Friday, December 12, 2014

Tired and Weary

We did not make it to noon before I had reached the end of my rope. 

It was the Friday of an unusual week for us with lots of time at home, in each other's space and mess of who we are. I had an especially long day with the kids the day prior as my husband had a longer than usual workday.  My mind was full of all the ways I would rather be spending my time and energies which did not include the futile feeling of re-directing my children multiple times a minute back to their school work. It did not include sweeping the kitchen floor countless times to pick up the breakfast mess and then the craft mess and then the lunch mess...
It did not include saying, "Be quiet. Be quiet. Be quiet," ad nauseam nor chasing children down to clean up after themselves because they are ten and seven years old after all and really should be trained by now in picking up after themselves. 

This context is somewhat typical these days in my home. I can say, however, that by the kindness of God manifested through the modern wonders of psychotropic medicines, my response was atypical.  

By mid-morning, I stood near the stove, preparing food for later that day and an event the next morning and had an all too familiar feeling wash over me that I had not felt in a notable amount of time: depression. Depression that is a mix of agitation, despair and a sense of futility. There is also the guilt that accompanies it because it is just so selfish of me to feel sad about the life with which I have been blessed. 

** (I believe depression is such a complex topic. It is experienced by so many people yet so individual at the same time. I know that what I have and do experience does not compare to the ways others suffer with it, rending them unable to even function. Nevertheless, I want to share vulnerably here as I know how much it has encouraged my own heart and even helped me to function better when I have read and listened to others share their experience.)

I have learned on these days to stay as quiet as I can, speak as little and as softly as I can muster to squelch the churning agitation that rages inside my heart and mind. I know I need to do the right thing when I don't feel the right thing. I can say that because I have experienced bouts of depression (if I am even allowed to call what I experience depression) frequently enough and long enough to be able to identify it quickly and know what game plan needs to be employed. I put one foot in front of the other, and I know it will eventually lead me to the end of the day when I will be granted the merciful gift of sleep from which I will wake up to new mercies the next morning. 

On this day, I reached out to my husband and asked for prayer. He called to suggest a solution by which I would be able to pull away from the kids for the rest of the day, and the kids would responsibly be "in charge." I was agreeable desperate, and the kids were thrilled at the prospect. Terms were established, and once lunch was undertaken, I retired to my room to write, read and rest, thanking Jesus for an unexpected break, praying the plan would miraculously work.

The first thing I did after cozying up under my blanket was to look up Isaiah 40, a long time favorite passage of scripture of mine and one that God gently brought to mind when that mid morning wave of sadness and despair washed over me.

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.

The weight of responsibility in raising and homeschooling three children, caring for chronic medical needs, managing our home, property, and other possessions let alone investing in and growing stronger all the rich relationships God has so blessed us with feels like it may crush me at times. a lot of times.

But, I have to say that my whirring thoughts and fast paced heart is first quieted; it is hushed and then stirred up again with fresh awe, wonder and worship when I think upon God. It really is not any more complicated than that. I think on God. I think about all HE is responsible for, all HE promises to sustain, all He not just manages but promises to work together for good (Romans 8:28). And, THEN, then, Isaiah tells me He does NOT grow tired or weary?! Whaaa?

I am of German/Irish descent. I was 'bred' to work hard and long and like it! I am surrounded by what I have heard is now being referred to as "try hards," what I always called, "over achievers." I once identified with these labels. Now? Not so much. Kids have leveled me. 

But, GOD is the ultimate over achiever. He finishes what He begins, and He does it with excellence. He has never experienced burn out or despair. All He does is with purpose and precision; nothing is futile or wasted. He never grows tired or weary. 

I pray these truths will surmount any waves of despair, sadness, or agitation you or I will face and carry us to a place of rest. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Full but Blessed Days

My days are ridiculously full. I come to the end of one and forget what I did at the beginning. My gas tank empties faster than it once did, and I am becoming an expert at meals on the go.  Dates with my hubby are scheduled because if it is not on the calendar, it simply will not happen.  I am surprised I haven't scheduled going to the bathroom each day.  (My husband would probably say I should given how much time I spend there ;) )

I miss my girlfriends--leisurely talks over coffee or walks with our toddlers. (YES, there is a perk to having toddlers--you can still strap them into a stroller and go. I know all you moms of toddlers are wondering if there are any perks to this phase of motherhood you're in. So, there you go. That's one. You're welcome.)

Relationship happens in the transition from one event to another while waiting for dance practice to end or Lego League to begin.  Sometiems that only amounts to making a cognitive note that my friend is still alive. And, just knowing that another overscheduled and underpaid mom has made it another day has to be enough to buoy me onto the next.

But I am living in the blessed days. I know that when I drop my kids off for speech club, enjoy a rare ten minutes ALONE in the car on my way home....and miss them. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

God's Story in My Story

My name is Briana.
It means "strong."
I am anything but.

