Tuesday, August 25, 2009

the Definition of Me (Part 7/10)

It’s not been vastly different from any other night. I came in from work around 5 pm, and after welcoming hugs from my children they immediately set in to asking when I was going to feed them dinner. I didn’t even sit down, but immediately began pulling out pots and pans and a variety of ingredients with which to attempt to put together a healthy meal in a quick fashion. The entire 45 minutes I cooked, the kids begged for food. They were impatient to eat. Of course, once dinner was served, no one really wanted to eat the delicious meal set before them.

After dinner, it was time for homework and baths. I got Julia busy bathing and went to take care of another chore, but I didn’t get far because a big yelling match broke out. Nathan wanted Julia out of the bathtub NOW because he was ready to take his bath. I asked him to give her a few more minutes and to be patient for his turn. Nathan said, rather indignantly, “I don’t see why I need to wait any longer. She’s already had at least 20 minutes in there!” Impatience strikes again.

I often find it quite frustrating when my children aren’t patient people. I guess you could say I’m impatient with impatience! And truthfully, I can be a rather impatient soul myself. I want things done my way and on my timetable, and when things don’t work out the way I envisioned, I tend to get all out of joint.

I was 27 years old when I gave birth to my oldest child. I’d been married 6 1/2 years, and wanted a baby for well more than half of that time. I remember when my high school and college friends began to have children, and how part of me was happy for them and then another part of me was so jealously sad for me. I couldn’t figure out why God wouldn’t bless me with a child.

A journey through infertility is a very difficult thing to describe. It’s not something that is easy to talk about with anyone else. It can be embarrassing. Even once doctors get involved, there seem to be no easy or quick solutions ... just humiliating medical tests and regularly sharing your intimate life with perfect strangers, all in hopes of someday getting to hold that sweet little bundle of joy.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of my personal 3 1/2 year walk through infertility was the year I taught a pregnant 7th grade student. Every day I watched her come to class ... her stomach growing rounder and rounder, proof of life growing within her. At some point she became unable to squeeze into her desk and I had to find an alternate way to seat her. I remember how she used to ask to leave class to go to the restroom. Every time I’d let her out of class, I would fill this mix of sorrow for the child who was about to have to be a mom and sorrow for me because I wanted a baby so very much. I couldn’t figure out why God wouldn’t bless me with a child, but He allowed this 13 year old to get pregnant.

I was impatient with God’s timing. At that point, I didn’t think it was so perfect. In fact, I thought it was pretty rotten timing. I couldn’t see His plan ... only my own desires and dreams that weren’t coming true according to the timetable I had laid out for myself. I suppose that most couples who deal with infertility feel the say way. Impatience with the waiting period is one of the hardest things about infertility. It's made that much harder because you simply don't know how long the wait will be. A pregnant mother-to-be knows that her precious baby will make an appearance sometime around a certain date. An infertile mom-to-be doesn't know how much time will pass before she holds her sweet baby in her arms. She rocks an empty cradle and her heart weeps while she waits.

Have you ever noticed that the Bible is full of barren women? When I was wanting to be someone's mother, I used to read and reread the story of Hannah. I was amazed at how the very thing she longed for she gave right back to God. I took comfort knowing that God had given children to so many barren women ... Sarah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth. Their stories, though thousands of years old, gave me hope. As I prayed for my own child, I remember how God had heard and answered their prayers. Surely He would someday answer mine, too.

I love the following passage from The Bible Jesus Read by Phillip Yancey:

“After promising to bring about a people numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, God then proceeds to conduct a clinic in infertility. Abraham and Sarah wait until in their nineties to see their first child; their daughter-in-law Rebekah proves barren for a time; her son Jacob must wait fourteen years for the wife of his dreams, only to discover her barren as well. Three straight generations of infertile women hardly seems an efficient way to populate a great generation.”

Obviously, God’s timetable is definitely different from that of humans.

Yancey continues:

“After making similar promises to bring about a possession of a great land (Abraham himself possessed only a grave site in Canaan), God arranges a detour for the Israelites into Egypt, where they molder for four centuries until Moses arrives to lead them to the Promised Land --- a wretched journey that takes forty years instead of the expected two weeks. Clearly, God operates on a different timetable than that used by impatient human beings.”

God often moves slowly. He also moves unpredictably. But His ways are always good and perfect.

Standing on this side of infertility, I wouldn’t change those 3 1/2 years for anything. I am convinced that the wait has made me a better mom. I am convinced that the wait has given me a perspective on motherhood that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. And I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have the 3 precious kids that I have right now, for in HIs perfect timing He gave to me the children I was ordained to hold and love ... the sweet little people who call me “Momma.”

From the time we are children, we are taught that patience is a virtue. Yet it is very hard to learn to be patient. Today alone I've been impatient with my children, impatient for a meeting to end and impatient for bedtime to arrive. I'm even impatient with God as I wait for Him to move in a couple of areas of my life. The Battle for Patience is one that I am very familiar with in my life.

