Goodbye Summer

Summer was such a sweet season for our family. I’m sad to see it go. It was a season mixed with downtime, travel, and exciting adventures. We braved the Florida heat and visited Disney World with friends and family. I cleaned out my kids’ rooms, yes, I was almost as excited about this as one … Continue reading “Goodbye Summer”

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Summer was such a sweet season for our family. I’m sad to see it go.

It was a season mixed with downtime, travel, and exciting adventures.

We braved the Florida heat and visited Disney World with friends and family.

I cleaned out my kids’ rooms, yes, I was almost as excited about this as one of our summer adventures!

 

We enjoyed the outdoors and tried new adventures.

 

We savored lazy summer mornings.

My husband and I helped out my in-laws’ family restaurant; this took me back to our days of being engaged where we worked together.

We started a small group in our home for young adults. They keep us young and teach us a lot.

 

I served at our church youth camp and youth conference.

This summer was good for my soul. It was incredible for our family.

img_1538And now we say goodbye to summer.

School is back in session, and my full-time job outside our home begins again.

As I reflect on this season, I remember how opposite I felt when school let out a few months before. I was exhausted, burned-out, and lonely.

I went into the last school year with my own set of expectations; which is never a good idea. I had high hopes for myself and others. Most of which I didn’t even realize.

I thought because last year was my second year at the same job I’d have more things figured out, but I still had quite a bit of learning to do.

I expected my eighth-grader to have a smoother year than his past two in middle school. But, he had similar academic challenges and struggled with responsibility. I wasn’t prepared for his group of friends shrinking and seeing him on the outside of his friend group.

I was entirely caught off guard when my third grader, who never has a rough day at school, began having quite a few rough days at home. His time at home became filled with emotional outbursts, sadness, and anxiety. I couldn’t comprehend how our bright and sweet boy was growing sad and stressed.

I was ill-equipped to handle my daughter going into school crying because she didn’t like her hair, her uniform, or the fact that her best friend yesterday wasn’t speaking to her this week. She was in kindergarten.

Maybe it’s my age, perhaps its selective memory, but I don’t remember middle school, third grade, or kindergarten being this difficult! We did survive the 2018-19 school year, and all grew in many ways. But I welcomed summer break like never before.

“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven:”        Ecclesiastes 3:1

There was also the challenge of carving out time with my husband amidst our opposite schedules. I had to accept the heartache of dwindling relationships with friends and family without understanding why.

What I did know was: I didn’t feel like I was enough, in any area of my life, and that felt awful!

It was at the end of “my rope” that God began to refresh me with His Word, with friendships that were growing, with sweet time early in the morning sitting at His feet.

And I mean early.

Groggily, I’d peek at my phone to check the time. Most mornings, I’d pray/beg the Lord to let me sleep a little longer. After tossing and turning I’d realize that wasn’t an option. I’d head out to the living room and find my cozy spot on the couch. I’d open my bible or devotion book and wait for the Lord to reveal something.

I’d long for Him to remind me:

· I am not alone.

· Your plans are good, even if I don’t feel like they are.

· I can keep going.

Most days throughout the past school year, I did start my day in my bible. I listened to worship music on my way to work. I enjoyed sweet conversations with my kids (most of the time). I was grateful for the many blessings in my life. But I still felt this heaviness and sadness that weighed me down. I became so physically exhausted; I ended up going to my doctor. I found out I have something wrong with my thyroid, nothing serious at this time, but it is something to watch.

I also realized I had something wrong, spiritually. I was going through the motions and not being filled with Jesus. I was trying, in my strength and my set of expectations to take care of everything/everyone in this season. I don’t have to be Jesus; I have to lean on Jesus.

 I don’t have to be Jesus; I have to lean on Jesus.

I began changing my thinking and reminding myself:

o God is always with me, ‘I’m never alone. Deut 31:8

o I trust Your good plans for my family and me. Jer 29:11

o I don’t have to keep going in my strength; I can persevere with Jesus. Phil 4:13

1280x1280-1I also began realizing Jesus wanted me to know Him as my friend. I sang many times in church, “I’m a friend of God.” I never fully grasped this.  If I hadn’t felt so isolated this past year, I would’ve missed out on knowing my Savior in a new way.

There are times now when I’m hurt, upset, or scared that I stop and pray instead of picking up the phone to call a friend. God has also shown me the importance of having friends in my life to ask to pray and speak into my life.

He’s challenged me to make time for intentional moments with friends. I need to be surrounded by women who have the freedom to speak truth into my life during this season. Because of my busy schedule working full-time, I don’t have as many friendships as other seasons. But I do have deeper friendships during this season. One of the sweetest times since being back at work is the lunch breaks I’ve scheduled with friends. They have been life-giving to me. I’ve learned I’m not alone and to extend the benefit of the doubt; we are all walking through something.

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One reason I felt so alone is that I was focusing on my difficulties and believing no-one else was struggling. That’s not true, this is a fallen world filled with broken people, and we all need Jesus.

I’ve sensed God refreshing me this summer. He is reviving me with His Word. Jesus has brought reconciliation to strained relationships, which are stronger than before. He is renewing my relationships with my kids and leading me as I meet them in their seasons. He’s restoring our marriage as we navigate this busy season. I feel like I’ve been through a renovation this past year. I see “new” rising in many areas of my life. Newness I would’ve missed out on if I hadn’t walked a lonely road of being overwhelmed for a season.

1280x1280Jesus continues to meet me in my expectations, emotions, stubbornness, and weaknesses. And He will meet you too. I’m thankful for this crazy, challenging, blessed life and the undeserving grace of Jesus that gets me through.

