Monday, September 9, 2013

Perfect Weakness

My boy was a Blues Clues boy, through and through.  Loved it.  Watched it everyday.  He didn’t much care for Sesame Street or Barney (Phew!), but ‘Clues Clues’ was IT.  If he found a piece of paper on the floor, he would declare “Blue skadoo, me can too!” and jump onto it.  

I hear the sound of it as clear as day, sweet bare feet on hardwood floors and crumpling paper.  That littlest voice, so innocent and believing.  The innerworks of my mother’s heart tick these echos.

The good old days.  Sigh.

So, if you’ve ever watched an episode or two of Blues Clues, then you know about Steve-time.  

Ask a question.  

A very slow question.  

Then pause for an answer.  And wait.  And wait.

And wait... 

We adults don’t tend to like the wait.  Waiting is doing nothing; we have to do something.  We ask again.  Or we ask another question.  Or we just fill in the blanks ourselves and give our own answer.  Expound and add to.  Pile on.  But not pause.  No, we’re not good with the pause.

When we’re doing something, we feel like we’re in control.  We feel strong.  Pausing is doing nothing.  And doing nothing feels weak.

But our Father says be still and know that I am God. 

Be still.  Pause.  In Hebrew, the verb ‘be still’ comes from the word rapha which can be translated as ‘let yourselves become weak’.   

When we let ourselves become weak, when we pause to cede control, we allow His power to be made perfect.  Perfect in our weakness.

And then we know God.  We don’t assume God or guess God.  We don’t take Him for granted or dismiss Him.  We know Him because we allow him to be seen.  Less of us.  More of Him.  God shines through our weakness.  Shines perfect.

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!  Psalm 46:10

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Grace-Smeared Face

I had a lovely lunch date with the boy Friday.  A monkey-bar jumping off incident led us to the doctor’s office for a sprained foot.  

“I don’t think that was a wise decision,” said the boy.  

And thus we were gifted a short school day and three hours of stolen moments between doctor’s appointments.  Just us.  

Stolen moments are the best because they come without expectation.  Really, though, they are not stolen, but graced, as all good gifts come from our Heavenly Father.  A true gift by nature is always unexpected.  You can’t ask for it.  Then it wouldn’t be a gift.  You can’t dictate it or control it.  It has to be given freely.  All you can do is accept it.  And love it back.

Linger in it and be contented.

I watched the boy gobble up the good gifts that God had given us this day on the patio of Zoe’s Kitchen.  Steak kabobs skewered with sweet peppers.  A warm breeze sliced by a sunbeam.  The quiet companionship of kindred hearts.  No need to talk.  I just watched him enjoy these small gifts with unselfconscious abandon.  It satisfied my soul.

He looked up at me sticky sweet with greek marinade.  He paused and smiled a little.

“There’s the look,” he said with soft surprise.

“What look?”

“The look on your face,” he said.  “The one that makes me feel like this world is an awesome place to be.”

That boy melts my heart every time.

I wonder what would happen if we consumed God’s gifts to us with such gratitude and trust.  What if we ate up Holy Spirit fruit until the juice ran down our arms?  If we accepted salvation-our own and each other’s-accepted it at face value and just loved it back?

What if we wholly lingered in God’s warm grace and were simply contented?

Shame, though, will glut our bellies and leave us nibbling at the smallest crumbs of grace.  How can we ever expect to be content if we can’t consume the grace right there on our plates? 

We were never meant for crumbs.  Jesus invited us to linger at the banquet. Linger in His presence and savor Him until our hearts are full, not act as if He begrudges to look the other way while we raid the dumpster out back.

Shame marinates in the idea that grace can be somehow deserved.  And it can't.  Ever.  That’s not a statement about the depth of our wretchedness.  It’s a declaration of the depth of God’s love for us, the immeasurable depth of a love that freely sacrifices not itself, but it’s own son.  It’s own son.

Do you see?  It will never, ever matter the depth of our failures because God’s grace is sufficient for even the greatest depths of our sinThe greatest debts of our sin.

There is no condemnation in Christ.  He gave us the full gift of Himself and He wants us to love it back.  Love it all the way.

You, sweet friend, are free to feast at Christ’s banquet until your belly is warm and full.  Dig in.  With both hands.  And when grace smears your face, when it runs over your cupped hands and spills down your shirt, stop right then, right then and see Christ’s face.  It will let you know that His kingdom is an awesome place to be.

