Echoes of the Kingdom

table-and-wine-glass

It had been a long, tiring day. I was exhausted but invigorated.  As I made my way through the bustling crowd, all waiting for a coveted table, I blinked hard. Was I really HERE? I looked around at the hipsters drinking wine and chatting in exclusive groups all around me, and my thoughts went to my own little tribe of boys back home. How was it possible that I had left the endless piles of  laundry and sticky, matchbox car-covered floors and found my way to this place, on this night? As my friend and I looked for familiar faces, I pinched myself.

It had been an abnormal day all around. Instead of waking up to the pitter-patter of footie pajamas coming down the hall at the crack of dawn, I had woken early in a hotel room filled with new friends, anxious to get some coffee and make our way to a convention where we would be encouraged and equipped in our vocations as home educators. I spent the day migrating from one workshop to another, each session nourishing me and breathing life into my weary mama-heart. I had chosen my speakers carefully, and although their words were like water to a parched soul, they were also thought-provoking, challenging, and stimulating. It had been some time–at least a year, maybe two–that I had been wrestling with this feeling of being pulled toward something more than ordinary in my home. Although I wasn’t questioning God’s clear directive in my life to educate our sons at home, I had heard the faint whispers of the Holy Spirit, indicating that there was something more I was to do. It began quietly: a chance reading of a blog post during naptime that stirred something deep in my soul. And that podcast while folding laundry when my heart leaped within my chest at the realization that the speaker was saying the very things I had been pondering for months, yet with a clarity and certainty I couldn’t muster. Up until then I had been so sure that I had been alone in my longings. Yet here they were, echoing the Kingdom call that was sounding in my own heart. It wasn’t long before I discovered that there was an entire community of people “out there” whose work and messages seemed to resonate with the deepest longings and passions of my soul. I devoured every thing I could get my hands on: writings, podcasts, books, audio files–anything that would continue to stir my affections and make me think more deeply and clearly about this direction I felt God leading me. I allowed these people to mentor me anonymously, from afar, and they challenged my thinking and encouraged and equipped me in profound ways. It would be hard to overestimate the influence they each had on me, pointing me to Christ and equipping me for His unique calling.  And so, when I discovered that many of these people were speaking at the convention, I arranged my schedule to ensure that I had the opportunity to soak up their wisdom and encouragement in person. And although I had nothing to offer them in exchange for all that they had given to me, I wanted to thank them and, just for a few minutes, to be in the space of the people so inspirational and formative in my life and the lives of countless others.

As my friend recognized a familiar face and we made our way over to the patio, I realized it had only been a few hours earlier that this night had even become possible. “We’ve been invited to dinner,” she had said. I was cursing my aching feet and trying to ground the day’s thoughts and insecurities that were still bouncing around in my head when I finally realized what she had said. I WAS INVITED TO DINNER. With them. I understood her invitation; she was “one of them.” But me? I was nobody. An admirer. A fan. An outsider. But somehow, inexplicably, I had an invitation.

The waitress brought wine and the word that the table was ready and that the others were waiting on our arrival. We followed her through the bustling, hopeful crowd to the back of the restaurant. She moved a large painting and revealed a hidden door that opened to a staircase. As we made our way down and the chilled air reached us, I caught my breath with the realization that we were descending into a dimly lit wine cellar. As we came to the bottom of the stairs, we were greeted with warm smiles and welcomes, handshakes and hugs. I forced myself to capture the face of each person who had mentored me from afar, now laughing and extending a welcoming hand, receiving me into the inner circle. We admired the dust covered bottles and took pictures to capture the unique beauty of the exclusive surroundings. I was astonished when I was drawn into the group photographs commemorating the event. I was sure, at any moment, they would realize that there was an impostor in their midst and it would all be over. Instead, astonishingly, I was generously ushered to the table and bid to sit and feast with them.

Friday dinner 1

Photo Credit Jennifer Dow

It was when we sang The Doxology that I began to hear the echo. It was faint, but distinct, and almost like deja vu, yet I was certain that I had never been in that place before. The laughter continued and I was sure that my cheeks would ache forever from the joy I felt. Stories were told and each person took a turn standing to share their hearts and lives with the friends at the table. We sang Hallelujah and gave thanks to the One in whom we– Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic–WERE one and I heard the hint of the echo again. The food arrived, the feast began, and the laughter continued. Hours passed, but the joy didn’t wane.  I glanced again at each face around the room and sat in wonder, astonished that all of these people had poured so much into me and I had nothing at all to offer them in return, yet they accepted me anyway. And at that realization, the echo turned into a trumpet.