Then the seventh thing that I know to be true about myself is that even though I am often an impatient kind of gal who feels frustrated when God's timing doesn't match my own, I am learning and striving to learn to be patient and wait upon the Lord. I am seeing how God’s ways, though mysterious to me, are always best. That is why I am working hard to cultivate the fruit of the spirit of patience in my life.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Definition of Me (Part 6/10)

A woman's emotions can be a dangerous thing. I'm a woman. I can say that.

I'm here to tell you that there are many moments when an overwhelming emotion suddenly overtakes me. Call it hormones. Call it a downside of the feminine mystique. Call it whatever you like. It happens to all women ... or at least every woman I know.

To be honest, I'm usually just as surprised as anyone else about those sudden, intense emotions. I don't necessarily know that one is about to hit me full force until it does. I sometimes don't even know why I feel the way I feel.

Take tonight, for instance ...

I was sitting in church before the service began. I flipped through the latest Home Life magazine, as the prelude music filled the sanctuary. I was happily humming along. Life was good and I was feeling glad to be sitting in the Lord's house with my children and anticipating an evening of worshipping my Saviour. And then it happened ...

There, on pages 28-29, was an article about the importance of romance to women. There on the sidebar was a list of ways for husbands to romance their wives and nurture this part of their marriage. All it took was about 5 seconds before I was fighting this huge urge to cry. Tears sprang up into my eyes. I frantically tried to wipe them away, while I wondered what on earth was wrong with me!

About that time, someone that I did not know walked up to say hello to me. There I was with watery eyes. I don't even know most of these people at church, but they all know me because of my brother (a former youth pastor at this church). I'm sure I looked ridiculous ... sitting there trying so hard not to cry ... and talk this lady who obviously knows me by name but I have no clue who she might be. (And no, Reid, I do not remember her name. I was trying not to cry. I was also trying not to look like I was about to cry. I'm sure she told me her name, but I do not remember it at all.)

It's been 2 1/2 years now since my marriage fell apart . And to be honest, I'm truly okay with where I am in this season of my life. There was a time when I wasn't and I struggled with being alone, but God and I have come to an understanding about that ... well, truthfully I came to an understanding, but God had a lot to do with it! Still, I guess deep down, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that a part of me longs for the day when God will bring this season to an end and brings once again a romantic kind of love in my life. And I guess, there are times when a sort of intense emptiness hits me and I suddenly find myself feeling that achy feeling in my heart as I wish there were someone who found me captivating and wanted to shower me with affection.

As I sat there in church tonight, I realized that I'm just a woman who is acting and feeling like a woman ... and there is nothing wrong with that. I'm like every other woman on the planet. I long to be cherished and adored and, yes, romanced. I realize that there are plenty of married women who long for these things as well. I am definitely not alone in my desires.

Being a woman is just part of who I am. I can't change it anymore than I can change my eye color or my blood type. And yet there are times when I feel like a failure as woman. Satan lies to me and tells me that if I was a real woman my husband wouldn't have left me. He wants me to believe that I am not beautiful or that I am less than worthy because my body is not picture perfect.

Sometimes I think we women feel like failures if we don't meet the Proverbs 31 standard, in a way that the population of Christian men in general don't seem to feel if they don't live up to the Biblical standard given to them. Those verses read like that perfect woman ... the same woman that stares back at us from the covers of magazines or lives the fairy tale princesses we all dream of as little girls. You know her ... the woman who has the incredibly smart and talented children who are always neat and clean, who has an immaculate house that is beautifully decorated, who has a fulfilling career outside of her home and who has the perfect marriage to a wonderful and handsome Christian man. I feel so small in comparison to that woman. And even though I do not think God intended for Proverbs 31 to make women feel insecure, I often find myself feeling like there is no way I can ever be that perfect woman. Satan wants me to feel defeated before I ever even get started!

Then there is that debate about the "S" word (submission). So often, I've heard women vehemently debating those submission verses from all sorts of angles. And if that isn't enough to keep us all up in arms, there is also the question of our dress. Most would agree that Christian women should be modest in dress, but what exactly is modest? Can you wear sleeveless shirts? What about dress or skirt length? And how short can our hair be cut? It doesn't help that there are those denominations that feel women should always wear dresses, have long hair and never wear make-up or jewelry.

Obviously, being a woman of God is a tough, tough calling. And yet, I can rest in the knowledge that God created me to be fully female. It says in the Bible that God created males and females ... and that He called it good. I am meant to be a woman, full of femininity, and when I embrace that feminine part of me it is honoring to God. He loves me despite my failings, and finds me with all my feminine charms and failings, to be His wonderful daughter.

What's more ... God wants to meet those feminine longings and desires I have. He knows that my heart sometimes yearns for romance. And He is very willing to sweep me off my feet, often when I most need it but least expect it.

Tonight, as we drove home from church, one of my sweet boys asked, "Mama, do you like diamonds?" I said that I did ... I very much like diamonds.

Then my other precious boy piped in, "Good. We want to get you a diamond ring for your birthday. You can wear it and remember that we love you and think that you are beautiful."

And the first one added, "I'm not sure that we can get you a big one. How much do you think a diamond ring might cost anyway?"

Well, I certainly don't know anything about buying diamond rings (though I'm relatively confident my sons cannot afford to buy one for my birthday next month) ... but geez if that didn't make my heart pound and my stomach do flip-flops! It was enough "romance" for me tonight. God cares. He knows my heart longs to be beautiful to someone and adored for who I am, even with all my flaws and feminine emotional instability.

