Our Advent Roundup - something for everyone!

I love celebrating every last second of the Advent season. So much truth to be told, so much wonder to rest in. I feel like everything is just better during the month of December … I don’t mind an early alarm one bit. Walking down the hall to turn on Christmas lights while the sun is slowly peeking in behind the trees, brewing a cup of coffee before little feet come tumbling out of bed is one of my most favorite things this time of year; Letting the kids stay in their Christmas jammies well into a cold day to color and read and share a cup of hot chocolate… it’s all just so treasured.

But it can also become so. stinking. busy. With gift lists and holiday parties and Christmas plays it is easy to get sucked into what feels like a hamster wheel leaving us all dumbfounded come January 1.

Below we’ve listed some of our most favorite and truth telling Advent resources below, a little something for everyone. For my family (Lily) we use some of these all throughout the day; a calendar in the morning with scripture, a family Advent book in the evening, and plenty of meaningful read alouds sprinkled throughout the day. This year we are trying something new with Focus on the Family’s Advent resource which includes an activity which we will incorporate into our school day.

For Her:

She Reads Truth Advent Book 2018

The Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp

For the Family:

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp

Jesse Tree with Ornaments

For the Kids:

Knowing Him By Name, Free Resource from Focus on the Family

Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Reading Plan

For Fun:

Trader Joe’s Advent Calendar (because Christmas = chocolate. Or something like that)

In what ways do you make the most of the Advent Season?

Open The Door

Often times our best intentions of making beautiful spaces can drown out the opportunities for real life connection.  Whether it’s the perfect meal, most beautiful dessert, well-dressed harvest tree - they can actually keep us from the heart to heart that most often happens in the realest and simplest of ways: messy floors, last week’s flowers and leftover banana bread.  And there’s something that is undoubtedly freeing when we are readily available and willing to open up our [imperfect] space and welcome others in. You don’t have to wait until you feel “presentable.” … keeping things simple - and real - gives you freedom in your schedule and home to keep the door open wide for whomever the Lord brings your way.  



Daring to Dream

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Daring to Dream

What do you love to do?  If you had a day to yourself to relax, how would you spend it?  What are your favorite restaurants?  Favorite places to travel?  If you could spend a day with anyone, who would it be?  

I'm not sure where you find yourselves in this season of life, but for a lot of women we’ve forgotten that we were actually human beings before our career took over or becoming a mother. Or maybe dreaming was never something you set about to do. Were you ever encouraged to dream as a child?  Did something happen that robbed you of the freedom to think big and outside the box?  Were you told that you have intrinsic worth and value in the Lord’s eyes, something only you can offer to others?

One of [many] favorite lessons I've learned from the incredibly gifted and kind Dr. Kathy Koch is that our children need to hear daily that were created on purpose, with purpose, for purpose.  Can I let you in on a secret?  I need to hear it myself.  Not just to oh, parent my kids with that powerful narrative and truth regularly.  But I needed to let that sink down deep to my bones.  That I have purpose.  I was created with purpose.  I am for a purpose.  And while feeding babies, educating kids, training them up in the way they should go, maintaining some sort of sanity for my husband and I, and serving in our local church is a HUGE PART of my purpose and the season that I am in right now, this season doesn't mean dreams and desires get thrown out the window.  It doesn't mean that the unique ways God has crafted my heart, and the amazing talents He's gifted me with are to be shoved to the side.  Sure, life will come in waves and our time will need to be wisely incremented towards that which is most important.  And yes, those field trip forms are necessary. As is your full time job if outside the home. Or inside. Wildly important. Wellness visits with the doctor.  Caring for your neighbor or elderly parent, making meals for college students, finalizing Sunday School plans and lesson plans and organizing fun runs at school, they're all important.  But can I share with you a powerful and life changing truth?  

You. Are. Important.  Not your role, or your title, or your status.  Just YOU.

You Matter.

Your heart matters.

Your desires matter.

That big idea you were told would never work out, it matters.

That dream you have to create beauty in only a way you can, it is important.

Those days of dancing long ago - they're not silly or useless.  

YOU MATTER.

“The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

The day you were born is evidence enough that the Lord purposed you for such a time as this. Not to sit on the sidelines watching everyone else pursue their hearts’ desires, but to actively pursue Him and seek His calling on your life.

However, before we can begin to dream and looking for ways and opportunities to chase down that big idea or share your uniqueness with the world, we must first and foremost remember our identity. Our striving, growing, developing will have nothing to stand on apart from having a true grasp and understanding that you are saved by grace, through Jesus Christ, being called an heir and child of God, being given the task to bring His kingdom here, SO THAT others might be invited to taste and see that God is good (psalm 34:8). The end goal of everything we do must always be to bring honor, glory and better understanding due HIS name.

So what does that look like when 1001 other things are tugging for your time, attention, and energy?  How does this play out?  How does the "you matter" and "your purpose" narrative weave it's way into your ever so tight schedule?  

