"Every good and perfect gift is from above..." James 1:17

Monday, January 29, 2018

Why I Never Let My Baby Cry

It's been a long time since I've written.  I've composed hundreds of blogs in my head but getting to sit down and arrange my thoughts coherently has not quite worked out for me.  Natalie has rocked our world.  We went from a world of fairly independent children, a world where no diaper bags, extra clothes, or scads of baby toys and equipment were needed to a world that revolves around the needs of one tiny little human.  One spoiled little human.  She single-handedly has all eight of us wrapped around her little finger.

Before she was born I had all sorts of intentions on how I was going to "raise this baby right."  She'd be taking naps in her own crib, sleeping through the night early on, and soothing herself whenever she cried.  I'd work with her every day just so she'd be ahead of other kids her age.  I was going to give her every opportunity at learning and growing that my other kids missed.  The other opportunities I have fought so fiercely to make up for, for the sake of their hearts (and mine if I'm being honest).

But then Natalie came and Natalie cried.

And I picked up my baby. 

Every single time.

I wasn't prepared for what hit me.  Crying babies never really bothered me.  Not in theory or in past practice.  But it was so different this time.  Not because she is my biological child but because of what her cries represented to my heart.

Every time I heard her cry my mind and heart raced backwards and heard the cries of my first six babies.  The cries that no one answered.  The cries that I never got to hear.  I dreamt up their little faces and their little cries and just could not ignore Natalie's.  I imagined them being hungry with no one available to feed them.  I imagined them being cold with no one there to cover them.  I imagined them being lonely with no one there to snuggle them.  I imagined them being frightened with no one there to comfort them.  I imagined them being confused with strangers attempting to care for them.  All of her cries represented all of their cries and I just could not let that be.

Psychology has its "nature vs. nurture" argument.  While I believe both play a vital role in the development of a child, I know beyond a doubt that many of the issues in the baggage my children carry come from the lack of the consistent love of a parent in those first formative years.  To them, adults were people who merely met their basic needs (sometimes) and certainly weren't a source of comfort.  This is evidenced in many stories of their first years with us but the saddest is this:  in the first three months of Crystal living with us she became sick in the middle of the night.  She threw up all over her bed.  Instead of crying out for me through the monitor or getting up to find me, she turned back her covers and went back to sleep curled up in a ball.  Still breaks my heart.

I can't erase the damage that was done to their hearts and their minds.  But, I can do my best to make-up for it.  I thought I was doing my best by loving them as fiercely as I did.

Boy do I love them.  I love them fiercely, oh so fiercely.  I have been fighting for them since before they were even mine.  Fighting to get paper work done.  Fighting for a caseworker's subjective approval.  Fighting for court dates.  Fighting to get their academic needs met.  Fighting to get them off meds.  Fighting to get them on meds.  Fighting for their hearts to heal.  Fighting for their trust.  Fighting to give them experiences they've missed.  Fighting to make up for lost time.  Fighting, fighting, fighting.  I have not stopped fiercely fighting for whatever it is I thought they needed to succeed.  Aside from loving Jesus, there is nothing I want more for my children then to feel and know they were part of a family who would fight to make sure they were set up to succeed, they were cherished and loved, they were given every opportunity we could logistically and financially afford.

Loving them is sometimes hard, like I'm sure it is for any parent.  Sometimes they say it and sometimes they don't, but I'm not their only mom.  I don't pretend to be and I don't want them to think that way either.  Though adoption is beautiful, the only reason it exists is because of broken families.  My children carry that baggage with them and there are days it shows more than others.  We have fought (here it is again!) to make them feel confident in who they are, to assure them they are loved, and to be comfortable with their life story.  But let me tell you, that's hard.  Hard for them and hard for me.  While I count it a great joy and privilege, loving them and fighting for them has often left me weary and tired.  I cannot imagine how it must feel for them sometimes, too.

But then Natalie cried.

I realized that I could let up on this fierce love a little and make room for soft love.  The soft love she taught me.  The love they missed out on in their younger years.  Maybe they didn't need me to fix their every problem and fill their every empty day with an opportunity.  Maybe they just needed me.  Needed me to be there.  They are incredibly more self-assured and confident than they were before.  They know who they are to me and they know who they are in Christ.   I will never get out of "their corner" in case a situation arises where they need their mom to fight for them.  But, in the meantime I will wait on the couch and just be there, loving them more softly than I had before Natalie arrived.  Not worrying as much about making up for lost time but focusing on the time we have together. 