I'm content to walk through this season of life, knowing that God has my heart and my dreams and my future in His safe keeping ... and that He is the ultimate Lover of my soul, far more loving than any man on earth can ever hope to be. I trust that no matter what the future holds, God is going to meet every one of my feminine heart's needs and perhaps even some of my desires.

With these thoughts in mind, the sixth truth about me is this: I will never be the perfect Proverbs 31 woman, but I want very much to live in such a way so that I am worth far more than rubies. I desire to be a woman of faith, who is desperately seeking God in everything and in every way for every day of my life. I'm learning to embrace being a woman, created by a Heavenly Father who loves my femininity because He gave it to me. And I'm learning to run straight into the arms of Jesus, giving to Him all the desires of my feminine heart.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Definition of Me (Part 4/10)

No matter how you look at it, 2007 was without a doubt the hardest year of my life. It began with the death of my much-loved grandmother just days before Matt was to begin a 15-month deployment to Iraq. In fact, my grandmother died on February 3rd, we buried her on February 7th and Matt deployed on February 8th. Saying two hard goodbyes in one was exceedingly tough.

Despit the goodbyes, that spring was actually a really joyful time for me. I enjoyed the quietness of rural Louisiana and watching the beautiful spring unfold along the river that flowed through my parents’ front yard. Joel learned to ride a bike. Nathan lost his first teeth. There was a family wedding and plenty of time for getting together with old friends. The kids and I enjoyed many happy picnics on the riverbank in my parents’ front yard … laying on a quilt, eating peanut butter sandwiches and reading aloud from a favorite book. For a few precious weeks, all seemed perfect in the world. Looking back, it was like the calm before the storm.

By early May I began to sense a difference in my relationship with Matt. I couldn’t figure out what exactly was going on, but deployments and military separations are so hard anyway that I figured it was just perhaps some of the effects of being apart and perhaps a little miscommunication. However, by early June there was no doubt that there was something big lurking beneath the surface of our marriage, and before the month was out everything was rapidly spinning out of control. It seemed that there was nothing I could do to stop the catastrophe.

There are truly no words to describe what I felt in the heat of that summer. I wanted to do nothing more than take to my bed, but I had these 3 children to look after. Honestly if it weren’t for my parents I don’t know how I could possibly have cared for my children. And the tears … oh, I cried so much! I cannot tell you the number of times that I woke to find that my cheeks and pillow was wet with tears …. tears that I didn’t even realize I had been crying. The pain was truly overwhelming and even took a physical toll on me as I cycled between being so nauseous that I was unable to eat and doing nothing but eating, being unable to sleep and doing nothing but sleeping, being unable to cry and doing nothing but crying. At some point, my normally straight hair became very curly, giving new meaning to the phrase “it will make your hair curl.”

I did everything I knew to do, but mostly I prayed. I spent hours at night on my knees next to my bed, pouring out my soul to God and begging Him to save my marriage. I asked for renewal and restoration and redemption. I cried out for His mercy. I trusted that God could heal us … even expected Him to heal us …

But He didn’t.

By October, my marriage was over. I can honestly say that prior to June 2007, I never knew my marriage was in such serious danger. And until Matt uttered those words “I want out. I want a divorce.” I never seriously considered that he might leave me and the children for what he thought would be greener pastures. To say that I was caught off-guard by the failure of my marriage would be the understatement of the century.

In the fall of 2007, I was filled with overwhelming grief, as well as embarrassment and confusion and desperation. But perhaps the most terrifying emotion of all the ones I felt during 2007 was the feeling that God hadn’t cared enough to answer my prayers. My soul cried over and over, asking “Where are you, God?! Have You not heard me? Will You not answer?”

Why didn’t He restore my marriage? I mean, isn’t the Bible pretty clear that God wants us to marry only once … to stay married in good times and in bad times? I trusted Him to heal us. I begged Him for a victory that could only glorify Him … a story that would be a testimony to the goodness of God. Why didn’t He answer me in the way I had prayed? It’s two years later, and, quite frankly, I still don’t know the answers to those questions. But I do know a lot more about God, about me and about the truth that sets us free.

If you have kept up with my blog at all during the past two years, you will know that I’ve written much on the story of my divorce and how God has spoken to me at various times in that journey. Even though God didn’t answer my prayers as I had hoped, He was never silent. There are so many things that God has whispered into my heart as I’ve walked down this road, but there is one in particular that I would like to share as I think it defines yet another part of who I am becoming.

This past spring I traveled with a group of ladies to a women’s conference in Baton Rouge. I was so excited to go because one of my favorite Christian authors, Angela Thomas, was among the speakers to present … as well as a concert by one of my favorite Christian artists, Mandisa. Being away from the responsibilities of regular life for 36 hours, while praising God with a group of great women … well, I went expecting to have a great time and hoping that maybe God would speak deeply to me, too.

The entire week before the conference God continually spoke to my heart about the importance of truth. Over and over and over that week … in situations at work, at home, with my kids, with my friends and even regarding a very brief dating relationship that had ended several weeks earlier. God kept speaking to me about the importance of truthfulness … how it is the truth that sets us free (John 8:32).

