very beginning with You again, so that I may know with no question that You are mine, and I am Yours.

"Search me, oh God, and know my heart. Test me, and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting". Psalm 139:23-24

In Your Holy Name I pray,


Friday, May 8, 2009

Daddy's Little Girl

Dear Friends,
I ask that you once again bear with me. I am sure that in the future not every single one of my posts will have mention of my wonderful father, or be completely devoted to him, but right now he still occupies much of me. When I have a minute of downtime, it is to my memories of him that I immediately turn. When the lights go out at night, visions of him come rushing back. When I am left alone, with no distractions, he is all I can think about.

And right now I am alone, with no distractions, and I am in his house.

My husband is at home with the girl's for the night, my Mom is visiting my sister, and I am over here finishing up some laundry I started earlier as my dryer at home is in a million pieces on the basement floor. (None of you out there happen to be a Maytag repairman, do you?)

It is such a sweetly painful experience to be here in his home without him. Every place I look are reminders of him. From the pillow on the couch he always sat against, to the half eaten jar of his peanuts in the pantry, to the note on the side of the fridge with the word "Golf" and a phone number written in his handwriting, he is everywhere.

I may be a glutton for punishment, or just needing to feel close to him, but I found myself earlier in his closet, scanning over his wardrobe, able to visualize him in every shirt, every jacket, every pair of worn out shoes. Certain items bring back such strong memories... his neon green biking coat, his red pullover sweatshirt with the zipper at the neck, his old, scuffed up tan slippers... I can still see him in all of them as if it were yesterday.

And then I wandered downstairs, and found myself drawn to the various picture collages from years gone by hanging on the walls and adorning the ledge. These really got me. I think up until that moment I had only focused on his death as it effects me now, as an adult, and what him being gone means for me and my family in the days to come. I had almost forgotten about the man who raised me from an infant, the man who played with me through my early years, and the man who guided me through adolescence. And it was then that I found myself mourning the Daddy that the little girl in me had lost.

So, if it's okay with you, I thought I would record here a few of my favorite memories of him from my younger years, so that I have something tangible to look back upon, and won't have to worry about losing these moments along with losing him.

My earliest memory of my Dad and I is from when I was about four or five years old. He was laying on the floor in the family room, and I was laying on his chest. We were eating potato chips together. I have no idea who else was there, or if anything was going on around us, but when I think back to this moment a strong sense of security and pride overwhelms me.

He was my Daddy, and he was all mine.

Next I see us playing in the swimming pool in Florida. I could have been anywhere from six years old to twelve, as this scenario happened every year when we went down there to vacation. The only thing that makes it stand out in my mind is the pretty red bathing suit I was wearing. We were in the water, my brother Michael was there too, and he was lifting us in his strong arms one at a time in the air over his head and throwing us as far as he could. Looking back, it makes me recall what pure joy felt like. The laughter was genuine and from the deepest part of me.

He was my Daddy, and he loved to make me happy.

The next memory I jump to is of him and I watching a National Geographic special on lions together. He and I shared a special bond over our love for animals. I would be the first one he would call to come and see the bird nest he found in his flowerpots, and he was the first one I told when I got a job working for a local veterinarian. When I was in middle school and high school our interactions together seemed to become less frequent, but no matter how separate or distant our days seemed from each other, I could always count on him tracking me down if there was a good animal special on T.V., and we would sit there together, enjoying and appreciating our common bond, knowing that this would be something we could always share.

He was my Daddy, and he was my friend.

In the later part of high school I put my father through many, many challenges. I was a good student, but unfortunately for him, also a good socialite. By his own admission he was much more introverted than I, and it was hard for him to understand my need to talk on the phone for hours at a time to the same people I had just spent the entire school day with, or why I just could not stay home on a Friday or Saturday night and hang out with him and my Mom. And this leads me to the one and only memory I ever have of my Dad raising his voice to me. I wanted to go out, yet again, and he wanted me to stay home. Me, being the wise, problem-solving teenager I was, threatened to run away if he wouldn't let me leave. And he answered me right back with, "If you walk out that door you are never coming back in!".
Being that I had never been yelled at by him before, I figured maybe he meant it. Needless to say, I stayed.

He was my Daddy, and he loved me even when I was unlovable.