Natalie's cries have softened us all.  She's been a healing balm to all our hearts.  She's the string that ties our family together.  She's the one thing in this house that has belonged to all eight of us from the beginning.  She's the gift we didn't know we needed.

She still cries.  And we still come.

Every single time.

ps  She does sleep in her own crib ;)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

One Year And Still Changing

This past week Tina and I could not stop talking about how much the liver surgery last year changed us then.  But what we couldn't believe is how much it is still changing us now.  We both told our story, without talking to one another.  What amazes me (though I can't say I'm actually surprised) is that though our words and perspectives are completely different, our overriding theme is the same.  Here are our stories, one year out:

Tina's Story
One year ago today, I was marching into Duke University Hospital to manage a day of patient care.  You see, walking into a hospital for a day of patient care, is an ordinary occurrence, but doing so for those you love, is completely different.  I was going through many emotional and mental changes and transitions at this time, and couldn’t imagine that a year later I would still be going through this transition. 
As Fran and I traveled down to NC last year, I had not a doubt in my mind that all would go well, but I also had no visualization of what was ahead of me.  I didn’t have time to make a real plan, which is NOT the way I do things.  I had too much to prepare at home and had no previous experiences in the organ transplant realm. I am glad I had no picture or plan.  Nothing could have prepared me for the journey it started.  Those who know me, know that I will do everything in my power to help someone I care about in need.  If you need meals, I can do that, if you need help with your kids, I’ve got that, if you need my time or brain power, no problem.  This experience pulled from every resource I had still required more.  It was the most life changing week of my life.  I thought it was life changing as it occurred, and it was, but I was so busy I didn’t have time to process it all. 
I met a woman that gave me a greater perspective on life.  She was on a journey that I couldn’t imagine.  Within minutes of meeting her, I put myself in her shoes, and very quickly wanted to give those shoes back to her.   I knew my personality was exactly what she needed in her life at that time.  I had just enough medical knowledge to contribute a few words, time to listen, love to give and a shoulder to cry on.  I was meant to be there to care for more than just Sarah, which I realized quickly, but didn’t realize I was there to change myself. 
I took for granted the support system that I have in place.  In a moment’s notice, I can have multiple family members by my side, and that is not counting the multiple friends that would be there as well.  To see this mother there by herself to watch her son go through this life changing surgery, was unimaginable to me.  From the hours in actual surgery, to the days that followed, I learned to love this woman like any family member.  We came from different worlds and have been down different roads, but came together to support this little boy. 
I can’t describe the feeling of being in the room as this little boy was seizing and crying with his mother as we watched the team work on him.  I get that same sick feeling in my stomach thinking about it now.  I got the momma bear instinct instantly.  I wanted to be sure every person involved was doing their job to the best of their ability.  Sometimes that meant pressing the call bell every 5 minutes until we received the meds we were requesting, sometimes it was standing in the hallway stopping any person who may be able to help us, sometimes it was simply bringing lunch to this amazing woman who stayed by her son’s side 24 hours a day for weeks at a time.  Each and every task was as meaningful as the last. 

To say I got a life perspective is an understatement.  Sarah has always taught me about being selfless and trusting God in every way, but my journey wasn’t about this surgery, it was about the people surrounding it.  It was about appreciating our health, our families and our ability to help others.  To see this little boy go from deathly ill, to having a healthy future in view is beyond anything you can imagine.  To feel the helplessness of having no control over what is happening around you certainly brings you to your humble knees in a hurry.  To this day, I think of this little boy and his mother at least once a day.  I think of the journey we have been on together, I think of the battles his mother fights every day for him.  I count my blessings and still feel blessed and thankful to be lucky enough to be a part of it.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  These changes don’t even take into consideration my changes of thought on organ donation.  I have always been an organ donor and been in full support of it, but it is taken to a new level. To witness both sides of the surgery is a perspective few people get.  To witness a life being saved…it just can’t be put into words.  I am a better person by being a part of this journey.  I can thank Elijah for changing my life, I can thank Sarah for allowing me to be a part of it.

Sarah's Story
I didn’t think I’d be so affected a year out from liver surgery.  Really, I’ve learned the lessons I was meant to learn, I appreciate life so differently, and I’m healing well (except for the blasted itchiness of my scar).  I guess I can thank Facebook for reminding me of all the things that were posted the few days leading up to surgery, during my stay in the hospital, and my recovery at home.  Throughout this past year I often thought of the whole ordeal but these past few weeks it has weighed heavily on my mind.

