Encouragement, Dear Momma

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Mothering.

Its’s one calling that can cause great guilt and insecurity in one fail swoop. 

The one calling that tests every ounce of grit and determination you possess. 

It swells the heart with pride and love until you feel you will burst.

In equal measure, the pain that comes when our children experience the hardest parts of life, settles in and hurts like Hades.

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I have three.  I multiply these raw emotions by three.

I don’t know, but maybe you have found a way to insulate yourself.  Me, not so much.  But, I am learning alongside with my kiddos.  Life throws some pretty big curves, but we are stronger.

Endurance.

That is what we learn.

Last night, I had the joy of listening to my oldest speak to a group of students.  He is passionate about “loving on” people.  That’s his phrase.  It’s a way of life—offering grace and hope to anybody who needs it.  He heads out to his university, grabs coffee and “loves on” students.  He’s built for it.  He’s good at it.  He’s all about it.

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If any person has the right to build up walls and isolate themselves, I guess it would be this kid of mine.  He has stared down some pretty big giants in his life.  This man-child, who is really an adult now—turning 21 very soon, but always my crazy kid—has had enough challenges to last a good while.

But, this only seems to spur him on even more.

Bullied, abused, isolated and rejected.

And all from a Christian community. It’s hard to swallow. It’s tough for a mother to watch. It tears at your insides and makes you angry. Trying to figure out what is it that made him such a target.  I don’t know.  I still don’t have answers, other than, those folks needed help.  He just got in their way.

The last seven years have been full of challenges and victory for him, for us.

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Hurt and healing.

Despair and hope.

But, this young man of mine is a fighter.

He fights for justice with a vigilante spirit.  He’s strong-willed—and thank God for that.  He’s not a lay-down and surrender sort of guy. Which, by the way, made for some unique parenting days!  However, I’m truly grateful for that strong spirit.

Back to last night.

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I watched as he held the attention of each of these junior and senior high schoolers.  He related to them from his heart.  He did what he loves to do the most.  He shared hope with those kids.  He spoke their language.

Sitting there, a realization hit me square on.

This child.

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This one I grieved over and prayed for.

The night after he told us about the abuse, I laid outside his door.  His life, our lives blown apart by another person’s selfishness. The evil that had invaded our home.  It all rolled through my brain as the night lay dark and long.

I was afraidI was afraid this child would not survive this. 

Fear and lies gripped me and laid hold of my heart.  I was afraid to leave him alone.  And to my eyes, he seemed wounded and shattered beyond repair.

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But, we did what we do best.

We rallied and fought…together.

Prayer and help and love and care.

We all worked together.  This family of mine.  God did what he does best.  He restores.  He isn’t the God of a half-baked job.

NO.

He is the God of the very best order.

No slipshod or faulty duct tape fixes here. 

He is the very best at total healing and complete restoration. I wouldn’t leave that to just anybody!

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So, sitting there, it occurred to me there might be other Mommas whose hearts feel  broken beyond repair and hopelessness has set in.  Something about this child of yours—this love wrapped up in skin.  Your heart is beating to the rhythm of their hurt.

This is for you, my friend.

Life isn’t easy.  Life isn’t fair.  Bad things happen—to the ones we love the most. 

Sometimes the very worst.

Or sometimes, they struggle, but can’t seem to find the right paths, no matter where they look.

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They are looking in the wrong places.  Maybe they don’t like the answers you’ve been giving. It doesn’t really matter where the pain is coming from.

If there is pain, our hearts break.

Perhaps you can’t even see the light with this one. 

You would just like a tiny spark of hope. 

Let this be that. 

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Know that God is good at what he does.  We don’t have to be him.  He’s got it.

Rest that child in his care, and take a rest, yourself. 

This is a weight too heavy to carry on your own.

If we love our children this much then how much more must God love them?

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Take hope from my broken and busted heart for my shattered child.  I had a drop of faith to believe God could do something.

That is all it takes, dear Momma.

He knows the beautiful soul of your child and all he was created to do and be.  God is big enough to restore it to completeness.  Nothing missing, nothing broken.  I held onto that for dear life! And I witnessed it in action just last night.

Why don’t you, too?

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Gifts in Odd Little Packages

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Rainy days.

Following God.

Trusting Him.

Relying on Him.

Depending on Him.

Sometimes the answers don’t come in the way you expect.  Sometimes the answers are not sounding like what you had in mind.  Sometimes the gifts are wrapped in odd looking packages.  They even come a little banged up and looking a little worse for wear.

Some days come with the rain drops and grey skies.  Some come full of sunshine and gentle breezes.

As a mom, I would give anything for the gifts to always be sunny and blue-sky filled.  What do you do when the answers and the gifts look anything but that?

Needles and IVs and tubes and wires and beeps and clicks. Hospital beds and quiet rooms.  Where is the hope in this and where is the joy in the promises?