Embrace Heartache

IMG_33C4B3208F85-1It hasn’t been the month I hoped it would be after sharing my word for the year, embrace. Instead of welcoming this month with open arms, I’ve been grasping for glimpses of joy. On February 14th Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School faced a horrific tragedy. You’ve probably seen or heard the heart-breaking story. This high school is nine miles from the school where I work; many students and staff members here have friends and family at this school. Broken-hearted is how I can describe these past few weeks. Broken-hearted for the families, staff, and students who suffered and are suffering the effects of this tragedy. Broken-hearted for the first responders, grief counselors, doctors and nurses doing their best to serve this community during this tough time. IMG_6359Broken-hearted for my kids living in this time and doing my best to answer the many questions they have.

“Lord, how do you embrace this?” I’ve asked this question numerous times during this past few weeks. I don’t have a clear answer but I do know I’m not alone. God is here in the pain, doubt, and sorrow. He is with those grieving the loss of loved ones and in the hospital rooms where there are still students fighting for their lives. Grief can come in waves that sweep us under. Grief can then linger like an unwelcome companion. As I’ve been swept under quite a few waves this month Jesus is there to remind me I’m not alone and in Him is the hope of heaven.

 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Most of the time I need Jesus to help me from myself; the battle in my head not to focus on the negative and difficult. Whatever you’re facing make time to get alone with God and come clean; let Him meet you in the good, bad and ugly going on in your head. God knows all of our thoughts, fears, and insecurities and loves us through all of them. If you’re in the early stages of deep grief go slowly, God is with you and He is patient. I remember reading Psalms 18, two days after my brother was killed in a hit and run accident, it was the first time I realized God was with me in the midst and He spoke comfort through His Word. I didn’t feel immediately better and the pain of his loss still lingers with me years later. BUT it was the beginning of knowing I’m not alone and God has a plan even when I can’t understand it.  I just had to open His Word.

When I was in the beginning stages of my grief journey I prayed like never before. It was one of the first times in my life I couldn’t handle normal day-to-day tasks. For the past couple of weeks, it has been a time of praying without ceasing, mostly for others who are in the midst of this tragedy. This should be a constant thing in my life, but often times trials have a way of turning me back to the Lord and reminding me to pray more. I’ve also been praying that I don’t forget to keep praying.

It also helps when I shift my focus from my difficulties and focus on serving someone else. If you’re able to help others who are grieving do so. God takes our little and uses it, multiplies it, and blesses through it. Our women’s ministry group at church made “thinking-of-you” bags for the teachers at West Glades Middle School, the school next

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“Thinking-of-you” Bags

door to Stoneman Douglas High.West Glades Middle School was also deeply affected by this tragedy. The staff returned to work the next day trying to figure out how to process their grief while caring for their students. The staff was so appreciative of the “thinking-of-you” bags. God took our little something and used it to make a big impact. There have been other opportunities to serve too. They’ve seemed like small tasks, but trusting the Lord to use them to make a bigger impact as His church comes alongside to serve this heartbroken community.

I’ve had to remind myself God’s grace is sufficient for me during this time. IMG_6260My husband told me last week he’s been praying for me to be filled with joy. That felt more like a smack in the head then the loving encouragement and concern my husband meant it to be. Conviction started to rise, how long has it been since I’ve been joyful in our home. Definitely not the past couple of weeks. I’ve been allowing the heaviness of grief and difficulties weigh me down. I was being bumped and nudged and what was coming out wasn’t pretty! I needed to look up instead of around me. Now I’m not talking about “feeling happy” type of joy. I’m talking about the joy that only comes from faith in Jesus. The peace and joy we have, as believers in Christ, because of the hope in heaven.

This past weekend I was blessed to attend a Living Proof conference with an awesome teaching from Beth Moore. This was exactly what I needed. I had time to reminisce about how Jesus met me right in the midst of my sin and doubt twenty years ago,  just like He met the women at the well. And He still meets me today to extended His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. I was savoring the reminder that Jesus is the only thing that can truly satisfy. As I returned back to my day-to-day living; I was determined to relish in this beautiful reminder of grace. I felt like I could sprinkle joy all over our home like confetti!

Then I woke up Monday and definitely didn’t “feel” joyous but I was ready to pursue Jesus and His joy this week. Then my mom called; through her tears she told me one of the managers at her office was killed in a car accident on his way to work the night before. The questions arise again; this broken-hearted grieving wells up AGAIN. I was blessed to work with this young man for a couple of years when I worked part-time at the office. He always had a smile on his face and a kind word to share.  “Lord, why?” Grief upon grief. Broken-hearted for my mom who personally invests in her employees, for his family whose life will never be the same, for my co-workers that are grieving the loss of their friend and co-worker. “Lord, how can I just sit here and go through these tasks?” I wanted to be at the office where I used to work to grieve and pray with the employees that were processing this, and encourage someone if I could. Not sitting here pretending like it’s another normal day.

That was Monday. By the end of the week one of my dearest friends had traveled to see her Grammy in hospice to say good-bye one last time. Another sweet friend celebrated what should’ve been her daughter in heavens 13th birthday. I learned of a woman in ministry who ended her battle of depression. Grief upon grief upon grief….

Again, I ask God, “How do I embrace this?”  What do I do with this broken heart of mine? What do you do with your broken heart?  Thankful God can shoulder my concerns, I run to Jesus, I pray, try to offer the little encouragement I can while trusting God to use it for more. The heaviness isn’t gone, neither are the tears, the pain, or the questions. What do you do when those close to you suffer loss? When these stories on the news weigh you down? When you begin your own grief journey? Take it day by day, extend grace to yourself and others, seek Jesus in His word and in prayer. Take time to acknowledge all you’re grateful for. Remember this isn’t our home, heaven is our home! UnknownMay we be ever thankful for the hope of heaven.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Philippians 3:12

“Dear Jesus, meet us here in the midst of our broken hearts. You know each burden and loss we carry. Help us to pray like never before during these times we live in. Lead us by Your Spirit to comfort others with our little. May we make time to open Your Word and be comforted, convicted, and encouraged. Help us find true joy in the hope of heaven.”