As I reflected back, I noticed a clear and distinct trend about what my mind chose to remember.  After my first round of testing at Duke it was determined that my body and liver were perfect as long as Elijah’s team agreed.  I didn’t remember the long drive along back and forth from Duke, I didn’t remember waking up super early to travel, and I didn’t remember the (what felt like) 8 million blood tests and MRI’s.  I remember Tina, my Mom, and Rebekah nonchalantly giving me their blessing and reassuring me they would do whatever they could if it worked out.  I remember the confidence Jordan had in my ability to make the right decision and the ability of the doctors to perform well if indeed I was chosen.  I remember the clear understanding the kids voiced when I told them this was a possibility.

Late afternoon on Tuesday May 12, 2015 I was informed I needed to be at Duke Thursday evening for an early Friday morning prep for surgery.  What I didn’t remember was the exhaustion I experienced running like a nut on Wednesday and Thursday to make sure the pantry and refrigerator were full, bed linens were washed, dog food was ordered, school was notified, POA’s were updated, etc.  What I remember is that two hours…that’s just TWO HOURS…after I “got the call” Tina and my Mom had not only cleared their schedules to come down and support us but they also managed to gather freezers full of meals from friends and family in PA.  I remember Rebekah and Tracey reassuring me that my kids would be fine and would be loved.  I remember thinking what a blessing it was to not even have to make a list of what needs to be done in my home.  I don’t remember how tired I was at 8:00 pm Thursday night when I still had to pack and had a three hour drive to Duke.  I don’t remember what clothes I packed or what books I intended to read.  I remember Brea’s big huge stuffed dog that she insisted I take with me.  I remember kissing my kids and leaving with a peace that can only be explained one way.

Friday morning I don’t remember all the surgery prep, I remember how sweet and caring my transplant team was.  Friday after surgery I don’t remember the discomfort of the NG tube, catheter, and O2.  I remember waking up and seeing Tina’s face and hearing her talk to me like we always do.  I remember that Pastor Steve called to check on me.  I remember wanted to call my mom.  Friday night I don’t remember the discomfort, I remember waking up scared to death because I couldn’t see Tina.  I remember the dear nurse who instead comforted me and told me that my friend would be back at 4:00 am because she needed some sleep too.

Saturday I don’t remember the continued irritation from the NG tube.  I remember that Tina brought my favorite coffee and helped me put on my make-up.  I don’t remember the painful first steps with the walker but the nurses other patients who cheered me on as I walked slowly down the hall.  Saturday night into Sunday while I know I had extreme amounts of pain, I don’t even remember how bad it was.  I do remember Tina fighting so fiercely for it to be managed.  I remember hearing the buzz of my phone and reading all the dozens and dozens of encouraging texts and Facebook messages.  I remember the prayers that were sent via text in the middle of the night from those of you who woke up and prayed.  I remember the fiery look on Tina’s face when she told the nurses and doctors that THEY had no option.  THEY were going to manage this pain or SHE was calling someone who could.

Saturday night I don’t remember the pain and discomfort of the long elevator ride to the children’s wing.  I remember being awestruck as I met Renae and Elijah for the first time.  I remember feeling connected to them without even knowing them.  I remember knowing that I just witnessed a miracle.

The rest of the days there I don’t remember the discomfort of having to only lie on my back or sit in the chair.  I remember Tina keeping me company.  I remember the phone calls and cards from family and friends to encourage me.  I remember hearing the cheerful voices of my kids as they were excited to finish their last week of school.  I remember all the updates from my mom and Rebekah about all the meals that were continuing to be dropped off at the house and those that the church arranged to have delivered every single night for six weeks.  I don’t remember how hard it was to shower, I remember Tina helping me and joking about so we could at least laugh instead of die of embarrassment. 

I don’t remember worrying about what Jordan would think (remember, he didn’t know this was a sure thing).  I just remember four days after surgery when he showed up at the hospital and held me in his arms.  I remember having to stay longer than expected and being so very sad when Tina and my Mom had to leave.  I remember Jordan making the six hour round trip drive each day after that to visit me while still being with the kids.  Once discharged while I know the drive home was torturous, I remember Jordan driving excruciatingly slow, trying to avoid every bump and sudden stop so that I would be more comfortable.

For the next six weeks, I don’t remember the aches, the sleepless nights, the incision, the bruises, etc.  I remember the love shown by everyone.  I remember being utterly overwhelmed by the love and support shown in so many ways and feeling so unworthy. 

I write all this to prove my point and drive home the theme that all the memories that stuck with me have:  the all have to do with relationships…not stuff.