(Did I mention that I was in twelve car accidents between the ages of sixteen and twenty? All of them mere fender benders, and only about ten of them were my fault, but my Dad never once raised his voice in anger towards me. Exasperation? Yes. Disbelief? You better believe it. But never once did I get anything worse than a, "You've got to be kidding me". If that is not the personification of Christ's patience, love, and forgiveness, I do not know what is.)

There are so many other memories I could share with you all, but I see this post is getting lengthy, and I'm sure my laundry is almost done, so I thought I would skip to the very last memory I have of him and I alone that we ever shared here on earth. I debated writing about it, as it is my most treasured memory to this date, and it is very personal to me, but I am afraid if I don't record it I will lose it, and I need to be able to hold onto it forever. I believe with my whole heart that these minutes were given to me as a final gift from God, minutes He knew I would need to recall to make it through the years and years without my father, and minutes which would come to mean absolutely everything to me.

I was at the Hospice House, and it was about 4:30pm the afternoon before my Dad died. My Mom was there too, but she had stepped out for a few minutes to try and track down a phone number at the nurses station. My Dad was laying in his bed, and I was seated next to him, holding his hand. I felt the strongest urge to talk to him about something, anything, just to be able to make the most of a rare few minutes alone. So I proceeded to tell him what a wonderful father he had been to me, and to all of his kids. I told him that he was the best we could have ever asked for. I assured him that because of the life he had led before us, and the example he had given us to follow, we would all be together again someday. I promised him that we would be okay if he had to go, because he had instilled in us his love for Christ, and this love would see us through until we could see him again.

I somehow made it through my dialogue without crying (which can only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit in me), and when I finished talking and looked up at him again he was looking me directly in the face with his beautiful, kind eyes, and he said to me in his weakened, gentle voice, "Thank you for that assurance". He then pulled my face towards him, gave me a kiss on the lips, pulled my head down to lay upon his chest, and repeatedly kissed my forehead and my hair, all the while using his other hand to reach over and stroke my arm over and over again. And I lay there, face buried in his shirt, listening to the rhythmic beating of his heart, silently pleading with God to never let that moment end, to never let that heartbeat cease.

Little did I know, less than twelve hours later my father would be gone.

But at that moment, he was still my Daddy, and he held me.

Dear Lord in heaven,

I pray this day wiping the tears from my eyes so that I can find the keyboard in front of me.
Thank you, sweet Jesus, for the gift of my father and everything he has meant to me in my life. Thank you for the memories you brought to the forefront of my mind tonight. Thank you for the days, the weeks, the years, the decades that I got to spend with him, to know him, to love him, and to be loved by him.
Thank you for the opportunity to be raised by someone who dedicated his life to seeking You and finding You, and someone who had a passion for passing this devotion on to his children.
You have Yourself a loving friend in him, Lord. It is not surprising to me why You wanted to call him home. Next time You see him, tell him we love him, and we are longing for the day when we get to spend eternity with him, too.

Protect our hearts until then, Lord. Continue to bring us memories of this man we cherish and love so deeply, and miss so much. Help us keep him here with us in every way we can, so that we may pass down the lessons he so diligently taught us about You to our own children.
Thank You again, Lord, for the time with our father. The years You gave him here will never be forgotten.

In Your Perfect Name I pray,

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Perfecting the Art of Patience

Let me preface this by saying that less than eight hours after writing this post my oldest daughter, Dana, woke up Jason and I by throwing up on herself right outside our bedroom door. You'll understand the irony of it all in a moment.

Sometimes I wonder why God ever blessed me with children. Specifically, the ones that presently live under my roof. My two precious, kind, loving, beautiful, unique daughters.

Days like today make me think that I am not a fit parent. I feel as if all day long I have been nagging, harping, scolding, reprimanding, and basically being unappreciative of the miracles that God has chosen to make my own.

My voice has been raised more often than I like, and if I am being honest, probably more often than was necessary. Looking back, the looks of bewilderment and sadness that I caused to grace my little one's faces is enough to make me cry tears of shame, and vow to never, ever say another harsh word of correction to them again.

But now they are in bed, sleeping like babies, looking like angels, and I am left sitting here regretting pretty much every interaction I have had with them all day long. I wonder what they must think of their mean old Mom. I wonder how much of today's negativity will permanently be etched in their subconscious. I wonder if I will be the focal point of their therapy sessions one day.

I'm so tempted in this moment to go into their rooms, wake them up, beg for their forgiveness, and tell them how much their momma really does love and cherish every ounce of their sweet little souls.

