Open the Eyes of My Heart

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Open the Eyes of My Heart 


Their feet tangled together, baby blue high tops and pink ankle socks in sequined slip ons. Their heads dipped  to share a secret as the band played a song I knew well. Squinting his eyes shut, the boy in front crooned “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see you.”

I sat beside my niece for “special friend day,” and as we sat in chapel together, I had the rare opportunity of enjoying time free from my two daughters.

In the peaceful moment, I absorbed every detail like dry soil.

But as we asked “open the eyes of my heart, Lord,” I realized that God was in our midst. Because the kingdom of God was with us, five feet above the ground in these seven year olds with feet too big, and grown up teeth, uncertain smiles, and excited, stumbling steps.

Too often I wait for God to show up around the corner, instead of finding him right in front of me.

I look at my niece and her friend. I remember when friendship was made of simple things like secrets, and giggles, and swapping snacks at lunch. How easily we adults complicate it with insecurities, and judgement, and boundaries that we construct around ourselves.

How easily I find reasons to rush through my moments in a harried haze with a list of chores and to-dos, instead of opening my eyes to the kingdom of God that’s right in front of me in baby coos and delighted laughter; the smell of jasmine and strong coffee; in dancing to a good song in the middle of the grocery store and finding rocks on the sidewalk.

When we look at God we realize that he reaches us through simple means that are real, and right in front of our faces. Through the trees He  teaches us his timing through seasons that reveal a cycle of living, and dying, being pruned, and bearing fruit. He teaches us His truth through simple means of bread and wine and water. He made the entire universe and yet He took the time to craft each of us uniquely and intricately from our little toes to each eyelash.

Our world teaches us to strive and scrape and rush and push, to earn and accumulate and achieve. But when we live with our eyes and hearts open to each passing moment, God teaches us a slower pace that relies more on what He will do, and less on what we can accomplish. When we rely on God’s provision, then we can be more like the trees, and the birds, and the flowers, waiting on his nourishment, and trusting in His timing to reveal His creation through us.

I look at my seven year old niece that is often in a hurry to grow up. She can’t wait to have a phone, to wear nail polish and lipgloss, to carry a purse, and become a teenager. So often I remind her to slow down and enjoy jumping rope, and learning cartwheels, to savor every art project, and class party. As she skips ahead, I see all the lessons she still needs to learn before she can take on the responsibilities of a teen. But then, I watch her with her best friend, trying to pick each other up, giggling at inside jokes and funny faces, and I realize, I am just like her, living moment to moment, yet rushing ahead to the next big thing. As I remind her to appreciate the life before her, God whispers a reminder to me, that I have much to learn before I try to plow ahead.

How easily we believe that we still haven’t found God’s kingdom, that we still don’t know the fullness of God’s truth. We squeeze our eyes shut singing “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord.”

But when we open our eyes in the moment, we see life lived in the process of growing. In seven year old kids, growing in to the people that God created them to be, but living in God’s fullness in that very moment. Because God numbered our days, but He parcels them out second by second- so that we can have open eyes and open hearts in each precious moment, and so that we can see His kingdom in our very midst.

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I Need You Mom

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Growing up, I chased after my mom like a bright ball of yarn.  I was the baby of the family. Like a leaf that follows you into the house or the last spoonful of peanut butter clinging to the sides of the empty jar, my family wasn’t expecting me when I showed up one afternoon as an extra pink line.

My teenage sisters would go to the movies and the mall, my big brother would roam the forest with neighborhood friends, and I would stay in my flannel nightgown with my pile of Barbies, following my mom from room to room as she busied herself with house chores. My mom never snuck off to the grocery store without me. I would be waiting at the front door, shoes on the wrong feet, mismatched clothes, a crooked smile and a stubborn resolve. At night if I heard the water pipes whistle, I ran up the stairs, stepping out of my pants, my underwear, disentangling my arms from my inside out shirt, and climbing in beside her in the hot bath, before she could turn me away.