I didn’t deserve to be there. I owed them everything; my debt of gratitude to them was inexhaustible. But despite my unworthiness, they graciously and lavishly extended hospitality to me and offered me a seat at the table.  They bid me to feast and laugh and sing and celebrate with them the One who is infinitely worthy of all praise and adoration. I thought of C.S. Lewis and realized that the echoes I had been hearing all night were “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not yet visited.”

IT WAS A FORETASTE OF THE KINGDOM.

And, once again, the embers of the longings that had been stirring in my heart over the recent months and years were kindled. I felt the weight of the calling, but, for the first time, I also felt the certainty of it.

I may never earn my seat at that table with those people. But that is the beauty of the grace that is extended to us. We also won’t ever deserve what is so generously and lavishly offered to us in Christ. But there IS a Kingdom coming and we HAVE been offered a seat at the table. And although I cannot earn it and I will never deserve it, I have been bid to live in the astonishing joy of that truth and then tell others about it.

And that I CAN do.

 

 

 

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Eli’s Story

Four years ago today our sweet, silly, artistic, sensitive, curious little Eli entered the world. I think that all mothers probably take time on their children’s birthdays to reflect on the details of their births (or adoptions); at least I know I do.  And it has become somewhat of a trend these days in the blogosphere to write birth stories.  I love reading them, but I never thought I would have any significant reason to share mine. Until Eli. I think sometimes I still have a hard time processing how close we came to the possibility of losing him.

Happy boy

Happy boy

The first half of my pregnancy with him was pretty uneventful. I was ridicuoulsy sick, just as I had been with my first son, but nothing more than what many expectant mothers deal with. I was disappointed when my nausea and vomiting didn’t decrease at the start of the second trimester, but by about 20 weeks, I was finally beginning to feel a bit less sick. But almost as soon as I stopped feeling green, I began to feel blue.  I had never had postpartum depression (or any kind of depression, for that matter), but I knew immediately that was what I was experiencing.  I lost interest in everything.  I didn’t want to see anyone or go anywhere.  My friends suggested that I talk to my OB about it, so at my 22 week checkup I told him how I was feeling. He felt that it was hormonal and wanted to start me on medication. At the time, I didn’t know that depression was just the first symptom of things to come.  I was also chasing a very active 2-year-old so I was naturally tired, but it got to the point where I couldn’t make it through the day without taking a long nap. Any physical exertion, even simply picking up toys off of my son’s bedroom floor, completely and utterly exhausted me.  And I began to crave ungodly amounts of water.  I knew–just knew–that I was not going to make it to my due date in September.

 

30 w 4 d

30 w 4 d

At the beginning of June I began to have frequent contractions.  I went in to the doctor and the OB on call told me that I was probably just dehydrated from the summer heat and needed to drink more water.  By that point, I was already drinking a couple of gallons a day. I told her, but I don’t think she believed me.  She put me on bedrest for three days and told me after that I could resume normal activity. I didn’t tell her that my normal activity was already resting as much as I could and chugging tons of water. So three days later, I still remained tired and contracting. And thirsty. I was so, so thirsty.

At 3 AM one morning, just past 33 weeks, I awoke with significant contractions. By 6 AM, they were two minutes apart. When we got to the hospital, a flurry of activity commenced. I was hooked up, IV’d up, shot up, and charted up. Since I was definitely in labor, the NICU reps came to talk to me about what to expect if I was to deliver my baby boy 7 weeks early. But the magnesium worked and the contractions stopped. They made me stay two full days.  I remember not wanting any visitors except my immediate family and my small group.  I also remember feeling like I had been hit by a truck or had the flu.  But what I remember most vividly was how they rationed my water. I still could not get enough water to quench my thirst. They only allowed me to have 20 ounces an hour because the medication I was on required constant monitoring of the kidneys.  It wasn’t enough. My friends (God bless them) were sneaking me water and sips of iced tea.  I drank my 20 oz around the clock, even throughout the night…waiting on 2 AM, 3 AM, 4 AM. The clock wouldn’t strike soon enough. The nurses said they had never encountered anyone who needed that much water. 20 oz an hour is almost 4 gallons a day.  And I was still parched.