Would you believe that the entire conference was about knowing the truth … not just any truth, but God’s truth? God had been preparing my heart all week long for the message He was going to give me at the conference. I heard it in Mandisa’s concert, and in the words of each of the speakers (Stormie O’Martian, Thelma Wells, Karen Kingsbury, Chonda Pierce, etc). Each and every one of the speakers had something to say about knowing and embracing God’s truth.

So by the time Angela Thomas took the stage as the very last speaker, my heart was already full to overflowing. Angela talked about how when we go through tough times, we often do not sense God is with us. We wonder why He has left us to go through the difficult situation alone. We cannot see Him working in our lives and feel that our prayers are not being heard or answered. Satan loves to convince us that God simply doesn't care or that He is too busy to deal with our problems, and we believe his lies over the truth that God wants us to hold dear.

Angela shared first a passage of Scripture from 2 Corinthians 3:12-18.

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

As Angela shared God’s message, she said that when we accept Christ the veil is removed from our eyes, but so often we stand there with our eyes closed and wonder why we can’t see God. She challenged us to open our eyes and look for the glory of God at work in our lives …

God at work in my life? My first thought was "Yeah, well He certainly didn't answer that HUGE prayer I had about saving my marriage." But God asked me to search further and remember back ... and what I began to see was evidence of God being there for me.

Evidence like God answering my prayer for over 3 years for just one baby by blessing me with three wonderful babies in less than 3 ½ years.

Evidence like amazing protection in a wreck that should have sent every member of our family to the hospital and yet none of us had any kind of serious injury.

Evidence like God orchestrating a prayer chain for me and my marriage so that I was being prayed for round the clock (often people who didn’t even know me) during the worst days of 2007.

Evidence like God providing a job that simply landed in my lap when I had to return to work after being a stay-at-home mom for several years.

Yes, the evidence of God’s glory in my life is there. Even in the midst of that horrible divorce, God did a lot of restoring and healing. No, not in my marriage as I had prayed, but rather in my heart. That alone has made the heartache I’ve gone through worth the pain. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in the past two years is the God is with me all the time., even when I can't see Him. When I think He is hidden from my view, I only have to open my eyes and look for the evidence of Him at work in my life, for the veil has already been removed.

The best part is that when I open my eyes and my heart, and I see the glory of God working all around me, I realize what an amazing love my Heavenly Father has for me… and how even in the bad times He is so exceedingly good.

The fourth truth about me is that I am a woman who has not only had the veil removed from my face, but who is also learning to stand with eyes open wide to see God at work in my life as I choose to reject the lies the devil would have me believe and embrace the truth that truly sets me free.

The Definition of Me (Part 5/10)

When I taught 3rd grade, there was this experiment in our science book about the different kinds of taste buds on the human tongue. The children were allowed to taste a variety of foods that had a strong taste to see if they could tell where on the tongue the different kinds of taste buds were located. One of the foods was cocoa powder. The first year I did that experiment, I was shocked at the violent reactions the children had to the bitter taste. I suppose they were expecting the sweetness of chocolate milk powder, and so the bitterness took them by surprise. (By the way, in subsequent years, I issued a warning about how looks can often be deceiving and to taste only a small amount of the cocoa powder. I’m not a cruel person by nature!)

Bitterness can often overtake our lives as well, and often by surprise for it doesn't take long for bitterness to grow and entangle a heart. Something unfortunate or tragic happens in our lives, perhaps a prayer doesn’t get answered the way we would like … and suddenly we find ourselves with a bitter and hardened outlook on life.

I spoke previously about the summer my marriage fell apart and how utterly heart-wrenching those months were for me. I felt helpless to do anything on my own. I knew I had to rely fully on God. And yet, He didn’t work the way I prayed or the way I thought He should. His timing wasn’t my timing. His answers weren’t my answers. I felt like He had turned His back on me … and I would be untruthful if I didn’t say there was a part of me that wanted to turn my back to God as well. Those thoughts and feelings were lies though … lies that Satan wanted me to believe and embrace. Satan wants to block us from God at every turn, and he will do whatever it takes to prevent us from embracing God’s truth.

Thankfully, I didn’t totally turn my back to God. I continued to pray and to seek godly counsel. At some point during that summer, I felt that I should pray against bitterness. I don’t remember why I felt so strongly about praying not to become bitter. It could have come from my many hours of counseling. It could have come from one of the dozens of books I read on Christian marriage, divorce and divorce recovery, or perhaps it came from a conversation with a friend. That doesn’t matter so much because I know it was God who so deeply impressed it upon my soul to pray against letting bitterness settle into my soul.

As I prayed, I began to feel that the Lord wanted me specifically pray to not be bitter, but to be better as a result of my divorce. I asked God to show me … and this is the conversation that the Lord and I had:

Me: Lord, You will have to show me. How is it that I can be a better woman and not a bitter woman? This hurts really bad!

God: Take the ‘I’ out of bitter.

Me: What does that mean? Take the ‘I’ out of bitter?