When I look back, I can’t remember what we talked about. I can’t even tell you what she made for dinner most nights or what our bedtime routine looked like. What I remember was she was there. Her reassuring presence, her patience, her reliability. She was mom- the person that gave me comfort, the person that loved me through scraped knees, and bullies, and the awkward uncertainty of being a kid. When life felt like too much for my little kid shoulders to bear, she was there, so I didn’t have to go through it alone.

Sometimes as a mom, life feels like too much. In the midst of uncertainty, I dial my mom’s number and release an incoherent stream of anxiety, and resentment, and excitement, and fear. My emotions bubble over and spill into her lap in a stream of tears, and laughter, and sometimes just tense silence. There’s little of our conversations I can remember. I can only remember a handful of the advice she has given me over the years. But in those moments, what I need most is my mom- and she picks up, she listens, and she never gives up on me.

Often I question what I have to offer my children. The days come and go like the flash of passing traffic on a busy road. At night I feel like I have no more of myself to give. And the weight of motherhood rubs calluses on my small square frame.

But God reminds me that its not about the words I have to say, its not about my talents or my own ability. He calls me to show up, so that His power can be revealed in me. How often I want to run and hide because I feel like I’m not enough! But sometimes the greatest thing we can do is just show up, to just answer the phone, to never give up…and trust. Trust that we won’t be alone.

“I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:3-5 (NIV biblehub.com)

Last night I tucked my 2 year old into bed. We read our book, and prayed, I gave her two round kisses and I turned out the light. Her soft murmurs that usually give way to the silence of sleep, erupted into wales.

“Mama! Mama!”

I cracked open the door, “Yes baby?”

“Cuddle me.”

I climbed in beside her in the toddler size bed. We lay there, two lovebirds, nose to nose, giggling and whispering until she surrendered to the weight of sleep. I kissed her head, and got up to finish my night time chores.

I know she won’t remember all that I say. She won’t remember every cuddle, or band-aid, or glass of water in the middle of the night, but she’ll know I was there.

 

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Marked By Love

marked by love

Recently after I became a mom, my mother gave me a gold necklace with three little letters. M-O-M. I wear it every day, because it is a visible reminder of all that she gave up to shape me into the person I am. Three little letters in the word MOM, but a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hard work, a lot of responsibility give import to that little three letter name. And as my own mom handed me that necklace, it felt like she was passing her promise on to me. A promise she made when she became a mom- to take on the job with all its challenges and sacrifices, all its sacred beauty, with as much courage and grace as she could muster. A promise I try  to keep for my girls every day.

A couple days ago, my sweet baby E fell asleep with her cheek rested against my chest, drool escaping from a suckling mouth, the hair on her head curling from sweat. When she woke up her flushed face was marked with three bold letters M-O-M. I felt terrible. The whole time her cheek pressed against my metal charms, leaving an imprint against her precious skin. I didn’t notice that I was leaving a mark on her.

graffitti

 

Looking at her emblazoned face I remember the Flannery O’Connor story I read in high school. A child loves to visit the monestary to visit the nuns, but each time she leaves, they give her a hug and their crucifixes leave an uncomfortable mark on her face. As O’Connor sums it up, whether we mean to or not, “love always leaves a mark.”

I run my thumb over the rivets in her skin and think about each imprint my touch makes on her tender soul. I think about how often my fingers touch her, to dress her, to wash her, when I rock her to sleep, when I tickle her soft tummy or trace her beautiful face.  My grooved fingerprints marking her even when I don’t realize it.

Today my 2 year old brought home an art project. With her hand, and two small feet in first position, her prints made the “o” and “v” to spell the word “love.” I smiled knowing that she giggled as the teacher tickled her feet with the wet pink paint brush; I knew she clapped her hands when she saw the prints her little feet left on the paper.

With two square magnets I put her picture of LOVE on the refrigerator. My daughter pointed and shouted, “my hands and feet are in love!” Her words resonated truth in my ears.

