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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring Will Come

I started writing this post weeks ago and began thinking about it weeks before that.   Tonight seemed like THE night to finish and publish it given this freakish snow fall on APRIL 15!
The calendar says it's spring, but the weather forecasts say winter has forgotten to take a hike.  Just days after we celebrated the arrival of spring, white stuff, aka 'snow' (the new four letter word) fell once again from the sky.  Even my 9 year old son complained that he was sick of snow.  You know it's been a long winter when a nine year old boy moans at the threat of more snow rather than falling to his knees to plead the gates of Heaven for it to be true.

Upon losing track of which number snow fall for the winter we were experiencing or anticipating, I adopted a mantra to help keep me from complaining. That mantra was, "Spring will come."  I figured it has come every year; it will come again. Renewal, rejuvination, rebirth. It will all come. And, when we pulled out our spring basket on March 22 and filled it with seeds to plant, bubbles to blow and eggs to dye, I replaced the mantra of "Spring will come" with "Spring has sprung."

But, I looked outside today and spring most definitely has not sprung. Aside from rain saturating the earth, there are few signs of spring's arrival.  I still have to grab a coat when I go outside.  A few buds are peeking through the ground, but not many, and I wonder if the ones brave enough to rear their buds will survive.  Temperatures have dipped below freezing multiple nights since spring "arrived." (***And, now, on April 15th, after many more buds have erupted and many vegetables have been planted, it snows and is below freezing after experiencing glorious temperatures in the seventees just days ago.)

We long for spring, and we have caught glimpses of it. Tomorrow morning many of the glimpses may have frozen to death overnight but that is not entirely the point. Sorry to be a downer here.  I promise this post will end on a good note. 

Yes, we long for spring while we endure winter.
Spring has come but it hasn't, not the spring our hearts truly long for. 

The winter of this fallen earth remains even as I take in the beauty of blooming buds outside. 
Our friend, Jonathan, who is just in his thirties, lingers in the hospital for months now trying to recover from his THIRD kidney transplant.  
Another friend sends a sad text letting me know she has lost the baby she prayed many years for and had a privileged 7 weeks to carry in her womb.  
Then there is the woman from Utah who was arrested for murdering and covering up the remains of six of her own babies which is not only hideous but deeply hurtful in light of the loss my friend is still mourning. 

Positive thinking only gets us so far and it just does not erase these realities.  

Nirvana is nowhere to be found in hospital rooms or jail cells.

And, I have thought, "OH, Jesus, how I LONG for spring....not just the spring that brings daffodils and daisies but the spring that brings YOU again, the spring that ushers in the new earth and new heaven, new bodies for those who are in Christ, the new Kingdom of His righteous reign."

But, "spring" will come. It will. There is something, rather someONE who will take us farther than self affirmations.  There is someONE who exceeds the state of nirvana, who will take all the wrongs of this world and one day make it right, who will call all evil to account, who will fully and finally shackle all that shackles us, who will burst on the scene will more brilliance than any row of azaleas ever could display.
His name is Jesus.
And, he came to earth once. We celebrate His first coming at Christmas.
This week, we not only remember His dying but also rejoice at His resurrection because it assures us that death has been conquered, eternal life in Heaven with Him is possible, spring will come again.

What is in my heart and what I have tried to communicate in this post is perhaps more succintly and poetically expressed in the lines taken from one of our family's favorite series, "The Chronicles of Narnia", 
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

― C.S. LewisThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

We WILL have spring again. 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Nature's Hidden Treasures

Between the stress of having to be a responsible parent far beyond my preference or capacity this week and the clear, blue skies, this day beckoned me to enjoy some outside time.

I was in great need of refreshment for my soul, mind and body. For me, nothing sooths my soul, quiets my mind and energizes my body quite like being in the great outdoors.

After spending some time watching our kiddos and their friends splash in the spring-cold water of our nearby stream, make mud pies, jump on the trampoline and romp through our daffodils, I decided to pick up where my mother in law left off just a few days ago clearing away layers of leaves left from last fall in one of our flower beds.

What looked like a thin layer of leaves turned out to be a rather thick blanket of them which I discovered was hiding precious treasures beneath it.