God: This isn’t about you. Don’t make it all about you. If you don’t want to be a bitter woman, then take yourself out of the center of this situation.

Me: Okay … but how do I do that? It sure feels like it is all about me! I’m the one who got left high and dry. I’m the one who is standing in the middle of a pile of rubble, wondering what happened to my marriage. So how can I make this not about me?

God: Replace the ‘I’ with an ‘e’ … the ‘e’ is for ‘exalt.’ When you exalt or praise Me, you make it about Me and not about you.

Me: So if I praise You in the middle of this awful situation, then I will become better and not bitter?

God: Exactly.

Wow. It was without a doubt one of the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had with God.

I wish I could testify to you that I was faithful to consistently praise God in the middle of that storm. I wasn’t. But when I did, I was definitely better for it. In the choosing to give God my praise, even when life wasn't going my way and I felt all alone, I discovered a joy and peace that filled me. I found that I couldn't exalt God and have a soul that was bitter and hard.

Over the course of the past 2 years, God has shown me these things again and again and again. In EVERYTHING give thanks. Praise God for His mercy endures FOREVER.

This is what I know to be true about me: I have been bitter and hardened my heart to God. I chose to turn my back because I didn't understand His ways. I have been guilty of thinking that I knew much better than God. But I am learning to yield completely to God, for His ways are not mine. And I'm aspiring to praise Him in everything ... on the good days and the bad days, when I feel in awe of God and when I feel like I'm all alone. And when I choose to do this, I become a better woman and my bitterness is gone.

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. ~Hebrews 12:15

The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him. ~Exodus 15:2

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Definition of Me (Part 3/10)

Children are natural dreamers. I love to listen to Nathan dream. He has the biggest and wildest dreams imaginable. Take for example Nathan’s wish for me this past Mother’s Day: “Momma, I wish I could give you a limousine with a chauffeur! Inside there would be a big screen TV for you to watch, and a hot tub. You could drive to work every day and back home again ... and anywhere else you wanted to go!” At the time I drove only about 1/8 of a mile to work, hardly enough time to turn on the big screen TV, much less enjoy the hot tub ... but what a wonderful dream, even if it was a little silly!

This morning on the way to school, this same child said, “I know what we should do with our extra money ... we need to build one of those rooms that you fill up with smoke and everyone goes in and sits down and sweats for a while because it makes you feel better. I think we need one of those, don’t you, Momma?!” I have to admit that building a sauna onto our house is an interesting thought ... not that I have any extra money to do that.

Nate has a list a mile long of things he wants to do when he grows up, which includes everything from inventing suction cups for hands and feet so that regular humans can scale walls like Spiderman to being an astronaut to cloning dinosaurs to being a famous artist. I love to hear him dream about the future, because he talks about it with a mixture of excitement and confidence in his voice.

Nathan is very, very good at dreaming.

Once upon a time I had dreams. Somewhere along the way, I lost them. I figured they weren’t good dreams to have and that even if they were good that I wasn’t worthy to dream them. I figured I was better off just hoping to live a rather insignificant existence, working and being a mom and a wife. Maybe I could teach Sunday School or have a shining moment as the teacher of the year, but bigger dreams were definitely meant for someone other than me.

I lost those dreams, but they didn’t disappear ... they just got misplaced, buried and forgotten.

I’ve moved an amazing number of times. I think at last count, I’ve lived in 15 homes since 1993. If I’m doing my math correctly, that would make 15 moves in 16 years. That’s a lot of packing boxes! I can tell you a lot about moving, but one of the most fascinating things about the moving process to me is that one can pack an item into a box and then totally be surprised to find it on the other end. There is this weird ability to forget you owned something. I’ve always loved unpacking best because it is like Christmas! I open a box and gush over the wonderful things I find inside ... things I am surprised to remember that I own.

God’s been unpacking my dreams lately. I’m surprised by some of the things I’m discovering that I set aside. I am dusting off those old hopes and wishes, looking at them with new eyes and seeing that they are worthy dreams.

Here are a few of the many dreams and hopes and wishes I’ve unpacked in the past year ...

*become a published author

*take a cake decorating class, and someday earn my living by decorating cakes for birthday parties, etc

*participate in short-term missions on a regular basis

*see the Northern Lights, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall of China and a myriad of other amazing sights around this incredible world

*adopt a child ... maybe a little African baby or perhaps an Eastern European child

It's been surprising to remember that once upon a time I head these dreams close to my heart.

God has even given me some new dreams and hopes for my future, such as the following:

*fall in love with an amazing man who loves God way more than me and pursues Christ with a passion ... but thinks I’m God’s greatest creation on earth and showers me with his affections (and maybe a bouquet of pink roses a couple of times a year, too)

*another opportunity to homeschool

*see my children grown up loving God passionately ... married to wonderful Christians and raising beautiful families. Somedays I can’t wait to be a grandma!

*earn Master’s degree

One definition of the verb hope is to look forward to something with desire and reasonable confidence. When we hope, we dream. And everyone has some sort of dream for their life, even if it is buried deep in the soul in a grave of insecurity and lack of confidence. I buried my dreams in that grave for many years. But God is the ultimate dream giver ... and even though all of these hopes and wishes for my future may never come true, it is a good and wonderful blessing to dream and hope for my future.