Our hands and feet are the very center of love. Without them, love would be just a word; but with them, love lived out in walking beside each other, holding hands, and carrying each others burdens, in praying, in preparing food, in washing feet. Love made flesh in infant size hands and feet, in hands that healed, in feet that followed, in hands and feet with nail size wounds.

But whether we mean to or not, our love leaves a mark on the beloved. When I see my daughter smile beneath the glow of my attention, I know that my love makes a difference, but what I don’t realize is how her love for me frames everything I do. Even the ugly things I say, when I don’t have my mom voice on, or my heart is tired and patience is waning, even those things are on display in her pretty square frame. The stuff that she remembers, the stuff that makes an impact isn’t always the stuff I do when I think she’s paying attention.

The reality is, I’m always on the clock. And as her mom, her love for me is cut out from the scraps of every day life, not just church days, or holidays, or days when I put on my mommy badge.

Yes those three little letters matter a whole heck of a lot. Its easy to believe that we can wear it like a light sweater on a hot summer day, bringing it along, and tossing it off when we don’t need it; but the title wraps around us, giving us comfort and warmth, sometimes stifling us.

When I worry over the marks I leave on my daughters. How my every day words, the angry and the loving ones,  will shape them into women, I remember God’s grace. How God could use the ugly nail marks of hate to write the most beautiful story of mercy and love. How God can use even my mistakes to form my daughters into the women that he made them to be.

There is no pride in love, there is no fear in perfect love. And love is something my girls cannot have too much of. God marks me as His child. He loves me as His child. He gives me my hands and feet and eyes and heart to look and love and serve and mark my children with my love, and with His love. I can look past my toddler’s paint smeared hands and bruised knees and cracked tooth and see pure beauty. My daughters look past my stretch marked skin, the wink of wrinkles peeking from the corners of my eyes, that will eventually become like ravines, they see me at my worst, and call me Mom. Because despite the marks that life leaves on us, love heals us. And God gives us each other to love.

Baby E’s eyes widen and sparkle under my attention. Her two toothed grin spreads across her face and she wraps her clumsy hands around my cheeks and leans in for an open mouthed kiss. My cheek is marked with her sweet saliva. My chest feels swollen and full. Under the warmth of her love, I am marked as M-O-M, and that mark makes all the difference.

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lonely mama (?) you need a village

village1

Why do we still say “it takes a village?”

We’re surrounded by advice and well wishes, and pastel and glitter baby cards proclaiming obvious truths like “it’s a boy!” or “a new baby is here!” , and we get piles of sweet blankets with scalloped edges and tiny onesies emblazoned with whitty alliteration and embroidered forget-me-nots, and then the baby comes with a cry and a happy flourish of helping hands and hot meals. Our house buzzes with husbands and in-laws underfoot helping generously and driving us crazy, and then we drive them to the airport, and kiss hubby goodbye, and we look around our house, and its empty.

And our arms are full; our head is spinning; our heart is bursting; and we are so. damn. lonely.

We run errands and see another mom with her hair in a sloppy pony and yoga pants, a sleeping baby cocooned under a brightly printed canopy. We think, look at me. Smile. Say something. Her eyes glance over and leave ours before we can blurt out the words, “I want to be your friend!”

Then we fill with relief that we didn’t say something so desperate and ridiculous as she answers her phone and chats happily to the familiar voice on the other end. Probably her best mommy friend that she does sweet mommy things with. And she never tastes this bright, bitter pill of utter joy, and utter loneliness.

We get into our quiet car and drive home, and wait. Wait for the next feeding. Wait for nap time, and lunchtime, and bath time. We wait for our husband to get home and before we know it, we kiss him goodbye and face another busy, mind numbing day.

babyIn the early days, motherhood can be a confusing blend of big emotions: big joy, big awe, big love, big fear, big loneliness. Yes, big, big love… big, big loneliness.

We meet up with friends that were once our safe place, and they feel like strangers. They want to relate, they do, but they haven’t sacrificed their very life for the cries and whims of a tiny human; its hard to get it.

