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Entering in with Trembling Faith

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My Prissy Missy at 9 months old

I cried myself to sleep last night.

Most of my day was hijacked by needing to take my daughter to the doctor, something that pushes me to the brink of my emotions every single time. I don’t handle it well even a little bit. And there’s a reason why.

***

When my baby girl was born, we didn’t get to hold her right away. The nurses had been cleaning her up, weighing her, all the usual post delivery stuff, when another nurse came over to my husband and me and said she needed to talk to us.

I will never forget the fear that gripped my heart before she said a single word.

She told us our baby had a little skin tag at the base of her spinal cord, which could be no big deal and easily removed or could be indicative of spina bifida. Which has varying degrees of severity ranging from relatively harmless to the inability to use her legs. They needed to be very cautious since spinal cords are a pretty serious thing, so they needed to take her immediately for some sonogram pictures to determine what we were dealing with.

And just like that – a huge black cloud over all the joy and anticipation. I was already nervous about becoming a mommy, completely overwhelmed by the whole delivery process and the craziness I was already feeling in my body as the post-birth adjustment began. I remember feeling something go frozen inside me. All I could hear were those words, “worst case, she would not have the use of her legs” and all I could see were all the lovely ballerina things I had set aside for decorating her room. It felt like a cruel trick.

But I mustered up some smidgen of faith, asked people to pray and waited for them to come back and say it was nothing.

We waited for forever, it seemed, before they brought my baby and I actually got to cradle her close for the first time. Apparently she’d been kicking her legs and squirming the whole time, so they were fairly certain movement wasn’t going to be a problem. For now. But still, it wasn’t nothing. My disappointment was intense, but I did my best to tuck it away, to be strong.

What followed were visits from specialists and the process of finding a pediatric neurosurgeon – a practice so specialized that there are only 5 of them within a 100-mile radius of Dallas/Fort Worth. And lots of calls to the insurance company to get it all sorted. On top of the exhaustion of dealing with a newborn who struggled so much to nurse because she did not get to eat for a long time after she was first born.

When she was one month old, we had to take her in for an MRI. And since you have to be perfectly still during an MRI and she obviously couldn’t do that, they were going to have to put her under anesthesia. I was brought a waver specifying all the risks of anesthesia, plus the extra risks of giving it to a newborn, and all I remember is not being able to see as I signed my name, my eyes blinded with tears prompted by the last line of the waver, which said something about “while not common, death is a possible outcome.” It was too much for my new mommy heart.

But I mustered up another smidgen of faith because lots of people were praying that everything would come back normal, and we could finally move past all this, no surgery required.

And so it was with a crumbling heart that I sat in the surgeon’s office for the follow up visit, clutching my husband’s hand, listening to the surgeon explain how she needed the surgery sooner rather than later, before she grew too much, because she had a tethered spinal cord which could either cause no problems or lots of problems and it wasn’t worth taking a chance. I remember my husband saying, “We were praying everything would be fine, that it would be just a skin tag.” And I remember the surgeon’s almost mocking reply: “I could have told you that wasn’t going to happen. I’ve seen plenty of these and they always require surgery.”

My smidgen of faith disintegrated. Why on earth did God not answer this prayer? Why couldn’t He have proved the smug all-knowing surgeon wrong? Why did we have to subject our tiny baby to surgery?

But we did. When she was 3 months old. They had to do the whole thing under magnifiers because she was so tiny. What was supposed to be a two hour surgery turned into a four hour surgery, partly because she was so small, partly because they also discovered a cyst on her spinal cord that they needed to remove.

When we met with the surgeon afterwards, he said the surgery had been successful, they’d managed to get “most of” the cyst, there was only a 20% chance of her spinal cord re-tethering, all we could do now was wait for her to grow.

Wait, what? It’s not over? Just a “wait and see”? They told us potty training would be an important time, that if she struggled to get the hang of it, it would be a possible indicator that all was not right.

I can’t even begin to tell you how stressful potty training was. It’s hard enough as it is – but were the problems normal or due to complications that would mean more surgeries? We managed to navigate that season, but it was not without many, many tears and lots of fear on my part.

