Thursday, January 30, 2014

the real secrets of non-virtual love

Late last night, Mr. Fantastic and I sat on the sofa, deep in conversation.

We talked about the church, my blog, and social media. We talked about our future plans and cherished blessings.

We love being transparent, sharing our struggles and joys. We love inviting people into our thoughts and hopes, standing up and shouting victorious over all God has done, and letting our tears and desperate prayers show the world what it looks like to need a Savior.

But sometimes, we hide some of the love.

This marriage of ours, although built with stained glass windows of grace and transparent walls so others can see in, is in it's truest essence a relationship between only three people: me, him, and God.

Sometimes, we take really great photos and don't post them on Instagram or Facebook. (Amazingly, we still adore them, even without one bazillion likes.)

There are nights that we have deep conversations or witty banter that is just for the two of us to cherish and enjoy. (Should a slight reference to one of these topics emerge in a group setting, a quick wink of the eye and a shared smile thrill us to the core.)

We have lists of hopes, dreams, and prayers we like to lock away in late night conversations. (Then, when God showers us with His abundant provision, it feels like He is singing We Are The Champions just for the two of us.)

Private treasures make our love more precious. Inside jokes are fun. Secret date night locations make life exciting.

What is out there on the internet is just a slice of this life we share. Because we live out here, and the virtual world is never as brilliant as the light of love lived out, face to face, heart to heart.

All of it, the public, the private, the successes, the failures, the joys, the deep aches, it all weaves itself into this beautiful thing labeled "Love".

Someday, when the spotlight of ministry fades, when the business of parenting eases into the slower joy of grandparenting, when social media trends shift and we are no longer interested in the new digital era, there will be two people left here, standing in the light of God's love.

In the end, this is our fairy tale to write with God, and our love to live in Him. From the secret, hidden place of our marriage, awe and wonder bloom with glory.

We are happy to share the highlights, but today I hold the fun, crazy, gritty details of life close to my heart. And, I'm telling you, it's all fabulous, terrifying, challenging, and breathtaking to its very core.

My heart overflows with gratitude. Life is so very, very good.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

a perfect shame

Today, Mr. Fantastic and I saw our friend on the corner with a cardboard sign in her hand. It's been a long time since we saw her out on the streets. It was hard to process.

And I feel I have to ask you now, what are you most ashamed of?

I am beginning to think this is one of the most important questions we can ask one another.

I grew up with a sneaking suspicion that there was a great flaw in the fabric of my true self. A lot of people tried to tell me I was fine. I knew they had good intentions. I never believed them, though. 

I knew that I had a black mark against me. I just couldn't really tell you what it was exactly that I had to hide.

It took many years for me to learn that it was actually worse than I thought. There wasn't just "something" wrong. The problem was that not a single thing about me was right. I was a wretched soul without God.

I was Eve, hiding behind poorly fitted coverings, hoping God Himself wouldn't notice me there in the dark. My soul was naked and I was ashamed of who I was.

For me all of this looked like starving myself, working out in secret, and generally hating who I was. 

Shame looks different on other people, though. It can look like cutting, perfectionism, hiding in books, a long list of achievements, drug addiction, or sleeping with anyone who will take the time to compliment your new dress. Shame can even look like a big smile and the answer, "I'm fine, how are you?"

We are all playing the same game of hide and seek here. Everybody is either hiding or valiantly stepping out and saying, "Here I am, world. I'm a mess. Let's work it out."

It's terrifying to come out of the safe place of rejection or pride, to climb the walls that keep all the scary crap of life a good distance away- our failure, our hope that died, our broken heart, and our long lost naivete are out there in the light along with joy and peace and hope. 

Joy and pain seem to be a package deal in this fallen world.

Here's the amazing thing: every time one of us gets the nerve to step out and admit that we're garbage inside unless God saves us; when we embrace the pain of our need for Him and the joy of knowing His love; it makes more space for the rest of us out there in the light.

We stand there naked and brave and say "Me too," to all the hidden people around us. Suddenly everything changes. That's when real life begins.

Today, when Mr. Fantastic and I saw our friend standing there like that, we called her over to the car to say hello. My heart broke as I thought of all she's been through the last few years. There have been many victories, and a few hard losses, too. 

"How are you doing?" Mr. Fantastic asked.

"Oh, just trying to keep warm," she said with a sad smile on her face. 