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Teaching your children that some things don’t look or sound like good gifts, but indeed they are.  That’s the starting place.

How I wish our gifts and answers didn’t require doctor visits and hospital visits and infusions.  Yet, here we are.  Good people given to administer health and care to hurting and tired bodies.

That’s a gift.

Compassionate hands and tender souls working to understand the pain and do something, anything to make it better.  God knows.

I could let myself run free down the highway of fear and burden and disappointment.  A young body feeling older that it should and hurting more than seems fair.

 But, let’s point to God.

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Yesterday, I realized I had lost some very important birthday cards I had bought a few days earlier for two special little people.

I could not for the life of me figure out where I had put them.  All I know is we have had some crazy-wild wind blowing through and everything felt like it would blow away if it wasn’t bolted down.  A neighbor I didn’t even know met me at the driveway, said she found some cards in a sack blowing around the empty lot….were they mine?  She thought maybe they would be.  Yes, yes they are.

This is such a funny, cool story to me. 

No, they weren’t priceless and irreplaceable.  Just a couple of birthday cards for some cuties.  But, I was perplexed at their loss and just moments before had searched the car for them.  She dropped them by, all fine and good and undamaged, although they had taken quite a ride on the wind.

This made me laugh!

Somewhere between being unloaded from the car and before making it inside the house they were whirled away for the ride of their short, recycled-paper life.  Soon to be picked up and rescued by friendly neighbors.

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Now.

This is not meant to be some overly-spiritual analogy or goose-bump-filled story.

It was just a gentle reminder whispered to me in that moment.  As silly as a couple of cards are, and seemingly insignificant in the whole scheme of things, they were needed.  I realized that if God can help me get my missing cards back, He can answer anything and be everything I need him to be.

Please don’t roll your eyes and exit out of this post!  It’ll be worth it, I promise!

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Here’s the deal. 

We are well on our way into a new adventure.

Currently, no job.  

The Husband is wrapping up law school with graduation in May. 

Without a job, there is no insurance and no income. 

Fortunately, our insurance is extended into the summer.  But, if I’m not careful, I begin to ask what about after that? 

No insurance–how do I make sure my Love receives the best gift in medicine he can? 

It can cause a Momma’s heart to fret. But, not to worry. 

These last few months, God has been busy showing me in various ways He has a plan.  He had a plan before we knew we even needed the plan.  What men intend for negative, God turns for good, in the lives of those who follow Him.  We can ride that all the way home!

God is helping me understand His shoulders are broader and His arms are stronger than my cares.  He loves me. He loves my children. He loves my family more than I can ever fully understand.  He knows our need. 

He has the plan. 

In fact, He only does things really well, and works to bring all things together in perfect order, in just the right timing.  And, further, He knows what we will be needing BEFORE we even know we have need—long before we are in need.  

So, with our future unknown to us (but NOT unknown to God),  I sit here in this special unit of the children’s hospital watching my child being infused with a medical gift.  This will be a regular occurrence for the foreseeable future.  No, I wish this was not part of his journey.  Surely, to never have this need in the first place would be an amazing gift. But, God’s divine plan is better.

And, I will trust.

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This man-size boy just trying to live life to the fullest.

Following his passions…running bases and hitting balls, making music and loving his family. God has a beautiful plan.  Even in this imperfect story, God is weaving great gifts and miracles into the fabric of who this man-child is.

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 I am thankful for the gifts God gives and the hope and peace that lies right within reach. 

I only need to focus on the promise of Him never leaving or forsaking. 

So, whether they are little paper-reminders of God’s awareness or flesh on hands or the beeping and clicking of monitors, I choose to see these as extravagant gifts He gives.

My hope is built on nothing less than Christ and His love for me and mine.

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Time to Get Off the Merry-Go-Round

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God is teaching me. He’s teaching me something important.

All those worries and cares and concerns. Those problems without ready solutions. The struggles and disappointments. They are all real. Very real.

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But, the question He is posing to my heart is,

“Where is your focus? Is it on all of that stuff

or is it on Me?”

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Yes. That is the question rolling around in my heart and mind today.

It’s not like I haven’t had to ask this and learn it before.  But, here we are.  He’s brought out the big guns this go around.  This may be the biggest lesson in trusting God I have had to walk through.

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I find I am weighed down with concerns and worries.  As a Momma, I have three souls I am locked into.  I watch and listen.

Remember when your babies were newborn, fresh from heaven, tucked into the cradle? Did you listen to and watch those babies breathe? I feel like that is where I am with my Loves even now.  It just comes from deep inside of me.

Last night I realized I am tired.

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I constantly roll around in my head all the concerns, trying to work out solutions.  My brain runs from one issue to the next.  And round and round it goes. Like a merry-go-round, my brain spins and spins.  It wears me out.  Because for these situations, there are no easy, quick answers.

I do believe it is the most bone wearying tired.