This is my story which is really God's story where He shows His strength in my weakness, His faithfulness in my faithlessness, His love to an unlovely sinner.

I grew up in a home where my parents were believers in Jesus, took my three siblings and me to church and sent us to a private, Christian school where I received a solid education, both academically and of the Scriptures.  While not all that was taught lined up with what I "caught" growing up in these contexts, I am  inexpressibly grateful for the foundations that were laid in my heart and mind in that first decade of my life.

At five years old, it was clear that unless I prayed the sinner's prayer, I would go to hell, and hell was the worst place imaginable.  So, I prayed with my dad in our basement.

Three years later, around age eight, my "get-out-of-hell-free" card was not enough to quiet my conscience that was so easily bothered by any wrong doing.  God gave me the gift of a tender and impressionable heart--one that longed to please Him and others.

By the time I reached fifth grade, I was sure of my salvation and that I was a pretty good kid, too.  I was a good student, helpful at home and had lots of Christian friends.  I thought I understood God and how this Christian thing worked.

And then my world fell a part, piece by piece. The God I thought I knew brought about one devastating blow after another.

The church my parents helped begin experienced a split, from what I later learned was due in part to the pastor's infidelity.  My parents began to attend two different churches for a season, disagreeing on what was best for our family.

My dad eventually joined my mom at an Evangelical Free Church, and he was shortly thereafter diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Two years later, after experimental surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and a year of a relatively healthy life, my dad succumbed to the cancer and died just two months after his 40th birthday.
 I was twelve.

Within a year of my dad's death, my mom was remarried to a man, Galen, who lost his spouse to a hit-and-run while walking along a country road with a family friend.  Galen had three boys of his own who all became my step brothers.

By the time I turned fourteen, loss and heartache hung over me like a dark cloud.
I became verbally combative with my parents, and a fight for control manifested itself through an eating disorder by the time I turned fifteen. And though turmoil stormed within my heart and thoughts about what God had chosen for me and my family, outwardly I continued to profess a strong conviction in a God who loves and died and lives for any and all to know Him and be spared from His wrath, should they believe in Jesus and surrender to His Lordship. I see this now as God's strong grace at work in my life despite my weak faith.

After high school, God's Providence led me to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) where I studied Sociology and Religious Studies. The four years I spent as an undergraduate profoundly challenged my faith.  There were numerous moments I considered bagging Christianity altogether and declaring myself a spiritual agnostic but for the words written in John 6:68, spoken by Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Once again, God's faithfulness to keep me and cause me to remain His was displayed in my life.

Within a year of graduating from college, I moved forward into what I believed was God's call on my life to full-time Christian ministry through Campus Crusade for Christ, a ministry God used significantly in my life as a college student.

I was initially assigned to Towson University where God filled my heart with a great sense of mission and passion for the lost and the discipleship of believers.  Though I loved ministry, I continued to struggle with God's goodness to me.  Verses like Psalm 84, "No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly," seemed to mock me when I considered some of the events of my life. What I did not want, I received; what I wanted, I did not receive.  When alone in bed at night, I would cry myself to sleep.  At times I thought about ending my life.  Though I loved the Lord of Life and Father of Light, I entertained dark thoughts of death.

With my faith so dim, His faithfulness shone forth all the more brightly as I continued to wobbly entrust my circumstances to His wise and loving Hands.

Fast forward to 2002, Lawrence and I were married,  and two years later in 2004, had our first children (twin boys).  .Marriage was not as delightful as I had hoped and more difficult than I had imagined.  Motherhood was doubly so!

Though I love my boys to the moon and back now, it was not "love at first sight" when they were born. An emergency C-section, a sucker punch diagnosis of Sturge Weber Syndrome for Judah (our firstborn of the twins), and persistently painful and problematic nursing for five and a half months left me once again with fists in the air wondering where the goodness of God was to be found in my life's circumstances.

But, God had been at work in my life.  Just as the steady current of a stream washes over rough rocks smoothing out their surfaces, making its impact over a long period of time, so the steady washing of my mind with God's truth over several decades of my life led me to a place where I fully and finally believed in my heart that God is good to those He loves, and that most definitely included me.

I only became aware of this grace, however, in the midst of another trial God brought into our lives--the birth of our daughter, Bella.  After a natural labor and delivery of which I had wanted and asked God for, we learned that Bella was not breathing well on her own.  I could not nurse her or have her in my room. She was kept in the special care nursery and eventually transferred to Hopkins where she remained in the NICU, the only near 9 pound baby, for a week! 