The traffic started moving before I had the chance to tell her, "Me too, girl."

Because even here in my car with the thermostat set to "Max Heat" I still feel a kind of naked and a little afraid that I don't have what it takes to make it.

My friend and I have lives that look different, full of struggles that seem to be from opposite ends of the galaxy. But she and I have the most important thing in common: we're a total mess without God's grace. The real shame would be to live like that's not the most important thing of all.

No matter where we stand today, or what we hold in our hands, we're all made for glory. Tonight I pray 2 Thessalonians 1 for all my fellow hide-and-seekers out there. I'm looking straight at your shame and holding mine out here in the wide open place. 

Me too, you guys. Me too.

"To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Friday, January 24, 2014

when we fly away

Here we are, inside this dome of color and light,
It hums and breathes and most days it steams hot with goodness.

Out there, beyond the blue and the green, the orange and the pink,
Toxic air seethes, it swirls, showing us all we want is what we already have.

I am terrified yet happy here under the grace-cover,
My body aches weariness, my soul thrills with the thought of you.

Most of all, I dream of the day we will fly.

Up, up and away we will fly from this bubble,
Past the words and the stories, into a cloud of new life.

I in you and you in me, you grasp my hand firmly and we soar,
Time blurs and forms and shapes a new world for us.

That's what happens the day the chariot speeds from the hills.

We shake off these golden feet and shed the skin that hangs,
Spinning, dancing we climb to heights that hope births in glory.

Plans and dreams dissolve and the bubble pops; all the colors win the race,
We break and heal; beauty rises triumphant as the black death-air flees.

Fly away, fly away, someday when we fly away.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

because motherhood means birthing destiny

Ten years ago fire burned in my belly and the vice grip of contractions wrung deep moans from my lips.

Then in one beautiful moment of agony, with a cry of praise to God, I did it.

In faith, I gave birth.

He seemed so small on the outside. Motherhood is a vast universe of love housed in the smallness of whispered prayers, baskets of laundry, and unseen labor. We mamas know it's bigger on the inside.

We push life from our bodies, or we push life through patience, prayers, and paperwork, and then every day love pushes us through a long, dark tunnel into a new life.

The birthing never ends.

Today my baby turns ten and in between birthday breakfasts and present wrapping, dinner plans and silly birthday songs I feel the labor pains of birthing a young man into this world.

Pride shines in my heart to bear such a loyal, kind, and loving son. Joy catches a bit in my throat when I consider how many more years we have left in his childhood. Fire burns in my belly and the grip if the contractions press out the beautiful agony of loosening my grip on him in increasing quantity.

This is a new kind of birth. It isn't a baby that our family is producing, it's destiny. We will become smaller when we send a man out to make the world a bigger place.

If we are faithful to raise him in the gospel, there is no telling how big he will make his world.

The possible effects of birthing a man who loves God first and others more than himself are full of untold glory.

Yes, I ache a little as each birthday comes with it's wave of pain. But someday, in a moment, this son of mine will birth a greater love and praise than I can imagine.

So, in faith I I labor on.

The world of the mama is bigger on the inside because we birth it all for Jesus. Into His kingdom we push our children, and our love prepares the souls of our children for His greater plans.

It's been ten years and I am not even close to the end of God's glorious plans.

Happy Birthday to the boy who ushered me into the most amazing season of my own destiny. I count it a holy privilege, Jude, to mother you.

I love you....

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

10 roles i refuse to play as a mom

Moms are the swiss army knives of real life. We correct homework, bandage wounds, pay bills, pick weeds, make applesauce, frame crayon art, paint furniture, organize cubbies, play Barbies, tie shoes, read books, and dissect shoelaces that have been tied incorrectly.

In short, we do lots of stuff.

Our families can assume we are willing to do anything, though. That simply is not the case. We have our pride. It isn't easy to maintain our dignity in the midst of cleaning vomit and explaining how imaginary characters are able to fly using sparkle power, and yet we must.

Here are ten roles I refuse to play, and jobs I refuse to do. No matter how many whiny children beg, I will not ever, never, forever no, not going to even consider, ever-never-ever be the following:

10. A walking trash can. At some point in time, I have given my children the impression that if they have trash, I would love to be responsible for it. They try to hand me all sorts of things: sticky Popsicle wrappers, unwanted fliers from museums, plastic SOLO cups they fish out of the backseat, stickers from the doctors office, lollipop sticks, and snotty Kleenex.  I say the same line every time this happens: "I am not a trash can." Because seriously, I'm not.