You spend time with new mom friends and they seem to already have figured out this mommy thing. They laugh and smile carelessly, their hair looks washed and eyelashes mascaraed. They don’t look like they want to dart and hide and shout “I can’t do this anymore!” They have husbands that are always helpful, grandmas that watch their kids in a moments notice, and other mommy besties that they go on shopping sprees with to Janie and Jack (the store we only window shop at) sipping macchiatos that somehow melt off their perfect post baby frame.

We need a village. I need a village. You need a village sweet mama.

Some moms might be better at pretending that they have this mom thing figured out. As kids get older, we might even think we’ve figured things out, but the weight of motherhood reshapes our lives for a greater purpose, and a greater responsibility, and we will never be the same again. We suck in that first breath as the nurse places him in our arms , eyes squeezed shut from the flood of light and noise, hands clutching, lip shivering, mouth suckling, and as he draws his first breaths, we never exhale, not fully, not ever again.

I started a moms’ book club last week. I prayed and fretted because a bunch of unfamiliar women getting together can be awkward, and loud, and uncomfortable; it can be exhilarating and beautiful.

And the greatest thing happened, I never thought possible. These women started a village. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t the book. It was the Holy Spirit and the beautiful majestic thing called motherhood that gave this group of women the ability to exhale (a little) to be real (mostly), because beneath that great hair is a half a can of dry shampoo, under those lulu yoga pants are unshaved legs, and within that brave mama heart is a small voice whispering, “I’m lonely. I need help. I need others.”

It’s not going to be perfect. Nothing in life ever is. But when we admit we can’t do this alone, when we show up, when you make ourselves vulnerable, God can show up, and fill our tired mama souls up. He can give us a village; He can give us a home.

If you need a village and don’t know where to start, contact me,                                                                                      no matter where you live.  I will pray with you and I will help you find one.
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Never Alone

alone

He talked like he was peeling a carrot- stringing a long stream of words, then pausing, finding his place, continuing as the story curled on top of itself in confused coils. His voice twisted and turned through one tragedy after another, leaving me with unanswered questions and an unsettled heart.

Why would his wife leave him? How could she abandon her kids? Why after all of it did he have to lose his house? And then cancer? But the loudest question of them all: Why would God let this happen to this good, faithful man?

As his voice drifted off, I paused and perched on the edge of a barstool at the granite counter top to slow the spinning uncertainty in my head.

After a long silence, I grabbed the first comfortable words I knew, like a threadbare sweater in the shivering cold, “Maybe God is doing this for your good.”

His calm voice tightened like a clenched fist, “MY LIFE was FINE as it was. And everyone else gets to keep on with their happy oblivious lives, so why is God destroying mine?”

We could say his life took a wrong turn. Driving Miss Lucky swerved him down a dark dirt path for an unpleasant detour. Or worse than happenstance, we can point the finger at God. A God that our culture designs to fit in the cracks of our uncertainty. When there’s no other explanation for our misery we add God to the mix and cement our shaky understanding with a Creator that either is doing this for our “greater good” or to punish us for our misdeeds; a power hungry boss boss in the sky, flexing his omnipotent muscles while we scurry beneath the weight of his decisions.

But whoever the miscreant is, no explaining will bring back what has been taken from us.

Lost hope, lost innocence, lost livelihood, lost pride, losing our health, our homes, losing the perfect life we once had, or worse, losing the people we once loved.

Life can be ugly. And our lives can crumble and turn to dust. Beauty can fade to sunken eyes and between wrinkled folds. What is happy and oblivious can turn unfamiliar and lonely. A loving bite of homemade pot pie can turn bitter and divisive over a dinner conversation with your wife one Monday night.

But God never promised us a life without loss.

He promised to redeem what’s lost.

“Why did God destroy mine?” his last words clung to me like a dark fog, blurring my thoughts and spreading doubt.

I prayed silently, then said, “Let God be with you in your mess. Shout, cry, or be silent, but let Him be with you.”