I was discharged and ordered on strict bedrest for the remainer of the pregnancy.  But 48 hours later I was back in the hospital with contractions again.  The OBs kept stopping my labor because, at the time, they didn’t realize that my body was doing everything it possibly could to get my baby OUT.  Even physiologically, mothers are fierce protectors of their children.

1st birthday

1st birthday

Finally, by 35 weeks, the contractions had begun to slow down. AND THAT IS WHEN THE ITCHING BEGAN. I’ve thought and thought about how to describe the itch properly to someone who hasn’t experienced it.  It was mild at first, so most people can relate to that.  It was a little like hay fever–like when you’ve been outside all day and you are a bit sneezy and itchy in the evening.  For the first week, the itch was kind of like that.  I almost didn’t notice it; I scratched subconsciously.  As I neared 36 weeks, the itching began to wake me up at night.  At my 36 week appointment I mentioned it to my OB and he said he would run some bloodwork, but he wasn’t very concerned.  I went home and back to my bedrest. With my water.

But by mid-week everything changed. I still have no words to describe the severity and intensity of the itching.  It began on my hands and feet, but then spread to every last millimeter of my body.  I itched inside of my ears. I itched 24 hours a day.  I scratched myself all over, all night long, to no relief.  I scratched my legs until they bled (I still have scars). It was as if every single inch of the underside of my skin was covered with mosquito bites…but WORSE.  I had no rash. I had no bumps. But I was clawing myself to death. I would scrape my bare feet on the concrete sidewalk in front of our home. I couldn’t be more than 3 feet away from a wire hairbrush to assist in my scratching. At one point I saw the steak knives in our kitchen drawer and thought “those would feel SO GOOD on my feet.” The itch was making me insane.

After three nights with zero sleep from scratching, I staggered–a bleary eyed mad woman–into my 37 week appointment.  My OB was stumped.  But he knew something was wrong and he had to help me.  He told me that  he was going to get me an appointment with a dermatologist immediately and left me in the room with my 2-year-old to go make the call. I was crying and scratching and bleeding and trying to read a book to Will when the doctor walked back into the room 15 minutes later.  “You need to get to the hospital immediately.  We are delivering this baby right now.”  I stammered, shocked and confused. He told me that on the way to call the dermatologist, he had a hunch. And so, instead, he called a perinatologist to discuss it. After describing my symptoms and gestation to him, the perinatologist told him to deliver me IMMEDIATELY. So I made arrangements for my toddler, and my husband and I walked into labor and delivery around noon. The pitocin began at 12:30 and our precious Eli Harrison was born at 4:26. less than four hours after induction. As soon as he was born, the itching and thirst began to dissipate.  I had just given birth after three completely sleepless nights, and yet I felt as if I could hop out of my hospital bed and run a marathon.  When my OB came by to check on me the next day, I finally found out why.

Brothers

Brothers

I was told that I had a condition called Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (or ICP). ICP is basically pregnancy-induced liver failure. Unbeknownst to me or my OB, my liver had stopped working properly and bile was pooling in it, until (like a sponge) it became saturated. When it could hold no more, bile acids began spilling into my blood stream and making my own body a toxic environment for my precious baby. It took months of research after Eli’s birth for me to realize how serious the situation really had been.  In one week, my bile acid levels had increased from within normal range at 36 weeks to OVER SIX TIMES the normal maximum levels at 37 weeks.  I was well past what is referred to as “severe” ICP, which is the most dangerous level for the baby. Because, while ICP has little risk for the mother, there is great risk for the baby in utero.  There still isn’t a lot that is understood, but a baby can be perfectly fine and happy during a non-stress test in the morning, but experience sudden and instant death by the afternoon.  And the risk for sudden infant demise due to ICP increases SIGNIFICANTLY after 37 weeks, especially if bile acid levels are in the severe range, as mine were. Eli was born at 37 weeks exactly.

2nd birthday

2nd birthday

I don’t think a day goes by without me thanking God for that “hunch” he gave my OB four years ago today. ICP is rare (less than 1 in 1000), and I was the first case my OB had ever seen, which is why he didn’t recognize the symptoms earlier. I shudder to think of what would have happened if he had sent me on to the dermatologist because he didn’t see what was happening. One more week…even one more day…and we could have had a totally different story to tell. But there was One who DID know, who DID see.  As I was chugging water and trying to stop contractions and clawing myself obsessively, God was watching over and protecting our precious boy.