To carry burdens you were never intended to carry.  Running around plugging holes, propping up the sides that start to sag, stitching up wear and tear. Running and running…round and round.  I get one thing fixed and then something new pops up.

It makes me tired.  And weary.

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So, God is asking me an incredibly important question.

Am I focusing on the long list of worries or am I looking to Him?

The view is quite tiring if it’s the list of concerns.  But, if I am looking to Him, I gain strength.

Today, as I was taxi for my baby girl, I was tired.  Some things didn’t turn out as I would have liked today.  Dealing with a chronic illness with one my Loves, my Momma’s heart hurt.  I was disappointed for him.  I was desperately working to look at this new information with a glass full approach.

And as I drove, I imagined having a serving tray.

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As I drove, I loaded each concern on the tray and imagined handing it over to God.  Piled high.  A real “here ya go, God!”

Why was I feeling like I had to come up with solutions?  His answers would be better suited anyway.   They would be custom fitted and tailor-made specifically for each situation.  Why did I feel as if everything was resting on me?  That I am responsible to make all the answers and solutions and resolutions happen.

Crazy making that is!

And, oh, what a weight!

It’s just too much for one heart to carry.  I was never created to carry and fix and solve them! Yet, I had taken on that burden on my own.

Was it because I didn’t think I could trust Him to come through?  Or was it because I have an insatiable need for control?  I guess it doesn’t matter why.  It’s just not mine to carry.photo-1453224424525-aeb893f2f1ca

Sunday night our pastor referred to Isaiah 53.

4 “Surely he has borne our griefs

    and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

    smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

    and with his wounds we are healed.”

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Actually, the entire chapter is a beautiful perspective changer during this Holy Week.  If you haven’t read it in a while, you should.  But, my attention centers on these two verses.  He bore all of our sin and shame and endured it all to death.  He carried the weight and died our death so we wouldn’t have to.

And even yet, He wants to carry our grief, sorrows and cares.  He is intimately acquainted with our anxiety and pain.  He was beaten beyond human recognition for our very lives…for our salvation and healing.  Why would we not want to entrust Him with all things?  If He carried that, will He not carry those things we care about?

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So, as I reflect on this passage and the beauty of 

Christ and all He has done for me, 

He has shown me I am not capable 

of carrying around this load on my own.  

He is my sorrow bearer.  

It’s cool when the pieces of His teaching start to come together.

I know this is a lesson I have learned in the past, but seem to occasionally forget.   We have to be reminded…and often.  He loves us enough and is patient enough to do just that.

I am grateful.

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What’s That Noise?

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There is so much noise.

Everywhere.

Do you ever get tired of it?

Do you ever just wish it would stop?

I do.

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There are opinions from all corners of the globe.  They run 24 hours a day.

Constant, instant, unsolicited and often discouraging.  Anywhere, anytime, about anything.

Oh, there is beneficial and helpful information out there.  But, I dare say, I know I open my heart too often to the negative and non-life giving chants of society.  And it is anything but helpful!

What can we do to protect ourselves from the noise and chaos?

  1.  Set boundaries.
  2. Unplug.
  3. Meditate.
  4. Focus on others.

To be quite honest, I struggle with most of these.  It is almost impossible to shut out this flow of unending information.  But, these are some helpful steps to eliminating the noise pollution in our worlds.

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Setting boundaries.  This simply means guarding your heart and mind. What do you subscribe to?  What groups and people do you follow on social media?  Do they uplift and support your values?  If not, clean out your pages and feeds.  Only allow access into your heart and mind, voices of life and wisdom.  You are going to have to replace the negative with the positive.

Unplug.  I am terrible at this one.  My mother has even pled with me to give it a try.  I unplugged the other day for several hours while on vacation.  I had to be brave and make the jump at my husband’s insistence.  I am way too attached to the constant scrolling and observing and mind numbing. But, I did it and it was wonderful!  And, I learned I could make it just fine.  I will do it again.

Meditate.  We have to make a specific and concentrated effort to stop and listen to Christ.  He has instruction and guidance and wisdom we need each day.  I struggle to stop and quiet my heart.  There are too many times I run through my day hoping to get it right.  I too often fly solo without having taken the time regroup and recharge.  I run on old information.

Focus on others.  When we focus on other people and help them, we don’t have time to feed our souls with junk.  When we serve, we are more like Christ.  When we give to others, we aren’t searching for false validation from voices that haven’t earned the right to speak into our lives.  As we give to others, we will find we need to have something to give away.   We have to take away the negative and replace that emptiness with the positive.

Sometimes the opinions and narratives I tell myself create the chaos and noise. 

When I have consumed a steady diet of lies or negativity, I retell myself this same stuff.  We believe everything we tell ourselves.

A little scary, isn’t it?

I know I am guilty of tearing myself down.  I listen to the stream of negativity as a captive audience.