Then this is the third defining thing about me:

I used to believe that big dreams were meant for other people ... that I was unworthy to expect amazing things could happen to me.

Now I’m becoming a dreamer who is embracing the wonder of hoping for amazing opportunities given to me by a loving God. Part of that becoming a dreamer is learning to yield my hopess to God and entrust Him to bring about those that are within His will for my life. It also means remembering that He has some amazing plans for me, so I can look forward to the rest of my life with a sense of anticipation ... wondering what God will do next.

Still wondering why I’m here
Still wrestling with my fear
But oh, He’s up to something
And the farther on I go
I’ve seen enough to know
That I’m, not here for nothing
He’s up to something

There is hope for me yet
Because God won’t forget
All the plans he’s made for me
I have to wait and see
He’s not finished with me yet

~Brandon Heath (Wait and See)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First Day of School!

It's a new school year! For me, this time of year has almost always seemed like when the "new year" really starts ... I guess because as a student it indicated a "promotion" of sorts, , as a teacher it was the beginning of another year of work, and it also means that I'm about to turn another year older because my birthday is normally about a month after the new school year begins. I guess because of all those reasons, it's natural for me to want to celebrate the first day of school each fall. It has a holiday sort of feel to me ... well, as much as any other minor holiday anyway.

This year has an extra special feel to me, for we aren't just celebrating a regular first day of school but rather we are also celebrating the fact that we are fully settled into our new home in our new town. It means that my children are going to a new school and will be making new friends. It's an exciting time, even if we are all a little bit nervous.

I just dropped the kids off at school ... I didn't walk in with them, even though on the inside I wanted to walk in and hold their hands tight. The teachers greeted the kids with big smiles and hugs and took them right into the gym where the rest of the students were gathering before the school day began. Right now, as I'm typing, I see that it is exactly 8 am, and I'm guessing my children are being ushered into their new classrooms, finding their seats and preparing to start a brand-new year of learning ... and I'm praying that this is our best school year ever!

We have a little tradition of taking pictures in the yard on the first day of school each fall. So below you will find the pictures I took just this morning, as well as little about each child.

My 3rd Grade Baby ...

Joel's favorite color is green, just like his eyes. He loves weather. Joel keeps me up-to-date on all the latest weather news around the globe. He has recently taken up blogging .... it's a weather blog! (If you are interested in reading Joel's weather reports, please contact me and I'll send you a link.) Joel loves road maps and enjoys planning trips for our family to take someday soon. He still likes to talk about presidents and thinks that one day he might like to be one. Joel is exceptional at math. He thinks Brandon Heath is a pretty cool singer. Joel is known for being a picky-picky eater, who is never but even I can make him happy when I fix his favorite meal ... hamburgers (ketchup only, please!), french fries and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

My 2nd Grade Baby ...

Nathan loves blue, just like his eyes. He thinks Spiderman is the coolest of all cool superheroes. Nathan likes thinking deep thoughts and then debating about those thoughts with other people (usually me, and since I'm not a natural debater those are some interesting conversations). Nathan is a fantastic reader and an amazing artist. Nathan has far too many favorite foods to mention ... but he is particularly fond of fruits and veggies. His favorite place to eat out is Subway because he likes to get the Veggie Delight sandwich (with cheese, please!).

My 1st Grade Baby

Julia's favorite color has recently change to purple, though she is still very fond of pink and has a small passion for black as well. If Julia could have just one toy, she would want it to be her Littlest Pet Shop toys. She loves Aunt Brooke's dog, Pippin, and begs for him to come over and visit as often as possible. But mostly, Julia loves clothes. She likes to wear them, try on new ones (and buy new ones!), and look at pictures of clothes in magazines. She thinks it is lots of fun to dress up and create new outfits, and the more it looks like it might have come from the thrift shop grab bag, all the better! It wasn't until recently that I realized just exactly how well little miss Julia is reading, though her favorite part of school is definitely recess. Julia's favorite thing to eat is CoCo Puffs ... though she also loves carrot sticks with ranch dressing, tiny tomatoes, black olives and apples.

As I was typing up my descriptions of my children, I was reminded of just how quickly they grow and change. It's the joy of my life to watch them mature into the people God has created them to be. I'm fascinated to see talents and interests develop, and I can only say from a thankful heart how amazing it is that God has entrusted these precious little ones to my care!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Definition of Me (Part 2/10)

Perhaps a month ago I started listening to KLove Christian radio station online while I'm both at work and at home. It was around that time that I heard a certain song for the first time, and I’ve heard at least 20 times a week since then. I’m talking about a song by Jonny Diaz titled “More Beautiful You.” And every time I hear it, I think I might cry out of some weird rush of relief that there is actually man who is singing this message to the world on the behalf of women everywhere, and as well as with a pang of regret that it has taken me nearly 37 years to begin to embrace this truth for myself.

In case you haven’t heard this lovely song, the message of the song is about every woman’s beauty.

I wish that you could see that beauty is within you heart.
And you were made with such care your skin, your body, and your hair
Are perfect just they way they are ...
There could never be a more beautiful you!
~Jonny Diaz, “More Beautiful You”

This past spring and summer, God has been overwhelming me with this message: I am beautiful.