Taste and See

Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in Him! Psalm 34:8
IMG_2066I was at the deli counter on my weekly grocery shopping trip. I ordered the usual items and out of the corner of my eye I noticed a new type of cheese. I immediately knew I wanted to try it. I basically talked myself into asking the nice gentleman behind the counter if I could try a piece. Confession time – I don’t like small talk! It makes me anxious. My mind turns to mush, and words just don’t form. I began this awkward conversation with myself:
“Why was it so hard for you to ask about the cheese?”
“It’s his job.”
“It’s only cheese!”
After some time contemplating the cheese, I realized I didn’t want to inconvenience him. What if I tasted the cheese and didn’t like it? Then I’d have to say “No, thank you. I’ve decided not to buy any.” All this after putting him to the trouble of cutting me a piece of cheese in the first place!
I’d love to say this comes from my consideration of others. But that’s completely false! It usually comes from me not liking to be bothered. So I assume no one else does either. There’s another reason. It’s also the anxiety of making small talk, the insecurity of having nothing to say, and the fear of looking like a fool. This time around, it had nothing to do with me bothering the kind gentleman doing his job. Instead, it had everything to do with my anxiety issues!
What’s it for you? Maybe small talk comes easy and if you want to try something at the deli, you just ask with no thought. If it’s not something as simple as this, I’m pretty sure there’s something else that makes you anxious, fearful, or insecure. We are made of flesh and bones and all lack confidence in certain areas of life. What’s that “thing” that keeps you from enjoying life deeper? Maybe you have an uncontrollable fear that even keeps you from leaving the house. Or perhaps its fear of people seeing the real you – instead of avoiding small talk, you fill every conversation with some type of surface talk. Whatever “it” is, God wants to walk you through it. I know because He’s walking me through my issues, and believe me this is only one! Also, His word tells us:
“The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].”  John 10:10 AMP
I want this live life to the fullest approach….. which is pretty cool, because my key word for 2017 is Abundantly!
So guess what? I actually did ask that nice gentleman at the deli counter for a sample of cheese. I can hardly believe I set aside my anxieties and tasted the Italian herb cheese. And do you know what? I loved it! I ended up ordering that cheese, picked up some fresh tomatoes, basil, and bread. What a yummy lunch those sandwiches made, complete with balsamic drizzle. Would my day have been horrible if I didn’t try the cheese? Probably not. But I would’ve beat myself up a little for chickening out on asking for something I really wanted to try – AGAIN! It takes work to conquer these little things that can keep us from enjoying this life in the day-to-day. It also takes work to enjoy life during the really tough days.
On January 4, 2017, my dad

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#daddysgirl

would’ve turned 63. This particular birthday was very difficult. On that morning, my husband and I didn’t have a lot on our “to do” list. The only thing on our plate was to take our daughter to school. And then we were going to walk before he left for work. But our youngest son left his lunch at home. We couldn’t even call and make arrangements for him to buy lunch that day. His class was having a picnic, and if he didn’t have a bag lunch, he wouldn’t be able to go. We don’t live close to the boys’ school and driving up there meant no time for our walk. IMG_0831

 

I already mentioned how much I love interruptions – NOT! This took my gloomy day and made it worse. We drove pretty much in silence. About half way to the school my husband pointed out a rainbow. I saw it beautifully peeking out from the clouds. I don’t think we would’ve seen it had we gone on our walk. I knew the Lord had placed it there just for me. My husband knew I needed to see that rainbow too. And of course, he knew the next thing I’d want is a picture. I LOVE taking pictures. The problem was I couldn’t see it without looking out his window. He carefully took my phone, steadied it, and drove as slow as he could to grab the shot. Did that moment take all the sadness and grief away? Nope. But it did give me the choice to see what God had done. It reminded me to focus on the good things I have. The rainbow prompted me to be thankful that my dad’s not suffering any longer, to remember him whole now, and the cancer is gone! It brought new perspective into my day and helped me be grateful for the memories I have of and with my dad.

He was a remarkable man – a wonderful husband, incredible dad to me and my husband, and a terrific grandfather to our kids. On January 15th, the 3rd anniversary of my dad going to be with Jesus, my mom and I took the kids to Disney Springs in Orlando. It’s a perk of living a few hours away we can just drive up and enjoy a brief trip. We filled the day with fun things Grandpa would’ve loved.

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#choosingjoy

We went bowling, toured the coca-cola factory, and had lunch at a down home fresh cooking place. My dad was from Illinois and loved home cooking meals.  That day we chose joy! We have a choice each day to taste and see God’s goodness, it’s there for us to reach out and grab. Most days I really believe I just miss a lot of it. I live in my bubble, behind my to-do list, and often am onto the next task before I’ve completed the current one. This year I desire to savor more moments. A dear friend of mine’s focus word for this year is “Savor.” Although it’s not my word for the year, I am grateful for the reminder to Savor more Jesus moments! This year has been BUSY and I haven’t had as much time to savor the beautiful messy everyday moments as I’d like. With Spring upon us, it’s time for me to stop and smell the flowers. I know all to well life is short and I still manage to get up in the craziness that’s called life.