When we wake up in the dark and don’t know where we are, we don’t always want the light of day, we just want someone else to hold onto.

God doesn’t replace the broken pieces of our lives. He sits there with us in the dust and messes. He looks at us in all of our brokenness and loves us exactly as we are. Because we don’t need shiny and new reproductions of ourselves- we need a God who will redeem what we already are.

A mosaic stained glass of our broken pieces: shattered and beautiful and whole again.

We try to fill up our emptiness and cracks with the love of others, the warm oblivion of distraction, and the promises of a way out.

But sometimes we just need to sit in the dark. We need to sit and question. We need to get to the edge of ourselves and look on the other side to where we want to be. Maybe its on the edge of the cliff, looking at our limitations and fears… alone… lost… lonely, that God can finally meet with us.

God can finally show us who we are; He can show us who He is.

And in the dark, when we’re looking for someone … something, to hold onto- He can hold us.

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Let My Words Be Few

words be few

I pout around the house like a pathetically afflicted artist. I have been plagued with writer’s block that I can’t seem to shake.My husband asked doubtfully, “Really Lindsay, how bad can it be?” I didn’t say anything, I just held up a single finger as I brought up my wordpress dashboard on my computer and navigated to the list of drafts. I scrolled through fifteen unfinished drafts, all like lost toys I had abandoned because they were faulty or broken somehow.

We sat together and tried to find the missing parts to each of my unfinished sentences. Nathan sat with a crinkle in his brow as he tried to piece my words together into something worthwhile. In the end, we gave up and went to bed, trading the fragments of thoughts and stories for sleep and thoughtless dreams.

I’ve been collecting inspiration like post cards, snapping photos, writing down quotes on post it notes and scribbling ideas on scraps of paper. I’ve read, a lot, consuming page after page like a child on a growth spurt. I’ve prayed and spent more quiet time with God. I’ve asked other writers where they find ideas; I’ve talked with Nathan into the late hours of the night, about theology, about love, and life as a candle burns dimly in melted wax and the taste of red wine lingers on our lips. Yes, I have been on a long meandering journey for words.

Today my daughter and I met a new friend at Starbucks. Her son is a toddler that explores the world through the simplest and most gratifying means, from banging the table, throwing his cup to hear the plastic plunk on the tile floor, and putting things indiscriminately in his mouth. His noise and chaos really got under my daughter’s skin. I watched as she transformed from mildly frustrated to a hysterical screaming mess. I picked her up, kicking and thrashing, and set her on a bench outside to let her catch her breath.

When she calmed down I asked, “Why were you so upset?”
She responded decisively, “He was just too noisy for me.”

Sometimes my own world is too noisy for me. Sometimes it gets so loud that I can’t distinguish what is truth and what is noise. I need some time on my own bench, when my ears are ringing with words but I can’t find ones that speak truth. And maybe that’s really the problem, figuring out how to find the right words when I’m drowning in so many. Because I could write a thousand words, and it could be as if I’d written nothing if they just come from my head but they don’t resonate in my heart.

I always want to write something incredible. Too often I measure my worth on what I can do, and not on who God is. As hard as it is to be quiet, to catch my breath, God reminds me that I need to listen first. Because life is built as we search for truth and meaning. Life is found in the moments that we read, and pray, and dream, and ponder. And its when we take the time to listen, that we can hear God’s whisper. Because we don’t find truth in our own rattling brains but in Word made flesh, in the God who spoke the world into existence. We find truth when we stop talking, and we are brave enough to listen.

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Facing Down Fear

 

feardisclaimer

dear b

You collect fears like smooth dark stones in a trinket pouch. When I think your collection is completed, you surprise me with another stone that lodges in my throat as you whimper and hide.