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:15-16

I don’t know the plans that God has for our beloved boy, but I am so grateful that He protected him, allowed him to be born healthy, and has given us these past four years with him. It’s true that his little life began with an amazing birth story that testifies to God’s love and faithfulness, but it is my constant prayer that the incredible story God is writing with his life has only just begun.

We love you, precious boy. Happy 4th Birthday.

4 years old

4 years old

For more information about ICP, visit www.icpcare.org

 

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A Tribute to Elisabeth Elliot

Book signed in 1996

Elisabeth Elliot died this morning at the age of 88. For those of you who don’t know her, she was a writer, speaker, and missionary whose husband’s death was portrayed in movies like “At the End of the Spear.” She was an amazing woman and a hero to many in the Christian faith.  But in 1996, when I was first introduced to her, she was a vessel–an instrument of God, beckoning me to a life of glorious surrender.

It is rare that an encounter with someone totally changes the trajectory of your life. I can think of two, in my case. One was in 1994, and I may write about that one someday. But the other was a warm October day in Texas, when I picked up a book in my friend Angie’s room and she said with a warning, “don’t read that book unless you know you are ready.” The book was Passion and Purity. And whatever else I might have been, I most certainly was not ready.

I had been nursing an aching soul for several months. That previous spring my heart had been utterly and completely broken and, although I had no desire to re-establish that relationship again, my heart felt lost. My future seemed uncertain. I had gone on countless dates and was not lacking in available suitors, but nothing felt “right.” I was beginning to feel that there was no one who would ever be able to put the pieces of my heart back together again. So a book about romance was the last thing I thought I needed. But Angie’s warning felt like a challenge. And I took the bait.

As I began to read the story of the relationship between Elisabeth and Jim Elliot and the role that Christ played in it, I began to realize that, for my ENTIRE life, I had been looking for love in all the wrong places. No guy on the face of the earth could love me the way I was longing to be loved. No one could heal the brokenness I had experienced over my twenty years. No one, that is, but Jesus Christ.

To this day, I’m not certain if I surrendered my life to Christ when I was a child, as I had thought, or if it truly happened as I went through those tear-stained pages that week in Texas. I just know that when she wrote, “if my life is broken when given to Jesus, it is because pieces will feed a multitude, while a loaf will satisfy only a little lad,” I felt, for the first time, that Christ wanted ALL of me–just as I was. Even, perhaps especially, the broken bits. For a girl who had grown up believing that I had to be perfect to please God, this true encounter with the Gospel was life-changing. I met Jesus himself in the pages of that book. And I immediately knew I had to trust Him with my whole heart–even my love life. I knew without question that He was calling me to surrender my fragile heart to Him and Him alone. As strange as it seems now, I knew when I closed that book that the decision whether or not to lay my heart, my plans, and my dreams of love at the foot of the cross would determine EVERYTHING for me. Although I couldnt explain the heaviness of it, I could feel it. I felt the truth of His promises at the core of my being. I clung to verses like Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” I did not know if God would give me a husband, but I was beginning to understand that, whatever He gave me, it would be GOOD.

And so, with nothing to lose, I decided to lose it all. I laid it down–my heart, my dreams, my brokenness–and I clung to HIM. I knew if He gave me nothing else, I would forever have all that I ever needed.

But He wasn’t done. And what He had in store for me was beyond even my wildest dreams and imagination. How God brought me and Eric together was extraordinary, and I would never have believed it was possible if I had not read the amazing story of Elisabeth and Jim Elliot. And because Elisabeth Elliot bid me to trust Him, I did. And the impact of that decision could never be measured.

I don’t have words to express my gratitude to her–for her willingness to live a life of obedience and total surrender to Christ, and for her willingness to share her struggles and plead with others to lay it all down. I told her “thank you” when I met her later that year, but at that time God had still kept hidden His plans for me.  Eric and I still smile when we recollect how he was with me at that missions conference when I spoke with her. We didn’t know what God had in store for us less than a year later. But at that time it didn’t matter. I belonged to Christ. I had His heart, and He had mine. And I was content with waiting on His best for me. And when He unfolded His plan for me and Eric over the course of the next year, I was able to echo the words of Elisabeth Elliot as she spoke of her marriage to Jim: “It was unspeakably worth the wait.”