But then I remember I have to work in the morning, and putting the kids to bed twice doesn't sound so appealing anymore.

So for now I will simply pray with everything that I have, for what seems like the ten thousandth time, that they will forgive me my shortcomings as their Mom, and see through my many mistakes into this heart that is taken up completely with them.

It is times like these where I realize that I just can't do it (meaning my life!) without help. These are the days which have me getting down on my knees at night, confessing to God my perpetual lack of patience and understanding, and asking Him to please, please saturate my mind and heart with His wisdom and compassion. I find myself begging Him for guidance so that His children have a chance at knowing what it feels like to be loved with the unconditional love of Christ, and not with my own earthly, fallible, imperfect love.

(Sidenote: How does God do it? I can hardly handle two children three and under who have every right to whine, complain, and be self-indulgent because they just don't know any better. How does He handle a whole world of whining, complaining, self-indulgent people who do? The patience He must have defies any definition of "patience" my human mind could ever comprehend. )

Does anyone else ever have days like this? When the people you love most in the world become the people who you think it's okay to treat the worst? I admit, I have been guilty of that more often than is normal lately, and especially since my Dad passed away. I heard a saying somewhere that said, "Hurting people hurt people". And at first these words made so much sense to me. I embraced them, felt vindicated by them, and thought they gave me a good excuse to put myself first while expecting everyone else to cater to my every whim.

Now I see them as the crutch that they have become.

I can see where this quote may have had it's foundation. I can understand the mentality behind it. Being a "hurting person", I can completely relate to not wanting to have to think of anything beyond myself and my suffering.

But I know now that it doesn't make it right, and it definitely does not represent the lifestyle that we, as followers of Christ, are called to demonstrate to those around us.

So, today, with you all as my witnesses, I am going to make a point of being patient with the people around me. With my kids, my husband, my co-workers, the phone solicitors, the person behind the counter who didn't get my order right, and even the crazy Tulip Time tourists who don't understand what a Michigan Turn is and have me wait indefinitely while they make a left onto the highway. I am going to quit concentrating on how what they do and what they say make me feel, and instead become intent only on loving them.

When someone is hard to love, I'm just going to love them more.

When someone makes me want to leave the room in frustration, I'm going to take a deep breath, ask God for a quick dose of humility and sensitivity, and remain right where I am.

When I feel as if the only way to get my point across is to say hurtful words, roll my eyes, or sigh in exasperation, I'm going to ask myself, "What would Jesus do?", and keep my emotions and my reactions in check.

Lofty goals? You bet. No doubt about it. I'm already envisioning myself failing miserably.

But I know if I keep my eyes trained outward and upward, and forget about looking inward, I can achieve them.

Dear Lord in heaven,

I pray this day for a change of heart. You have seen me lately, and You know there are times where I hardly even recognize this person I can so easily become. You know my regrets, You've heard my apologies, You see the sadness this brings me, You know that I want to be different.
But I need You to help me.
Help me, Lord, have the patience I need to be a good parent, and a good wife, and a good person. Help me become someone who mirrors You in all that I do and say. Help people to look at me and see undeniable evidence of You in my life.
Help me to take the extra two seconds I need to re-evaluate the situations I find myself in, to see You there as well, and react appropriately and in a way that would make You proud to call me Your own.
You are all I want to look like in this life, Lord, help me to reflect that to those around me.
Today I give You my heart, so that You can make it more like Yours. I want to see Your people as You see them, accept them as You accept them, and embrace them as You embrace them.
Thank You for Your never-ending patience with me, Lord. Help me to renew and refine my own.

In Your Name I pray,

Saturday, May 2, 2009

And On the Seventh Day...

Wow, it feels good to be back. I'm sure the majority of you didn't even realize I was gone, but I was taking a little 24 hour sabbatical, imposed upon me by the Lord Almighty Himself.

(Never in a million years did I think I would ever have reason to write such words. Life certainly takes us places we never expect it to sometimes!)

Let me back up...

The night before last night I was sitting on my couch, writing an entry for this blog. It took me a little longer than normal at first, as the words just weren't seeming to flow as they usually do. Towards the end I found my rhythm, completed what I wanted to say, felt really good about what the Lord had put on my heart to write about, hit "send", and went to go check on the kids.