First, little green sprouts appeared that may be tulips?  This is our first spring here in our new home, and we have not yet seen what beauty spring will have for us here at Montford, but we are excited to find out.

The more I raked, the more I began to see that there was quite a number of blooming plants I had no idea existed beneath all those leaves.

A part from the sheer (odd?) joy I find in physical labor, which was raking today, I was near giddy to be rewarded for my work with these gems.  This propelled me to keep raking even as dusk was settling in and my arms were beginning to quiver from the repetitive task of raking.

I could not finish the entire flower bed before I needed to set the rakes aside for the night in order to complete indoor tasks and prepare myself and our home for this upcoming week's needs.  But, I eagerly made a plan to return to my work tomorrow evening, hoping no rain is in the forecast and I can get back to raking, uncovering more of nature's hidden treasures that might still be lying underneath those layers of leaves. 

It made me think of some aspects of friendship. Initially, when we meet someone we see just the surface. But, we work at discovering what might be below the surface. And, it is work, isn't it? Asking questions. Giving time and careful attention to the details of another's story? Remembering new information about the person. Finding ways to bless her and communicate affection for her.

With time, attention and persistence, however, we often discover gems just waiting to be uncovered.

I am in a season of needing to make and develop new friendships.  There have been several changes in our life over this past year, and I know God is calling me to pursue and embrace new friendships--not at the forsaking of "old" friendships, which I always have to assure myself of because I am a "loyal to the death" type of friend and the idea of "moving on" relationally can start the water works flowing for this girl rather quickly (*if you are just getting to know me, you might want to take note of that and run now.)  ;)  And, yes, I know that was one, really long RUN ON sentence. oy!

So as I move forward relationally, I am going to hold on to this lovely picture God provided tonight as I raked my flower bed, that of hidden treasures lying below the surface. I want to gear myself up for a 'treasure hunt.'

How about you?  Have you experienced friendship in this way, finding unexpected treasures in your pursuit and/or committment to a friend? I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Thoughts About Marriage on our 12th Anniversary

Wedded bliss?  I have never known it. Those rose colored glasses that many couples wear while they date, are engaged and slowly remove that first year of marriage?  Lawrence and I never bought them, never wore them and hence never had to remove them.

But here we are celebrating 12 years of married life together. High fives, smiles, a hug and some passionate kisses were shared between the two of us along with a scrumptious dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Bonefish Grille.

To most who know us and anyone who follows me on facebook, it is not a secret that Lawrence and I have what we feel is a hard marriage. Truly, I realize that there are marriages that are SO much harder than ours. What defines a hard marriage anyway? I suppose every marriage is hard in its own way.

So, let me take just a sentence or two to define what is hard about OUR marriage.  In a nutshell, Lawrence and I are the two most opinionated, proud, stubborn people on the planet. A close friend of ours recently said that we are two control freaks battling it out for control all day, everyday.  We care about too much. We are passionate about too much, and we are skilled debators. Everything can become fodder for a fight between the two of us.  From parenting decisions to home improvement choices to how we spend a Saturday, we can somehow find a way not only to argue about it but to make a case as to why it is so very crucial that we argue about it. I am telling you; it is exhausting.

But, we have scratched and clawed our way to celebrating 12 years together. We have confessed sin to one another, asked for forgiveness, and granted forgiveness more times than we can count. We have invited countless friends and mentors and, in the last several months, a professional marriage counselor into the nitty gritty details of our marriage by way of soliciting their counsel and prayers.

We read books on marriage, make date night happen regularly, and "always kiss each other goodnight" (sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning because the fight lasted that long).  We have pet names, nothing overly exotic or gross, but pet names nonetheless.  We call each other during the day almost every day. We communicate a lot. about a lot. We still hold hands when out in public. My husband opens the car door for me and pumps gas for me as much as he has the opportunity to. But, let me tell you, all these things really are just motions and can be playacting for us and any married couple if there aren't a few things in place.

I am CLEARLY not in a position to give marriage advice, or maybe I am.  Maybe because married life (and even our dating life for that matter) has not been a walk in the park and the most blissful, emotionally buoying experience, I do have a few things I can say work well in propelling a marriage in the right direction.