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Not the right weight.

Not smart enough.

Not strong enough.

Not good enough.

Not doing enough.

Bad mom.

Terrible at homeschooling.

Failure.

Rejected.

Disorganized mess……………………….

And, if I’m not careful, the list runs on and on.  I wouldn’t allow someone else to fill my world, or anyone else’s, with that kind of noise.  Why do I sit by and allow it for my own heart?

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Honestly, it takes hard work to fight and resist. 

It takes following the four steps to bring quiet out of the chaos of our world.  Do the hard work.  We can’t speak life and peace to our own hearts and minds if we are surrounded with negative images and noise.  Otherwise, we won’t make room for the life Christ wants to give.

I need to be mindful of the voices I listen to and allow in my world.

I am so worth it

and so are you!

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Life is Beautiful!

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During these last few months, I have been on quite a learning curve.  If I’m honest, I have to say I recommend a mid-life plot twist and I don’t!  It’ll be the ride of your life!

But, really.

Just imagine going back to graduation—high school or college—just as a young whipper snapper.  With all sorts of possibilities and the world as your oyster, you look with anticipation toward all your options.  That is where we are.  And it is breathtakingly beautiful and scary–all at the same time!

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I remember a couple of years back being envious of my oldest as he was setting off for his first year at university.  So much youthful excitement and a no holds barred approach–I was envious. 

I was so excited for him and all the unscripted future had for him.  I remembered what it was like to have your whole life ahead of you.  So much hope and promise.  So much anticipation to follow new paths and dreams!

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And, now, here I am.  I am ready.

I have spent 25 years of ministry serving as a pastor’s wife.  I use to tell my Love, I love being his wife, no doubt about that.   Just maybe not a “pastor’s wife” sometimes.  I learned much and gave everything I had.  The role comes with difficult tasks.  With some cool opportunities and blessings thrown in along the way, too.  Now, though, I am ready to do new things…serve in a different way.

Our new beginning is before us.

Given to us as a gift.

Staring into the sunshine, the road is wide open in front of us.

Only this time I have three world-changers in tow.  This road we chose over 25 years ago, has presented them with many unique challenges and opportunities.  Each child has processed and walked them out differently.

As I sit and look at the bright and shining future, we have these amazing kids to guide and shepherd.  This time around, it is not a solitary journey or private decision to be made.  Change is hard for even the strongest of us. I have no doubt God has a beautiful future for each in my tribe.  We just have to guide them into this bright new future.

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Shepherding.

That was the word God gave me for this season with my babies (they will always be my babies.  can we just agree to let me call them that?  just humor me!)  Even with all the excitement of a bright future the transitioning has been challenging.  More so for some than others.  Loss is hard.  But God is greater.

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My Love and I must shepherd our children well through this transition.

 We have a responsibility to guide our children through the shadows.  Through the tears.  The goal is to get EVERYONE to the other side.  I told my youngest Little,

“In this family, we are all for one, and one for all”.

We stop and sit with, pick up and carry, hold the hand, give love and receive love.  We shepherd our children through the pain of rejection, loss, betrayal, and disappointment.

No one will be left behind.

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I have always hated the pre-flight airline spiel about putting your own mask on first and then your children’s.  I understand the logic and know it is best.  But, my overly compassionate self screams, “I will put their’s on first, thank you very much!” But, that doesn’t really make sense, does it?

So, I have decided I am in a similar spot in my life.  It is time for me to get my oxygen mask on first and then I can administer life breath to them.

These world-changers deserve the very best I can give them.

There is wisdom to give and hope to share.  There are dreams to help them dream.  There is a future brighter than anything of the past.  Even with all the beauty we did experience, there is more to be had.

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I need something to give to them.  So, here is what I am going to do to strengthen myself.

  • Exercise and build physical strength. 
  • Write…which is following my own dream.
  • Give creative Bible journaling a try.
  • Attend weekly worship at a safe and loving church.
  • Read for enjoyment and growth.
  • Stay accountable to wisdom.

There it is.

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I have been busy working hard to keep my family between the ditches…putting out fires, battling fears and wiping tears.  Because, sometimes life just hurts.  All of that is incredibly important.

But, now it is time for me to get out of that defensive position and into the intentional, offensive position.

Now, here is the next important piece of the puzzle.

My Love is leading spiritually intentional and strategic discussions during dinner on Wednesday evenings. 

With a preteen and a teenager in the house, it can’t get too serious or stifling.  But, God gave this idea as the perfect way for us to shepherded them.  Like most moms, I do much of the crisis management throughout the days; one of Dad’s roles is to give purposeful direction.  They need his voice and strength cloaked in velvet.

 We will not allow the negative to win.  We will not leave anyone behind.  We have bright future days.  I will not live on the defensive, but work from a place of intention and strength.  For what the enemy means for destruction, God transforms into beauty.  He will shepherd us.  We only need to cooperate.