9. A scapegoat for all their problems. I suppose it's inevitable that any and all fingers will point at the mama because for the formative years of a child's life, their whole world revolves around you. You provide milk from your body for them, you kiss the booboos after Daddy tells them to "shake it off", and you ask "how high" if they say "jump" in some really cute and sweet way. Eventually, though, these kids need to be weaned off the idea that you can make the rain stop so their football game will go on. They need to ask their dad for help opening the milk jug when he's sitting next to them, instead of shouting at you through the locked bathroom door that they want a bowl of cereal. Dear children, I did not invent time, and although your life began inside me, that kind of miracle is rare for me. Back off a little, dear ones.

8. A DJ in the car. I don't mind turning on the music. I also don't mind slipping in a CD that someone wants to hear. However, when four backseat rockstars start shouting out which track they want played next, or arguing over whether or not we should listen to their favorite jam again, I'm done here. I am not a DJ. I am driving a car, in traffic, and I don't want to die because while I'm trying to find my daughter's "awesomest song", her brother is throwing things at her head for saying "awesomest" again and again and again. Peace out, my people. Silence is golden.

7. A short order cook. I cook one thing for dinner. There may be two options at lunch. Breakfast is cereal, yogurt, or toast. If my kids don't enjoy the fare we have provided, I am really sad for them, and I hope they like tomorrow's food better. Someday they will be grown up and they can cook whatever they like, or eat whatever their spouse makes or the army feeds them. The end.

6. A doormat. Mamas are often the safest people in a child's life. I personally believe we are meant to be that for our kids. The wonderful thing about that is they tell us everything. They horrible part about that is they tell us everything. They vent to us. They emotionally vomit on us. They let their anger rage around us. They know we love them no matter what and it is easy to take advantage of that. But at some point, a kid with a mean, gnarly attitude needs to go let a little steam off alone and then come back for a hug when they feel better. Even mamas need boundaries.

5. A permanent bed buddy. In our family, we are not co-sleepers. I can barely share a king size bed with my husband and comfortably rest. If you add a child in there, that's called no-sleeping. Occasionally, a sick baby has resided in our bed. Our youngest also has mastered the ability to slide into our bed in the middle of the night unnoticed. I generally wake up uncomfortable about an hour later, think how cute it is that she's there, and then I take her back to her room so I can get back to sleep. I know there are all kinds of lovely benefits to the family bed, but we will have to survive without them, because the benefit of actual sleep outweighs all of them for me.

4. A general. I will not provide my children with constant orders and assignments. As much as I would love a house that is spic and span, quiet and exceedingly efficient, I just can't do it. I don't want them to only know how to follow orders, and I don't want to micromanage their lives. It's exhausting to try to manage my own life, much less theirs. I'm sure there are better ways to deal with dishes and laundry than I have implemented. A more diligent mom could probably teach them to put their shoes IN the basket by the door instead of NEAR the basket by the door. But, we have a lot of fun together, I only occasionally feel the need to rally a cleaning army, and they are making incremental progress towards neater habits. I'm content with that for now.

3. Google. I am very grateful that my children think I know so much. But I am not Google. I don't know why the wheels on cars look like they spin backwards on commercials. I don't know how an electric guitar works. I don't know what year Beethoven was born, or the acid level of the juice they are drinking. I also do not want to spend all day as their personal google hound, searching for those answers. Remember the library- that place our parents took us when we had questions about stuff? That place is awesome. Let's go there more often.

2. An ATM. I realize this is only the beginning of this season, but my children are slowly learning that money doesn't grow on trees. The other night my oldest saw the receipt from our family dinner at a restaurant, and he was aghast at the cost of feeding six people. We gently broke it to him that life is expensive. Shockingly, I don't think it really sank into his nine year old brain. The lessons of money are hard to teach, but we are doing our best to steward them well, and not to just shell out the dough as if we have an endless supply.  Because, unfortunately our funds are actually quite limited.