12 (12 sounds so right to go with the 12 years we have been married, but I just do not know that much, so it is only four things) 4 things I have learned from 12 years in a hard marriage:

1. Commitment is what will carry you to 2 years, 12 years, 22 or 52 years. There is no way around this. When we take vows to love "in sickness and health and in good times or bad", we really have NO way of knowing how that resolve is going to be tested.  And a part from infidelity or abuse, there is a whole heck of a lot one or both of you may be required to endure for the sake of the vow you made.

Which leads me to the 2nd thing...

2. GRACE.  Grace as I best understand it is giving to someone that which he does not deserve. This can be tangible or intangible. I have long, too long, like until just a couple months ago long....treated Lawrence based on his performance or lack thereof. I have standards in my mind, sometimes that I am not even aware of until they're not met, and when he does not meet those standards, I basically punish him in some way.  Wow...this just does not lead to anything good for anyone.

I think I am only recently realizing that true love for Lawrence (and anyone for that matter) must and can only truly come from a heart that is not demanding anything in return, a heart that is willing to overlook offense, a heart that is so full of GOD's unconditional love and acceptance of her that she can draw upon that to give to her husband.  There is so much more that could be said about this, but I'll move onto #3.

3. Be real with the people around you about the hard realities of your marriage. By this I do not mean to complain about your spouse every opportunity you get to hang out with the guys or girls. And, I have had to ask for forgiveness from friends on more than one occasion for doing so myself.  By this I mean, be transparent with others about the temptations you face in extending love, grace, trust, perseverance, hope to your spouse for the purpose of receiving encouragement, counsel, and prayer. As much as Lawrence and I continue to duke it out with each other, I do not know that we would even be married today a part from the community of friends, family and mentors who have cheered us on, prayed for us, cried with us, and kicked us in the proverbial pants when we needed it.

4. Figure out what marriage is really all about.  Marriage, the covenantal union of a man and a woman, is to be a reflection of Christ and His Church.  As was so well articulated by my pastor just this morning, "God does not grade a marriage on how satisfied the partners are or how long they stick it out.  He grades a marriage on how well it reflects Christ and His church," which has everything to do with the Gospel.  The good news of Jesus is that He, the perfect Son of God, took the punishment from God the Father that WE deserved upon Himself by dying on a cross.  He died, was buried and rose again, conquering death and sin.

He offers us the choice to be reconciled to God, our Creator, by recognizing we do not live up to His standards of righteousness. We offend our Creator by not acknowledging Him or our need for Him. But, He offers us forgiveness and restoration of our relationship with Him by the confession of our need and His sufficiency.  He offers us eternal life with Him rather than eternal death and separation from God by believing in His Son, Jesus.

And in marriage, in MY marriage I get to reflect Jesus' love and grace to me by extending love and grace to Lawrence over and over again. For another 12 years and 12 years after that, and 12 years after that we both hope and pray.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Health is a Gift

Sometimes I am lulled into thinking of health as a given in this life.  We go a week or two or an entire month--which is always and usually, only December simply because I have set a boundary around that month of not scheduling any doctor's appointments unless emergent--without having to see a doctor. An entire season or even two may pass without any of us catching a virus or other infection of any sort, and I begin to think health is ours for the taking.  This week is reminding me it is not. This winter has reminded many that health is not a given. It is a blessing and in many parts of the world, a mark of the privileged.

At the outset of this week I had four doctor's appointments scheduled. As the week has ensued, it looks like I will be making a fifth appointment.  Only one of these appointments is routine; all the others are for some kind of ailment.  And, even the routine check up was with a doctor I see an hour's drive from my home because she specializes in a pain disorder I have.

I do not feel sorry for myself. And I do not want anyone reading this to feel sorry for me or my family. I mention all of the above to draw out a point that health is not a given in this life. Not just in my life but in any life.

Health is a gift.

God grants this gift ultimately, but uses genetics, our diet, fitness, environment and/or medications/suppliments/oils/vitamins, etc. to sustain this gift.