  1. Proverbs 29:18 cautions “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.”. Ask God for the what and the how and the when.  Those lofty dreams and ideas that have been put on the shelf of "never"? Or how about the shelf that seems empty because something long ago paralyzed your ability and reasoning to dream? He so desires to show more of Himself to you, so that His goodness might be known in new and fresh ways to those around you. Seek Him.

    Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. For whoever asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

    Matthew 7:7-11

  2. Think back to the things you loved and enjoyed prior to making amazing children, and find out how to do them.  Take an art class, schedule a monthly dinner with friends, serve at the local soup kitchen, train for that 5k, pick an afternoon (or 3) a week devoted to curling up and reading, take a cooking class, sign up for a writing seminar, plan a yearly girls weekend, go back to college, learn how to garden, go rock that adult hip hop class, and on and on and on.  You can trust the complete narrative of the Bible that you were created by a creative God and find ways to enjoy the way He created you - that did not go away once you had kids, or started a new job or taking care of an elderly parent.  

  3. Make time for you and stop feeling guilty about it. It is good and right and pleasing to carve out time to worship the Lord through our time and talents. Jesus sought time for rest and to be present with the Father. God, the creator and giver of rest, said rest is good and necessary. So instead of waiting until you’re at a breaking point to take time away to pursue and experience the Lord through your God given passions, make it an important part of your week/month.

Take time alone this week or month and set aside time to begin daring to dream. You were created to make a difference and bring His light into a fallen place!

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

And if you want a free printable to hang in the bathroom, kitchen sink, dashboard of the car, reminding you of the truth that you were created on purpose, with purpose, for purpose, fill out this form below!

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Servitude or Sonship?

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Have you ever experienced that kind of encouragement... the kind where you felt like you were fortified in your faith, wings to soar, or absolute courage to do something that perhaps is out of your comfort zone?  I wish I could do that for each of you.  Give you words of affirmation to meet you wherever you are at in your life and journey to uplift you and give you fortification to carry on.  

Recently the Lord has been fortifying me in my relationship with Him.  He has been revealing to me things that I have thought and held tightly to that perhaps were not healthy or not even what he intended our relationship to be or to look like.  I have experienced such encouragement and been uplifted and given freedom through my new understanding of Him and my relationship with Him.  

In a recent conversation with a new friend, he was relating a story of a conversation between two men, one-a muslim man, and the other-a Christian; where the Christian man asked the muslim man “who is God to you?” and the muslim man said, he is the sovereign King and I am his faithful servant.  

For a moment I thought, I believe that that is true, and as I sat and listened there was something that really stung me as I evaluated my own relationship with the Lord and couldn’t really identify what was wrong with that statement.  He IS after all the sovereign King.  In fact the Bible says…He is the King of all Kings.  He sits on His throne.  He is the just ruler.  Over and again in scripture God is referred to as “sovereign”, or the “sovereign Lord”.  He is sovereign; supreme, a ruler, possesses ultimate power.  These are true of God.  

Psalm 95:3 “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.”

The problem with the statement is not in my understanding of who God is.  It is my lack of understanding of who I am in relationship to the sovereign King.  

But then there came the conclusion to his illustration and he said the muslim man asked the Christian man “Who is God to you?” and his response was: “He is my loving father, and I am His beloved child”.  

Oh, man.  Yes!  That is the right answer!  That is the relationship I want with God.  

But, even more amazing AND encouraging is that scripture clearly shows that that is the relationship He wants with me and each of you.  A relationship of sonship. This is what He intends.  Not that we continue on in a spirit of bondage or slavery or servitude to Him, but that we enter into relationship with Him as his child, his heir, his beloved.  

This relationship, or statement in NO WAY compromises the FACT that He is and remains the sovereign King.  He is ruler, He possesses ultimate power, He is King above all Kings.  

But I am not just His servant.  Nor does He want our relationship with Him to be one  of only servitude.  In John 15:15 Jesus says “I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” 

Does that give you hope and freedom and does it lift your head?

To know and believe that the KING of all KINGS has invited you into adoption as His child and heir.  His beloved.  Not his slave.  You are not in bondage to obedience to Him.  

Galations 4:4-7 says "But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir."

[An important note to this scripture is that the terminology can sometimes feel that it is excluding women but actually the term is intentional in verse 5, that “we might receive adoption to sonship”.  The Greek word for “adoption to sonship” is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture. ]  which means that the person adopted as a child of God receives the full inheritance and standing and importance of that which a male child would receive (at that time culturally) that a son would.  It is not exclusive or belittling to women, it is actually counter-culture and uplifting to women.  He is saying that our VALUE is the same…men and women.

For so long, I learned and believed that my service and obedience pleased the Lord, regardless of my relationship with Him, yet I have come to see that it is only in relationship with Him as my loving father that I can then offer to Him my sacrifice of obedience and service.    

Obedience comes as an outpouring of a thankful heart from a child of God to His loving Father.  