1. A video game arcade. There are exactly zero games on my phone. There are exactly zero games on my laptop. When we are in restaurants or waiting somewhere boring, we have exactly zero electronic devices out. We talk about our days, discuss our dreams, read books, tell stories, play I spy, play cards, name our favorite movies, and play twenty questions. Sometimes I look around in the middle of all the relational work this takes, and I see all the people staring at their phones and all the kids playing on their devices and I try to freeze the memory in my heart. The work is worth the effort. You know what's not on social media? My family. You know what none of my emails are about? How much I love my children. You know who isn't texting me? The people who are most important in my life. You know what my kids can't build on minecraft, and I can't ever fit into 140 characters? Self-control and the ability to wait patiently and just breathe....

Saturday, January 18, 2014

are we ever really ready for motherhood?

Ten years ago today my first baby was due to be born. I had hoped he would come early, but he came four days late instead.

I was uncomfortable, in pain, unable to sleep, and ready for the miserable season of late pregnancy to be over. I remember sitting on our denim sofa, eating chocolate and watching an entire season of Alias while he pushed his big head into every painful spot he could find and tried to break my ribs with his feet.

A friend of mine with several children tried to speak some truth to me. She pointed to my bulge of a belly and broke it to me gently, "It's easier to take care of a baby in there than it is out here."

I nodded, smiled and then I chose to completely ignore her. I wanted to hold my baby. I wanted to see his eyes, his nose, hear his little gurgles, and get on with our life as a family.

I was ready.

Today, though, I'm not so sure I was ever ready. Or maybe I'm just a little afraid to have double digits in the age of my child.

He says he's happy to be turning ten, but he can't wait to be sixteen. I laugh and smile when he proclaims his age and then wilt and ache in the privacy of my own soul. Sitting on a sofa in extreme discomfort with a bowlfull of chocolate seems like an easy task compared to slowly letting a child grow up and away from home.

But I look at my friends with children leaving for college, and I have a feeling it's easier to take care of growing kids in this house than it is to send them out there in the great unknown. 

This time around, I'm going to sit pretty and embrace the time that's left.

So I will pull my almost ten year-old close and tell him that I love him. I will play him in cards, shoot baskets with him, and let him tell me all about his dreams of being in the Air Force and playing professional football. I will share my chocolate with him on the sofa and listen to him retell the highlights from his basketball games this morning. He will put his head on my shoulder and tell me he loves me, and I will let him stay there for a long, long time.

My son is too big to hold in my arms, and too small to drive a car. He is too old to play Thomas the Train, and too young to drive a car. It is pure joy, the way he fits perfectly right here beside me, with my arm on his shoulder and his around my waist.

I suppose I am ready for ten years old after all. Gah, I just love this kid....

Friday, January 17, 2014

happy is she who believes

"Happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God." -Jesus

The beatitudes set the bar for blessing and happiness pretty high, don't they?

Crave righteousness, be merciful, mourn, be poor in spirit, make peace, embrace persecution for the sake of the Kingdom. It's not exactly the warmest and fuzziest teaching Jesus ever gave.

Even so, these words in Matthew 5 words run over my raw soul like a soothing salve. Because the truth that this life isn't supposed to make me happy is the best news I have heard in weeks.

Today our church-wide fast is well underway, and I read these lofty words of Jesus while planted on my sofa, covered in a blanket, as wonder grows in my soul. 

My body craves to be filled with rich chocolate cake and a big salad with blue cheese, candied pecans, red onions, and balsamic reduction. My soul craves to be filled with the righteousness of Christ.

The gospel will cut the ties that bind us to worldliness again and again, purifying our hearts until we have seen God for who He really is.

God is a genius with a plan. 

His plan doesn't always look like it makes sense on this side of heaven. A glimpse of His plan burns an image on our sight, like staring straight at the sun.

It's hard to see the forest for the trees, and it's equally difficult to see His plan when the days slap you on the face one after another. Even so, I see in this Bible is a simple plan to live beyond what makes me feel happy so that I can be happy by loving God and His people more than I love myself.

Happy is she who believes the gospel is true. 

Yes, today, I believe and His promise makes me happy. How about you?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

an out-of-step boba fett and jesus kind of morning

The Boba Fett alarm clock down the hallway resounded with an unexpected, loud beeping much too early this morning. No one seemed to know who had mistakenly set it.

That bounty hunter drew us out of dreams and into a day marked by my own inability to find a rhythm.

I am one step behind today, scrambling along to find my footing.

I turned on the bathroom faucet, waiting for warm water to flow. "Lord, you are my secure ground. Speak to me...." Plunging my hands into the flow, my heart listened for His voice, but silence met me.