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Unexpected Graces

 

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Well, here I am sitting in the saddle.  It feels good!  I have missed this place! I’m glad to be back.

It’s been a rough and tumble couple of months since I last sat down.  When I took a break right before Christmas, I never anticipated the journey I would embark upon.  Frankly, it was like someone gave a monkey a match.  It has been quite a ride.

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I needed this time to regroup and set my heart and mind right.  I have been too afraid to write, honestly.  Afraid of what just might come out.  But, it is time.  And, I am grateful.

In an effort to cope with our pain and lighten the mood, our family began to refer to this season as a “plot twist”.   In stark reality, our lives have dramatically changed.  Due to painful circumstances, my Love resigned his position at the church we pastored for over seven years.  Sometimes, it is just time to move on.  There comes a time when you realize the odds are not in your favor and for everyone’s sake, you have to make an exit.  You just hope to do so with grace.

I do believe it has been one of the most hurtful seasons we have experienced in life and ministry.  After 25 years, we have experienced our share of disappointments and set backs.  But, this, by far, was the one of the biggest gut punches of them all.  The only other to compare would be the sexual abuse of our son by a trusted friend and church worker.

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I have learned quite a few lessons in our time here in Virginia.  Some are pretty tough.  But all have been for my good.

Our time in Virginia has been anything but easy.  We have endured some losses.  But, I also can look and see some beautiful gains.  I would be shallow if I didn’t recognize them.

A few years back I began my own One Thousand Gifts journey.  It was a life saver, really. Each day I would count out my gratitude, line by line.  I am beginning a new one.  It’s important to remember the gifts from our journeys.  If not, it could get terribly discouraging!  So, it is time.  Time to refocus my attention.

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One lesson I’ve learned is, “God gives good gifts.”  Some seasons we just have to look a little harder.  Many times they are hard gifts.  I look back at our journey…it is unlike ANYTHING I’ve ever experienced…yet, I still find beauty in the charred rubble.

Light only shines through cracked vessels. 

So, when people ask me if I had known then what I know now, would I still have relocated to Virginia, I’m never sure how to answer.  In the natural, it does not seem worth it.  We have paid quite a high price.  We certainly didn’t know all we were taking on.

Truthfully, I don’t like that question at all.  My first instinct is to scream NO, of course not!

Injustice,

hatred,

jealousy,

abuse,

unfair expectations,

rejection,

financial loss,

illness,

anxiety and depression,

plots and schemes,

abandonment,

betrayal.

Who would?

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When I look at that list of pain, it would seem hardly worth it.  I could easily drown in that sea of loss and hurt.  I do see, however, the gifts from God’s hand that He gave in the middle of such ugly hard.

So, I choose to look at the gifts.  It is time. 

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Friendships,

children discovered their gifting,

memories made,

bound family ties,

new dreams inspired,

spiritual growth,

loyalty,

a sweet canine companion,

hope,

peace,

increased faith,

grace from unexpected places,

deep kindness,

lessons learned,

lives changed,

wisdom,

provision,

protection,

opportunity,

divine encouragement.

I am most certain I have forgotten many other blessings.

I have a sneaky suspicion I am not alone in this listing.  We are not unique.

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We all have experienced our share of pain and loss.  I simply refuse to get stuck here.  I don’t want to live in the muck and mire.  I will not suffer needlessly.  I want free of it.  And, the only place I know to start is with gratitude. 

Christ does not promise a trouble-free life.  No, indeed.

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This world is fallen and is coming undone.  People disappoint.  No amount of dancing can undo that fact.  But, I have learned something else.

Light shines out of my broken places.

God is mending in such a way that light will warmly glow and draw others in.  They will meet Him there.  It isn’t about pretending to have it all together.  No one understands such living.  It is a fairy tale and too great a weight to drag around.

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So, once again, I have picked up pen and tablet and will scribe my gratitude.

I won’t forget our pain, for it has left a mark.  But, mostly I will remember with a heart of gratitude all God is and was to me in the pain.  The strong arms that have held and carried.  I will remember.  All that was meant for my harm, is turned to good.  Nothing can ever take me from His hand.

That is what I will remember.  That will be my focus.  There is beauty to out-sing the ugly.  For it is well with my soul.

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Hope-filled Christmastime

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Christmastime.

It’s my favorite holiday.  Life becomes really hectic, but I love the traditions and the connection of family.

I was decorating this past weekend in preparation for our staff open house we host each year.  In a matter of a couple of days, our home is transformed into all things Christmas!  Sometimes I feel the stress and pressure.

This  year I was feeling old.

That’s really the only way I can describe it.  My oldest is in college and home for the holiday.  I have a teenager and another that isn’t, but sure seems like it.  I don’t have the little littles running around anymore.  The memories are running like a movie through my heart.