You’re afraid I’m going to forget you. You chase me through the house like a small dog, hanging on to the hem of  my shirt, tangling yourself in my arms, begging that I pick you up as we get us ready to leave the house. You wedge yourself through the door as I  crack it open, and dart for the car to scramble in your seat. You’re afraid of the bathtub drain. You scream and collect all of your toys, you push me out of the bathroom for fear you and all that is precious will get sucked down the gurgling mouth. You’re afraid of the dark shapes in the closet at night. You’re afraid of the villains on the TV screen. Sometimes you are afraid of things I can’t even see or understand.

Your fear wears on me like the hole at the knee in my jeans. It’s annoying and irrational. But then, what are my own anxieties, but fear dressed in adult clothes?

And it reminds that I have my own childlike fear, that I manage to keep locked away in my own box of trinkets: I am afraid of the dark. I am afraid of the monsters in the dark.

My mom held me in the dark bathroom. I frantically shoved and cried, desperate to escape as she uttered the words, “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.” I cowered and sobbed as she finished, the third time, “Bloody Mary.” And in the darkness there was nothing, only her solid arms wrapped around me driving away the monsters in my mind.

Sometimes in the dark, our biggest fear isn’t of the monsters. Its of being alone. Its of facing the monsters alone.

She made me face my fear. Because sometimes the fear is the greatest monster. It handicaps us, it steals our joy, and it prevents us from being the whole person that God created us to be. Fear blocks us from giving all of ourselves to others for fear of getting hurt- for fear that pain will overcome us. For fear that the dark will consume our light and that we will be left scared and alone.

I’m still afraid of the dark, but my love for you burns brightly enough to wrap my arms around you, despite darkness.  I pray that my love covers you with a light that scares away monsters and emboldens you to face your fears. Because the dark never goes away; the light just empties it of its power.

When I met you I made a promise, “I will give you my all.”

I will give you all the love my heart can contain.

I will give you all the second chances you ever need.

I will give all that I have to protect you.

I will give you all that I am to shape you into all that God created you to be.

I made a promise to keep you safe, to be your night light, your dragon slayer, your champion; but sometimes I face giants that I don’t know that I can overcome alone.

Sometimes that promise seems impossible to keep. My own fears and limitations cast a shadow on my best intentions. And sometimes the dark threatens to consume the best parts of me. Then there are days when I feel like a failure. Like all of me isn’t enough to give you.

And being a Mom…is the scariest job…ever.

But even in the darkest loneliest places I am never alone. When the giants loom large and the monsters get loose from their cages, I have a light that overcomes the inky blackness. I have the source of all power and light.

I can’t keep my promise to always give you my all, because I am broken, and sometimes I come up short. But I can give you all of HIM. I can read you bedtime stories about a God that conquers giants and shuts the mouths of lions; I can tell you about a man who walked on water; a man that gave ALL of Himself, to conquer darkness once and for all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You Don’t Always Need to Know: GOD KNOWS

God knows

Whenever I feel anxious, I pick up my baby Elyse. I rest her head on my shoulder and I brush my face back and forth across her soft furry head. I breathe in her new baby smell of sweet milk and I kiss her smooth, warm cheek. Sometimes if I’m really upset, I’ll have her nurse. Her body against mine with its soft rhythmic breathing takes my thoughts out of the dark rabbit holes, and brings me back to living proof of God’s goodness.

God’s goodness through fears of suffering from another crippling depression during my pregnancy.

God’s goodness as we tried and tried, month after month, waiting for two candy pink lines.

God’s goodness when I was able to experience the joy and anticipation of sweet Elyse without the paralyzing sadness of my first pregnancy.

God’s goodness when my baby entered the world healthy, and whole, and beautiful.

When we enter a valley, Satan wants to trick us into believing that God isn’t with us. He deceives us with lies that we’re not enough; that God is punishing us; that what we do doesn’t matter.

But what if God brought us into this dark valley so that we could be drawn to his light?

A sweet friend sent me a beautiful message this week:

“These words of yours, have helped mold who I am as a mother. Your reflective, critical self, I find truly inspiring. Thank you for taking time to write your heart out on that keyboard. Like I said, you don’t know who you actually touch, and you don’t always need to know. I got some great advice recently; GOD KNOWS.”