The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.  -Mark 10:13-16, The Message

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Still Small Voice

I heard God’s voice today.

I haven’t heard it in a long, long time.

Technically sound travels better in the desert- something to do with the dry air and lack of obstructions that absorb sound.  

Not so in the spiritual desert.  In the spiritual desert, there just is no sound.  None, at least, but the sound of our own sufferings and dried up prayers.  And the shuffle of one dusty footstep dragged after another...

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.  Romans 8:26, The Message

Last week I begged, not prayed, but begged God, through tears and desperation, to let me hear Him.  Please speak to me.  Speak to me in a way that is so clear I cannot possibly miss Your voice.

All I got was listen harder.

Not the message I wanted.  But He is God and I am Beverly.  He does not cater to my weakness, but endeavors to lift me out of it.  If I will let Him.  

Listen harder.

For over a year now, I have been in a season of refinement, one of taking away and paring down, of accepting and forgiving.  It’s been a season of truths revealed, hard truths, some drawn painfully from deep, deep places.  And all of it sandwiched between two diagnoses that changed everything.  At each turn I think, “Surely this is the last.”  But it is not.  

This morning I went to sit down with a cup of coffee and spend some time with my husband before church.  But as I was folding my legs under me to settle in my chair, I somehow dislocated my right knee.  There it was, in a moment, my walk was broken.

So now, we add to this season crutches and an orthopedist.  We just did this 3 years ago with my left knee- two surgeries and months of rehab.  It was hard.  I don’t want to do it again.  

All the way to the ER I cried, but not from pain or dread.  I cried because I surely must be the most stubborn child of God.  

How broken do I need to be before I will listen?

In the waiting room of the ER, I saw a couple huddled together.  She was in a wheel chair, bundled in blankets with an oxygen tank.  He leaned close and held her hand.  She was fear and precious frailty.  He was strength and utter compassion.  

She could not talk, but cried pitifully and wailed in her small voice.  Her words were unintelligible, but he looked in her eyes and nodded.  He understood.

Wordless sighs, aching groans.  Is this how we sound to Jesus?

And as soon as I asked the question, God whispered to me, “Yes. Go and pray with her.”

And so I did, one broken footstep dragged after another across the waiting room to lay my tainted hand on God’s beloved and speak her suffering.

His voice did not bluster or the shake the earth.  It did not blaze and smoke.  It simply compelled.  In peace and rightness, it compelled.  And I knew it to be truth.

I then understood that I miss His voice because I listen for it in this life, and He simply wants me to hear it in this moment.  In each moment.  Every moment.  One at a time.

Listen harder.  I am always speaking.

Yes Abba, I hear You.

My sheep respond as they hear My voice; I know them intimately, and they follow Me.  John 10:27, The Voice

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Mustard Seed and the Rain

Today is a good day.

My husband, who usually works from home, left early for a long day of business travel, leaving me and the boy alone for the day.  The boy crawled in bed with me at 5:00 am, and we have done absolutely nothing since.

We slept till 10:00.  We ate Cheerios for breakfast and lunch.  At 5:30, we're still in our pj's, side by side with our laptops on my husband's desk.  Doing nothing.  

We haven't even opened the blinds.

"Today is so relaxing that it's like a rainy day," says the boy.

"Yes it is, son."  Healing rain.

It's a stark contrast to yesterday.  Yesterday, I came home from church and went straight to bed until this morning.  I was sad.

"Your depression is getting worse.  What we're doing isn't working.  We need to do something else."

I know.

"It's hard for me and the boy too."

I know.

"I miss my family.  I want my wife back."

I know.  I know.

Crying is better than laughing.  It blotches the face, but scours the heart.  
Ecclesiastes 7:3

Consider my heart scoured.  Steel wool raw and tender new.  Depression has always been a fact of life for me, but this year has been hard.  Very hard.

"I won't be the same person when this is done," I tell my husband.  "Nothing is the same as it was."

I can't walk out of this wilderness unchanged.  But I can walk through it with the hope that the change will be good.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches."  Matthew 13:31-32

The mustard seed is not scared of change.  It just rests in the soil right where it falls.  Rests.  It does not struggle, but simply soaks in the rain.  Healing rain.  In time, when the seed is filled with the living water, it's hardened shell will yield.  