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As I was working with my smaller artificial trees that light up our office, the branches were looking tired and drooping kind of low.  I realized I have been using these trees for 11 years, at least.  No wonder they are looking a little tired.

That’s pretty good…artificial trees being used for that many years!  Especially after all our moves!   But, that served to make me feel OLD.

This all combined to make me feel like a middle-aged frump.  Now, I know you are trying to figure out how I made that jump.  I’m not sure…maybe it’s hormones.  But, I began to realize, many of my decorations and collections I have had for or started 25 years ago—some ornaments, longer than that.  My one tree only holds the beautiful ornaments from my childhood.  When you are newly married or a young momma, you don’t always think about such things.  But, alas, I am neither.

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So, as I am surrounded by so much history and memories I have to stop and think.  And remember.

Christmas has always been such a big focus for us.

We love this season passionately.  Just ask anyone who has helped us move over the years.  Friends tease me each November about the many Christmas boxes I have and the work that means for my guys.  I can’t help that we love Christmas!  Each one is different.  But, each have been special.

Some Christmases were during times of waiting for dreams to come to pass.  Some years were leaner than others.  There were a few where the stress got the better of me.  After a while, though, I learned how to set the boundaries I needed in order to make the holidays the best I could for my family and me.

Most have been years full of blessing and joy.

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Over the years, I have learned a beautiful rhythm.  It requires flexibility and letting go of the “perfect shiny ideal” of what Christmas should look like.  Each year there is an underlying rhythm that guides our holiday, yet, they are different and beautifully unique.  However, we do keep some constants with our traditions.

Christmastime is an amazing opportunity for traditions.  Our traditions are important for keeping each other connected.  Traditions are not chaos-inducing schedule fillers.  Children need them for a touchstone.  Ours aren’t incredibly elaborate, just constant.   So many chances for making memories!

The last two or three years I have endeavored to add in a focus on Advent.  Keeping Jesus as the focus isn’t our problem, He is the centrality of our holiday.  But, sometimes it is challenging gathering everyone together at the same time to stop and sit for a while.  But, yesterday’s focus for this Advent season was hope.  I began to think about the power of hope in life and the holidays.

I have had seasons of life where I lost hope.  Lost hope that things would get better or ever turn around for good.  Following my firstborn’s birth I struggled with postpartum depression.  We had very little money and times were difficult.  My hope meter was rather low.  Just a few years ago, we were facing insurmountable odds and it seemed our enemies far outnumbered our friends.  My hope quickly dwindled.

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I am convinced we can face anything if we hold on to hope.

Hope doesn’t come from our circumstances or our finances.  Hope comes from our belief that Christ has our back and will not leave us or forsake us.  We are able to keep an eternal perspective in mind.  When challenges are bombarding us, if we keep an eternal focus, we can hold on to hope.  Without hope, people perish.  He came that day so long ago to bring us hope.

HE is our HOPE.

This blog post has been a challenge to get published this week.  Whew!  The holidays, decorating, doctor’s appointments, homeschooling, oh my!  I missed my personal deadline for getting this posted.  We all have high demands on our time during the holidays.  But, I decided to offer myself some grace and knew you’d understand and probably can relate to the hustling and bustling!

It’s a busy, but hope-filled season in our home. 

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The years have come and gone so fast.

My firstborn is now a Sophomore in college and my others are quickly growing up.

My Christmas collections and ornaments are getting older by the year.

I decided the other day, I can either get really sad as I’m feeling older, or I can focus on the fact that really I’m not and there is so much life and hope in my future.  Sure, my babies aren’t tiny littles anymore (and oh, how I loved those stages and what Christmas looked like then), but life rolls in stages.

And, this stage is stunningly beautiful.  It has been hand-crafted by God for me and mine.  Such beautiful hope lives in that!

Take a few minutes to sit down, light some sparkling candles, drink something comforting and warm, and reflect on the goodness you have experienced and set your sights on the HOPE of a beautiful tomorrow!

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Merry Christmastime!

With a Grateful Heart

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This past weekend was our big family weekend.

Well, one of them.  It is the weekend we all look forward to with great anticipation.  It’s the weekend we always think of when we think of the holidays.  This is our tradition we have done for years.  We started this particular expression of it when we moved to Virginia almost 8 years ago.  We’ve always had some form of it—based on ages and stages of life.

We go to Williamsburg to the flagship Yankee Candle store.  This is not your average candle store.  No, my friends!  This is candle store extraordinaire.  This store not only has candles, but an entire store dedicated to Christmas all under one roof!  There are hundreds of ornaments and it snows indoors.  We are crazy in love with the holidays and this is our kind of store!

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 First, we pick out candles for the holiday season and then move to the Christmas store.  Each person picks out a special ornament that catches their eye or represents something from the past year.  The ornaments are whimsical and beautiful.  This is  followed up with dinner at a favorite restaurant nearby.