Obedience out of compulsion is not a sacrifice to the Lord, but rather a misunderstanding of relationship with (and relating to) Him in a worthy and desired manner.   What IS pleasing to Him is the communion and faith and love we seek to have with Him.   

Vs. 5 says He came to “redeem those under the law”.  Redeem means to make right, put back into right relationship with, to compensate for, to save and deliver from.  

That redeeming process makes right immediately, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, what was not right.  Specifically our relationship with Him.  When we are redeemed and adopted, the relationship is made right.  

However, there is still a process for us to experience and understand and live in the right standing that we have been given through faith in Jesus.   That process of redemption and refining is a life-long journey of seeking and knowing and understanding Him.  It is not immediate.  

I have worked in foster care and adoption as a social worker, on and off, for the past 17 years.  I know and have seen that when a child receives a warped kind of affection or is the victim of physical abuse, that is presented to them as love or feels like attention or care, that becomes what they interpret as love.  A child does not always, and probably typically, doesn’t understand that what they are experiencing is not a good or true representation of love or care.  But to them, that is what they know and find comfort in.  So even when you remove a child from harm or away from the proximity of neglect or abuse, they must re-learn what is good, and appropriate, and loving, in a healthy way.  And that takes a long time and patience and sincere understanding of how the mind works and develops.

When we adopted our son, he had spent nearly 2-years in an orphanage receiving care from medical staff, and workers, who were caring for dozens of children at a time.  He was fed and changed, and trained to some extent.  But any understanding he had of love and care was, at the most, limited.  When he would cry initially and wanted to be held or comforted he would approach with his back first…towards you.  Because that is how he was trained.  He was held and comforted perhaps to some extent, but in an effort to limit his attachment to the workers they taught the children to be held not chest to chest or face to face, but only with their back toward the care-giver.  We had to retrain him to learn about attachment, and dependence, and to be vulnerable.  Honestly, this is still a work in process for sure.  But when there are moments when he seeks comfort or is dependent on me as his mom or expresses affection…it is an amazing moment!  To witness and know that he is learning to be loved more fully and rightly.   

This is the same for us with our faith journey and story.  We have heard and learned many things over the course of our lives and relationship with God.  Some are good, some are not so good.  We learn them from others, in church, at home, we are accused of things by Satan.  He perpetuates our own striving and trying to earn favor.  

But, when we pursue God, and allow Him to teach us, through His redeeming work in our lives, what His love for us truly and fully is and what His desired relationship looks like, it fortifies us in who we are and what we are doing.  His love and affection for you is so great and so individual.  

Recently I was rereading the story of Jacob and Esau

In Genesis, Isaac and Rebekah (who had been unable to conceive for 20 years) give birth to twins.   Esau first, all red and hairy and Jacob second grasping at Esau’s heal.  Their father Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob.  When they grew older and in a moment of desperation and hunger Esau gave his birthright to Jacob (the younger brother) for a meal.  Later, in Genesis 27, Jacob is directed by his mother to steal the blessing from their ailing father, and after in 27:41, Esau vows to kill Jacob.  Jacob (at the insistence of his mother) leaves his home and marries Leah and then Rachel and starts a life away from Esau and his past. His inheritance increases as does his property and family.  But, he lives his life knowing and feeling that his relationship with his brother Esau is not right.  He lives in fear of Esau pursuing him and rightly avenging his losses.  Then Esau comes for Jacob.  Esau has finally found where he is living and is coming for him.  And Jacob scrambles to assemble his people anticipating that Esau is going to avenge and kill him.  

But when Esau approaches, he faces his brother Jacob and he embraces him and Jacob weeps into his brother neck.  In that miraculous moment their relationship is restored.  There is no more hiding or fearing.  Jacob has been found and forgiven….and is loved.  And Esau is freed from the pain of his past.  

Their relationship had not changed over the years.  They did not cease to be brothers.  But they ceased to live in right relationship with each other because of fear and striving. 

I love this story and the beautiful picture of how in a moment of love and forgiveness all relationship is made right.  I think this is a picture of how the Lord welcomes us into a full and right relationship with Him-that is living and believing  when we recognize that we have been trying to earn His favor.  He embraces us in the fullness of His love when we come to Him knowing what we deserve, which is death, and He compassionately gives us sonship through His love.  

Praying that you live and rest in the knowledge of His love for you!

XO,

A

Hard days ≠ Bad Days

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Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.  

Galatians 6:9

Early on in my mama-hood I was coming to grips that my firstborn was not a great sleeper.  Which sounds so trivial, doesn’t it? But, you see. He was a firstborn and I was in charge and we do schedules, so he needed to be a sleeper.  It’s what we type A mamas do. We schedule and keep clean and make little people do what they’re told. And by golly, they need to sleep.  In my naivity and lack of experience I fought hard.  I tried. I read all the things and browsed all the forums and any day that my non sleeper did exactly what I expected - didn’t sleep - I deemed a bad day.  My husband would call home from wherever he was traveling to on any given week and graciously ask “how was your day?” “Ugh. Bad. He didn’t sleep. He cried and ate.”  Which, as I am writing this, I am literally laughing out loud.