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My husband taught at church last week and one of his points was – Slow Down! Oh how I needed that reminder. I don’t know where you are in this season, but if it’s a busy one, slow down and smell the roses! Find the beauty in God’s creation and those He’s placed in your life. Have a picnic, take a walk, rest, breathe, and savor!

Thank you Jesus that You love us even though we live in our own little circles, missing much of the beauty around us. May we remember in the midst of the trials, pain, and hardships this world offers, we can find beauty in You. Help us to let go of those things IMG_2070that keep us from tasting and seeing Your goodness. Let us savor more of your goodness each day. Help us slow down, sit at your feet, and open our eyes and our hearts to the
abundant living only You provide! Let us be free to embrace the messy moments around us that You make beautiful.  – Amen!

Stay Still….

To my mom – this one’s for you!

Two Sunday’s ago I was stuck sitting on a bench, waiting, with my keys locked in my car. There as I sat I realized quite a bit. (See previous post). Fast-forward a couple of weeks. On this Sunday I sat a lot less rested, but also realizing quite a bit. These past two weeks were completely opposite from that week when I sat on that bench. Finding a moment to breathe has been extremely difficult. These few weeks have been filled with heaps of joy and also a great deal of trials. I’ve been reminded during this time to trust – trust that God’s working even when I can’t see it. image

There were really awesome moments during those past couple of weeks. One highlight was that our oldest son turned 11! We had fun surprising him and celebrating with family and friends. There have been really difficult moments too. I had a rough time at work and our daughter had a very difficult week at home. I also had a misunderstanding with someone close to me and an unintentional mistake became a bigger issue. I was left feeling hurt and misunderstood. I also was enduring the sting of intentional hurt, which is never fun! Far tougher than dealing with my wounds, was wiping the tears of my oldest son as he faced the feelings of being excluded and unwelcome. I felt much more worn out and dragged down by the “stuff” life often throws than I wanted to be. I love the account in the Bible where Jesus heals the woman who had been suffering through twelve years of continuous bleeding, and she knew that all she needed to do was just touch the hem of Jesus’ garment – “For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.” Mark 5:28-29.

These past few weeks I knew I was barely hanging on by a thread. But I also knew my Jesus was right there with me. I just had to reach out to Him! During these few weeks I cried more then I would’ve liked and felt misjudged. But how much more was my Savior hurt and misjudged as He walked on this earth. Sometimes it takes difficult moments to remember we live in a fallen world – and we are all made of flesh and bones.
Unfortunately, I will hurt people sometimes and people also will hurt me sometimes. And so will you! I don’t know what bumps and bruises you’ve suffered these past few weeks, yet I know you aren’t alone. I also learned that sometimes it’s not our job to defend ourselves. I heard the Lord telling me to say nothing. This can be the hardest thing to do when we want to explain, correct, or voice our hurts and/or opinions. But I knew through my quiet times with the Lord that I was to continue being still in Him.

Honestly, I’m not sure if these trying moments are happening more often or if they bother me more when I’m worn out and emotional. I believe it’s a little of both! I don’t like pain so I don’t have any tattoos (my husband has enough for us both). But if I did get a tattoo, I’d want a tattoo of the words – “Pasa Chara.” I was introduced to this phrase during a small group study I was in the year following my brother’s passing. It was entitled – “Reflecting God” by Kay Smith. I learned a valuable lesson during that study that has remained with me through the years. The hard, unbearable, miserable, stressful, and difficult moments allow me to workout my faith. They are necessary and purposeful. Trials aren’t easy, and my natural reaction will not be true joy. But I know I’ll get through whatever “it” is at the moment and it’s accomplishing more than I have any idea about.
The words are defined below from the Strong’s Concordance.
pás – each, every; each “part(s) of a totality”
khä-rä’ – joy, gladness, joyful, joyous, joyfulness, joyfully, greatlyimage

The highlight of these past couple of weeks came at the end of those trying weeks. My family, friends, supporters and I walked in the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) 5K. What a beautiful bittersweet day. I’ve walked in this fund raising and awareness walk four of the past five years. I thought it’d be easier this year, but it wasn’t. As I set all of our stuff out for our early morning adventure, the heaviness of grief hit me. I couldn’t stop thinking about getting up and putting “that” shirt on. Another year…. another event…..another moment my brother isn’t here. I couldn’t sleep. I knew the alarm was going to sound soon, but my mind refused to rest. I finally got up, read, prayed & wrote. Also had a good cry! Finally – I slept.

IMG_5449We all made it out for the 5k event. There were tears shared, hugs given, smiles exchanged and I can truly say that I counted it all true joy!!! One of the most beautiful things about this picture of everyone who showed up that day to walk/run in memory of my brother while supporting me and my mom, is that not one person (besides my mom and children), were “family” by definition. But they are “family” in my eyes and even more importantly, in God’s eyes. This is truly a picture of God’s love, grace, provision and mercy! And as much as I would’ve loved to be enjoying Sunday morning not walking in the MADD walk because my brother’s life was taken by a drunk driver, I can’t say this group of people would have been brought together if that tragedy had not occurred. I look at this picture and was brought to tears – happy tears – because I see God’s love and kindness in action.

I am also reminded I am not the only person facing grief, trials, and pain.IMG_5414

My brother’s two best friends and their familes who have supported our family through this loss while grieving the loss of their best friend much too young. They welcome me and my mom into their family’s lives and have grown into amazing men.

imageMy oldest friend, “cousin,” who has been there for me through thick and thin! She lives each day without her parents due to cancer. She is an outstanding wife, mother, and friend. She keeps me going and is certainly family!