The kids and I bustled out the door and pulled into the school parking lot three minutes late with me proclaiming again a prayer on my lips for Jesus to meet us. Silence lingered over me as backpack-laden boys climbed out of the car.

Boy 3 pressed his lips to his sister's and mine, reassuring us both, "I will never forget your goodbye kisses."

There seemed to be a spark of God's voice in this child's words, but I couldn't quite feel the full warmth of His message.

"Mama, can you turn on the CD?" the Lady requested our new favorite soundtrack for our days, the Deliberate Kids music that my friend Kelly gave us when we were in Nashville.

We parked at the gym and that five year-old God blessed me with popped out of her seat and leaned her face up into mine, whisper-singing the words in to my ear:

"Cause' God made the heavens and God made the earth.
God made you before your birthday.
He's got a plan,
He's got a plan for you!
God made the birds and God made the bees,
He's got a plan,
He's got a plan for you!
And if you walk in His ways it will come true! "

Well, now. If that isn't exactly what I needed to hear today, I don't know what is.

We lay it all down for our children, loving them through the temper tantrums, the bouts of strep throat, and the hard lessons of growing up. And along the way God puts the fire of His love for us in their little hands and their happy kisses, and all we must do is listen carefully and gather it all up.

Cold water always runs for a minute before the warm water gets to the sink.

God comes unexpectedly like a bounty hunter. The wise heart listens closely, watches the flow of love from one person to another, and seeks Him until He fully reveals Himself. He never forgets us.

We are never really out of step when we are following Jesus. His voice is in the alarm clock, the daily chores, the words of our family, and the beautiful melody of the scriptures.

Lord, you are our secure ground. Speak to us....

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

why God's Kingdom isn't a day at the fair with balloons and soda pop

I sat in the common area of an ancient stone cabin turned bed and breakfast. Like a scene from one of my favorite books, Wuthering Heights, the day was complete with hazy skies and blustery winds. Mr. Fantastic and I were there to rest for a minute or two.

For four years we have labored past exhaustion to help build a church and our family simultaneously. We have shouted faith into the fearful places of our souls. We have picked up crosses and placed ourselves at the back of the line, carried worrisome burdens, lifted desperate prayers, and every day we have attempted the challenging task of living lives worthy of Jesus.

I suppose I am telling you all of this because I see the road evening out a bit ahead of us. The weight seems more manageable and I am full of gratitude and relief in deep soul places.

One of the mysterious parts of the Christian faith is that any chance to die to yourself can, and even should, be counted as joy in God's Kingdom. To be misunderstood can be a blessing in His economy. To be wounded by others brings us into a holy place when we choose to let grace and forgiveness be the salve that sets us free. To fast from nourishing our self-centered tendencies breaks the chains that keep us bound to worldliness.

None of this is easy, but in life there is no great joy to be found for the price of a ticket to a fair, a fizzy bottle of soda, or a ribbon to tie in your hair. Joy isn't cheap.

I don't know what other people believe about doing hard things, but I have come to cherish this one truth:

I know God better after the agony of the fight.

Call me dull, or tell me that's depressing, and I will understand. We all prefer for happy, bubbly thoughts to pass over us like a dozen rainbow balloons heading skyward.

But balloons pop and fall to the ground, and then we are left with what, I ask you? We are left just the way we were before the balloons soared, in a deserted fairground, with an empty bottle of pop, hoping that next year the fun will last a little longer.

Plowing fields and building walls, sweating through the heat, and pushing past the pain, it changes you and it changes the world. We are never sorry we have labored because all that humble, hard work makes way for a miracle when God shows up and rewards His children with His greatest gift: more of Himself.

The most beautiful part of our story is that we have only just begun.

For two days in the hill country, in an old stone cabin where breakfast comes in a little basket, we savored who He is, what He has done, and dreamed about what He may do next.

This week, the fight and the labor gear back up, and all around us I feel His pleasure and joy. Deep in my heart I savor who Christ is to the world, a sacrifice poured out over us like living water. I grit my teeth and set my hands to the plow.

Because all of this work is of great importance, it results in everlasting joy, and we will not shrink back.

"You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, 'In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.'
And, 'But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure  in the one who shrinks back.' But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved." 
-Hebrews 10:36-39 

Monday, January 13, 2014

what it means to be a mama

Being a mama means lots of things.