***

Which brings me back to Monday in the doctor’s office and me crumbling. They couldn’t quite put a finger on what was going on with her and due to a recent infection she had and her medical history, they decided they’d better order a round of x-rays/tests on her kidneys and other organs. It’s probably nothing, they say, but just to be on the safe side.

And they don’t know what those words do to me. I realize many people have gone through much worse medical issues with their children, at times have even lost their precious treasures in the process. My heart aches for them with a measure of empathy. And just because there are worse situations does not make our struggle any less valid or real – something I am only just accepting and why I am only just able to fully admit my wrestling.

All I want is certainty, to know this issue is no longer an issue, no longer even a faint question mark on the horizon. I want to be able to take care of my children when they’re sick without having to lock myself in the bathroom and weep because I am so afraid.

I’ve been through all the prayer classes and read the books and learned the Scriptures and I know how I am supposed to pray over my children. Full of faith and confidence because ultimately they are God’s, not mine, and He loves them and has a plan for their lives. I try. I do. I declare the things I’m supposed to declare, I reach down deep to find that mustard seed of faith . . . and so many of my prayers for my children end up with me sobbing, pleading with God to please just take care of them, let them be all right. They are not confident prayers; they are desperate prayers.

Because He didn’t heal her before. Because the money for the insane medical expenses was not miraculously provided. Because the surgeon could not say “We got it, she’ll be fine.”

Here is my raw, vulnerable truth: I massively struggle with faith for miracles, especially healing miracles. I work for a prayer ministry, for crying out loud. I hear the voices of a lifetime in church, explaining unanswered prayers as the result of a lack of faith, and I wonder what that means for my prayers over my children.

But then I wonder if maybe, just maybe, God understands my quivering mother-heart. Maybe He sees it as faith that I am still praying at all, in spite of countless disappointments. Maybe He sees it as faith that I keep trying to trust Him with my most precious treasures again and again, even though it is so hard. Maybe He sees it as faith that I am coming to Him every time with all my tears and uncertainty, still reaching and looking for Him in the fog.

Maybe that is faith after all.  So I enter in again and again – into my own heart and into what I believe to be true about God’s heart, that He is far more gracious than we have taught Him to be, that He measures faith far differently than we think. And I wait.

 

*Linking up today with Marvia Davidson for Real Talk Tuesday.

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Filed under Faith, Miracles, Motherhood, Parenting, Uncategorized

Why We Must Ask Questions

IMG1190I have been reading C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed over the last week and a half, and that little book has just about wrecked me. I can’t relate to Lewis’ precise experience; I haven’t lost anyone that close to me.  But there are other types of loss, other deaths, that cause intense grief in us.  This isn’t discussed much, so we don’t always know how to walk it out.  We don’t always recognize the presence of grief or its role as the catalyst in forcing us to face our hardest questions.

And this is what has struck me most and drawn out my reading time of what normally would be an easy book. I am undone by the questions Lewis transparently and bluntly asks about God and his whole spiritual journey.  He doesn’t back down from them or hide them; rather he grabs them and shakes them out and wrestles with them.  It’s breathtaking.  It’s freeing.

I encounter again and again people raised in church or around church who feel like they cannot ask certain questions. Even if spiritual leaders would say, “Of course you can ask questions.  It’s called seeking God,  He can handle our doubts.”  There is still this almost unspoken understanding that the freedom for asking only goes so far; there are still questions you just shouldn’t ask. And if you dare to voice those doubts, those puzzles troubling your mind, you are usually told you are in error or must be in sin or clearly have not been reading your Bible enough or some combination of all of the above. I wish this wasn’t true. But I’ve listened to their stories and experienced my own.  We all have that spiritual leader or friend we trusted and dared to voice our questions to, only to be rebuked or shamed or given some empty trite answer.

(*As an aside, I do need to say, I was fortunate to have two pastors in my life during two different critical, formative periods in my spiritual journey who received and encouraged all my questions, big and small, in those seasons. I am fairly certain I wouldn’t still be loving God without the grace they showed me, and I am unspeakably grateful.)