Life is about relationships.  And good relationships are about love.  And love is about sacrifice, about putting others above yourself.  Every single memory that has stuck with me the past year has to do with the relationships I’ve formed with those around me.  It was everything to do with folks sacrificing to help out through their time, energy, and resources.  I still am amazed (so very amazed) and humbled at how the entire process was pulled off flawlessly.  That’s no simple feat with the hospital being three hours away, living near no family, having six kids, and having husband who was away.  I realize how incredibly blessed I am to have so much love and support.  As I type that sentence and as I say that sentence, the words just don’t seem to do it justice.

I encourage you all.  For those of you who already doing and helping and serving – keep doing it.  God created us to love each other.  To serve each other.  The beautiful thing about serving is it brings equal amounts of joy to both parties.  For those of who you who may choose the “my four and no more” mantra, branch out.  Invest yourself, your time, your resources.  When you serve others and when others serve you, that’s what you’ll remember.  Those are the memories you’ll hang onto.  Those are the times your cup will be so full and you’ll be overflowing with joy.  The person you help may need it more than you realize.  You just may be the light in the darkness they need.  You just may be the small glimpse of God they see in their life.  You may incite them to adopt the same attitude and they’ll pay it forward and serve when they can.  Regardless of how they perceive, I can guarantee it will change you.  The more you serve, the more you realize the blessings you have be given.

"Little children (believers, dear ones), let us not love [merely in theory] with word or with tongue [giving lip service to compassion], but in action and in truth [in practice and in sincerity, because practical acts of love are more than words]."  - 1 John 3:18 AMP

Friday, May 6, 2016

And Baby Makes 9

One of my biggest desires is that God and all His glory is evidenced in my life.  I want this to be seen not only through the many blessings He pours on my life but also through my struggles and trials.  This is one of the main reasons I choose to blog.  That being said, I wanted to share the true, unedited version of how "Baby Sister" came to be (we're not certain it's a girl, but we're...read: the girls and I... hoping so!  I swear I saw a hair bow on the ultrasound).

As many of you know the year after Jordan and I were married we tried to start our family the traditional way.  That didn't work.  You can read about that in one of my earlier blogs.  Instead of pursuing infertility treatments, we decided to adopt.  I say that like it was an easy decision.  It wasn't.  For the first time in my life, I wrestled with God.  The idea I had in my head of how my family was going to be didn't match His plan.  And I didn't like it one single bit.  I had always succeeded in everything I tried (except softball!) and I was so angry that I couldn't make my body do what it was intended to do.  After going round-and-round with God for six months, I finally laid down my fertility crown at His feet.  Since that day almost 6 years ago I have never once felt lesser, saddened, or broken regarding my inability to bear children.  I'll tell you it truly was like magic.  The day I surrendered that to God was the day I no longer carried the burden of my infertility.

Fast forward:  we obeyed God's call to adopt.  Initially adoption was not a passion or desire of mine but as I surrendered myself to God's plan, it took root in my heart and became and still is one of the topics about which I am most passionate.  You see, God re-wired the desires of my heart to fit his plan once I chose to become obedient to Him.

I now have six beautiful children.  While they stretch me and grow me with their own struggles and hurts, they bring me great, great joy.  Despite their current struggles, some being worse than others, I am beyond proud at how far they have come and continue to grow.  I love watching their resiliency.  I love watching them learn to trust.  I love watching them love others and love God.  I love them :)

Six is a lot.  Six feels like more than six when 1. you live in the middle of nowhere and must drive 25 miles to get to any place of significance, 2. when your husband is rarely home, and 3. when you have no physical family support (you can't call family for those last minute babysitting jobs when they live 500 miles away!).  Shortly after adopting Benjamin and Samuel, Jordan and I knew we had reached maximum capacity.  Though our hearts longed to adopt again, we didn't have peace about pursuing another adoption.  We agreed that if a child were to be presented to us we would never turn our backs but we wouldn't not actively pursue another adoption.

Then last year God began to work in my heart.  Here are excerpts from my prayer journal.  Though these are my private thoughts and prayers to God and for God, I know that in sharing parts of them His power will undoubtedly be seen.

"...Lord, You've given me six beautiful, wonderful children.  Why all of a sudden do I want another?  A baby at that!  I've never been a huge fan of babies but my heart is longing for one - at least I think it is.  You know what our family needs, You know what we can handle.  If it's in Your will, Lord, bring us a child.  If it's not, I pray you squash this desire..."

At this point, adoption was the only method of having another child that was on my mind.  I was surprised that I thought my heart wanted a baby.  God has given me a passion for older children.  