This is my story.  Do you recognize it?  Maybe it's yours too.  

A mustard seed, that's all.  We can do that.  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Alabaster Jar

When I read stories in the Bible, I try to put myself in that character’s place, to try to really understand what they are thinking and feeling.  Honestly, I have to do that because there are just so many details left out.  What exactly did they say?  And how did they say it?  And what were they wearing when they said it? This lack of pertinent details drives me crazy.

In Biblical times, perfumed oil was a big deal.  Sometimes women would wear these small bottles of oil around their necks, right there next to their hearts.  And they were quite expensive, worth even a year’s wages.  Twice in the new testament, women washed Jesus’ feet with their perfumed oil and then dried them with their hair.  Really? To just pour a year’s wages out on someone’s feet?  Now that’s crazy!  

And don’t even get me started on Bible feet.  These people had no socks, no proper shoes, no $30 pedicure at Nail Star over by the Walmart.  Bible feet are scary feet.  I’m just sayin’...

In Luke 7: 36-50, a ‘sinful’ woman, probably a prostitute, followed Jesus into the home of a wealthy Pharisee and anointed his feet while he ate.  She cried openly, letting her tears wash the road dust from his feet and then dried them with her hair.  Then she poured her expensive, precious perfume on them.  That very jar of oil she kept right by her heart.  

In John 12: 1-8, Lazarus‘ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume while he dined in her home just a week before his crucifixion.  She prepared him for his burial before it was time, despite admonitions of extravagance and waste.  “You will always have the poor, but you will not always have me,” Jesus said.  Maybe Mary knew that somehow her gift would be magnified if poured out at Jesus’ feet.  Maybe she knew that without him, we are the poor.  

These stories are fascinating to me.  How much these women must have loved their savior to bow at his feet and serve him with such humility!  How willing they were to sacrifice all that they had, even expensive perfume worth a year’s wages, to give honor to the son of God.

I think if I had an alabaster jar of perfume worth a year’s wages, I would do the exact same thing.  Break it open and pour it right out on Jesus’ feet, right then, right there.  Simply for his glory and because he has done so much for me.  I would do it.  I would.

Of course that’s easy to say since I don’t actually have one of those.

And if I did, what would it really be worth to me?  Most days, I’m just happy to have time for a shower.  Forget about perfume!  It makes me sneeze anyway.  I guess I could put my fancy jar on a shelf, but I’m not really a chotzky kind of girl - too much to dust.  I could sell it and use the money, but where in the world do you sell something like that?  That’d take a lot of effort and research- might not be worth it.

Nope.  I’d pour it out for sure.  Just like Mary and that sinful woman.  After all Jesus did say give all you have, sell all you have, and leave all you have and follow him.  I could pour out my treasure.  And then my sacrifice would be just as big as the sacrifice made by these two women whom Jesus himself praised.  



Because the truth is that I do have one.  And it’s full of things that I like to keep right there next to my heart.  Some are good and pure, and some are...not.  I keep my family in there, my husband and my son.  I keep my home in there and my friends.  I even keep my church and all the ministry that we do there tucked inside my jar.

But deep, deep in the bottom, I keep the secret things that I hold on to the tightest - my sense of worth in the world, my reputation among my peers, other people’s perceptions of me.  Respect.  Admiration.  Prestige.  What’s all that worth to me?  More than a year’s wages, to be sure.  And yet worth absolutely nothing unless I’m willing to pour it out at the foot of the cross.

Unless I’m willing to give Jesus everything I’ve got. 


So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.   Luke 14:33 

We all have an alabaster jar tucked next to our hearts.  Let’s break them open.  Pour out the contents at Jesus’ feet.  Let our gifts be scented with Jesus and released.  Let His grace  cover the fetor of our sin.  Let our homes and our lives carry the fragrance of our Savior and pray that it will linger long after we depart, drawing others into the sweetness of His presence.

Monday, July 1, 2013

You Will Be Loved...