I’ve heard the message in songs like the one I just mentioned, but also in Mandisa’s “True Beauty” and “The Definition of Me.”

What’s inside of you
What’s inside of me
The hands that made the moon and stars
The mountains and the seas
Made you wonderful, beautiful, marvelously
Let the whole world see your
True Beauty
~Mandisa (True Beauty)

I read the same message in Angela Thomas’ book "When Wallflowers Dance" as well as her wonderful Bible study titled "Do You Think I'm Beautiful?".

There is a God in heaven who is absolutely in love with you, and by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, you can live and dance in that truth.
~Angela Thomas (When Wallflowers Dance)

And I’ve read the truth in Bible passages. Psalm 45:11 has become a favorite verse of mine: The King is enthralled by your beauty.” Enthralled ... what woman doesn’t want for someone to find her enthralling?

The second thing that is defining about me is that I used to be a wallflower, afraid that I was unlovable because I believed that I wasn’t beautiful to look at and that I had nothing that made me special.

However, I am no longer that wallflower of a girl.

I am learning to see myself in a whole new light, and embracing that I am a lovable, likable person.

I’m embracing the fact that I was created by the same Creator who made Saturn’s rings and the Northern Lights and the ruby-throated hummingbird. And the Bible is pretty clear that God thinks that all of His creations are good, but that He created humans in His image and pronounced it VERY good.

I’m the apple of God’s eye (Ps. 17:8) and He is enthralled with my beauty (Ps. 45:11).

The testimony that I can now share is that I am indeed beautiful, and I am learning to dance the dance of life in the arms of God.


So tired of looking in the mirror
‘Cause it always says the same thing
I want to be about something different
Something more than the mirror can see
Like joy, peace ... Alive in me
When it comes to my identity
I want the love, I want the light, I want the beauty
On the inside
I want the one that you can't see
To be the definition of me
~Mandisa (The Definition of Me)

If there is a question attached to the soul of a woman, maybe it’s “Do you think I’m beautiful?” When God answers from the depth of His great love, it makes some of us feel like the wallflower who is asked to dance. But we can become distracted from His invitation because of others lovers, whispers of unbelief, noise and clutter and because we are sometimes the prodigal and sometimes the elder brother. To return to the music and strong embrace of God requires a desperate and pursuing heart. When a woman chooses to remain in His arms of devotion, God gives the only we hope we have ... His perfect love and a beautiful crown. God is enthralled by the beauty of a woman and calls her His beloved. He wildly pursues her heart with romance and intimacy to make her His beautiful bride.
~Angela Thomas (Do You Think I’m Beautiful)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Definition of Me (Part 1/10)

I've been given an interesting assigment ... to define myself.

Yes, unfortunately I am one of those devout people-pleasers, who also has a strong tendency to believe any and everything others say or think about me. It's also true that I'll readily accept and embrace any negative thoughts spoken about me immediately as if it were the gospel truth, while questioning and brushing off all the positive statements people make about what they see in me.

So this past week my counselor, Ginger, challenged me to come up with 10 things that I believe and know to be true about me, regardless of what others might think or say. She also challenged me to blog about it, so that I am making my thoughts known to others who know me. In other words, I'm going to own these thoughts and beliefs. I'm going to define myself, and say to the world that this is who I know I am.

At first I thought it would be an easy assignment. It's not. I'm 4 days into working on this and it really isn't easy to define who I am. I'm finding that I am coming up with a lot of silly, shallow definitions, such as I have blue eyes or my favorite color is pale purple. Those things are true about me and I believe them, but it really isn't what makes me ME. Or then I have the problem of coming up with something deeper only to find that it is negative. I certainly have my faults. I'm only human, after all. And yet, this assignment isn't necessarily about downing myself, but it is more meant to help me see myself in a truthful way so that I can grow into a better woman.

But today God revealed to me a way to approach this challenge ...

For the past two years, the Lord has been doing a mighty work in me. I'm a very different woman now ... some days I don't even recognize myself. So I'm going to approach this assignment from the stand-point of talking about who I was contrasted to who I am becoming. My prayer is that it will show how God is working in my life, as He is creating in me a clean heart. Because really what matters most is how God defines me.

And that is right where the definition of me starts ...I am a child of the King of Kings. This is the most important thing you can ever know about me. I serve a risen Savior and my life is devoted to Him. And this is my testimony regarding that fact:

I grew up in a Christian home. My parents took me and my siblings to church. We also read the Bible at home, prayed together and talked about the ways of the Lord. This same love for God was demonstrated and taught to me by my grandparents, great-grandmothers and other extended family. I really cannot remember a time when I didn't love God, and knew that Jesus loved me too.

I think I first became aware of death when I was about 7 or so. A older neighbor lady that we used to drive to church died rather suddenly, and I became aware that people don't live forever on earth. Not too long after that I talked to my parents about death and dying and going to heaven. My father took me to visit the preacher ... I remember quoting John 3:16 for him that night. I don't guess that I asked Jesus into my heart that night.