Over the course of the last year, I felt God growing the desire for another child, specifically a baby, in my life.  But even more specifically, a baby from my own barren womb.  I wrestled again with this.  I had laid down that crown after so much pain and sorrow and had finally come to a place where I truly and honestly no longer cared that I couldn't bear my own children.  Why?  Why was He asking me to pick up this crown again?  I was scared.  I didn't want to go through the hurt that I went through previously.  I didn't want to "do battle" with God again.  Though the outcome is always worth it, the process is painfully refining.

Here is another small excerpt:

"...I again place my family in Your hands.  You know what we need and when we need it.  Despite the longing for another child, I pray my heart's desire aligns with Your will..."

Here is another excerpt from my prayer journal from early March:

"Lord, What news I received from Erin today!  My heart is so happy for her.  What a gift.  I can't help but think of the longings in my heart too.  If anything, Erin's news helps me know that You will orchestrate the make-up of our family exactly as you want it and You will arrange the when and how.  I do selfishly ask that if my heart's desire is not in Your plan, You remove it or subdue it...I desire our family to follow Your will for us.  You know what we need and when we need it.  Selfishly, if it is in line with what You want and is what is beneficial for our family, open this barren womb..."

I had finally come to a point where I realized I didn't need to wrestle with God again.  I just needed to be at peace with whatever He decided.  The plan is His and I needed to trust that His perfect will would prevail for us if we trusted and obeyed.

Shortly after I received the good news of my friend I had a dream that I gave birth to a baby girl.  The dream was so vivid and so real to me.  Here is part of my prayer from that day:

"...Was my dream only a dream?  You know my heart's current desire.  Is it only based on a wish or are you preparing me or telling me something?  Take this desire from me unless You intend for me to walk through it.  Oh, I know it would drastically and dramatically change our entire world but I can't help but think a baby would bring healing and unity to the children.  I've seen this with the Subletts and with the Dayes.  If it isn't in Your will for us to have more children, Lord, take this desire away..."

God didn't take this desire away.  He strengthened it like nothing I've ever experienced before.  Here is the last excerpt I will share.  This prayer was written three days before I found out I was carrying our seventh miracle:

"...I have full confidence You can turn my barrenness around.  As much as my heart longs for another child right now, I want to be content with 'whatever my lot.'  You know the needs of our family.  In my short-sighted vision I see this as a way to knit us closer.  You see the whole picture.  Prepare me either way.  Continue to give me the desire if Your intent is for our family to grow and extinguish the desire if it is not.  Help me and guide me..."

Three days later I found out I was pregnant.  I'll try to blog the details of that shortly but I want this particular blog to point to God, the life-giver.

What I don't want you to see is anything I did.  I want you to see what God did.  I questioned him, I presented selfish requests, I doubted His reasoning but I trusted His ways.  God can handle whatever you throw at Him.  He can help you walk through any situation.  You need only listen to Him to see which direction He would have you travel.  The best way to do this regular dialogue with Him.  Each situation where I have chosen obedience has brought so much more peace in my spirit.  I'm learning this, and it does get easier each time I choose His way instead of mine.  You see, I was so afraid again to let His desire grow in me.  I had been down that rocky road.  I didn't want to be hurt again.  We were told there was less than a 1% chance of us becoming pregnant without intervention.  

Yes, I started taking Plexus nearly two years ago and yes, I have eaten a whole-foods diet for four years, gluten-free diet for one (none of these were started for the purposes of having a child).  Yes, I had liver surgery which potentially reset the enzymes that produce the proteins that bind to my hormones (or something like that!).  I am not one to separate God from science.  He could have very well used a combination of these three things to reset my body.  Maybe He didn't.  All I know is that He orchestrated this and the timing of all things in my life.  Nothing more, nothing less.  He is to be praised for this life and for all life.  

I've had many doctors appointments and will be followed closely due to my liver surgery and previous diagnosis of infertility.  This week we were able to see Baby Sister and hear her heart beat.  The doctor said she's strong and healthy and he has no worries whatsoever.  May this child's life be used to glorify Him.  

Friday, January 8, 2016

Resting in 2016

2015 was a great year.  The kids and I were able to take many trips and make many memories.  It was, though, a year that I was stretched a lot.  I grew a lot which was good but stretching that much (literally and figuratively) is never fun.  I always have said that my body is as flexible as a metal pole.  I find it no coincidence that my inner self is somewhat the same.  The growing I experienced was a direct result of my Theme Word for 2015:  Intentional (blog post here:  Intentionally Intentional).  To be quite honest, that was a hard word.  So many areas of my life needed me to be more intentional.  While it was tough, it was rewarding and worthwhile.