For so many around the world, pursuing health is not an option. Needed medications are not affordable or available. Doctors or otherwise knowledgable medical persons are not accessible.  Environments are polluted or less than sanitary.  Nutrition is not optimal because the funds to acquire quality food are lacking.

So, when I waited an hour in the doctor's office today and was tempted to complain or be frustrated by the long wait, I was grateful for that nudge from God that reminded me that my complaint would stem from a life that has only known privilege and blessing, wealth, abundance and even, relatively good health.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Gnawing Tension

Disclaimer: I'm going to be very "raw" with this post.

This issues raised by Ann Voskamp in this post:   grip me and have as long as I can remember.
The inequalities of the world we live in has weighed on me since my childhood when I can remember watching the TV "commercials" or special shows that highlighted the starving children in Ethiopia. I never grew immune to the need. Their gaunt faces always haunted me, and I wanted to save them all.

As an adult, I still struggle with inequality. I constantly wrestle with the question of how much is enough for me, for my family?  Is there room to give more than we are giving?

And, I will be honest and say I also struggle with self righteously judging others who I see allowing themselves material possessions, experiences and excess when so many in the world are barely surviving, don't have clean water to drink, are digging through trash heaps for their next meal or even selling their bodies to make ends meet. The atrocities of these realities can grip me to the point that I can not easily enjoy the wealth, privilege, and abundant blessing God has bestowed on me and my family.

This is why it's hard for me to buy anything at full price, and why I belabor many of the purchases we do make.
This is why I am more than okay wearing last year's (or decade's) fashions and am so self conscious about the Dooney & Bourke purse I currently carry only bc my mom got it for free and gave it to me.
This is why a persistent tension exists in my heart in receiving the blessing of our new home that is so beyond what I ever asked or dreamed of.
This is why I gave thanks today as I swiped my credit card at BJ's to buy yet another week's worth of groceries.
This is why it's hard for me at Christmas to lavish gift upon gift to my children who have more than they need, why I cringe just a little bit at the excess of our Thanksgiving feasts.
This is why I have created a family culture of eating up leftovers.
And, this is why while I would love and have taken get-aways with my husband and vacations with my family, it can leave me feeling the sting of undeservedness and regret over where else and on whom else that money could have been spent.

I know there is plenty of room to look more closely at my life and criticize my hypocrisy, my inconsistencies. I know there is a spectrum of giving, of want, of need and plenty and we're all on it somewhere including me. I know I alone have to answer to God for how I spend my time, my money, my resources, my talents. I know I don't answer for anyone else nor should judge others based on the "book's cover."

But I have to say I am refreshed to read a post like Ann's, to know there are other godly voices out there brave enough to call us North Americans to the proverbial carpet.  There have been pastors, teachers, friends and even my husband who have sought to 'adjust' my perspective. And, while I appreciate the perspectives they share, the back and forth banter, and the honest dialogue about the less than black and white-ness of this issue, I feel affirmed  when I read Ann's post.

I recognize that GOD has put this tension in my heart. And, I will do well not to ignore it or litigate it away but rather press in via prayer and the reading of God's Word (and maybe even a bit of fasting should I muster up the self control for that), to moment by moment, decision upon decision hear from and be led by the Holy Spirit on how HE would have me be a part of His redemptive work on this earth in terms of "acting justly."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

All Is Well

This song has been on repeat tonight.
After two weeks of a slower pace due to snow and sickness, real life smacked me in the face this morning and continued to do so all day long.

School started on time for me and my gang.
But, soon after lunch, it was fast and furious, scurrying to meet pre-planned obligations all while trying to manage details of upcoming calendar items by way of phone calls and lesson planning.

By 3 this afternoon, I was running behind.
Hurry and trying to do two or more things at a time leaves the door wide open for disaster or at very least, mishap.

Well, that mishap came today, a mishap that very well could have ended in disaster. 

After my chiropractor appointment, I made my way down to Hopkins in Baltimore to drop some things off to a friend who has been staying with her son, recovering from his third kidney transplant, for more than a month now.  Timing worked such that I made plans to meet my hubby in the city for dinner, kids in tow, so nothing more extravagant than Panera to which we had a gift card. Awesome!