A few minutes later I returned to my computer, only to realize that my connection to the Internet had somehow been severed during the time I was writing, and I hadn't noticed. Almost all of what I had recorded was lost, and immediately I turned into a panicky mess.

(I just want to give a quick shout-out to my fantastic husband, Jason, who stood witness to my melt-down. He had a front row seat to the pen-wielding, brain-wracking chaos that ensued, and didn't say a word about how totally nuts I must have seemed at the time. Instead he just let me go about my frantic quest for recollection, gave me a hug and a kiss, told me he loved me, and went to bed. He's one smart guy, who knows me and understands my occasional insanity all too well.)

So there I was, pen and pad on one side of me, computer on the other, head in my hands, holding back my tears of frustration, and feeling more uneasy and anxious regarding this website than I ever have felt before.

As I was sitting there, I found myself thinking that in no way could this be the way God intended me to feel while I was trying to serve Him. Wasn't I supposed to feel radiant, and joyful, and filled to the brim with His Spirit? These were the farthest things from my mind as I rushed through recording my entry again, and attempted to ignore the carpal tunnel syndrome that was threatening to take over my right hand.

But when I had finished copying down as much of the entry as I could from memory, there was no satisfaction in it anymore. I didn't feel right about posting it, as it didn't seem that the words written were still words from God. I could distinctly hear Him telling me to hold off, and maybe there would come a day when those words would again be appropriate.

But not then.

I dragged myself to bed feeling drained, and unsettled, and confused. I laid there, unable to focus on my nightly reading, feeling as if I had missed out on something important. I felt that He was trying to tell me something, but I was too caught up in working for Him, and I had missed it.

And then the words came to me.

"Rest, My child. If you want to serve Me the way I desire to be served, you need to let yourself slow down long enough to find Me."

It made so much sense. All day, everyday, when I had not been fulfilling my role as wife, or mother, or daughter, or employee, I had (almost embarrassingly so) become obsessed with this site, and with following Him, and with hearing Him, and with staying true to this course He had called me.

I had sacrificed time with Him to serve Him.

And He was telling me I needed to just let it go for a little while.

Even things from God need to take a backseat sometimes when they get in the way of God.

I was of no use to Him if my main goal was not to get to know Him better in order to relay what I had learned about Him to His people. I needed to realign myself with Him, and disengage myself from the ways which I figured were the best ways to serve Him. I needed to back off, and just focus on who He is. No Internet connections, no Post-it notes of possible topics, no mind wandering to what my next entry should be... just Him.

So the computer was shut off, the pens were put away, my mind was reclaimed, and I rested. For a whole day I did nothing but enjoy being a wife, and a mom, and savor talking to Him whenever I felt like it about things that were completely unrelated to this website. I didn't put any pressure on myself to be the perfect servant (which to those of you who know me must find quite comical. Me? Worried about being perfect? Not quite standard procedure over here).

And it felt great.

And now, instead of feeling frazzled and weighed down as I sit here before you, I am light, and peaceful, and treasuring this time He has given me to do His work once again.

It has been a very good day, given to me by an extremely loving God.

Dear Lord in heaven,

I pray this day finally understanding what it means to be cared for by You. I had thought I knew, but I had no idea. You looked down, saw me with my heart in the right place but my mind scattered all over tarnation, and pointed me in the direction of the one and only thing I needed, even when I didn't know I needed it at all.
I love how You know me so well. You knew that I never would have let myself take that soul-renewing breather. You knew that I would have assumed needing rest was probably a form of weakness when it came to following You. You knew that I would have just kept pushing and pushing myself until I was burned out, blaming You, and bitter about who this person was that I had turned into.
Thank You, Lord, for reminding me once again that this is all about You, not me, and that You need me to be at my best, if I am going to be able to do my best. Thank You also for reminding me that even You found time for rest, and that You command us in Your Word to rest in You on a regular basis.
What a wonderful thing it is, Lord, to rest in You. To find our focus in You. To be refreshed in You. You have the ability to bring peace like no other.
Please continue to remind Your people of whatever it is we need most, whenever we may need it. Don't let our stubbornness and our assurance that we know what's best for us get in the way of listening to You, the God who made us in the first place and knows us even better than we know ourselves. Tear down our barriers and take off our blindfolds so that we can find You, and we can become the joyful, satisfied people You created us to be.
Help us remember, dear Lord, that You love us and care for us, and love nothing more than opportunities to show it.
In Your Name I pray,