So I’ve been participating in this little Twitter project called Armchair Theology for a few months.  We read a chapter of the Bible each day and tweet about it, and there are 5 or 6 of us who tweet regularly.  We are just about to finish Deuteronomy.
I don’t know that I would have had the patience to read straight through Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy without this group, but the promise of a retweet is a strong motivator for me.  Pavlov’s bird, I guess. 
but they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating 
on it day and night.  Psalm 1:2
Um, that’s not me.  As far as I’m concerned, there is no tedious like Old Testament Law tedious.  It’s right there next to listening to my husband talk about binary tedious.  Endless sequels of The Land Before Time tedious.  Going to Walmart with my mother tedious.
And to be honest, it’s tedious because I don’t get it.  It doesn’t mesh with my New Testament, God-is-love spiritual milk perspective.  If God is love, then why are there so many rules?  And such harsh consequences?
So many reasons for Him to not love me.  I will never measure up.
My husband came home from Bible study last week completely perplexed at a statement someone made.  They were discussing the mechanics of sin nature and perfect grace, and one man became totally offended at the conversation.
“You make it sound like we don’t even deserve to be saved.”
“Well of course we don’t deserve to be saved.  That’s the whole point of grace,”  was my husband’s nice logical answer.
There is no logic in wanting to be loved and the whole conversation made me cry.  I hear what that man is saying.  My heart wonders that same thing.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I just want to know that it’s ok for me to take up space in the world.  I need to be sure that God wants me.
My husband grew up remarkably undamaged.  He accepted that he was loved at face value and moved on from there.  I had a different experience.  Love for me was always out of reach.  Never exactly withheld, but never freely available.  Love at my house was tired a lot, and irritable.  It worked all day and fell asleep early.  It was distracted and needy and overworked.  It tried, but it just didn’t have enough.
It had to choose and I could not be first choice.  Must’ve been something I did.
 And this is how things will end up: Just as God once enjoyed you, took pleasure in making life good for you, giving you many children, so God will enjoy getting rid of you, clearing you off the Earth. He’ll weed you out of the very soil that you are entering in to possess.  Deut 28:63
Wow.  What kind of love is that?  Love that can be taken away because I fail to keep some vague and nearly impossible rule of conduct?  Nice.  
But I’m pretty sure that’s the love God has for me.  And He enjoys it, too.  That’s what really gets me.  I must be bad.
If I could be charming enough, easy enough, pleasing enough, then I could be loved.  But if I’m too much trouble, well, then it’s the crabgrass treatment for me, rip up my shallow roots and leave me to wither in the sun.
In the world, love is too often saved for the worthy.  And worthy turns on a dime.  
Or a fair weather friend.  
Or a fickle spouse.  
Or a tired parent.
“You make it sound like we don’t even deserve to be saved....” Well, we save what is dear to us, so really the question is “Could I deserve to be loved?” Because I really, really want to be. 
Can God love me if I am wretched and He is vengeful?  Is He love or is He wrath? 

He is both. 
His nature is holy and perfect.  He cannot mingle with sin, not even a little bit.  He cannot be duplicitous, not even for love’s sake.  God is perfectly just and justice must be served.  
For the wages of sin is death... Romans 6:23a  
Where there is sin, there must be death.  God set the law in motion and, as He holds the whole world in His hands, it must be so.
But He is also love.  Perfect love.  
...but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23b
He loved us, you, me, all of us, enough to pour his wrath on someone else.  He poured it on His only son.  So much wrath that He had to look away.  Don’t miss the beauty of it.  It is the wrath that gives measure to the love. 
God is perfectly just, rewarding the good and punishing the bad, always consistent and never changing the rules.  He will not mock us or set us up to fail.  Christ is for real.
And He is perfectly loving, without reason and without limit, no matter where we go or what we do.  He is never fickle or tired.  And He will not quit us in hard times.  Christ is for you.
...Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.  
Romans 12:3
Thank you Father that it is not about me, but only about You.  I am nothing and yet You love me.
Stop wondering what you deserve.  Don’t even think about your worthiness.  Don’t you see that none of that matters?  You are defined by who God is and what God did for you and He, my friend, has already saved you.
Accept that you are loved and move on to the promised land.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I ran away one day a few months ago.  I dropped the boy off at school and then drove around aimlessly for a few hours, turning at any old crossroads, not caring where I went, just not wanting to be where I was.  

I’d been in the desert all year.  The dry bones desert.  But on this day, I ended up in front of a little white clapboard oasis, the Dogwood Baptist Church.  Surely there was water there, for the sign out front said through Christ we already have victory for every challenge that we face.