But here is the epiphany that has come to me as I have sat with Lewis in his grief journey.  The only truly damaging questions are the ones we do not ask of God.  The ones we keep inside because they seem too dangerous, too inappropriate, too unorthodox. These silent questions turn into a slow poison, eating at us, smothering the life in us one day at a time. They are ever present to feed our ravenous fears and doubts and wounds.

If we ever want answers, or at least to be at peace with the unknown when we realize some questions have no answer in this life, we must ask the questions. We must voice them.  All of them. The angry ones. The hurt ones. The confusing ones. The terrifying ones whose answers could unravel everything we ever believed. The broken ones that simply cannot be asked without some swearing and anguish. They don’t have to be asked nicely or neatly or politely. They just need to be asked. Really truly knowing God depends on this unfiltered, unedited dialogue from our heart to His.  I am more convinced of this than ever.

I encourage you – no, more seriously, I implore you – ask your questions. Scribble them into a journal (you can always burn the pages later if you’re worried about someone reading them. Or even if you’re not worried. **It’s therapeutic.) Drive out to the middle of nowhere and scream them at the sky. Pour them out to a trusted friend who will love you no matter what, if you are so fortunate to have one of those. Do it however you like, but please, get those questions out. You cannot possibly shock or offend God with your seeking heart.

I will take my own advice and do the same.

P.S.: I’m sorry I have been neglecting this space a little. It’s a rough season and the words are not coming easily. **Also, I promise I’m not a pyro, but I do find occasional small burnings to be cathartic. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Faith, Grieving, Prayer, Uncategorized

Coffee with God & Being Enough

1545558_715060141871468_1705256076_nIt has taken me too many years to realize what a sacred place this is.

It was my ritual for so long.  Wake up. Pour the coffee. Turn on music. Open my journal and Bible.  And there was God.

Every. Single. Time.

Even in seasons when He felt far or silent.  I could still find Him here.  Sometimes it was intense – tears, intercession, loving correction.  Sometimes it was silly – laughing and jokes (really, God told me jokes).  Sometimes I did all the talking.  Sometimes He did all the talking.  Sometimes there was a lot of quiet, simply sitting.

If the morning was crazy and somehow this didn’t happen, it was ok.  He was there in the afternoon or ready to keep me up way too late.  It was ok.

And then it all changed.  I was sitting in a class at church, taught by someone I deeply loved and respected and wanted to be like.  The topic had something to do with not being content to merely coast through our spiritual existence without engaging more deeply.  The teacher was encouraging things like more in-depth Bible study, doing more in prayer than just focus on our own wants, developing the discipline of fasting, etc.  All good things, healthy things.  But then these words were uttered:

“Just sitting there in the mornings with your coffee and your Bible isn’t good enough.”

I couldn’t tell you anything else that was said after that.  My heart shattered.  Years of building intimacy with God, and I had just been told what I thought I had with Him wasn’t good enough.

So I stopped.  And I began to try and find different ways of connecting with God, different ways of growing spiritually.  There was no shortage of spiritual leaders with their recipe: it needs to be in the morning, it needs to be the same time every day, it needs to be in the same place, it needs to be an hour, on and on.  I wouldn’t say none of the approaches worked, but most of them didn’t and no matter what, they never felt natural.  I couldn’t maintain any of them with any consistency.  Finally, I didn’t try at all.  I was so lost and confused – wanting to be close, always feeling far, trying to recapture an intimacy I had once known.

A few months ago, I heard His voice in the deep recesses of my heart say, “I miss you.  I never said your way of seeking Me was not good enough.”

Talk about tears.  Lots of them.  And even better – hope.  I decided to believe Him.  To sit with Him again.  Of course, there are things that are different.  I have two children now, for starters.  The early morning hours aren’t always an option.  But He’s there whenever I come, and we sit together, friends meeting in the morning over coffee or in the afternoon over tea or in the late evening over wine.  We talk, we laugh, we cry, (sometimes I yell), we are still.