This year we picked out our Christmas tree as well.  Our church is selling live trees to benefit our benevolence ministry efforts.  It was great fun tucking this adventure into our day!  Our very own Christmas tree lot.  What could be better than that?

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 The holidays are well under way here in the Reynolds’ Casa.  My children hold on to these traditions with great love and fondness.  It is a priority on the top of my list.  This special weekend is a non-negotiable, everybody clear off the calendar, sort of weekend.  I will always cherish this holiday tradition.  Traditions give children valuable touchstones in life.  They need them.  We need them.

In preparation for all of the festivities, I’ve been thinking about gratitude.  I know Thanksgiving is the official holiday of gratitude, but, honestly, I’ve decided it needs to permeate the entire holiday season.   Actually, I don’t see it as just a holiday mindset, but one that should be a part of who we are throughout the year.   However, I love how Thanksgiving compels us to focus our gratitude.

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incourage.me photo cred

I am participating in a daily devotion on my “She Reads Truth” devotional app.  The focus is on gratitude and the active pursuit of a grateful heart.  Today’s Scripture focus is I Thessalonians 5:16-18.

“Rejoice always! Pray constantly.  Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Gratitude is not a passive mindset.  I am learning gratitude must be a part of every situation.  I don’t have to be grateful for hardship or tragedy.  That would be a little strange.  But, I am to be grateful for the God who is with me and brings me through it all.  He never leaves me and brings me through all things.  And, through gratitude in the circumstance, I will become the reflection of Him.  So, in this, I can be thankful in all situations.

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In active participation of this devotional today, here is my gratitude:

“this joyful thing”

Holiday seasons and traditions.  I love spending it with my crew!  Memories.

“this unknown”

Some unanswered questions.  God knows what is going on and always has my best interest in mind.  I can rest in this. I don’t have to have all the answer to be okay.

“this certainty”

God never leaves or forsakes me or my loved ones!  I have doubted— He revealed himself in my doubt.  I am grateful for grace.  His grace is amazing.

“this stress”

 Law school has been a real stressor this semester.   I have to reframe this circumstance.   If my Mister didn’t have this amazing opportunity to attend Regent Law School, we wouldn’t have this stress.  But, then, we wouldn’t have this adventure.  I’ll take the adventure any day.

“this want”

I am thankful for this dream my heart dreams.   It hasn’t happened yet.  But, I know in God’s timing for my life, it will.  I am thankful He will do what He needs to; I will do what I need to.  He gives us good things.

“this sorrow”

Even when hurt of recent days came into our lives, God proved himself faithful to bring peace and wisdom.  He always brings what is needed, just in the right way at the right time.  He sees and knows.

“this plenty”

He takes care of me.  He gives me all I need and so many things I want.  My family, my home, my life.  I am blessed beyond measure.

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I can give thanks.  Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good!  I will give thinks at all times! 

I hope you have a gratitude-filled life and holiday season.  I hope it colors your days and covers your nights.  Gratitude saved my life.  It’s the best adjustment I could have ever made.

Blessings to you and your beautiful family—whatever or wherever that may be!  May you always know of His nearness and love for you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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incourage.me photo cred

Turning 40 Something

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My goodness.  Well, here it is again.  I have revolved around once again and I’m just a couple days away from the 23rd.  That’s my big day.  Thanks, Mom, for having me!

Life has a way of rolling by.

I can’t wait for the beauty and adventure of this new year in my life to unfold.

But, first, I have a few thoughts about this past year.  Here they are.

I am grateful for my family.  We have faced some challenges head on.  Things unforeseen and scary.  Things exciting, new and stretching.  Challenges—some good, some tough.  Mountains you weren’t sure how to climb. They haven’t stopped us and we just keep moving forward.  We stay together and love each other.  My children have grown and discovered new things about life and God.  He loves them, even more than we do.  God is there and walking with us every day.

I have taken on new adventures.  During our crisis and its aftermath, I really had to unload my plate.  My family and my emotional and spiritual well being were far more important than a loaded plate.  God drew especially near and taught me wonderful truths.  We are at the four year anniversary of learning of our child’s abuse.  I have been in a healing cocoon since that time.  But, this past year has been one of opening up and breaking out of my cocoon.  It was necessary to step aside for a while, but now I’m ready to fly.  God never leaves you—especially when we are hidden away with Him.

I have opened my heart to some wonderful people.  I’ve expanded my circle and it has been worth it.  Sometimes, after pain, it’s easier to shield your heart.  It can be so hard to trust.  But, a vulnerable heart grows more beautiful.   You can learn so much from others when you just open up, look around and see.  God brings special people into your life—you just have to look for them.

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I have some friends who are my ride or die.   They are deep water travelers.  They don’t scare easily.  They have lived my messiness and encouraged me to dream again.  It’s a blessing if you have these sorts in your life.