It means smiling at the number rising on a scale for months.

It means filling out endless paperwork, praying for open doors, and flying to faraway places to bring your baby home.

It means drinking chocolate milkshakes mixed with castor oil because everyone swears it will put you into labor.

It means looking away as you pass by the mirror on your way to the shower in between feedings. Sometimes it means not showering at all.

It means laundry- lots and lots of laundry.

It means slobber on your clothes and spit-up in your hair.

It means hiding the book that you read 267 times last week, because if they don't see it, they won't ask for it; and if they don't ask for it, you won't have to read it; and if you don't have to read it, you will be able to be Nice Mommy instead of The Mommy No One Wants to Meet.

It means planning them birthday parties when you are pretty sure they don't know you were ever even born, much less the date of your birth.

It means choosing to play Yahtzee (again) instead of painting your toenails.

It means staring at the ceiling on a romantic getaway and wishing your kids were under the same roof- except not really.

It means buying organic milk for them, and a venti latte for you.

It means wearing NFL-licensed clothing for a team you never knew existed prior to this flag football season.

It means longing for them to grow out of their immaturity and dreading the day they grow out of your lap.

It means handing out hot cocoa to quiet children in their beds, just because you can.

It means every apology matters and every choice to forgive has no strings attached.

It means having more kisses than you could ever give, more advice than they will ever want to hear, and greater love than you knew was possible.

It means saving money you would rather spend, and spending money you would rather save.

It means trips to the ER with deep, whispered prayers behind a comforting, smiling face.

It means buying sensible clothing, durable furniture, and saying thinking, "This is why we can't have nice things."

It means being behind in the dishes and the laundry and your reading lists and your favorite shows, because you are trying keep up with the lives of too many people doing too many things.

It means collapsing on the sofa next to your husband and crying because the children you love were mean to you today.

It means realizing you will never be able to do it all, and focusing on what is most meaningful.

It means dying to some of your fancy, girlish dreams and loving the way your imperfect life makes you more accessible to your children.

It means leading them by the hand into new worlds that you will never be able to fully understand, and letting them become more and do more than you could ever be or do yourself.

It means saying goodbye with a smile, and carefully wrapping your sadness up in the hope of reunion.

Yes, being a mama means many, many things. But most of all, it means you will never be the same again...

...and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

how we love our children

I may have been made for many purposes, but none of them are as noble or as beautiful as my assignment to love my children as God loves all of His.  

Maternal love emerges from the depths of a heart, and propels a woman out of bed at 3 am, into the middle of fights over sharing, and through days of endless heartache over a wayward child.

I think it's a miracle, this love we have for our children. Marriage is wonderful, and the love I feel for my husband thrills me to the core of my soul. He is my best friend, and my forever companion. His heart has slowly been woven into mine, and the longer we are together the more seamless our love grows. After thirteen years it has become difficult to tell where his heart ends and mine begins.

But the love we feel for our children is of another world, birthed in heaven and hard-wired into the depths of us. 

The sting of any failure to live up to the the call to love our children properly is full of bitter anguish. The joy we know when they reciprocate with true love is unparalleled. Because we loved them before they could ever know how to love us.

Certainly, we can choose to twist and ignore love's call to us. But once a parent has given themselves over to true and selfless love, there is no going back.

It is a gift to be a parent like that; to ache for them when they have gone away; to prefer their success over our own; to cherish their joy and breathe in the beauty of letting go of lives we hold so dear; to pray so earnestly for God's own children even when they are growing to need us less and less as the years go by. 

When I have come to the end of all I can do with my hands for my children, the love inside me bubbles up into desperate pleas to God on their behalf. No storm can quench this love, no drought can dry it out. My hope and joy for my children grow and grow in every season, always drawing me closer to the God who is love and who is always with us.

And so I pray....

Lord, thank you for entrusting the lives of Your children to us. Please pour out on us Your love for them. Teach us to give them grace and lead them to freedom in You. Write Your law of love on our hearts, and may the good news of Your Kingdom reign in our homes. Reveal your goodness in how we parent and disciple our children. May we glorify You in our homes, and see Your glory reign in the lives of our children. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

the sweet victory of love

"But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments."   
-Deuteronomy 7:8-9

It can take a while for the details of life in this fallen world to work themselves out. Wisdom is proven by her children, and children take many faithful days to mature. We all have seasons of time that seem idyllic and perfect and seamlessly good. We all have dark days when death seems to sit just outside our door, waiting for an opportune moment.