My mother says that the following summer I asked Jesus into my heart while we were in the garden. I have absolutely no recollection of this. But my mother was there and she remembers. She said we were talking about some friends of mine who had asked Jesus into their hearts during VBS. I apparently expressed a desire to do the same thing, and so she led me through the prayer that day. I wish I could remember ... I wish I could say that I knew my heart was in the right place that day. I wish I could say that I said those words with all sincerity. But I can't. I can only tell you what my mother told me.

My parents didn't push me to make a profession of faith. I was a little scared of our preacher. He was older and I wasn't comfortable with him. So it wasn't until I was 11 years old and we had gotten a new preacher at our church that I finally made a profession of faith and was baptized as a believer. I was baptized along with my brother, which makes that event an extra-special day for me to remember.

What is sad is that very shortly after that, I began to be filled with fear that I wasn't saved after all. I couldn't remember my salvation experience. I had no recollections other than the day I was baptized ... and I heard it preached again and again and again that baptism will not save my soul. My distress was very much an internal sort of struggle. I was scared to admit my fears out loud. I didn't want to admit that I was having doubts. I prayed daily, begging God to save me and to help me have a peace in my soul about my salvation. I feared death and dying and the return of Christ. The intense fear lasted from about the time I was 12 or so until shortly after my 30th birthday. At that point, I'd been struggling for well-over half my life ... seriously plagued by this overwhelming fear.

Fear ... it drove me and consumed me. I guess I functioned fairly normally on the outside. I mean, during that time I was a strong student, graduating valedictorian of my high school class and finishing cum laude from college. I married and worked and did all the things that people do. But I felt stunted in my walk of faith. All I could pray about was whether or not I was saved. I viewed the bad things in my life as punishments for not having enough faith. I suppose the worst of it was that I never found the courage to talk to a single person about this deep-seated fear. Over time, it only grew stronger and stronger.

By the time I was 30 years old, I was a momma to 3 beautiful children ... little stair-steps. Joel was 2, Nathan was 1 1/2 and little Julia was a bundle of newborn sweetness. I had lived literally on both coasts of this great country. I had been successful in jobs, in making friends, in motherhood. But I still felt so full of fear. I tried to live so that no one else would ever guess how tormented I was, but those doubts burned brighter than ever. I'll never forget how I took my babies to church one Sunday night. It was always a struggle to go to evening church services then ... the kids were so little and it was hard to drag them all out at night by myself, knowing that when I came home each of them would be so grumpy and needy. It was definitely easy to choose to stay home. But the church was having a video series on Christian basics by Dr. Adrian Rogers. And I was so very compelled to go ... I had this strong sense that I needed to be a part of this video sermon series.

That first night of the series Dr. Rogers preached on salvation. And what he said impacted me so greatly. Dr. Rogers told the story of two men traveling from Memphis, TN to Birmingham, AL. One man drove. As he crossed the state line into Alabama, he noted that the time was 3:23 pm. He stopped at the Alabama State Visitor's Center just after he crossed over, signed his name to the guest book and chatted amicably with other travelers at the rest stop. Later on, he could remember many details about those first few moments in Alabama. The second man flew on a plane. He never knew the exact time he crossed over into Alabama, but he knew that at some point he must have because when the plane landed he was in Birmingham, Alabama. He could see by the sights around him that he was indeed at his intended destination. But he could not tell the exact details of how he came to be in Alabama.

Dr. Rogers said that salvation is sometimes like each of these journeys. For some, the moment they asked Jesus to save them is burned into their memory. They can recall the details and the emotions of the moment with great detail. But for others the journey isn't quite so dramatic or memorable. And yet, they are just as saved because they have arrived at the point of believing who God is and what Jesus did for them and have yielded their lives to Him.

At the end of the video, the pastor of the church, Bro. Roger Wilkins, got up and began a discussion of the sermon we had just heard. Within the first two minutes of the discussion, Bro. Roger looked right at me and asked for me to share my testimony with everyone ... and with tears in my eyes, I said, "Bro. Roger, let's just say I got there on a plane." He laughed a happy laugh and said he was glad I had caught the flight, and then moved on to probing other members of the congregation with questions about the video we had just viewed. Bro. Roger had no idea that my plane had just landed moments before.

I wish I could say that since that night I've never doubted ... I have. But now I am armed with a way to send Satan packing when he tries to attack me with doubts. I believe. I don't have to recall the exact moment of my salvation. I know that I know that I know that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. Furthermore, I can also testify that since that night the fear that plagued my life for so long has diminished. I am able to rest in peace, knowing that my life is redeemed ... my sins are forgiven and my joy truly is found in my Savior.

So who am I? I am a redeemed soul, who longs to be totally in love with my God. I am learning how to embrace the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And I am no longer filled with an overwhelming fear.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord ... ~1 Timothy 1:7-8

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Three Dollars Worth of God

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

~Wilbur Rees

I read this poem today in my Voice of the Martyrs magazine, and it's disturbing me. How often am I guilty of wanting just $3 worth of God? I want just enough to make me feel good about myself, but not enough to make me desire more of God.

Again, this morning I am finding myself praying to be overwhelmed by God and changed radically from the inside out because I'm seeing more and more and more that my lukewarm Christianity isn't really loving Christ at all.