While attempting a merge from one highway to another, I smashed into the car in front of me who suddenly braked at an oncoming car neither one of us saw soon enough. She braked suddenly; I braked suddenly. We screeched to a halt, but not before I hit the tail end of her BMW.  **Why must I always hit expensive cars?  Yet another reason to live and STAY in the country where everyone drives beat up pick up trucks. :)**

Kids started crying. One of them asked if he was dead. All of them told my husband later that they thought they were on their way to Heaven.  Dramatic much?

Though both our vehicles appeared to handle the impact better than my children, no obvious dents, my neck is hurting tonight and temptation is near to be fearful and worried that the other woman will be hurt as well, whiplash or something else, that she'll find some dings or scratches (least of my worries), put a claim in with our insurance, and our insurance will have to drop us as this is the 2nd fender bender (or whole door cruncher-inner) accident claim within a matter of months for me.

But then there is also the news of a previous pastor of mine and friends' father/grandfather's recent death that is weighing on my heart tonight.  JJ Altrogge was 95 and lived a long, story-filled life.  He loved to tell stories, and he did with detail and flare.  He loved to paint and he did with skill and delight. He loved to bless, and he did with hand painted birthday cards and smiles.  I was blessed by this man, by the way he loved The Lord, loved God's people, loved his wife and used his talents to bless so many people. 95 years! A long life, but still cut too short. Death is never natural, no matter how old one is.

So, I listen to the lyrics over and over again tonight,

The sun beams on behind the clouds 
And in the dark still grace abounds 
All is well because of God’s great love 

The road of disappointment runs 
Where unseen mercies wait for us 
And all is well because of God’s great love 

He feels our weakness, knows our need 
And for our good He intercedes 
All is well because of God’s great love 

Through every failure, every fear The Lord of comfort draws us near And all is well because of God’s great love 

All is well with me, not because I made it home tonight without a scratch and not because there is a possibility we may not be dropped by our insurance, but because of God's great love. 

All is well with Mark, JJ's son, not because his heart isn't breaking at the loss of his dad and friend, not because JJ lived a long life and death was a mercy at the end due to the pain and discomfort he was experiencing, but because of God's great love. 

God's great love. 
Here's the thing about it.
He reserves this great love for His children. 
And, while all mankind are God's creation, they are not all His children. For much of His creation, all is NOT well. 
It may seem well, though. 
You may have riches, security, the love and acceptance of another or many. You may have family, health and never really known great loss. You may have the accolades of co-workers and friends alike. But, still all may not be well.

If you do not know Jesus as your Savior, then you do not know God as your Father, and all is NOT well.  But, it can be. 

John 1:12 says, Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

Believe in Jesus. Believe that He died on the cross for all the wrong things you have thought, felt or done. He died because He was the only one who could, because He was perfect. He did, felt and thought only things that pleased God, His Father.  He lovingly and sacrificially took the punishment that we deserved and instead offers us life here on earth and one day, forever in Heaven with Him.  Confess your wrongdoing. Turn away from it and turn instead to Jesus. 

He wants all to be well with us.

It may seem a trite plea, maybe one you have read or heard before. Most of those who read this blog, I think, are already children of God; all is well with them no matter their circumstances. 

But, because there may stand a chance that someone may read this who is not yet a child of God, I do make this plea with you. 
I was not guaranteed today. I am not guaranteed tomorrow. Neither are you. Is it well with you? 

His coming soon will fill the sky 
And all that’s wrong will be made right 
With newborn eyes we will behold 
The glory of the risen Lord 
All will be well because of God’s great love 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Happy 7th, girlie!

Just kissed my 6 year old girlie g'night for the last time. 
Tomorrow, she turns 7!
7 prayers for you, my girl.

Just as you elicit great laughter in our home, I pray that you would laugh at the days to come knowing that God has gone before you into each one, comes behind you and has His mighty hand of grace upon you every step that you take. 

May you walk out all your days in the uniqueness of who God has made you to be, always confident of what God's Word says about you in Psalm 139, that you are fearfully and wonderfully made!

May you not have to kiss too many (just one? A momma can pray!) frogs before you find your prince.