And I share all this because someone needs to know – when you take a step towards God, He is not standing there telling you it wasn’t a good enough step.  Your journey into His heart will not look exactly like anyone else’s.  We share our stories with each other, not so we can duplicate each other’s experiences, but so we can marvel at the way He uniquely meets each of us exactly where we need to be met.

I don’t know what it is about us that wants magic formulas and precise explanations and specific checklists.  But any time spent in Scripture will show you there is no formula for how God encounters our hearts.  There are so many stories, and none of them are the same.

So take a deep breath and take a step towards Him again.  He will be thrilled and He will be there.  You’re His.  Your heart is enough.

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Five-Minute Friday: Visit

Image Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sometimes this is all you want after a long day, week, month.

The comfort of a friend to whom you can say it all or say none of it.  Sipping tea or coffee or wine, whatever the night calls for.

The familiarity that allows a phone call saying, “Hey, mind if I drop by?”

Is there anything so sweet in the world as a visit of a trusted friend?  And yet it seems rare, hard to find, easy to lose.  Some seasons they are there, and some seasons, they’re not – at least that’s been the pattern I know.

But they are out there, scattered around the globe – Mozambique, England – and some a little closer, but not close enough, those whom I have trusted enough to lay my heart bare.

And tonight, I crave the visit, the nearness.  To laugh until we cry.  To let the tears fall into safe hands.  To speak the impossible dreams to ones who will say, “Go.  And we’ll be here all the way.”

*Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday.

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Filed under Covenant Relationships, Uncategorized, Writing

Choosing Rest

Image Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As my resolutions are forming in this first month of the year, I am structuring them around 5 things I’ve realized I need to choose on a regular, daily basis.

And by far at the top of the list? Rest.

I have struggled with a lifestyle that includes rest for so long, I can’t remember not struggling with it.  I tend to go at a whirlwind place, pausing for a day periodically for something I’ve been calling rest but really has been more like catch-up-on-all-the-other-things-I’m-behind-on day.  I’m also pretty good about taking days for fun with my munchkins, which offers a certain measure of rest, but at the same time, I’m still pouring out, still parenting.  More often than not, when I actually slow down and stop, it’s because my body has gone as far as it can go, and it finally crashes.

There is nothing healthy about any of this.

In my defense, last year in particular I made some good strides in building what my pastor calls “margin” into my life.  But here is where I failed and here is where I am changing: patterns of rest need to be cultivated as a discipline.  Rest is a matter of choosing, and by default, the deliberate choosing – the act of saying yes to rest results in saying no to other things.  Good things.  Fun things.  Important things. (He rarely shouts, but I can almost hear my dad shouting, “Amen!” here.  I’m pretty sure he’s been trying to tell me this for years.)

Rest can feel selfish.  This is my biggest struggle.  There are so many worthy things bidding for my time (and some times they are worth sacrificing for).  But I am not as effective as I could be at anything if I am not taking care of myself – emotionally, physically, spiritually.  None of us are.  We weren’t wired that way.

We need sleep.  We need refreshing.  Our brains need a break.  Our emotions need a break.  Even our spirits need a break.

This process is a challenge for me.  It is a matter of stripping away everything that can go and starting over to decide what is necessary for this season.  It is a matter of restructuring my daily and weekly schedule to accommodate 8 hours of sleep and regular intervals of relaxation.  It is a matter of discipline to stay caught up with tasks in allotted time frames, so I’m not cutting in to my down time later.  I am even scheduling in time to read (definitely the best change I’ve made so far!  I love books!).

Somewhere along the way, I think I adopted that saying, “I’ll rest when I’m dead”, not even realizing I had done it.  But here’s the thing – you live that way, you most certainly will die that way, much sooner than you were meant to.  And by the time you physically die that way, you will have killed everything else that mattered to you in the process.  This is a sobering realization.

Here is what I am learning: rest is not for the weak because they just don’t have the stamina for everything life is demanding of them. It is not an indicator of failure or inadequacy.