My best friend who sees the good, the bad, and the ugly in me but still loves me. I met her the year after my brother passed away. Little did she know that the following year she would find out her son has cerebral palsy, and that neither his nor her family’s life would be the same or go on as they’d originally hoped and planned. We’ve been walking each other through numerous trials, grief moments, and hardships ever since. But with LOTS of laughter!

My passionate friend who runs with the pain of family rejection and faces life’s unplanned and uncontrollable moments on her knees. She challenges me, encourages me, and cheers me on.

My strong (inside and out) friend and mom of two amazing adult children, who helped organize this team – inspires me, makes me brave, and is breaking generational curses in her own family.

And these kids that come out and not only walk/run but understand the best they can why we are walking. They recognize it’s a sad day, but also a happy day. They get to not only witness God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy in action, but also be a part of it.

imageMy mom’s friend who was much more like an aunt to me growing up. She lives with the loss of her parents and her brother. She is an amazing wife, mom, and friend.

And to all others pictured walking with your own sorrows…keep moving forward. There’s a plan and purpose in your pain. Thank you to everyone who supported our team through donations, walking, and prayer! We couldn’t make it without you. Thank you!

One thing all of the amazing women mentioned above have in common (besides their inspiring impact in my life), is they are all moms. They’re facing life’s struggles with little, and some not so little eyes watching them and ears listening to them. Although as moms know, the things we’d like our children to listen to they often don’t. And the things we’d rather them not hear, they don’t miss. One of the many things that make these women great moms is that they’re real. They aren’t afraid to admit a mistake or to recognize neither they nor their kids are perfect. Most importantly, they don’t take the unbearable things life has thrown at them and allow them to define their lives or debilitate them.

One of the most amazing examples I’ve witnessed of not allowing life to keep you disheartened is my mom. My mom will face another Mother’s Day without her son, and the next day she’ll face another birthday without her husband too. As I write today, the day before Mother’s Day, my mom isn’t sitting somewhere moping. No – she’s at a nursing home with women from her bible study group. They’re having a tea to bless the elderly ladies there. My mom explained after loosing my dad that “losing David left a huge hole in my heart and losing dad is like trying to function without my arm.” I’ve seen my mom grow through unbearable pain and circumstances. I’m so thankful for the amazing mom I’m blessed to have grown up with. imageBut even more, I’m thankful for the woman she’s becoming out of the ashes of life. “To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory” Isaiah 61:3.

I don’t know what you’re facing this Mother’s Day, but God does! He knows what pain you’re carrying, what trial you aren’t sure you’ll make it out of, what relationship seems unbearable right now, and every little hurt, insecurity, and difficulty you bear everyday. He knows when you should say something and when you don’t need to. He knows where you’ll be sitting next Mother’s Day and what ashes He wants to bring beauty out of in your life!

Lord I pray for each woman reading this and everything she needs to leave at Your feet, Jesus! I pray for all the daughters missing their moms, for all the daughters desiring a better relationship with their moms, and any scars they’re carrying. I pray for every woman struggling with infertility, miscarriage, and the questions left unanswered. I pray for every single mom reading this who You’ll comfort and refresh like only You can. I pray for foster moms caring for children like they are their own. I pray for all adoptive moms and the struggles they face. I pray peace for the pregnant women reading this and the new lives they’re carrying. I pray for challenging mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships, knowing You can bring a breakthrough. I pray for every worn out and exhausted mom who is barely hanging on – encourage and remind them Lord You love them and their children! imageHeavenly Father, I pray for any difficult situation any lady reading this is facing. I pray above all, that we’ll be transparent, forgiving, strong, and loving women in this day and time. I pray that we’ll fight for Your truth to stand, especially with this next generation. I pray that we’ll experience Your FREEDOM to continue on with bandaged hearts and shattered limbs, all for Your glory! Never missing the beauty Your revealing in the midst!

Moment by Moment

I’m familiar with the saying “take it day by day.” A couple of weeks ago was one of those weeks where it was more like “take it moment by moment.” This week comes every year and doesn’t seem to get any easier. My family faces the anniversaries of loss of three family members. Sunday, January 10th my Aunt passed away 14 years ago; Friday, January 15th my dad passed away two years ago; Sunday, January 16th my brother passed away six years ago. Also that week is filled with one of the best days for our family; January 11th 3 years ago I picked up my sweet daughter and became her foster mom. The emotions that this week brings definitely resemble a roller coaster ride, and not one with a big incline then a massive drop and you coast through the rest of the ride. It’s more like one that starts off fast, whips you around, spins you upside down and you finally come to a screeching halt back at the station.

I’m filled with comfort knowing my family members are saved and together in heaven. One day we will all be together. “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” Philippians 3:20. I’m filled with peace and excitement that this year is the first year our daughter is legally ours! I’m filled with sadness because these days remind me of where I was each of the moments when I lost such important people in my life.

I’m filled with an urgency to pray! To pray for my grandma who has to face this month remembering the loss of two of her children and her grandson. To pray for my cousins who have had to endure 14 years without their mama. To pray for my mom who has to face the sad anniversary of the loss of her sister-in-law, her husband, and her son in one week. To pray for all the foster children coming into the foster care system and being removed from the family they know. I pray for foster parents, whose story didn’t end like ours, and they have to say goodbye to babies and kids they loved like their own, and trust God will protect them when the situation they’re going to may look uncertain.

I’m also filled with tears that well up in my eyes and I often hold back until I find those few quiet moments that I can unleash the flood gates. I’m filled with hope because I don’t have to carry this sadness alone, and because this fallen world filled with loss, sadness, hurt, and pain is not the end. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4.