Thank you, Elisabeth. Thank you.

Eli Harrison, born 8/16/2011 and named after Elisabeth Elliot

Eli Harrison, born in 2011 and named after Elisabeth Elliot

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My Confession

I feel as if I should start with a confession:  I absolutely cannot keep my mouth shut.  Not when it comes to particular things.  Bring up a topic like God, the Bible, politics, or current events and you will have me going for hours (if you’re lucky…I could go on for days). I’ve often been described as “passionate.”  Others have called me overzealous.  I just know that I can get, um…fired up.

Most of the time when addressing these subjects, I am speaking from deeply held, biblical convictions.  You see, the Bible tells us that all believers have been gifted by God with specific spiritual gifts.  And I have been told that my spiritual gift is prophecy.  That doesn’t mean “predicting the future” like you think of prophecy.  It just means that I see current events and topics and the personal or cultural consequences of not following God’s Word. It also means that I have an intense burden to warn people of the implications of living a life apart from Christ and total submission to His Word.  And suppressing the urge to stay silent about the truth of those things, for me, is like suppressing the urge to deliver a baby once in labor.  I can’t.

This poses several problems for me.

1) I am always a hypocrite.  I cannot live up to my own convictions.  I am a sinner, in very desperate need of a Savior.  And I fall short, daily. I am so grateful to Jesus Christ who took my mess, my brokenness, my futile attempts at “being good”, and my pride (oh, my pride), and instead gave me peace,  wholeness, beauty, purpose, and reconciliation with the Father I had despised.  I had made Him my enemy and, through the Cross, He lavished His love upon me and called me Friend.  Unbelievable grace.  And I plead for the grace of Christ to cover me because I still have so very far to go as I walk this road of obedience and surrender.  So very far.  But (I believe), my own inability to perfectly live the truths that I implore people to recognize doesn’t invalidate them as truths.  If anything, I hope that my life is a walking testimony of the truth of the Gospel.  There is no one righteous.  Not one.  No one can live perfectly or earn our way to Salvation.  Even when we know the path to walk, in our own efforts we will always fall short.  We all desperately need a Savior.

2)  I want to live at peace with everyone. I’m the type of person who generally gets along well with most people.  In high school, I was that girl who had friends in every grade and every “group” within the school.  I steer clear of conflict regarding everyday matters and I am more apt to make myself uncomfortable than to risk asking someone else to compromise.  My personality is also bent toward being a mediator.  I love helping people find ways to understand each other and come into agreement.  When I walk into a room, I act as a barometer, gauging everyone’s emotional “pressure,”  and I immediately begin working to neutralize any potential minefields.  So it is quite the existential contradiction that I am also so often compelled to create them. Because, let’s face it, religion and politics…you just don’t go there.  But I do.  And my willingness to discuss these issues so boldly doesn’t win me any friends.  In fact, it often creates enemies out of friends, which grieves me deeply.  My prayer is that people will see the heart behind my exhortations to return to God’s Word as their plumbline, because although we as Christians are called to speak truth to each other, we are told to speak with love. And I try to speak with love.  I know sometimes I fail miserably.  I hope that people do not perceive my words as judgement, but I know that sometimes they do.  I want people to know that truly love them, even if they don’t even believe in God. As I incite people to walk in obedience and submission to God’s Word, it is my prayer  that I will speak with, act with, and extend  grace.  Grace.  Because the grace that God so extravagantly poured out on us should naturally be extended to one another.  Because none of us is there yet.  We are all still on the journey towards being conformed to the image of the Son.

Despite these challenges, however, I am still compelled to say the hard things, especially here where my goal is to document for our children how we are purposing to live with intentionality, planting Gospel seeds so that our great-grandchildren will know what a great God we serve. I so desperately want our sons to understand the reasons why behind all of the decisions we make for our family.  I long for them to live their lives surrendered to the only One who is infinitely worthy of our exclusive devotion.  I want to teach them to live with vision. Sometimes living with future generations in mind requires sacrifices in the present.  I hope that they will come to understand (and even appreciate) those sacrifices.

Therefore, I will continue to proclaim truth, so that my children, myself, and (hopefully) others will live lives surrendered to the One who is the Truth.  Because when all is said and done, if I’m honest, I want my whole life to be a Confession.