Eventually there were two little Grimme babies and of course quite naturally, “problems” evolve and seasons change.  Maybe it wasn’t the constant crying or lack of a solid schedule, but rather more bickering and fighting; spilled milk and splattered oatmeal by now the third baby that joined our family.  Colored dry erase marker on your friends most beautiful chair. Winter coats stuffed in the toilet for the 18th time. Sidenote: What is it with kids and toilets?! Again seasons change and certain things become the norm.  Like every child going through a “stuffing things in the toilet phase” and “coloring on every surface other than paper”.

These days the hard is a different type of hard, physically and mentally exhausting.  I wear tennis shoes around my house so my back doesn’t hurt. It’s 2 pm and we’ve just now started school for the day.  I’ve been wearing the same 3 pairs of stretchy pants on rotation for at least two weeks. I got dressed nicely one day and someone told me how pretty I looked and asked me if I got to shower.  <--true story.

Maybe you find yourselves in a new phase of life, a different season of hard that you thought you’d be leaving behind.  It’s supposed to get easier, right? Where diapers and sleepless nights and temper tantrums are a thing of the past? But here you are and it’s now the heart to heart conversations, reprooving and correcting on an emotional level that are just draining.  Attitudes and eyerolls abound. You are navigating the struggle against technology, revisiting conversations you’ve been having for 10 years now. Dishes and laundry are STILL everywhere. One catastrophe after another: a child gets hurt, someone is lost in the woods, someone swallows a light bulb...all in the span of 50 minutes.  <--also true story. And we will all be lucky if anyone gets more than a piece of bread for dinner tonight because I just. Can’t. Even.

The day is nearing an end (does 6pm count as the end?) and we are faced with that nagging question: “How was your day?”  

      Hard.  

     Really, really hard.  Exhausting. Hilarious and sweet sometimes, but flat out hard.

I could rattle off the many things that made it a bad day:  Harsh words from a family member. Constructive criticism (but criticism none-the-less).  A difficult boss. The car broke down (correction: I ran into someone else’s car so well, now it’s broken down).  No fruit in your ministry. Children arguing again. Zero motivation from your team. The water heater is busted.  Another medical bill. You’re unable to meet the deadlines. Whatever it may be, as hard as it may be, I’m just not sure we were ever created to live and stay stuck in the hardest parts of our days.  I wonder how much more productive, how much more fruit, how much more JOY we might have if we tallied those days into the “good - but hard” category.

As I think through the hard that is this week, the challenges coming in this day that awaits (as my now 8 year old non-sleeper stumbles down the hallway waking up the entire neighborhood as he makes his way to the kitchen at the unacceptable time of 6:45am which is approximately 15 minutes before the standing 8 year rule of 7am wake up time) awaits the reminder that hard days are indicative of the reality that this isn’t our forever home.  Each season carries a new weight and responsibility that’s different than the last, yet still hard in its own way. Hard days means we’re sowing and reaping into better character, healthier lifestyle, less self centeredness. This not-forever-home of ours isn’t intended to be BAD.  Though hard, hard days are always opportunity for the Lord to show up and provide - and that, that I can say is good.

So today, as you head out into the corporate world or hang in your pajamas wiping snot all day - let’s shift our focus and our perspective to the recognition that hard days ≠ bad days.  Let’s embrace an opportunity to flex our muscles and dig in a little deeper, or strip ourselves of the pride that’s clouding our purpose. The task the Lord has set before us can have eternal value, which means it can often be hard.  So, so hard. But He hasn’t left us alone and it doesn’t have to be bad.  

Say no to the bad, and embrace the hard.  Let the joy of the Lord be your strength today, loved ones!  

**Also, as an encouragement to you mamas out there … God has softened my type-a-ness.  Chalk it up to getting older or the 3 precious, dirty, unorganized little boys He’s graced me with… Messes don’t scare me anymore and neither do kiddos awake in the night.  He’s brought me to a place to expect and accept the interruptions, and find Him in the midst of it all. Which is just so much sweeter than letting Him try and make His way into my perceived grip on things.

 

XOXO

L

 

When my passion doesn’t align with yours.

 

Soon after we adopted our son from Russia, the Russian Federation completely closed its doors to adoption from the United States of America and they have remained closed since that time in 2012.  According to Wikipedia there are more than 650,000 orphans in Russia. When we brought Titus home in August of 2012, we did not know at the time that if there had been any delay in our process or paperwork we likely would never have brought him home.  By the close of the year of 2012, even families who were in process or had been approved for the adoption of their children were not allowed to return to bring them home.

Can you imagine?  Knowing that your child, whom you have committed yourself to as a parent would now know that disappointment anew of being left behind.  My heart broke. For the children, for the adoptive parents, for our broken systems and our broken world. In response I called on the people of our church to come together to pray.  