 It was an exhausting week, making daily trips back and forth to Hopkins, meeting with doctors and nurses, pumping every three hours to ensure mommy's milk would be available for Bella when she was strong enough to eat, and caring for our 2.5 year old boys in the in-between time.   During that week, even in the midst of a mental fog, it occurred to me that I was not questioning God's goodness to me in light of my circumstances. In stark contrast to how I had always responded through previous trials, I was standing resolute in my heart that somehow God was being good to me, to my daughter, to my family. I believed, and as that belief was being tested, I saw that God had brought about a definitive change in my heart and mind.  

Since that time, I have floundered significantly in my performance as a mom, a wife, daughter, sister and friend. I have come up short time and time again.  Motherhood has not felt like a natural fit. Being a wife to Lawrence has proven to reveal a rather ugly side of me--an angry, bitter, controlling Briana. I have fought with The Lord many times about the roles I play most of my days as wife and mom because those roles have forced me to come face to face with my depravity, my inability to be godly and some days to just even be nice.

My failing performance, however, has best positioned me to see and fully hide myself in God's flawless performance and unfailing love. And, while there remains a bit of a constant wrestling match between me and God over what He asks of me, there is no longer the constant doubting Him about why He calls me to it; I know it is for my good. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Perfect Master of Our Less Than Perfect Marriage

We are not your Hallmark couple
Though we both love the Hallowed One who made us a couple

We have not been a safe place for each other
But we know and love and run to the One who is an inpenetrable Refuge.

We are not each other's best friends
Yet we have a friend Who sticks closer than a brother.

We have wounded and wronged each other more times than we can count.
Even so, our souls have been bought by the One who was wounded for us and Who will one day make all wrongs, right.

We have grown tired and weary in our striving for peace
Yet our lives are sustained by the Prince of Peace whose understanding none can fathom!

We have scratched and clawed our way to 12+ years of wavering faithfulness and devotion to one another
But the strong arms of God's unfailing love have held us and carried us to today.

We have said so many hurtful, hateful things, condemned and criticized
Though we stand no longer condemned by the One whose judgment alone counts.
We are loved and accepted by Him who speaks only words of affirmation and love over us.

Our marriage is to be a reflection of Christ's love for His bride and the church's reciprocal love and yieldedness to Jesus
Instead we have reflected much lesser, base values of this world.
It has reflected our often wandering hearts that crave delights that cannot satisfy.

There is: who we are, what we see and have experienced in trying to love one another
Then there is: WHOSE we are and what we have not YET seen but will one day---

I have been an imperfect bride.
You have been a less than loving lover.
But the Lover of our souls is perfect.
His love has never failed us.

We are together His bride--cleansed, whole, healed, and eternally loved.

Together, we are still becoming all Jesus fought for us to be.

Today, again, I choose to stand with your hand in mine,
Your heart intertwined with mine
Our gaze on Him, our perfect Savior
                              our perfect Lord
                              our perfect God
Awaiting the day He makes us what He's claimed us to be:
His perfect bride.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Ebola, Our Worst Fear?

Ebola comes near
And strikes fear
Into our hearts
Causing us to wonder
How much closer
Will it come

Will it infect ones I know?
Will it infect ones I love?
Will it infect me?

Teach us to number our days
Is a prayer we pray
Ebola has a way
Of doing just that.

Why do we fear
When our end could be near?
Could be on the next plane
From Africa to here?

Why do we fear
When our days our numbered
And we know that to be so
But the threat of it shakes us?

It's not theory any longer
Now that Ebola is no further
Than Texas!

People we know will die
Loved ones will die
I will die.

But we will all arise
Into one of two eternities:

An eternity where no Ebola remains
A forever after where peace and health
And best of all, Jesus reigns.

No more threats of death
Just living in the promise of life
No more heartache or loss
Because Jesus paid the cost
Of it all---all our sin
                 all our shortcoming
                 all our sorrow

He became a man acquainted with grief
Took our shame and hung on a tree
Nailed it there and in return set us free.

Free from threats
Free from death
Free from ourselves
And all dark tomorrows

But there's another eternal place
From which Jesus hides His face

All threats are thrown here
And made a reality to bear
For those dying in their denial
Of Jesus, the God-man

Their refusal to bow, refusal to praise
The One who gave them all of their days
The One who whispers and shouts
"I am real. I came to love you!"
But this and Him they doubt.

And so Ebola-though a threat and a curse
Only to death can it make one hurt.

After death, there is life
Heaven for those who believe Jesus died
Hell for those who refuse Him.

If you love Jesus and trust His blood spilled
You have NO NEED TO FEAR, only reason to HOPE!

But, if you are one refusing to bow,
Refusing to surrender
PLEASE listen and know:
Ebola is not your worst fear
But it may lead to it,
That of facing your Creator
Not covered by Jesus' blood.

There is still time,
Still reason to run
To the One who loves you
Enough to give up His Son.