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The Question I Keep Asking

There are things in life that can only be known when you experience them in your own skin–feel them down in the depths of your own bones.  Things like that feeling of absolute certainty that the person kneeling before you with a ring in his hand is the person you will love for the rest of your life.  Or a heart swollen with humility, love, and gratitude at the realization that the grace of God, through Christ, covers you, floods you, and sets you free.  You simply can’t know those things second-hand.  I’m not sure you can even really fathom them, although you may try.

The all-encompassing, self-sacrificing passion that a mother feels for her child is one of those things, I believe, as is the physical act of birthing a child.  Another, I learned last Monday, is the loss of a child.

I’ve been surprised over the past week at how foreign it is to refer to a miscarriage at six weeks gestation as the loss of a child.  Some people are offended…Maybe rightly so?  I know that there is infinitely more pain when a child who was born into the world dies, whether the child was two minutes old or an elderly child who passed before an even older parent.  That kind of pain is another one of those things that you cannot fathom–nor should you want to.  I don’t pretend to include myself in the group of people who have had their worst fears realized.

And, yet, I say with a pain I could not comprehend before last week, that I have, in fact, lost a child.  I feel it with an incomprehensible sadness that I never expected.  I have, after all, two beautiful, healthy children.  That is one of the consolations that have been frequently offered to me this week.  And it’s true.  I was only six weeks along; if I hadn’t taken the test early, I would have never even known I was pregnant.  It would have been worse if it happened later in the pregnancy–another attempt at consolation that is, in fact, also true.  I know that people mean well, and I’m certain that I’ve said the same kinds of things in the past before I knew the pain of loss.  I’m trying to extend the grace that was so kindly shown to me when this kind of hurt was still unfathomable.  I smile, and say “you’re right” or “thank you,” and yet…I’m still left pondering.  I’m consumed with a question whose answer I cannot grasp.

Why?

WHY????

But it’s not the “why” that’s expected–the one shouted with clenched fists at the heavens, as if the Almighty Creator somehow owes me an explanation.  It’s not even the pleading “why”–the one asked with the hope that a reason from God will somehow make the pain more bearable.  As strange as it may seem, I’m satisfied with those particular whys.  My peace there lies in my unshakable belief in God’s sovereignty, and beyond that, His goodness.  He has promised us in His Word that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28, emphasis mine). And I believe that promise in the depths of my soul.  God has proven it to be true throughout scripture and through the events in my own life.  GOD IS FAITHFUL.  And so I rest in the truth that I don’t need to know why as long as I’m trusting that God knows why.  And my faith says that is enough.

Yet…a pervasive “Why” remains.

WHY, after sincere, heartfelt condolences are offered, followed by answering the question “how far along were you?” is there the thud of an uncertain “OH.”  As if the expressions of sympathy were mistaken, or somehow unwarranted?  I understand that the medical community calls situations like mine a “chemical” pregnancy, implying that it somehow wasn’t a “real” pregnancy at all.  And that lie has been believed over 50 million times since 1973 when Roe vs Wade made abortion legal.  But it’s not typically abortion advocates who are saying these things to me; that would make sense.  It’s people who believe whole-heartedly that life begins at conception.  It’s people who vote strictly based on social values.  It’s people who are staunchly pro-life.  It’s CHRISTIANS–people who believe that God is the Author of life and death and creates man in His own image.  The same people who post pictures of babies at 12 weeks gestation with Bible verses on Facebook are the same ones who imply that we lost a pregnancy and not a child.  Disappointing? Of course! But an event that warrants heartsick grief and mourning over the loss of a family member–a sibling to our boys, who may have had my eyes or my husband’s wit? A living, breathing child who we will never cuddle or hold or sing to sleep? Well, that’s a little, eh, extreme, don’t you think?

And before last week, I thought the exact. same. thing. I was guilty of allowing our society’s culture of death to seep into the crevices of my mind and cloud my understanding of the beauty and preciousness of life as it is from conception–even as I paid lip service (and even whole-heartedly believed) the anti-abortion talking points.  I rejoiced in the news of a baby saved from murder outside of an abortion clinic, but I did not mourn and grieve the loss of a precious baby of the same gestation who died in my friend’s bathroom.  “How far along was she?  Only nine weeks?.  OH.”  I wasn’t even aware of my own hypocrisy.