So what do you do with one of the saddest months, weeks, days or moments of your year? I find things to be thankful for. I try to enjoy the normal of our family’s daily life. I cherish the sweet memories and special moments of my lost loved ones. I create special new memories with my loved ones who are still with me. A couple Saturdays ago my mom, mom-in-love, and I took my three kids and two of their cousins to the circus. As I sat with my daughter who was completely amazed and curious, I remembered three years ago bringing her to the circus. The day after my oldest son and I picked her up and brought her home we had tickets to the circus. My husband was coming home from a mission trip in the Bahamas, and he wasn’t able to keep her.

One of the things about being a foster parent is it’s a beautiful interruption. You don’t know when you will get a call, how long the child will stay, or how hard it will be to say goodbye. My daughter is the fifth foster child we have cared for. Each situation is unique and beautifully complex. Another thing a foster parent faces, especially with other children, is life goes on. Sometimes you get a few days to adjust and other times its full speed ahead with a new little member of your family. Off we went to the circus – my mom, my mom-in-love, my cousin, my two boys, this sweet 5 month old foster baby girl, and four of their cousins. The day was more hectic then planned, but all the kids had fun and we made it through!

Here I sat three years later with this same beautiful little girl who has grown up so much. She now not only gives hugs, she squeezes and won’t let go. She not only speaks she looks you in the face and talks a lot! She isn’t afraid to grab your hand or sit on your lap when she gets a little nervous or anxious. We made it through the whole arena with her holding mommy’s hand and not making a run for it. You see our sweet girl has come so far, but has some more obstacles to overcome. She has challenges that we are still learning to help her through. We are truly grateful to be chosen to be her mommy and daddy and have the privilege to learn to be the parents she needs us to be. That night I was humbled, over-joyed, and thankful remembering the journey from foster mom to forever mommy!

Another sweet memory I have from 2014 is sitting in a court room in October 2014 at another court date for our foster baby girl. The judge was setting the date for the next hearing. A hearing we wouldn’t be allowed to attend. This hearing would decide if our case would move toward adoption. The judge announced the date and the tears started flowing. My husband took my hand and knew why I was crying. The date was set for January 15, 2015. That was the one year anniversary of my dad passing away. How fitting it was that especially with us not being able to attend the court date, it was set for that date. My dad and our sweet girl had such a special bond. She is one of the few people who could make him smile as he neared the end of his battle with cancer. My dad is the one who assured me from his hospital bed that this sweet girl wasn’t going anywhere and he knew she was staying in our family. God could’ve chosen any day in 2015 to set that hearing. But He chose January 15th to remind me that He’s involved in all the details of my life. And He’s involved in every detail of your life too. “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Psalm 37:23. As you may have guessed, on January 15, 2015 her case moved to an adoption status. This meant we were ready to begin the adoption process. Her case that had been going slowly, with numerous set-backs, was now full steam ahead. Her adoption was finalized on March 30, 2015. The day before my husband’s birthday; another sweet reminder that God’s into special dates and memories just like me.

What else do you do during one of the most difficult months, weeks, days, or moments that youl’l face throughout the year? You face the difficulties that come with daily life and give yourself grace because little things bother you and may seem harder to complete then normal. You say “I’m Sorry!” when you miss your son’s chapel and he tells you he was sad when you didn’t make it. I thought he understood when daddy took him to school instead of mommy that day that I wouldn’t be there. But my sweet six year old just remembered me saying I’d be there. But I wasn’t. I was at my dad and brother’s grave sites having a good cry in the rain that morning before I went to work. I do know where I will be this week with my sweet 6 year old on chapel day. You celebrate life events, even when you don’t feel like celebrating. We went to my husband’s aunt’s birthday dinner. You make waffles! My aunt didn’t want a cake but waffle sundaes. I made waffles, but not just any waffles, the Amazon Pioneer Woman waffles. She happens to be one of my aunt’s favorite people! Once we made it to dinner we had fun and really enjoyed our night. However there have been a few years it was just too hard to go. It’s important to give yourself time to grieve. But please don’t allow yourself to stay there and miss out on life events God has planned for you to enjoy. Also when the rain clears and the kids are blessed with a day off from school you go to the park and ride a bike!

Also I take a lot of pictures! (In case you hadn’t noticed.) I have always taken a lot of pictures, and it doesn’t matter the event. My daughter now also loves taking pictures and I’ll find many on my phone that she took. There are random photos of her toys, our dog, her brothers, and random household objects. Sadly, my mom has to endure that fact that as the years go on there aren’t any new or more pictures of my brother.  This is a hard thing for her to deal with – especially on this tragic anniversary. It has been six years since his passing and although every year we are closer to reaching eternity and being together, the reality here on earth is there are less and less moments that include him. I also didn’t realize how difficult that would be to accept this year. These are the moments when trusting God’s timing is much bigger than our reality. Mom and I know one day this will make sense, but it doesn’t right now. “Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.” Psalm 126:5. We cried and looked at the old pictures we do have and allowed ourselves to be sad for a moment.

I learned a lot during the past few days and weeks. Whether it is in a painful trial, a loving discipline moment from my Heavenly Father, or through His grace that I don’t deserve! God is always teaching me something.

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I learned even more that grief is a lonely road and it is unique to each person. My mom’s deep, deep grief isn’t my grief and I can’t carry it for her. Just like my mom can’t take away mine.

I learned how thankful I am for the encouragement, kindness, and prayers of those around me. I am blessed with compassionate women in my life who took the time to reach out to me on this sad anniversary.

I learned there are also people I didn’t hear from who I thought would have reached out during this difficult time. I am growing in this area and trying not to take it personally.

I learned more so that Jesus has to be first! No matter how lonely I feel He is always there. “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b

I have been on both sides of this equation; times in my life that I was too busy, to nervous, or to worried about me to reach out to a friend during a difficult time. I was reminded I have to forgive myself and others. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23. We all blow it sometimes and are constantly in need of God’s grace.