We set aside an evening and prepared points to pray over.  We secured a space and set a mood of reverence and reflection.  And of the 100’s of people who called our church theirs, only 4 people, beside myself, came to pray.  Only 4. My heart was broken. How is it possible that more people were not compelled to pray? To fall before the Lord and ask Him to intervene.  Even now, all these years later, I can’t explain away my disappointment or talk myself out of feeling just so sad for that situation.

However, in these several years that have passed, I can say that I know and believe in a new way, that God was present.  I know His faithfulness and love does not need to be made evident to me in a tangible way or through a “successful” prayer meeting or turn out in order for me to know and experience it.  It is not because of the power of our numbers, or the strength of our fervency, or the articulate words we can say to get Him to answer or respond to our requests. It is God alone and His love who accomplishes His will.  

Through prayer we have the opportunity to align with Him, not get Him to align with us.  And I can honestly say that that night, those several years ago, my purpose was unfulfilled not because people didn’t show up but because I couldn’t get over my disappointment and therefore missed the chance for sweet communion with other believers and with the Lord.  And as I continue to grow in my relationship with Him, I pray that I can be thankful for moments to spend time with Him regardless of what else is in my heart to accomplish. I pray for you too that whatever season you are in, you know the presence and faithfulness of the Lord.  


Phillipians 4:4-7

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

Come and see what God has done

Every February or so one of our children (we'll call him Champ) has a yucky bout of pneumonia.  And so far it's landed right on or around his birthday, leaving him with conflicting feelings every year leading up to his special day.  Excited but nervous, slightly erring on the side of a germaphobe; very willing to rest and take off from all activities in hopes he might bypass what has become the inevitable.  And this year as I stood looking over his toothless grin, glassy eyes and winded cheeks I couldn't help but bear a tiny bit of sadness for him.  Sick again, on his birthday.  We know the drill, and thank God for modern medicine that it is treatable and short-lived, but I was staring at a fresh reminder of what was the reality of his birth.  What has been part of our story each year.  With each birth thereafter.  What could likely always be.  

And in that moment, as my mama heart just wanted things to be right and perfect and wonderful for him, I am reminded to "Come and see what God has done..." Psalm 66:5

Setting precedence for the rest of mankind in Joshua 4, God commands Joshua to instruct his twelve men, one from each tribe to go and lay up a stone, a sign amongst themselves.  Beginning in verse 20 it reads, "And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”

You see when Champ was born he was a tank.  I was overdue and a tank myself.  Labor was long and slow-progressing, and in a pinnacle of despair he was forced out only to get severely stuck and aspirate what seemed like every ounce of meconium there was and then some more.  Things quickly spiraled downward for us both and we laid in the hospital waiting to catch a glimpse of our baby.  Things continued to worsen and there we sat in front of the neonatologist being told in the middle of the night that unless he was flown elsewhere he likely wouldn't make it.  Being in the drugged and fatigued state that I was, there wasn't much ability to process and absorb the situation.  But what we we did know is that the Rock of Ages was with us, holding us, never leaving us for a moment; and so through our exhausted and shaky voices the only thing we were able to whisper was

"God...please breathe life into this baby's lungs"  

And. He. Did.

Early on in the history of all the things, God stared at the faces of disappointment on his dear children's faces for generations knowing that our hearts were bound to a place that is not our forever home. That pains and trials and the day to day would come to steal our joy, robbing us of our true hearts desire.  And there He instructs his people, after delivering them from a situation that would seemingly be a reminder in and of itself forever and ever, "you need to do this."  So that you may KNOW the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may FEAR the Lord your God forever.   

When I am staring in the face of disappointment, His call invites us to come and see what He has done.

When I am woken up nightly in the face of a child's illness, He says come, lest you not forget what I have done.

When you roll over in the middle of the night only to be reminded of the empty space that was once made warm by the covenant of marriage, God invites us to not forget His goodness.

When a loved one is handed a terminal disease, His miraculous story and Spirit groan with His Word written forever in history begging us to just REMEMBER what He has done.

As I fumble through the messiness of my own sin, his nail pierced hands cry don't you forget what I have done!

So with eyes afresh, I stare at my precious and beautiful gift of an eight year old.  And I am reminded that God is the God that breathes life into dry bones.  Or meconium stained lungs.  He is a God bearing scars to blot out my every transgression and offering me a fresh taste of grace and mercy with each morning I wake up.  He is the God that has granted us another day, another moment undeserving; a God, that as we stare daily into the face of disappointment beckoning us to shift our eyes from Him, we are never facing a second apart from Him, if we so choose.  He is the God whose love alone is better than anything life has to offer.  So today, today I will choose to lay up a stone or two or ten of remembrance.  Because when I am faced with a moment that wrecks my heart to pieces I will KNOW and REMEMBER the goodness and MIGHTINESS of our God.  And without Him, I've got nothing.  