As I reflected on the past year and in all the areas that I showed growth I also reflected on the areas where I still need to grow.  Really, if you don't know what you lack you'll never know to search for it.  To put it plainly - I had to find the areas where I just really stink.  The areas where I habitually fail.  Then, I carefully and prayerfully considered the one that I felt God was leading towards the most.  The one that was going to be my focus for 2016.


Taking time to physically rest my body has never been easy for me.  By design, I am high-energy and highly motivated.  I began learning in my mid-20's that I needed to learn to say "NO!" and carve out time in my schedule to physically rest.  I have found that some folks believe they are only worth something if they are continually busy which is certainly not the case.  But that is another blog for another day.  My problem is resting in God.  Resting my inner self, not my physical body.

This year has already thrown some curve balls at me and has presented me with a handful of situations that I don't like.  As I began to plan how to deal with these situations - making my plan of attack, if you will - I could feel my inner being just getting tighter and more uncomfortable.  While I've pretty well managed the art of not complaining or putting on a pity party, I have not managed the art of "resting in Him."

Yes, I absolutely trust in God.  Yes, I absolutely have faith that He will work out situations in accordance with His will.  Those are strong areas of mine.  But over the past few weeks I have come to realize that resting in Him is separate from trusting Him and having faith in Him.  I felt God really trying to tell me and show me that there isn't a need for any inner struggle or worry.  

There is no need to mull situations over and over (and over and over) in my head.  

There is no need to play and replay (and replay and replay) every possible outcome to a situation in my head.  

What I need to do is focus on Him.  On His loving embrace. On His never-ending ability to give me what I need when I need it (meaning the actions, reactions, and words). On His ability to take my heavy yoke and let me rest.  On His ability to let my mind, my body, and my soul rest.  

Rest:  freedom of activity or labor; peace of mind or spirit; something used for support

You see, while I had faith that God would take care of me and my family in all situations, I took it upon myself to worry about how He would do it.  What would He require of me?  Would He do it in a way that I wanted Him to?  Would He do it in the time frame that I wanted Him to?  Would He do it in a way that didn't require much of me?  Would I have to be stretched in order for Him to do it?  Sure, I was placing myself in His hands, but I was dictating when He could hold me and when He couldn't.  I jumped in God's arms when I needed Him but then fought to get out when I thought I could do it on my own.  There have been times where I wanted him to hold me tightly with both arms but then there were times when I wanted to walk on my own.  I'd even go so far as to say there were times where I wanted His way mixed with mine so I only held onto his finger - just like a toddler.  That's not how I want my relationship with God.  I want to rest solely in Him.  But, that's hard.  I have my own ideas of how life should happen.

In 2016 I am ready to let that go.  I am ready to fully rest in Him.  In all things.  In the easy ones.  In the hard ones.  In the ones I don't want to let go of because I'm afraid of what He'll do...what He'll require of me to do.  I anticipate this being difficult for me.  I like holding the reigns.  It's become one of my coping mechanisms with all the uncertainty that comes from Jordan's schedule and raising six very active kids.  But quite frankly, it has worn me out.  It has drained me and has drained much of my spirit.  2015 left me tired, worn, and empty.  I have done my best to carry-on and draw my strength from Him.  But when I still try to use my own strength too it simply doesn't work as well.  So, as 2016 begins I am ready to embrace more stretching...but with rest (peaceful rest) as the outcome.


Monday, November 23, 2015

A Birthday Is A Good Time

This year I feel particularly subdued on my birthday.  Ever since May (surgery) God has completely shifted my sight.  I thought I was focusing on important things.  And really, to a large degree I was.  But I still had so much of my focus where it didn't need to be...on myself and on the things of this world (stuff).

Since May I've worked particularly hard at ridding myself of some nasty unforgiving baggage I was carrying around along with that dreaded "busy-badge" us women like to wear.  I've worked hard on shifting the position of my heart so I can more readily, willingly, and easily choose love, patience, grace, and forgiveness...despite what my flesh felt.  And don't you know, when you pray for the very things God wants you to have, he gives them to you even more abundantly than you could imagine.