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”  Colossians 2:8

God is so very merciful to me.  And, as I said before, I cannot begin to know the mind of God in this situation, nor would I want to.  But I can use the death of our child as an occasion to give Him glory and to (hopefully) grow to be more like His Son, my Savior.  He has allowed me to see this tragedy as a GIFT.  He has used it to reveal sin in my life and an attitude in the church as a whole.  And for that I am profoundly grateful.

At this point I’m still left asking “why?”  Why is there such dichotomy in the church and in the minds and hearts of the saints?  Why are we, as a whole, not truly advocating a culture of life within the church?  And what can we do about it?  I’ve pondered these questions before the Lord all week…and this post is one way I’m attempting to answer them.  We aren’t talking about this; I think that we should.

We have a tradition in our family.  When our two sons were born, we chose meaningful names for both of them, as well as a Bible verse and a hymn that we pray will come to characterize their lives.  This week we gave our sweet baby in heaven a name, since he/she was our precious child.  And we chose a hymn and a verse that already characterizes our child’s life–brief on earth, but (we have a great hope) is eternal in heaven with Jesus Christ.  Each and every day, God uses my children to teach me and mold me into His likeness, and I’m so thankful that this precious third child is no exception.  And He has been so faithful to walk through this with us.  He has flooded us with a peace and an assurance of His goodness, even in the midst our pain. And once again, His Word is true.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7

And, yes, that peace…that’s another one of those things.

 

 

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God of Our Fathers

Southeastern Missouri.  That’s where we took our boys, all packed up, and drove last weekend to bury my husband’s grandfather.  He was the last of our grandparents still living…the first “Harry” of three.

Years ago he made his living as a farmer, tilling soil that had been in his family for generations.  Local school children knew him as the “Indian Man” for his love of sharing history and the Native American artifacts found in the dirt he worked…the dirt where my boys’ grandfather became a man and my husband played as a boy.  He was a creator of puzzles and (I suspect) the originator of those “engineering” genes that are so dominant in my husband and my firstborn.  I’m not yet sure if my youngest got his genes, but he did get his name…changed slightly and put in the middle, but it was still given to honor him.  His joy was contagious; he always had a laughing face and smiling eyes–or (rather) eye.  He lost one as a young man in an accident.  Personally I could never tell which one was real.  Everything about the man seemed alive to me.

As we gathered at the church with family and friends, memories of Grandpa Harry were shared and condolences were offered.  The pastor spoke of his long life and the legacy that he left, and tears were shed.  We looked through photographs and played with puzzles and had a hard time believing that the man who began by counting down the days to his 80th birthday had died three days before he turned 92.

The next day, as the boys dug in the wet, black dirt of the farm, full of decaying corn and sweat and memories, I grieved that they would never remember their great-grandfather, the farmer.  As we walked the field, passed down from my husband’s great-grandfather to his son, I lamented the fact that his sons–my children–would never know this land.  Growing up three generations and half a country away, the family “homeland” could never be their home.  I looked past the shed and the grain elevator, up into the grey sky and wondered what Grandpa Harry thought as he sat under this sky…at night under the stars, unencumbered by city lights–vast and glorious and seemingly infinite? With nothing for miles around, how many stars could he see?  Maybe as many as another Patriarch saw, thousands of years ago?

“[God] took [Abram] outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars, if indeed you can count them.’ Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.” Genesis 15:5

As I kicked an old corn cob on the ground, I remembered the story.  Although Abraham and his descendents were given a Land, God’s promise to him was much bigger than that.  God intended for Abraham to leave a much greater inheritance than a physical place.  He was to be the spiritual father of a number too great to count.  His legacy was not land, but faith. And one of the stars that Abraham saw that night, one of his spiritual descendents, was Grandpa Harry.

I smiled at the boys pulling at the tall grass and wildflowers and watched my youngest fist dirt with his chubby hands.  I recalled how we had given him his great-grandfather’s name because of his profound influence on my husband’s spiritual life.  Like Abraham, Grandpa Harry’s legacy was faith.  His life was lived, not for the farm, but for the Creator of the farm.  More than the “Indian Man” or the “Puzzle Man,” he was known to all who knew and loved him as a follower of Jesus Christ.  He overflowed with an infectious joy because he was full of the joy of the Lord–a Lord he lived for and encouraged my husband to follow.  I watched as my husband held the hand of our eldest and walked out of the old grey shed, and I caught my breath with a realization.