 

Psalm 66

66 Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
2     sing the glory of his name;
    give to him glorious praise!
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
4 All the earth worships you
    and sings praises to you;
    they sing praises to your name.” Selah

5 Come and see what God has done:
    he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.
6 He turned the sea into dry land;
    they passed through the river on foot.
There did we rejoice in him,
7     who rules by his might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
    let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah

8 Bless our God, O peoples;
    let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept our soul among the living
    and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us;
    you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
    you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
12 you let men ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
    I will perform my vows to you,
14 that which my lips uttered
    and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals,
    with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God,
    and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
17 I cried to him with my mouth,
    and high praise was on[a] my tongue.[b]
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened;
    he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

20 Blessed be God,
    because he has not rejected my prayer
    or removed his steadfast love from me!

 

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Living and responding in shame

 

Maybe it starts as a whisper.  A subtle echo in the recesses of your mind.  From a place, from a person, from within.  That says you are not enough.  You are not good.  You are less.  Or maybe it comes as a shout, or a fist, or an attack.  And it screams to you, that you are unworthy.  

Wherever it comes from, it remains, and it grows and it festers.  It reminds you that you have reason to feel ashamed of yourself.  Perhaps you can cover it up or push it away or counter those whispers and shouts with other things that you are proud of or good at...but it remains.

And sometimes it bubbles up and overtakes.  It is as if you are stripped bare and shoved in front of a crowd of people and asked to tell everyone a joke, or to tell them how to make that salad that you brought to the potluck, or give them a book report of your favorite book from middle school.

Now, envision that you are being held by your most beloved.  You are safe and secure in their arms swinging together and all of the clamors of the outside world are far away.  And in that moment your beloved asks you to share a joke, or that recipe, or to tell them about your favorite book.  In that moment you feel secure and safe and free.  That. loved ones, is living and responding in the love of your savior.  In Jesus’ love for us we can rest and live and respond fully.  We can know our value, our worth and our identity in the safety and security of His love for us.  This is the freedom I want to live in.  For myself and for each of you.  That we would know and live securely in His love for us.  And dear ones, how deep the Father’s love is.  How vast beyond all measure.  This is what he says (through Paul) to His children about His love for us:

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:17b-19  

My prayer for you this week is that you rest in the safety and security and FREEDOM of your Savior’s unending, and unrelenting love for you.  Not for you as part of a larger group of “you’s” but for *YOU* as a individual; uniquely created and individually loved by God.  You are loved and you are worthy of love because your Heavenly Father decided so.     

 

I Am Content - or am I?

I’ve been mulling this one over for a short time now.  It’s been a consistent theme that keeps coming up in various areas of our home and devotional life.  

One of my favorite parts of morning hour with my kids this year is using our Virtue Cards.  Have you seen them?  There are both scripture/non scripture versions and we focus on a new virtue each week.  There are a total of 12 virtues covered so we are cycling back through them now.  As we began to go through them again our first card for 2018 was I Am Content.  The subtitle and definition given is: “I have my wanter under control.  I am NOT...bored, greedy or always wanting more and I don’t beg or whine!”  It’s a common question in our house and it’s become a fun joke within our family that the kids will sometimes playfully ask me as well (and most often, I need it!).  But even more than the simplicity and the applicability, I love the way it ministered to my heart this many years past my childhood.  I’m not above the tendencies of selfishness and boredom, greediness and searching for more.  In what ways is my heart wanting for things that aren’t within the fold of what God has for me in the now?  In what ways am I whining or begging - maybe even for good things?  How do the choices throughout my day reflect the wants in my heart?  Am I quick tempered?  Feeling like I am deserving of something that I don’t yet have?  Do I scour the internet looking for ways to improve or update or collect just to satisfy another want in my life?  

On January 1 when taking down all things Christmas (does that give anyone else great satisfaction?  The decluttering and putting away of all the extra things around the house post Christmas?) the Lord gave us this verse as I was writing on our kitchen chalkboard:

“For He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”  Psalm 107:9

His well of satisfaction never runs dry; His gift of eternity never runs out.  The things of this earth that my heart may want, my finger might chase, or my attitude may reflect will satisfy but for a moment.  But He alone will satisfy to an immeasurable depth of satisfaction.  

This morning while studying the innumerable ways God is more than enough, I read this quote that stopped me in my tracks.  May you be blessed, challenged and reminded that He is a good shepherd, caring deeply for his flock and providing immeasurably more than the temporaries of this world could ever offer.

“There are really only two options in life.  If the Lord is my shepherd, then I shall not want; but if I am in want, then it is obvious that the Lord is not my shepherd.”  

David H. Roper, Folk Psalms of Faith

 

2018 and Defining Best

It was another sweet morning walking into church with my boys ready to set up a few classrooms for our kiddos.  Except upon opening the doors we were greeted with quite a different scene than usual.  It was literally under construction.  Classes that were filthy; unidentifiable objects stuck to the floor.  And as I walked the halls surveying the dust, assessing the usability of the space, I heard the Lord’s soft stirring in my heart- the quiet whispers of His voice saying this. is. good. 