On this birthday instead of solely focusing on my past year (my past life, really), I have decided to focus on my next year (and years, hopefully!)  I mean really, who wants to be remembered and who wants to remember about what they did.  For some of us that can be ugly at times, can't it?  I'd like to focus on what I can do...what I will do...what I have the potential to do.  You see when we focus on moving forward, on the path set before us, it inspires to keep moving.  In turn, when we focus on the path behind us (whether or not it was filled with great things or not-so-great things) we have the tendency to dwell on the ugly or, even worse, to feel proud for what we've accomplished.  Both of those things sorely impact our ability to "run with endurance the race that is set before us."  We can't run a race with endurance if we're too caught up in looking behind us.

So this year (my 29th year...again!), I am going to be even more intentional about the path set before me.  About the opportunities in front of me.  About the people who need loving.  About the kids who need mothering.  About the orphans who need feeding.  About the homeless who need clothing.  About the examples that need setting.  About the wrongs that need righting.  And, about my Jesus who does the saving.

Who is with me?  We have so many chances IN FRONT OF US to love others, to make a difference.  Forget about the ones you've missed.  Forget about the ones you didn't miss.  Focus on the ones you have before you.

"...let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us..."
- Hebrews 12:1

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Safest Place

October 25, 2015—The sermon at church (North Highlands Assembly of God, Columbus, GA) today was titled “Trust:  When I am afraid, I will trust!”  The scripture reference was Psalm 56: 3-4.  Which says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”  After reviewing the sermon outline before the service, I looked these verses up and remembered immediately how God spoke to me with these verses before my deployment to Iraq in 2005.  With these verses, he comforted me and helped me to put my trust in him throughout the dangers and fear I was sure to face.  I am no war hero and I know many others have experience in much more danger in war than I have but I hope you will be able to understand how God can grant you courage to overcome any fear through the short story below.
                I deployed to Iraq in August of 2005 and returned in February of 2006.  During this period, the counterinsurgency fight was raging and the insurgents’ most successful weapon against the coalition forces was the “roadside bomb.”  This bomb was an improvised explosive device (IED) placed along roads to engage coalition forces whether primed for victim initiation (triggered by the targeted vehicle or individual) or command initiation (triggered by the insurgents).  I drove a HMMWV for my platoon so you can imagine that having one of these explode on my vehicle or one in my platoon was a concern.  Since we conducted most of our operations at night, and relied on speed, surprise, and violence of action to give us a tactical advantage over our enemy, we never moved slowly enough to find IEDs along our routes.  This made us somewhat vulnerable to that threat.
                Before our first mission, members of my platoon began a practice in faith that continued through the entire deployment—we prayed together before loading up for each mission.  We not only prayed for our safety, we prayed that God would grant us victory over our enemies in the same manner that David prayed in Psalm 56 and many other psalms as well for many different situations.  I also know that there were many others on the home front that were praying with us.  I can also a test that I was never alone when I prayed.  There was always at least one other member of my platoon or a dozen members.  In Matthew 18:19-20, Jesus said, ‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’  Those prayers of faith that God is for us and not against us gave us the courage to face dangers and fears over which we had little control.  Another verse that brought us confidence in the power of God is James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  When we departed the safety of our bases to confront the enemy, we were already the victors.
                About halfway through that deployment, I received a letter from a faithful, praying woman, Laura Eitland, from my home church in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania—Caring Community Church of God.  In the letter, she referenced the passage from 2 Kings 6 where Elisha told his servant to not be afraid of the Aramean army that was surrounding the city.

‘Go, find out where he is,’ the king, [Aramean king] ordered, ‘so I can send men and capture him, [Elisha].’  The report came back:  ‘He is in Dothan.’  Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there.  They went by night and surrounded the city.
                When the servant of [Elisha,] the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city.  ‘Oh no, my lord!  What shall we do?’ the servant asked.
                ‘Don’t be afraid,’ [Elisha,] the prophet answered.  ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’
                And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.’  Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:13-17
(Read 2 Kings 6: 8-23 for the full story)