Nightmares can happen in the broadest of daylight. Terror can seem to reign heavy and mightily in even the most faithful person's life.

Even when complete and total despair appears to be the most logical response to our circumstances, God's love will always redeem the lives of His children.

And so we learn to wait. We learn to endure. We learn to let broken, loose ends hang there, awaiting our great God's faithful hands.

May we never forget that we are promised light and love and might and power. Let the hope of salvation crown our lives and the word of His great plans for the world slash away at the terror that looms.

For we are a mighty group of waiting hearts, and we are actively pursuing the King who loves us. They say that heaven comes to those who wait, but I say that heaven comes to those who love Him and keep His commandments as they wait for His mysterious plan in their lives to unfold.

And His plans for us are good. They are glorious plans full of love and light. They are worthy of the fight and worthy of our hope. When the time has come for Him to unveil His glory we will not regret one day that we stood in faith, telling the darkness that it will not be victorious.

Yes, sweet victory is at the end of this winding path. The Lord has loved us, and He will come for us.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

the evolution of a love story

At first, curiosity lassoed us together;
curiosity gave way to conversation;
conversation rang the bells of laughter;
laughter opened up deep places of thought;
shared thoughts ushered in friendship;
friendship became a boat that carried us many, many years.
One day, in the middle of life's ocean, love bloomed;
such an exquisite, light-filled bloom has required great care;
from the care we take, trust, respect, and gratitude rise;
without you i would be set adrift on this sea, unknown and lonely.
That is how curiosity evolved into deep needfulness for a person,
and a story that is ours alone.
I love you.

Monday, January 6, 2014

when you're the mama and everything is your fault

On Saturday we took Christmas off the shelves and walls, its wreath off the door, and the star came down from the top of the tree. I know some people are saddened by the sparseness of their homes without the shining holiday glitter, but I always feel clean and new when my house gets back to normal.

After the de-christmasing, the whole family climbed into the car and we headed to the YMCA. Mr. Fantastic and I worked out, then we all played basketball in the gym.

Boy 3 played to win, but he lost. Thar's never easy when you're seven years old. He stormed over to the water fountain to cool off. Then he brought his sobbing, sweaty mess over to me, because I'm his mama, and mamas make everything better. At first I thought he was just mad, but I was wrong.

In between sobs he gasped out, "I...can't...get...a breath..." It appeared he was having some sort of asthma attack, probably as a result of running hard and then crying hard.

He slumped down against the wall of the gym. I tried to get him to sit up, and asked him to calm down and to slow his breaths. He growled at me and slumped over to the other side, hitting his head on an electrical outlet box.

Blood ran down his neck and over his ear.

We rushed to the bathroom, stopped the bleeding and got him to calm down a little. Mr. Fantastic went to find some first aid help, and my third son and I sat in the bathroom waiting.

"This is all your fault," he proclaimed, wincing a little as I held a paper towel to his head. "Why would't you just let me lie down?"

All. My. Fault.

This is a mama's worse fear, isn't it? To try to help her child, doing what she knows is most loving and necessary in the moment- then to have it fall to pieces, and the blame placed solely on her shoulders.

I'm guessing that since this isn't the first time this has happened with one of my children, it won't be the last either.

I wouldn't change anything I did, except of course moving him away from that electrical outlet box.  We spoke about it, and I tried to explain why I had wanted him to sit up, but it's unclear how much he really understands. Seven year-old boys can be resistant to logical reasoning.

This is where the path motherhood leads, to the task of cleaning up and reorganizing the mess after all the fun and all the fights, after the happy holiday-like moments and after the hard days of bitter reality. Like de-christmasing the house, it can be a little saddening. But it is also invigorating to lead a child to grace, to fresh starts and new mercies from heaven.

I sang a lullaby and kissed Boy 3 goodnight at the end of the day. There is more love in my heart for this brave and stubborn boy than there is water in the ocean. He is fire and ice, flame and light, his soul is a grand display of God's creative genius.

I am compelled to reach my hand into his icy, unpredictable fire and grasp this beautiful thing called love. It can all be my fault if he will let sit here at the edge of his bed and sing of my love for him, then smile with a cocky grin and tell me he loves me.