Which is funny, right.  Because … like… it really wasn’t.  I can attest and confirm that it was actually disastrous looking.  What if it causes a distraction?  Will people leave?  Will people trust us with their children?  How long will it be like this?  

But again, He stirred and spoke, give me what you have.

And it dawned on me…such freedom in the mess.  The freedom from having to be put together and everything neat and tidy.  There was something relatable about the big fat mess covering the floors and walls and doorways.  

I’m not sure when exactly, but somewhere along the way I learned that lovely is best; excellence is: pleasing to the eye, well coordinated, strategically planned, branded.  Neat, tidy, put together.  Happy and assembled into a cute marketing package.  Programatic.  Adorable photos with the hashtag blessed.  Experiential - intended to give people a positive and entertaining experience making them want to come back, bring a friend and fill a seat.

But contrary to so many of the things we strive for, He says just give me what you’ve got.  

Loaves.  Fishes.  Oil.  Water.  Staff.  Faith.  Two coins.  Wineskins.  

He is the God that makes beauty from ashes.

He gives strength to the weary.

He breathes life into the dead.

He makes rags beautiful.

Those who are last become first.

He lifts the lowly.

He exalts the humble.

He fathers the orphan.

 

He is the with-us God that came to the very unlovliest of situations and breathed life.  

 

And my honest life is that my heart often feels a mess.  I get angry.  Irritable.  Selfish, for sure.  My five year old asked why I’m wearing the same outfit. again. on day four.  I’m tired.  It’s dusty and I just dusted yesterday.  My home can sometimes feel chaotic.  I feel frazzled any day that involves me leaving my house for more than 2 hours.  My ducks in a row?  I swear I’ve got UFOs running amock, someone please GIVE ME THE DUCKS.

But He says give it to me and see what I can do.

As 2018 ushers itself in far faster than I am ready for, I hear the Lord reminding us that our best is not defined by the order of our homes nor the neatness and politeness of our children; The cuteness of my kids or the table setting for Easter brunch or the contents of our childrens' lunch boxes.  It’s got nothing to do with the number of programs my children are involved in or how many Bible verses they’ve managed to store up.  Our best isn’t defined by how many outreach opportunities and Bible Studies we can cram into our schedule - nor is it defined by whether or not my husband and I have a regularly scheduled date night.  It’s not the best planned vacations or the most educational field trips.  It’s not lofty financial goals or paying off the last of those student loans (though both great options).  My best has nothing to do with what’s in my refrigerator at snack time - or breakfast. or lunch or dinner.  Those 2018 goals, however well intentioned they are, don’t define where my best measures up.

My best is acknowledging that without Him, I’ve got nothing.  

My best is saying, here I am in all my mess, have your way today Lord.  

Please take my mess and make it beautiful.  Take the ways I’ve missed it and make it whole.  Let me get out of myself long enough to see who you want me to see not what I want others to see.  Because in each and every moment, it is who we are in HIM that will determine our identity, our very best today, our very best this year.  There’s not a single action, picture, post, table spread, art lesson, or nature walk that will define my worth more than Christ himself in the year 2018.  

So this year, let’s make it a goal to give Him what we’ve got - our messy and tired and un-put-togetherness, all of what we might perceive as unusable - let’s leave behind keeping up with the Jones’ and making another mark that we just weren’t intended to keep - and thrive in Him today; this week; this year.  

xo

L

 

 

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. 

I cannot believe it is already Thanksgiving week, can you?  I love this time of year…the weather, the anticipation of the celebrations to come, time with family and friends.  But I also dread it because I know that soon it will end.  I have one of those realist perspectives that causes me to only half enjoy things…knowing that they will soon be over.  Sort of a downer, I know.  But I have learned, over the years, of a few things that help me to enjoy the season more thoroughly.  I thought I would share a couple with you-perhaps you need this encouragement right now too. 

One thing that helps me to enjoy the weeks leading up to Christmas is to have my shopping for and crafting of gifts for Christmas completed by early December.  This is by no means a small task…I know!  And I am not here to give the 10 step plan for getting this done, I’m just saying if you can do it, I think it will a blessing to you.  Some years this seems like an impossible goal.  Honestly, some years it doesn’t happen, like the year we had an October baby, and probably the year we had a February baby.  But for the years it does get accomplished, it allows me to be very intentional with my gifting-rather than making hurried decisions, and if/or when it is accomplished, to have the freedom to enjoy the opportunities the season provides without those things looming over my head or taking the joy out of relaxing and spending time together.  A huge help in making this possible has been following a cash envelope budget system…thank you Mr. David Ramsey.  Which means that I can start shopping as early as January or whenever there is cash in the envelope and I can buy gifts as I see something that suits the receiver. 