My husband–he was a living, breathing inheritance.

I bent down for the last time and ran my fingers through the dirt.  What Grandpa Harry had left my children was infinitely more valuable than any acreage could ever be.  He lived a life devoted to a Savior and preached a Gospel that changed the life of my husband…and now my husband was pouring that same truth into the hearts of our children…a spiritual legacy.

“And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” Hebrews 11:12

As we drove away, I thanked God for Grandpa Harry and I prayed that, because of his faithfulness–and my husband’s–that my children would be faithful followers of Jesus Christ too…and their grandchildren after that.  And I added (daringly), that through the lives of my husband and children, Grandpa Harry’s spiritual descendents would be so numerous that, like Abraham’s,  they could not easily be counted.

That, indeed, would be the old farmer’s greatest harvest.

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I joined the blogging bandwagon–here’s why!

I don’t even remember the man’s name.  I know it was a Sunday night.  We were at church for an evening program with a Christian comedian–nothing extraordinary.  When we walked through the doors that evening,  I had expected to laugh.  What I did not expect, however, was to be hit to heart with an idea that would become the mission of the rest of my life.

In between the jokes about choir bus tours and fellowship meals, the comedian became suddenly serious.  He began to tell a tale of his family history…immigrant great-grandparents who had to make their way in this vast, new land by the sweat of their brow.  And, considering that they settled in Texas, they sweat A LOT.  He spoke about the bush trees in West Texas, how they don’t provide much relief from the sweltering Texas sun.  One day, when his great-grandfather was still a very young man, a neighboring farmer saw him out in front of the family home, meticulously burying dozens of acorns.  The farmer approached the grandfather, laughing, and asked, “what in the WORLD are you doing?”  “I’m planting shade trees,” the grandfather quietly replied as he continued dropping seeds into the warm soil.  “Shade trees?” the farmer exclaimed, “Don’t you know it will take YEARS before these things are big enough to provide any shade? You’ll be long gone before then!” he stated smugly.  The grandfather continued planting–determined.  “I’m not planting them for me,” he said patiently, “I’m planting them for my grandchildren.”

That’s when my heart skipped a beat, and God took the words of a comedian I don’t even remember and began to reveal to me His plan for the rest of my life: PLANT SHADE TREES.

The comedian revealed that he had heard that particular story about his great-grandfather while sitting under some cool, refreshing trees during a Texas summer–the very trees planted decades before by an ancestor he never knew.  Before that night, I never even had a concept of a multi-generational view of family.  My own immediate family was no longer in tact; my parents divorced when I was nine.  The brokenness from that affected me profoundly.  Because of that, I DID have a deep commitment to my own marriage and future children.  But I never thought beyond that.  The thought of a grandfather worrying about his future grandchildren’s comfort was heartwarming.  But the idea that he expected and planned for his grandchildren to BE THERE–on that same land, enjoying the family home many generations later–was extraordinary to me, a girl who never truly had a “home base.”  There was never a tree–a piece of earth, a porch, a bed–lovingly prepared with me and my wellness in mind.  As I reflected on this, I discovered in God’s word that a multi-generational vision WAS part of God’s plan, however.  He even commanded it:

“Now this is the commandment…that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 1:1-9

And so I began to think of them, so much that I could almost picture their little faces.  Generations of future Showmakers who would one day be here, God willing.  And it all became crystal clear to me:  I have a responsibility to them.

“A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.” Proverbs 14:1

We live in a generation where women are constantly tearing down their own homes, willingly or blindly.  I don’t want to be one of them.  I must sow now–build now–so that my children (and their children and their children…) will come from a family history of joy, truth, wisdom, and love.  I want them to have a heritage of walking with the Lord and living for His Glory, generation after generation.  I want them to reap the truths that my husband and I have so lovingly sown.

And so my hope is that this blog will be a record of how I am attempting to do that.  I pray that one day my boys will read it and know what truths I have sown–and why.  My prayer is that there will be a day when future Showmakers will read this record of how I planted, watered, nurtured, weeded, and pruned little seedlings of God’s Truth–in my life and in the lives of my children–as they are resting under the protection of beautiful, glorious shade trees, living out the dream of my heart and fulfilling God’s promise in Psalm 1:

“Blessed is the one…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

 

 

 

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