These words of hers, they mean more than she knows. But God knows.

God knows who we are and what we’re going through. He knows our “innermost being.” He “knitted us together in our mother’s womb,” He “perceives our every thought.”

The days can feel monotonous, and tedious. Day after day we try to cultivate and plant seeds in our lives through our words, choices, and actions. But sometimes we look around us and the landscape looks barren.

We start to question God’s faithfulness. We start to question our own faithfulness to God.

But in those moments He whispers to us, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-11

That very God plants His light within us. He uses our dark places to create something beautiful. He “weaves us together in the depths of the Earth” and uses us to create beautiful things.

I didn’t do anything to deserve this beautiful baby girl that lays wrapped around my stomach right now. I couldn’t have earned her with the right words, or kind deeds, a vegan diet or by running a marathon. I couldn’t have bought her with wealth or power or the approval of others. Yet here she is. God’s precious gift, reminding me that God is the miracle worker.

And since its Christmas, it of course reminds me of another baby. God made flesh, to dwell among us. His mother embraced His small helpless body. That same body we would nail to a cross. People questioned the Father’s plan for Jesus’ life; they questioned if Jesus was the real thing or a fraud. But God knew the plan, and Jesus trusted.

In the same way, He calls us wait on Him to reveal the plan for our lives. Because “we don’t always need to know; GOD KNOWS” and thats enough.

 

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It’s (not) The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

 

bree

An advent calendar sits in the pantry amidst candy, and birthday candles, and the things we reserve for special occasions. The occasion, advent, is here and yet it sits untouched, the first four doors remain stitched shut in their cardboard frame. I haven’t felt like celebrating advent, if I’m honest, this year I’ve been dreading Christmas.

I know, it’s terrible, especially coming from a pastor’s wife– but if I’m honest, as much as I look forward to December, Christmas time also stirs up anxious thoughts and sadness. I wish I felt the warm happy feelings sung about in the songs that spill from my car radio, that their merry notes would fill the parts of me that feel empty.

I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life. But when you put it in those large, square terms it feels like an empty box, void of the painful reality that is contained within them. There are good days; days that I think I’ve finally fled the darkness, but then, there are the days that the darkness tries to cover me and to cloak all the bright and beautiful things in my life.

And while I battle my own sadness we also have a world that tries to manufacture happiness with the counterfeit versions of a Christmas reality that are impossible to live up to, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” and  “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” to name a few.

And then we’re forced to grapple with recent tragedies that seem even more tragic at Christmas time. In the midst of our “Winter Wonderland” people are shot down in the light of day by hate and evil, leaving behind the pieces of broken families and broken hearts.

And what about our own tragedies that many of us relive at Christmas time:  the seats at the table that now sit empty or the Christmas tree that has no presents beneath it.

For many, Christmas can be a sad and lonely season. A season when darkness threatens to cloak the bright and beautiful things that Christmas has to offer.

But in those dark moments we need only to remember one dark and lonely night when a woman had no choice but to give birth to her son in an animal stall. In that dark and humble moment, she gave birth to a small and innocent baby. One light shone above Him to light the way for the lost. A humble baby boy took on the word’s darkness to dwell among us and to conquer darkness once and for all.

 

On the days that I am stumbling in darkness, I pray that God would light a match to guide my next steps.

Each step is an act of obedience. But as I remain in step the light grows brighter.

Today in obedience, I took out the calendar. I asked my daughter to find the number 1 and pried it open impatiently. Her face lit up under the warmth of my attention as her eyes fixed on the chocolate train tucked beneath the door. I nodded and she popped it in her mouth. Together we searched for number 2 and she laughed as I ripped open the stubborn door. She hungrily ate the small mold of chocolate and we continued until all four doors were opened. Her chocolatey smile illuminated my next steps, as I walked over and plugged in our small plastic Christmas tree, complete with an illuminated star.