This passage helped me to visualize the awesome power of God that was protecting us and going forth before us to grant us the victory we asked for.  I was comforted by the image in my mind of “chariots of fire” from the armies of God protecting the flanks of our convoys and moving out ahead of us to clear the way of any IEDs and to succumb our enemies to our will before we ever arrived on site.
Throughout six months of combat operations in Iraq where we conducted over 80 direct action raids on known and suspected insurgent locations, we did not hit one IED.  That is not a coincidence.  During a period where that was the number one killer of coalition forces and which we conducted missions with the sole objective to counter the IED threat, we were not exposed to even one.  Not: ‘we hit several but were fortunate to not have any casualties.’  No!  We did not even hit one.  Not one!  My faith tells me that the “chariots of fire” solved that problem for us.  (Thank you, Laura, for praying that Scripture over us and giving me that perspective of the power of God.)
I hope as you read this short story that you have gained confidence in your faith in God and his mighty power.  We cannot comprehend his power and so that inability to comprehend leads us to lack confidence in it.  I believe he just wants us to take that small step of faith in trusting in him.  That is all he is waiting on to pour out his power in our lives.  He just wants us to trust him.  Like we trust in any intimate relationship whether it is with our spouse or a close friend or family member, he wants our trust.  However, to trust, there must be something that we cannot control.  We all have many things that we cannot control.  He wants to take that control for us.  First, we must trust him.
Prior to that deployment to Iraq, I made a poster board with all the men of my platoon on it and left it with my church who committed to praying for the platoon as a whole and each individual.  In the center of the poster, I wrote a quote from an anonymous source that I saw in an Our Daily Bread devotional months before.  The quote was this:  ‘The safest place to be is not in the absence of danger, but in the will of God.’  That is where I want to be.
-Posted by Jordan

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hate the sin, Love the sinner

Please don't misconstrue this message.  I am 110%, all the way, without a shadow of a doubt, no second thoughts, always will be pro-life.

However, when I read this brief statement written by a Catholic Nun it cause me to stop and pause.  To stop and think.  To turn to God.

I have six children.  Children who all experienced more pain, trauma, loss, and hurt than any child should EVER have to face but sadly many do.  They were all born.  They were all "given" life.  Born to mothers who either loved themselves more than the children they bore or mothers who didn't give a second thought to how she would provide (or not provide) for the children she bore.  Children whose mothers didn't know about grace and mercy and redemption.  Children who were hungry.  Children who were cold.  Children who were hot.  Children who were thirsty.  Children who were dirty.  Children who were uneducated.  Children who were loved only by a Father they couldn't see and a Father they didn't trust.  Children whose mothers we thank God for regularly for choosing to give them life.

There is no denying I have a heart for the orphan.  That is my calling in life, of this I am sure.  So why would I want more of them on this earth?  Why would I want to see kids suffer the same hurt, sometimes over their entire lifetime, that my kids have suffered?  Why would I want these mothers to bear their children, unable to care for them, or more sadly, unwilling to care for them.


Simple.  That is God's plan for all of us.  To call us from a place without Him to a place with Him.

The Bible...Jesus...calls us to care for the orphans.  As Christians, that is one of our duties.  Through Christ's love in us, the orphan can learn of God's great grace, mercy, and love.  The orphan can change his or her course in life and in turn change the course of life for others.  The change started in one child...in one family...can affect so, so many.  Perhaps physical adoption isn't for you.  But adoption through sponsorship can be.  Please ask me about it if you can come up with $30-$50 extra dollars a month.  That's one manicure or pedicure.  That's one meal out.  That's a trip to the movies.  That's one Starbucks a week.  Your impact can be felt for generations.

But folks, I'm not only talking about redemption of the kids here.  I'm talking about the redemption of us adults.  We can learn so much through the changing heart of an orphaned child.  We can learn so much about trust, love, and acceptance by watching our children experience it.  We can learn so much about God's great and never-ending love, mercy and grace by giving it.

I guess that's why I am so upset by all the hateful posts, tweets and threads going around lately.  God has so strongly convicted me that we need to hate the sin and love the sinner.  That also means hating our own sin, too.  That's hard.  Sometimes we downplay our sin because it's "not as bad" as killing a baby or being in a homosexual relationship.  It's not as bad as as defiling children.  It's not as bad as murdering someone.

Newflash:  God hates ALL sin and LOVES all sinners.

I don't write this to give you free pass.  We can't love God and ignore His teachings and commands.  We can't. We all need God and his grace and mercy.  Every single one of us.

You had an abortion?  God loves you.  You cheated on your wife?  God loves you.  You embezzled your company's money?  God loves you.  You are a drug-addicted drunkard?  God loves you.  You are a habitual liar?  God loves you.  You are proud at heart?  God loves you.  You have hate in your heart?  God loves you.

Turn to Him.  Let Him heal you.  Let His great grace and mercy wash over you.  He's waiting...always waiting.  He wants you.  He desires you.  He loves you...and everyone else.  Love them too.  You may be the only taste of Christ another person may have.

Our Youth Pastor, Aaron Holman, created this image and I absolutely love it.  Can you see your weakness and your sin?  It's okay.  He loves you so much he died for you.  He died for us...all of us.  Go to Him and live.