May both the injustices of this world  and the mercies of God cause your hair to stand on end.

And, may you work hard for the causes of Christ, the advancement of His gospel and the fame of His name.

May you live your life fearless, ready to jump into any endeavor, give up anything of this world and run hard after anything God puts in your heart to do for Him, knowing HE's got your back. 

May you enjoy the intimacy of a relationship with Jesus through prayer and the fervent study of His Word. May your days begin and end and be filled, chatting it up with your Heavenly Father who loves you more and better than I or Papi or anyone on this beloved earth ever could.

And, we do love you, baby girl, B girl, Bell, Bella, Isabela Claire Almengor!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Where I meet Jesus and He meets me

Shallowed breathing. Cold sweats. Laying on the cold tile of my bathroom floor separated only by a bath towel that is now drenched with the toxic sweat, seaping out from my pores, virus trying to find its way out.

I don't know how long I laid there, limp, the life blood near drained from my body. Blood pressure must have been scarily low as I could barely lift a brow let alone arms or legs to carry me to my bed.

The dreaded stomach virus hit our home yesterday. And, by God's kind mercy, yes, I am writing about it just a day later. Amazing how one can go to hell and back in less than 24 hours.

In the midst of  hours, seemed days, of chills, aches, fever, diarrhea and dry heaving, I experienced some incredible joy and the nearness of God unmatched by more apparent calm, comfortable and coherent moments in my life.

While lying on that cold tile, sweating profusely, unable to move, I heard in my head the words Ann Voskamp prayed at the IF Conference, referring to Queen Esther and the "Esther generation" of today's Christian women who will stand up and live unashamedly and fearlessly for Jesus, "If I perish, I perish."

And, I thought, "If I perish, if this is how I'm going down, I'm going down giving thanks."  The words to a well known worship song came to mind, "As long as I have breath (even shallowed), I will praise you; As long as my heart beats (even rapidly), I will sing.  As long as life flows through my veins (even with virus mixed in with it), I will bless your name."

At some point, I found my way back to bed. By this time, my daughter was beside me having had experienced her own "to hell and back" vomiting that my husband so heroically walked her through and cleaned her up from.

Freezing but sizzling to the touch, achy and restless, I wondered if fever had set in. It had. As I waited it out, again I experienced the incredible nearness of God. So comforted by His presence, reminded of the truths that the darkness cannot dampen His light (Psalm 139:12), He will never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5), that wherever I go, He will be there (Psalm 139:7).

My thankful heart was buoyed, too, by remembrances of my dad, in the last days of his life battling cancer, walking the hallways of the hospital with bible and IV pole to tell anyone and everyone who would give him the time of day (and probably some who wouldn't) about Jesus, His Savior and friend; of Carol Turek who laid in bed for more than a decade, staving away bed sores by the massage mat under her and compassionate caregivers who would stretch her limbs, neck and head, praying through her prayer list diligently because this was her living sacrifice, her spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:2); of Jonathan Talley, whose keyboard has sat in our basement for a month now, unplayed because he had to return to Hopkins for complications due to his third kidney transplant but who is undeterred to do what it takes to live, to persevere in the life God has given him for the purpose of living for Christ.

And I gave thanks for these people, these lovers of Jesus who suffered or are suffering well for the glory and fame of Christ, fueled by His nearness and grace, who waited or are waiting still for complete healing but with every step proclaim the truth that healing will come. It has come.

Our healer is Jesus--not just of our physical bodies but of our souls, sin sick souls, who desperately need someone to take on human flesh and be perfect, unlike we can be, and then take the punishment from God, our Creator, that we deserve for turning our backs on Him.  And He did. He came. He was perfect. He took the wrath of God that we deserved when He died on that Roman cross.  More than an event in our history's timeline. This was LIFE come to a dying world.

Jesus meets me when I have NOTHING. Laying on a cold, tile, bathroom floor, He meets me. Resting feverish in my bed, He meets me.  And, I believe with all that is in me that he wants to meet you, too.  I don't know who reads this blog of mine aside from Danielle Jones who so kindly comments from time to time, but I am praying for anyone who does read this post.  Whether you know Jesus or not, I am praying He will meet you today.