I often felt lost, but my friends knew I really wasn’t .  They knew I just needed a little push and I could soar.  I’m not sure I believed in myself as much as they believed in me.  I know I didn’t.  It’s crazy how that is.  But, I sure am grateful for their friendly shoves, reminders and words of encouragement which held me to the ledge!

They’ve made me laugh until I cry!  They loved the confidence right back into my heart.  God knows we need cheerleaders.  He gives us just the right ones for our journey.

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I have stepped WAY out of my comfort zone many times this year.  Soaring requires a “look, ma! no hands!” lifestyle.  I’ve tried my hand at several new things.   I’ve done them scared.  Sometimes, really scared.  Most of the time, I wasn’t even sure what I was doing.  But, I have enjoyed them all.  God knows what we need, when we need it.  We just have to cooperate with Him.  It’s been the best adventure!

I am thankful for the growth and stretching I have done this past year.  It hasn’t always looked pretty or perfect.  Sometimes I felt like I was coming undone!  But, God is faithful to complete the work He starts in our lives.

Life is a journey.  Joy is an attainable goal.  Healing is a choice and peace can come.  There will always be questions without answers.  But, even if there were answers for some things, they probably wouldn’t be good enough anyway.  God is my leader.  I just want to follow as close to His side as I can.  Everything else will fall into place, just as He intends.

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Two Random Thoughts

 

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Whew!  Life has picked up its speed! My feet are tired and so is my brain.

I have a couple thoughts rolling around…unrelated really, but stirring around nonetheless.  Here it goes.

This morning my alarm went off and I rolled over to snatch up my phone. 

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As has become my habit, I opened Facebook to see what had transpired while I was asleep.  (Because we all know it was probably very important.)   The professionals say you are addicted to your phone if the first thing you do in the morning is look at it.  This  could be me.

 I realized too late this was not going to be a good idea.

It has become a really bad idea.

I didn’t have to work hard or go searching very far without stumbling across the most horrendous stories anyone could read, much less at 7:15 in the morning.  On a silver platter, I had the vilest news imaginable hand delivered right to my mind and heart.

The world is making me tired.

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All the news of horror and evil has just become too much.  Between news outlets, social media and online reporting agencies, it’s just overload.  This all-consuming, 24 hour news cycle, has worn me down.  There is some beauty and bliss in a little less information.  Maybe not ignorance, but a smaller helping would certainly do me some good.

So, after putting my phone down and regrouping, I deleted my Facebook app off of my phone.  “Hi, I’m Amberly and I was addicted to Facebook.”   I know, I could be a little late to the deleting game.  Some folks have already removed it from their lives and swear by it!

This is not some huge, earth shattering action in the whole scheme of things.  It certainly isn’t going to set Facebook world on tilt.  But, I think it’s going to improve the quality of MY life.  Who knows the wonderful things I can experience in real life instead of stuffing my still moments with the constant chatter and noise on social media?  I might even read all those books beside my bed.  Anyway, I have set boundaries for my heart and mind.  Thirteen hours and counting.  So far so good.

My second thought comes from Ephesians 3:20 in the Message version.  

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!  He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

I’m focusing on the second half of the Scripture.

“He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”  I think this is pretty awesome.   I have never read this verse in the Message version.  How could I have missed it all this time?

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This is a beautiful passage to me.  I have lived this.  God has walked with me and dealt gently and deeply with me.  He works in me.  During times of deep hurt and grief, He didn’t crush me with harsh demands and cold reprimands.  He sat with me and spoke to my pain.  He breathed life and peace into my brokenness.

This gentleness drew me close and healed me.  He knew I could not stay in my pain, brokenness and ashes.  He knew there was life and there were dreams on the other side of my pain.  And, He knew I wasn’t going to make it on my own.  He was going to carry me to the other side.

I marvel at this verse.

I know it to be true. 

As I dream now and am on the other side of my pain,  I know these words up close and real.  He is giving me His dreams for my life.  He is teaching me to journey close to His side.  I must rest in His rhythms of grace.  Not in my own impatient ways.  And, He will bring the very best to pass.

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There have been so many times when Christ could have beat me up side the head or yelled to me to “GET IT TOGETHER, GIRLFRIEND!!” Yet, He knows the deeper way—the more compelling way.  And, He draws me to Himself.

It’s cool the thoughts God drops in our hearts and the work He does even in our busiest moments.

You know how life gets.

Busy helping the kids, the husband, the church, the dog, and all the other people in our lives.  Sometimes, it’s hard to find time to slow it down.  But, even in all those moments, we have to listen to what He is speaking.

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He knows what’s best.  He is jealous for us—jealous for our well-being.  He knows all the noise and life-pollution is not what is good for us.  He has the very best there is to offer.  He knows our deepest places nobody else may know.

I don’t know about you, but this season of my life is picking up the pace.  This is a good thing.  But, I’m going to be mindful to keep my ear tuned to what He has to say.  I don’t want to miss anything!

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