As I examined the star that I carefully planted in place only days before, I questioned how I find joy amidst the anxiousness and sadness that I struggle with this time of year.. Then, I realize, that maybe in order to appreciate the miracle of Christmas, we don’t need to walk through a winter wonderland or cozy up to a fire with elaborate decorations and Bing Cosby. Maybe we first need to visit the dark and humble places, like a feeding trough, where God first dwelled among us. And in that place, we can find His light to guide our steps.

I look at her sweet face and examine every delicate contour as she gazes delightedly at the cardboard calendar beneath the twinkling lights of the tree. I whisper “thank you God; thank you for using me to perform a miracle.” As I look at my baby girl I’m filled with hope, and light, and maybe a bit of the Christmas cheer that the songs are talking about.

Because God sent his own son, to dwell among us, so that we can be called “children of God.”

 

 

 

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Mistaken Identity

By Guest Writer Sarah Bourne

As human beings, we spend so much time in our own heads. Our thought lives are full to the brim with repetitive notions- worries, preoccupations, regrets, wishes, hopes, criticisms, and more. How we view ourselves is a big part of that. Our identities are constantly being defined as we ask again and again: Am I enough? Are we defined by the outcomes in our work? Do we judge ourselves based on how well we parent?  Do we look at what we own and measure our worth there? Do we look in the mirror and look to our appearance for the answer? (I know that one never fails to get me!) Do we dress in trend or behind the times? And the self-doubt goes on- it’s quite consuming isn’t it?
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Take these socks from the “Bourne family bucket of socks without matches”, for example. You’ll notice that one sock is kind of “special”- it has a hand-drawn design on it, courtesy of my son and a permanent marker. And if you can imagine an eight-year old creating it, you might recognize it to be one of the most famous sports brands symbols known….yep, “Just do it” is right, That’s what he was going for….But what broke my mama heart was when I discovered why my son was doing it.

As I found him one morning before school, my little man wanted so badly to identify with other children wearing brand names, that he was willing to draw that label on, just so that he could feel more like he belonged in an effort to identify with the other kids. It was so sad to realize how badly he wanted to “look the part” even at such a young age. It was the perfect example of mistaken identity.
As Believers, we have already trusted the Lord with the biggest thing there is: the saving work that only He could do. He offers us a complete rescue from our sin-soaked hearts, so that we can one day have eternal life. Yet, when it comes to defining who we are, day to day, we usually claim that job for ourselves. We use standards to measure who we are from everywhere BUT Him.

Have you ever thought about what your life would look like if you were not already identified as a child of God? Think about it. It’s not a pretty picture: isolated, without a holy identity, lost, helpless, powerless to the enemy, unknown and a stranger to God. Think about being without a place to belong, with only your own self to focus on, seeking ways to be identified and belong to something, anything. I can’t imagine it. I have a hard enough time remembering my true identity, even with knowing Jesus as my Savior.

It becomes obvious why so many exhaust themselves and struggle with trying to figure out “who they are”- they really don’t know! It’s such an insecure reality.

So here I am, a child of the One True King, and every day, I wrestle with answering the question of “who I am” even though I already know.
Then I think about catching my son in that desperate act- it was heartbreaking on one hand, but an incredible wake-up call as a parent. Oh, how I need to remind my children every day of Who they belong to and how dearly they are loved—that their identity is not based on anything anyone else decides. And the same goes for us grown-ups- when we forget that our identity is not based on our work or performance, how spruced up our wardrobe or how beautiful our home is- we need to allow the Lord time, to come to us though His Word, and give us that sweet reminder. We are His beloved, His people- Children made righteous by the Almighty and Merciful Creator of the Universe, Rescuer of the World- no additional markings necessary! We are clothed in righteousness… more than conquerors…we are His.

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Sarah Bourne is a momma to three kooky, wonderful kiddos, and a wife to loyal and loving Don.
She’s a lover of words— singing ‘em, writing ‘em, painting ‘em on wood, or reading God’s.
She’s a hope-er and a dreamer and she prays that through her flubs and flaws she might somehow point others to Jesus every day of her life.
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