No, rest is for the wise because they understand the world doesn’t need more of their time; it needs more of their energy.  It needs more of their focus and their life and their vitality.  These are things a worn out, unhealthy person simply cannot give.  And perhaps most importantly, rest is for people who understand their own worth, who know they are far more significant than simply the sum of all their tasking.

I have not been able to rest well because I have embraced the idea that I am not valuable if I am not doing.  And you know, that is probably true of some people; they don’t care beyond what I’m contributing to their cause.  These are unhealthy relationships, and they need to go anyway.  This is a new process for me, a new way of seeing life, but I am wholly committed to it.

I choose rest.

And you?  What habits/boundaries/disciplines have you established to protect your rest?  How are you choosing to protect your worth over your to do list?  Where do you need to start?

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Shadows & Light: 2013

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Image by Jennifer Upton

This has been a year of contradictions, a tug of war for what will be cast on my heart – shadows or light.  I met 2013 with hope, lots and lots of hope.  Processes of change had been set in motion, and it was good.  The shift seemed a long time in coming, but still, at least we were on a steady trajectory for it to come.

July found me tired, but continuing to swell with hope.  And the words began to come from others – promise, hope, leadership, dreams fulfilled, moves that would unlock destiny, more and more promises.  I embraced it all.  It has been a long, dreadful desert season, valley, period of drought – choose your spiritual metaphor.  I will admit my hope has wavered, but it has never been lost.

Until the pieces began to crumble fast and furious.  Forgive me if this is too raw, but there is no other way to say it – most of my hopes for this year have been met with bitter disappointment.  And when I was asked to reflect on this year and look for the breath of redemption on the hard places, I put off the task as long as possible.  It is difficult for me to confess so many of the hard places seem to have no hope of redemption right now, that they seem to actually have become more hopeless than they already were.

Many of the hard places, but not all.

In the midst of the multitude of shadows on the landscape of 2013, there are two beacons of light.

The first is my marriage.  My husband and I celebrated six years of covenant love (to borrow a phrase from a friend), and it is nothing short of miraculous.  In an effort to protect each other from the ache of our individual emotions as we faced one loss and disappointment after another, we unwittingly built a wall between our hearts.  And suddenly one day, we realized it was there, and we did not know how to scale it.  It could have undone us.  As a matter of fact, I have no doubt that was exactly what the enemy intended, but fortunately the whispers of the Holy Spirit were stronger than the web designed to capture us.  What has resulted is a stronger, more unmovable love than we could have imagined and the healthiest communication we’ve ever had.  The wall has been demolished, we are wiser than we were and in spite of the continual frustrations life throws at us, we are enjoying a renewed passion and vibrancy in our marriage.  Redemption breathes.

The second is my writing.  When all the disappointments had become too much and I had to unlock the tension before it devoured me, I returned to the written word, something I had laid down several years back.  I set up this blog, I was gifted with the opportunity to become part of Story Sessions (something that has changed my life and rescued my sanity) and I began working on the book that has been floating around my head.  It was hard at first – the discipline, the re-acquainting with my words and re-discovering my voice.  But it is coming, more and more with each day and releasing many other creative places I thought were lost.  And if the writing wasn’t enough, I became part of the most incredible, life-giving community I have ever known.  And again, redemption breathes.

Truthfully, I do not know what to expect from 2014, and I am quivering with the fear of hope – she was not kind to me this past year.  But I will start at the points of light I was given, and take careful steps from there.  And perhaps, redemption will breathe again, and light will send the shadows scattering.

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Filed under Hope, Marriage, Uncategorized, Writing

30 Thankful Days – Day 1

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1 – The melody of my children’s laughter, their joy as free as the wind streaming through their hair while they run

2 – The strength of my husband’s hand against my back, how my skin tingles as he pulls me a little closer while we wait for our coffee

3 – Going through the pile of mail and finding a handwritten note from a story sister, the exact words my soul needed today

4 – The arrival of November with its whispered promises of rest and hope

5 – Waking up the smell of coffee brewing and cranberry muffins in the oven because my mother thought I might enjoy having someone fix breakfast for me for a change

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