On the weekend of these sad anniversaries, I prayed about the moments I missed being there for others. I realized and acknowledged that no matter who took the time to reach out to me the grief and hurt is still there. But I also realized that when someone does takes the time to reach out through a text, card, phone call, etc. It helps lift your burden, the burden doesn’t go away but it gets lighter! Maybe you aren’t in a trial right now but you know someone who is. Taking the time to reach out with a few simple words, “I am thinking of you.” I am praying for you.” “I am sorry you’re going through this.” They mean more then you can imagine. God created each of us differently and it might not come easy to reach out in a difficult moment. God is always with us and has given each of us what we need to put other’s first. We are created to love God first and love each other. “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew22:37-39.

My prayer for you –

“God I pray for those reading this who are hurting. They are carrying grief they didn’t know was so deep, Lord be their comfort, strength, and peace. Bless them with godly friends to walk them through their difficult time. I pray for those You are calling to walk someone through a difficult time. Lord give them Your wisdom and peace. Father, may we all go deeper in knowing You, putting ourselves aside and following You whole heartedly. Forgive us for the times we become too busy or distracted to spend time with You. Help us allow You to lead our lives, for Your way is perfect! In Jesus name, Amen!”

 

Taking The Next Step

In my previous post I shared about living with overwhelming grief and how it rushed over me like a tidal wave, even years after the initial loss. That day sitting in Starbucks my particular next step was a big one! I had to decide to pull myself together and function that Thursday morning. I had plenty to do that day, although I really wanted to go home, crawl in bed, and speak to no one. However, that wasn’t what I NEEDED to do. Sometimes it’s important to take a break, refresh, and allow yourself time to heal. That Thursday morning I knew I needed to continue on with my day. The next step of getting up and facing the day with red and puffy eyes, a screaming headache, and the desire to do nothing was difficult. Sometimes the actual next step in your life is the hardest. Maybe you need to put something down that has been getting you through your days, but isn’t healthy for you. Or perhaps you need to stop running on empty and the Lord is telling you that your next step is a day of rest. One way or another, we need to be in tune with our heavenly Father and realize what the best next step is. Remember your promise to me; it is my only hope. Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles. Psalm 119: 49-50

That night I was home with my 2 youngest children, my husband was teaching the men’s study at church, and my oldest was at his grandparents working on a social studies project. As I sat with my little ones, I enjoyed toddler life for a moment. It isn’t often that we delight in a quiet house with just us 3, and I could have missed it if I had checked out for the day. When my oldest got home we worked on his project on the computer. I was NEEDED that night and you are too. I could have asked my mom to miss her small group that night or called a babysitter, but that wasn’t the best decision. Maybe you don’t have children at home and you’re thinking no one cares if I checkout. I promise you God cares and if you allow Him, He will place people in your life who NEED you in theirs. They can learn from both your trials and your joyful moments. You must to be open to letting people in! The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever. Psalm 121:8 That night I did have some quiet time before going to sleep and another good cry! As a matter of fact, I cried a lot in the next week and a half, and I was comforted in knowing that the Lord saw every tear.

Three days after my Starbucks moment, my husband had the privilege of officiating a funeral. Yes I say privilege because it is a privilege to share someone’s life story and remind their family and friends of the hope we have in heaven. I was late getting to the service and sat in the back of the church, just in front of a sweet woman who works and serves at our church. Funerals are hard for me. My brother is not the only loss my family has suffered in the past few years, and going to a funeral still reminds me of the deep loss that I carry. This woman I learned about had a beautiful life and she was honored. Then toward the end of the service, the music started and so did my tears.

I had a conversation with God that afternoon. I was very much struggling with my brother’s death. I didn’t get to see my brother walk out his faith, although I did walk up front with him at church and hear him say the sinner’s prayer. My dad passed away from cancer almost 2 years ago and I have this peace about knowing where he is, and that he isn’t suffering anymore. I don’t always have this with my brother. The enemy likes to get in my head and question my confidence in the knowledge that he is with the Lord. I began telling the Lord- “I wish I had that peace with David that I do with my dad. If you could just show me he’s ok I would be so thankful.” The song ended and my husband concluded the service and I sat there grateful. Grateful that I can pour my doubt at my Savior’s feet, even if I’ve done it before. My God is big enough for all my doubt and fears.

After the service ended I spoke with the sweet lady sitting behind me. She informed me she had a dream the other night – a dream about my brother. And she saw his face shining with a huge smile! I couldn’t believe. This sweet angel never met my brother because he was in the military and spent so much time overseas. She served at his service and has been a prayer warrior for my family ever since. God spoke to me that day. He used an angel who I wouldn’t have been sitting near had I been on time. HE is good all the time, especially in the midst of our fears, doubt, and brokenness. This sweet angel is going through grief of her own. She recently became a widow and is living with deep personal grief. But she didn’t allow that to stop her from sharing that day.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts (
Isaiah 55:8-9) The Lord gave me this verse shortly after my brother’s passing. I have memorized it and referred back to it many times over the last 5 years. God has a purpose and a plan for your pain. He wants to use your story to reach others. It is healthy to grieve while being open and honest with God. But not moving forward from your pain is unhealthy. One of the best ways I can honor my dad and brother is to keep living. My family makes an effort to keep their memory alive in everyday life, as well as special days. We also continue living and enjoying this life we have been blessed with. If you feel “stuck” right now and don’t know if you can make the next step, laying down a difficult relationship, or living with the loss of a loved one, then trusting God to provide when you don’t see how and believing His ways truly are higher will go a long way to your healing. I encourage you to not loose heart and hold onto hope. Have a “real” conversation with your Creator; He knows what you are thinking anyway.