Every challenge.  Every.  Challenge.

I wonder a lot what victory in Jesus looks like in the day to day stuff of life.  Because, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t always see it.  I guess it’s my attitude, but it seems like I spend more time than not feeling frustrated and hurt.  

I sat in a Bible study once, several years ago, and listened to a woman explain how she always prays for a good parking space when she goes shopping.  And she always gets one.  Really?  A parking space is your victory story?  Mine’s a little deeper than that.

I resent pollyanna Christianity.  You can't polish up victory like it's a lucky penny.  Jesus is not that cheap.  Not my Jesus.

My Jesus is real.  My Jesus has tangled hair and dusty feet and the rough hewn hands of a carpenter.  He is sweat and heat.  Salt and light.  Muscle and sinew.  

He walks beside me every tired step of this desert journey. 




He KNOWS.  He suffered it all and yet comes back to walk the parched sand with me.  He carries the cross again and again, up the long road to the place of the skull.  Carries it for me.  And for you.

I am poured out like water, 
(indeed the spirit of God lives in me)
and all my bones are out of joint;
(governed by the Spirit, I yield to you)
my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
(He who searches my heart knows the mind of the Spirit)
my strength is dried up like a potsherd, 
(I am weakened by the flesh)
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; 
(intercede for me, Holy Spirit)
you lay me in the dust of death.
(we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered)
Psalm 22: 14-15, Romans 8

The victory is that we are not ever-confined to a parking space.  In fact we are not parked here at all, only passing through.  Do not confine God to that small space.  If you do, you will miss the vastness of the One who was and is and is to come.

And that day to day victory- what is it?  Simply manna.  The stuff of life to sustain us in the desert.  But the real victory, the milk and honey victory, is that He loves us enough to walk us home.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
 neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor 
depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from 
the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.       
Romans 8:38-39

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Train Wreck Perspective

There are times when I can just feel other parents disapproval at the way I parent my child.  It burns right through me.  Stabs me in the back sometimes, but no matter.  I have been tasked with raising this child to be a Godly man and that is what I will do.  Like it or not.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Eph 6:4

I negotiate with my son.  I engage him and listen to his opinions.  I seek to understand why he does things.  I let him speak his feelings freely to me.  I do this because we are knit together from the same cloth and I get what he needs.  My son will not trust the daily bread if it burns too hot.  For that reason, for his good, I am willing to see from his perspective.

But then... there are times when my perspective trumps his.  Times when he's chasing butterflies down the tracks and only I see the train in the distance.  He's smaller and most often absorbed in his day.  I am bigger.  I can see past the trees.  I know what's coming.  

I've seen the train before.

In these times I say, "Stop!" and I expect him to stop.  No negotiations, no opinions.  Just stop.  This, child, is the line you should not cross.  Trust me.  The train is coming.  You must not go further.

It takes trust to accept the Father's perspective.  Trust like a child.  Small and humble.

Let us humble ourselves before the Lord, and he will lift us up.  James 4:10

I've seen the train before because I am the train wreck, chasing butterflies and wrapped up in my own little world.

Yesterday I got schooled in the ways of trust and obedience by a child, young woman really, just graduating high school, who was sent to deliver a God-breathed message to my church on a very difficult day. 

She shared with us her trials from the past year:  worrying over her grades, arguing with a friend, confusion over the future.  She said that no matter what we are going through, there's a Bible verse for it.  And she said it in wide-eyed, utterly trusting belief, the belief of a girl who had simply rested her small grasp in her Father's knowing and let him lead her safely across the tracks.

We could easily dismiss her words.  It's too simple.  It's high school.  We're bigger.  Our problems are bigger.  Our consequences are bigger.  It's not the same.

Or is it?  That is a matter of perspective.

Because from the perspective of the throne of the One Holy God, we are all children misbehaving- looking to others for approval, not getting along, not trusting in His wisdom.

Stop child.  The train is coming.  You must not cross that line.

But we cross.  And we crash.  And we suffer for it.

There is hope.  From the train wreck perspective, we are all the same- low and on our knees.  From the train wreck perspective, our eyes are closed and we see only what the Spirit reveals.  From the train wreck perspective, the hem of His robe does indeed fill the temple.  From there, and only there, can we reach to touch it and be healed.  