Another key for me to thoroughly enjoy the season has been doing an advent or preparation of the heart for the season.  There is nothing more distressing than getting to December 26th and feeling like we’ve missed the target again, am I right?  The past couple of years I have done Ann Voskamp’s, “The Greatest Gift” book (link below).  I love the daily devotional (for the month of December) and tracing through the Bible, from the beginning of time, the story of Jesus’ coming-a baby in a manger as the greatest gift to humanity.  Now, I understand that Voskamp’s style isn’t for everyone, although I enjoy her a whole bunch, for some it is like reading something written by Yoda of Star Wars fame.  There are other wonderful advents available to read, such as the She Reads Truth app., which offers an advent for the month of December.  I personally really enjoy Voskamp’s poetic and artistic style, in fact we also have her children’s or family version advent book; “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift-A Family Celebration of Christmas”, that allows the whole family to read along in a child friendly understanding.  It’s been helpful for me to try to start my advent book a little early…as there will certainly be days in December that I will miss and by starting a little early I can still complete it for Christmas.

Preparing in these ways, both physically and spiritually for the Christmas season, has been a great gift to me and my family.   So, as we embark on another Christmas season and together prepare our gifts, our homes, our families, and our hearts for celebrating the gift of our Lord Jesus, I pray that we honor Him with our choices and that our sights stay steadfast on Him. 

xo,

A

Variety is a ploy of the devil.

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Have you ever stood in the grocery store, frozen with indecision, because of all of the varieties of one product that you are looking to buy?  I have.  I have also spent way too much time contemplating a gift to purchase even after reminding myself of what my mom used to say “they aren’t even going to know all the options”.

So, why do we have so many options?  I mean really, how many types of cooking oils, or canned beans, or cereals can this world need.  Have you seen the dressing aisle lately?  Just give me one large bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch and one of Brianna’s Poppy Seed and every person in my family is happy!  Every. Last. One.  And of course, all of these varieties and options cause us to pause and contemplate, and doubt our decisions and selections.  And then we doubt ourselves.  Are we making the right choices for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our children?  Good grief!  The choices, the indecision, the lunacy!  AND if I choose this and that lady chooses something else, am I wrong in my choice? It is a struggle. 

The other day as I talked to my friend, she was sharing her guilt over feeding her children the same 4 meals all the time.  You know the ones: chicken nuggets and fries, spaghetti, tacos, hot dogs (the good kind of course). 

And that is when it struck me…and I declared!

“Variety is a ploy of the devil!” 

I mean, come on, as a culture we are obviously “privileged” with way too many options.  We are not guilty of anything here.   She was not guilty of anything.  But the guilt was there. For not taking the abundance of options and turning out a new and fresh four course meal for her family each night that consists of all the balanced proportions, nutrients, probiotics, amino acids, and healing properties to protect her family members from influenza, whooping cough, cellulite, and glaucoma.

For Pete’s sake, let’s embrace the mundane, the old familiar, the worn out menu.  Let’s throw off the guilt and shame and grill up some Ballpark franks.   Leave behind the torment over options and confidently serve your children a plate of golden goodness; you know what I mean; chicken, fries and corn.  Be inspired by the words of a child, who represents all the children of this great nation, who love a good meal on a stick or in a pocket or in a wrap, and let’s go easy on ourselves as we start this week and prepare our menus.   

xoxo,

A

 

Gracious Goodness

Every birth and every adoption, has it’s own unique story… as unique as each of us.  And all of the elements that make us unique play a part in that: our tendencies, our emotions, our personalities, our hopes and goals.  For me, the adoption of our youngest son was tainted with the knowledge of my vicarious experiences as a foster care and adoption social worker.  Our process of adoption was quick, in comparison to others, but was years in the making.  God used our 10 plus years of marriage and parenting and ministry to prepare our hearts and minds, and bring us to a place of unity in our pursuit of a child through adoption.  And after all of the paperwork and processes were done, I remember being on the cusp of fully committing to this child…this stranger from a foreign land…and quite frankly being frozen with fear.  Maybe it was because I knew too much, or maybe, better yet, it was because I thought I knew too much and actually I knew very little; at least personally.  I did recognize however, how much our lives were about to change.  How different it was all going to be.  And possibly the “hard” that we were welcoming in.

“Was it going to ruin us?”-Goodness gracious!, that’s a terrible thing to say…I know.  It is.  It’s a terrible thought to have.  But there it is.  Was it going to be too much of a mess for our tidy life?

I am sometimes disillusioned into thinking that my obedience to Him, should somehow earn me the reward of an easy and carefree life.  But, He does not promise ease, or comfort, in fact he promises the opposite:  John 16:33b, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I knew in God’s perfect timing and way that He had orchestrated all of these things and had brought us to this place where he was telling us to “just obey”.  He did not promise that it would be easy or tidy or even feel good.  But God.  He does promise His steadfast love, and His always-faithfulness, and His immovable peace, and His gracious goodness; a God kind of goodness…not a people kind of goodness.  A deep, and rich and new goodness…that teaches God’s character and draws you into Him like nothing else can.  And He has been faithful, and kind, and good, and true.   

Praying your Monday is filled with the gracious goodness of God - that where troubles may meet you, so would His abounding greatness.  

Xoxo,

A