I don't mind the mess so long as love wins in the end....

Friday, January 3, 2014

how to survive a road trip with your children

Every mama has different strategies when it comes to road trips. My friend Melissa takes three days to pack and plan snacks. I know moms who map out stops and educational opportunities along the way.

I shove all the clean laundry in duffel bags, dump a dozen books in a box for the kids, buy the entire candy aisle at Target, and drive.

Somehow, we all arrive with most of our sanity in tact.

But today, as we finish up the last leg of our trip home from Tennessee, I realize I would not make it without a few essentials. Here they are, in no particle order:

10. A cute traveling outfit. Never underestimate the power of a good pair of cute sweats. You will sit and stare at your legs for hours, you might as well enjoy the view. On this trip I donned a scarf that Mr. Fantastic's cousin's wife left behind after we had dinner with them in Nashville. We texted them about it but they never texted back. It's beauty makes me feel less guilty. And when Boy 3 spilled chocolate milk in the car, I didn't mind so much, because I looked fancy.

9. Reading material. Magazines are my favorite. I spent this trip planning an imaginary total remodel of our home. It's fabulous. I'll invite you all over after the imaginary contractor comes and finishes. Pencil me in for an imaginary ribbon-cutting ceremony in about three weeks (pretend renovations take less time than real ones).

8. Candy. What's better than eating a little packet of peanut butter M&Ms and a box of red vines while watching the scenery whiz past the window? Nothing. Nothing is better than that.

7. Good music. We hooked up a speaker to our laptop and I laid down some fresh tunes for us. 80s power ballads and classic rock are staples, but this trip we have also indulged in some newer stuff.

6. Volundatory calisthenics at all pit stops. This physical activity is completely voluntary and unfortunately also mandatory. If you find it awkward to watch a family of six do jumping jacks outside the Shell gas station, or run laps around the picnic tables at a rest stop, then just look away. We get back in the car after everyone burns off a little steam. Then we eat more candy. Because we can.

5. Bags. There are two essential practical items I need in the car: trash bags and ziplock bags. The trash bags are for the eight hundred granola bar wrappers that my kids would otherwise shove in every nook and cranny of the car. The ziplock bags are multi-purpose. I use them to pass candy to the back row, to hold clothes that someone spilled milk on in Chick Fil A, to contain markers that fell out of the marker package, to collect apple cores from sticky hands, and lots of other things. Bags make life better on the road.

4. More candy. Because it's yummy, that's why.

3. Coffee. I'm not sure there is a day worth living without coffee. Road trips are no different.

2. A surprisingly low supply of water. I practically ban drinks in the car. If the kids drink too much, we have to stop too often. And if we stop too often, they freak out because it takes too long to get there. Water rationing is the way to go.

1. Fun distractions. We play 20 questions, iPad games, I Spy, the ABC game, read books for hours, color pictures of princesses, doodle pictures of Ninjas, tell silly jokes, and anything else we can think of. This trip we played Marco Polo, which was unbelievably boring for everyone except the Lady.

YouTube Video

In the end, we make it to our destination. Then we cheer and avoid the car for a few days. Some of us us vow that we will never take a long trip again, but then a few months later we decide to go to the beach or the mountains, and so off to the candy aisle I go....

Thursday, January 2, 2014

a long road home

The rain is falling gently, bathing the Tennessee beauty in melancholy. It's one of those times that the weather sings out wordless melodies that tell the story of my heart.

Exactly four years ago yesterday we moved from Tennessee to Texas. Once you live in a city, have babies there, and make friends, your heart forever holds ties to that place.

Leaving is a happy-sad experience.

Our hearts are heavy with goodbyes. We have run all over town, hugging the necks of shiny, happy people, but even still, we haven't seen everyone we love here.

There's a lot of love in Tennessee.

This morning my children came and laid in my bed, waiting for me to rouse myself awake enough to make hot cocoa and buttery toast. As we walked downstairs, they lamented that we were leaving, they lamented that their friends who have been staying with us have gone back to their own houses.

A week at the epicenter of a party leaves our family of six feeling a little sparsely populated, I suppose.

But sitting here, gazing out at the rain gently falling, my heart feels full and ready to gather up our little band of love and take the long road home.

Texas beckons with its big sky and breathtaking hill country. Home calls out to our hearts, and we point the wheel toward our cozy little nook in Austin.

It's time to go home.