Confess today and forevermore
Jesus reigns over all
Jesus is Lord

He came to save
Not to condemn
Embrace His love
Embrace Him!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Labor Day: a Day for Work?

Today is Labor Day. Labor means work, and typically on Labor Day, we take a rest from our work. 
But, the verse of the day that popped up in my "YouVersion" bible app. this morning was Hebrews 12: 14 which exhorts me to work.
Work at getting along with each other and with God. (Heb 12:14a, The Message)

ESV and other versions use the word, "Strive." 
Strive for peace with everyone...
American Standard Version says, "Follow after peace with all men..."
Good News Translation tells us to "Try to be at peace with everyone..."
Holman Christian Standard uses the word "Pursue" as in 
Pursue peace with everyone...

Pursue, strive, work at, try to, follow after...

My response to this commandment today? 
"You know, I just don't feel like it. It's Labor Day weekend, the weekend we take a BREAK from our work!  Did you not consult the calendar, oh deciders of the verse of the day at You Version Bible App. Inc.?

Maybe they didn't, but the verse remains there in scripture and the reminder from II Timothy 3:16 still rings true, too, even on Labor Day, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, or reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

Well crap, I think, I cannot run away from this. I cannot deny it or refute the call to work today from the God I have submitted my life to. I cannot say, "God, this is a day off from work."
I may be able to set aside physical labor today, though as a mom, likely not. But today and on any day I cannot set aside the call to work toward peace. 

The pursuit of peace in our relationships with others is arduous at times, is it not?
On these holiday weekends, we often find ourselves with family or close friends with whom it might require a great amount of effort on our part to find and stay on the path of peace. 

Sometimes to follow after peace demands we look hard for the way because it is so clouded by the fog of emotion. We must pause and think rather than speak. We must walk away wounded because we absorbed offense rather than returned it. We must depart at the day's end, leaving others with misconceptions or perceptions of us, our motives and intentions.  We must bite our tongue rather than use it in viperous ways.  We must leave others' wrongs un-righted, others' stinging comments un-addressed, others' passive aggressiveness un-responded to for the sake of peace. 

Our call is to peace. 
Look for the ways to make peace, keep peace, follow peace today.  There is no formula. The actions may look very different from one person to another. Prayerfully ask God, as I am today, what does it look like for ME to pursue peace today. 

Can we pray for one another today as we seek to labor on this Labor Day?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day and Everyday

Being a mom is not all sunshines and rainbows. 
I know. All moms are knodding their heads and saying, "Uh, no duh."

But, Mother's Day comes and we post pictures on facebook of smiling mommas with their adoring children. And, we give statuses of all the lovely gifts given, cards written, flowers displayed. 

We have brunch and lunch and wish each other a wonderful day. 

Don't get me wrong; there ARE moments that are wonderful. 
But there are also moments that are not so wonderful. 
Sometimes, the whole day is stinking hard and awful, painful and problematic.

With steely determination, we decide we will master our unruly emotions that want to be unhealthily attached to what our children do or don't do, how they behave or express their love, appreciation,  and respect for us as their mom.  Some of us win; some of us lose. Some of us win and lose in the same day. 

The latter was my day. 
I won some battles; I lost some battles. 

I blocked out the grumbling, arguing, disobedient, disrespectful child(ren), and allowed my husband to train and discipline.  I overlooked the lack luster, homemade cards and focused on the immensely sweet, thoughtful one instead.  I quieted the thoughts that wanted to scream at me that I didn't do enough to honor my own mother and mother in law. 

I persevered with my high maintenance kiddos who complained they were too hot, too thirsty, had to go to the bathroom (we were at public parks all day) or wanted more candy.

But, I also didn't deal well with my family's quirks.  I grew angry at some of the decisions my husband made. I spatted. I barked at my kids. And my heart sunk at the mess that we are as a family. 

So I took a walk. a long, brisk walk. alone. 

And I was able again to collect my jumbled up thoughts, my twisted up heart, take a deep breath and return to my family, these four people who I deeply love more than anything or anyone in the world. As I approached the last hill before my turn toward home, I thought, "To cross the finish line, I must stay in the race."

On this Mother's Day and on many days, that's all I've got to give....just staying in the race. I may not be running well, or I might have had a good stretch with strong legs, lungs and breath.  Either way, the finish line is all I am really interested in.  And, I have to stay in the race in order to get there. I have to keep showing up as a momma. I have to keep admitting my failures, shortcomings and sins, ask for forgiveness and grace and then move on.  I  have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, taking steps toward that finish line. 

Whether you had sunshine and rainbows or some hills to climb and valleys to find your way through today, my prayer and hope for you is that you will keep running (or walking) your race.  Keep putting the other. Keep moving through and on and over what you need to  in order to reach that finish line. Keep showing up as a momma. On Mother's Day and everyday.