I have been listening to this song on repeat lately, Enjoy!!!

Back Into the Swing of Things

The school year is in full swing at our house already. With our kids in pre-k 3, kindergarten, and 5th grade it’s a big year for each of them in different ways. Also in this season my husband has started a new role at church and I have begun this journey of blogging. On this adventure to write I have also been learning about blogging, widgets, and much more technological lingo that I haven’t quite figured out yet. I am not sure why I am surprised that my children have had trouble adjusting to change and the new school year, it took me months and a brief Jonah season before I basically threw my hands up and promised my Heavenly Father I will actually stop talking about blogging and just do it! We have all had our stretching moments in the first month of school. I have shed more tears than I would like to admit. Thankfully, that is ok! My creator loves me and knows every tear before it falls. Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest. Psalm 126:4-6 NLT

Our youngest child is our brave, beautiful, and strong willed princess. She is learning patience, listening skills and self-control. These are neither fun tasks, nor are they easy tasks, even for me as an adult. Thankfully, she is also learning to make friends, bible verses, imaginary play, and coloring; lots of coloring. She loves to help her teacher and help at home even if it is isn’t needed. The word “NO” is a difficult word for her to hear, it usually results in an immediate crying fit and pouting. She is usually pouting loudly and can’t even hear if that “NO,” means “not right now.” This can be challenging when you are in a classroom with other children and results in her having to visit the director more times then I’d like to admit. We have already been in for a conference this year; I believe it was the 2nd week of school. Lots of prayers for our sweet girl and what this year holds for her and us as her parents. The growth I have seen in her is amazing and fills me with hope, a hope that only my Heavenly Father can provide!

Our youngest son is smart, stubborn, sensitive, and a super-duper 5 year old who entered kindergarten this year. He embraces the term middle child like no one I have ever met. I did not even realize middle child syndrome existed until he was about 3 years old. I grew up with only one brother and I was eight years older so my poor brother grew up with 2 moms or at least more of a really cool aunt than just a big sister. Needless to say, middle child syndrome does exist and the struggle is real! My kindergartener is an over achiever. As a matter of fact, when someone in class learned the bible verse of the week before him, he refused to go to sleep that night until he could recite his verse without any mistakes. Like most kindergartners, he is learning to share and that can be difficult especially when he is constantly sharing his time with an older brother with lots of homework and a younger sister who only wants her way, (what girl doesn’t right)? In the midst of our crazy life, his sweetness is a blessing and he is such an excellent peace maker.

Our oldest son is our awesome 10 year old who can be shy and strong-willed. He always finds it necessary to add his 2 cents, whether good or bad. He is learning to manage his locker, organization, responsibility, and to be himself. He is trying desperately to figure out who he is while trying to fit in. His best friend from last year started at a new school and this has been tough on him. He has had a difficult time adjusting to studying and bringing papers home; then getting them turned in. He loves all sports and would rather be outside playing and/or competing in something, then doing homework. We are half way through the first quarter and he is really starting to grasp his independence and improve his study skills. I am delighted at the hard work he has been putting in to be diligent in school. I am not sure what grades he will have on his report card, but I already know this will be the one I am most proud of thus far.

This school year has started off more challenging then I would like. My amazing kiddos have had me on my knees and filling my prayer journal, nevertheless most importantly thanking God no matter how tough it is I get to be their mama. I would love to be able to say I haven’t lost my temper and that I’ve handled the many challenges with grace; but I haven’t. Thankfully my Heavenly Father has grace for me each day. Jesus tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:9…“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” We will have our weak moments whether it’s this season dealing with a crazy school year, changes at work, finding a job,or family stresses, the list goes on and on; just fill in the blank __________. We must allow the grace that only comes from Jesus to fill our weak areas and bring peace.

I was blessed to recently attend the UNSHAKEN Women’s Conference at Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale. What an amazing day! I cannot wait to share more about the conference at another time. They had staged rooms set up for viewing different life events. I definitely connected with more than one, as I looked in the window of a room that mirrored different stages of my life. It made for a powerful emotional and spiritual connection. The one that came to mind while writing this, (love how God does that), was the room labeled “BROKEN.” When you peered in that room, everything looked perfect. The implication of the room is the dweller may seem to have the “perfect” life on the outside. However she is broken on the inside and “keeping it all together”. I can definitely relate to that. Although my house is far from perfect; because there’s always a cup in the sink, even if I just did the dishes, and laundry waiting to be folded. But, boy do I try to “keep it all together!” Don’t we as women tend to put ourselves together and plaster a smile on our faces, all the while feeling completely broken inside? I know I do this, even with God. I can “look” like I have it all figured out, but God sees everything! It’s not our job to “look” like we have it all figured out, and it’s also not healthy to throw a pity party and lay on the floor and cry like my 3 year old. Although at times we all probably feel like doing both. Thankfully we have a Savior who takes our brokenness and brings it to the surface so He can ever so lovingly repair us. The start of this school year has been tough, and at times I’ve felt like a failure as a mom, wife, friend and daughter. Each time I sat a little longer at my Savior’s feet, my load was a little lighter and the cracked pieces could be mended. Even if I had just had a tantrum, thank you Jesus for loving me anyway. He loves each of you too, and wants to meet you right where you are!

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” – Hebrews 12:2-3

Here is the picture of the BROKEN room from the UNSHAKEN Conference.

This quote was hanging on the wall above the bed in the room-

“EVERY BEAUTIFUL FAÇADE CONCEALS ROT AND RUIN THAT IS ALMOST SEEN.”

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BROKEN