She said to herself, “If I only touch his robe, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.  Matthew 9: 21-22

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Motherhood and New Life

My son was born on Mother’s Day.  He is nine now and he carries my whole-heart in his pocket, right alongside treasured rocks and found pennies.  He is a beautiful and amazing boy, but he is not the greatest gift I have ever received.  

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

Every little girl wants to grow up to be a mommy.  Or most do, I guess.  I certainly did, and I had a pretty good idea about how the whole thing would work.  Get a big white dress and marry Prince Charming.  Buy a dream house and a pink convertible.  Have a perfect little baby who is just like you and keep your tiny little waist and glamorous job as a Charlie’s Angel (it was the 70’s after all.)  So, at the tender age of 6, I took the first step toward motherhood- I married my Barbie off to her beloved Ken and set her about the business of becoming a mommy. 

Now, I was savvy enough to know that there was a process to all this baby-making.  Determined to keep it real, the polyester wedding dress and snap-on tuxedo were dropped in the proverbial ‘pile in the floor’ and Barbie jumped in her orange plastic bed with her beige plastic man.  

“Well, this is weird,” I thought.  It was not at all romantic.  Nothing like The Love Boat.  No sweeping musical crescendos, just a stiff-armed embrace and two dolls grinning wide-eyed at each other despite Ken’s obvious anatomical deficiencies.

“How are they going to sleep like this all night long?,” I wondered.  “If they roll over, they’ll fall out of the bed!!!”  

An unexpected obstacle indeed.  And that is how reality trickled in and began to crack my little mommy’s heart.    

Fast forward 18 years when I got my own big white dress and married my own Prince Charming.  We settled for the ‘dream apartment’, though, and a hand-me-down Ford Taurus.  No Charlie’s Angels either, but store manager jobs for Gymboree and The Sports Authority weren’t too terrible.  We spent the next 6 years in newly wedded bliss.  But something was amiss.  

I always thought we’d have 2 or 3 children, at least one boy and one girl- a little Rocky with blue eyes and a little Beverly with red hair.  He’d play football and she’d take dance lessons.  I could be a stay at home mom just like the ones who shopped in my store.  We’d live our days happy, with finger paint and sugar cookies, zoo trips and play groups, bedtime stories and lullabies.  Sunny days chasing the clouds away....

Infertility, however, was an unexpected obstacle.  Reality flooded this time and tore my mommy heart wide open.

It took nearly 18 months to conceive our son.  18 months of tests, procedures, drugs and medical bills.  Eighteen months of appointments and disappointments and desperate wanting.  Eighteen months of negative pregnancy tests piled on top of six years of waiting.  

The process of trying to conceive is unimaginably stressful.  It’s a nightmare of charts and calendars, pills and shots, tests and procedures.  A nightmare of medical jargon that you don’t understand and your insurance company is not going to pay for.  A nightmare of hope springing eternal and then drying up repeatedly in neat little 28 day cycles.  

I gave my heart to my future family when I was just a little girl.  Before I ever grew up.  Before I ever got married.  Before I ever got pregnant.  Before all of that, I loved them.  I loved them whole-heartedly.  And when they didn’t come, it broke my whole heart into pieces.

During the time that we were working so hard to conceive, I became fascinated with my boss’s family.  He probably thought I was weird because whenever I went in his office, I would look (ok, stare) at the picture he had on his desk of his wife and two daughters.  It was Easter.  She was beautiful and they were adorable.  All pastel dresses and little white sweaters.  I wanted those sunny day smiles for myself.  When he dragged himself in late every morning, citing the previous night’s chaos of musical beds and cheese in the DVD player, I wanted that chaos for myself.  I wanted to tell funny kid stories around the water cooler.  I wanted to put their pictures on my desk.  I wanted to fall asleep with my 3 year old’s head heavy on my shoulder and smell her strawberry hair.  Good night stars.  Good night air.  Good night noises everywhere.  

I wanted it like water in the desert.  But I didn’t think it was for me.

I realize now, ten years later, that there was something much, much deeper behind my Sesame Street desperation.  You see, way back when, while little Beverly played Barbies in her room, the world began to whisper in her ear.

You’re not good enough for the life you want.  
You don’t deserve the dream house.  
No one will ever treasure you.  
Your needs are not important.  
There is something disgraceful inside you.

And as I grew older, those whispers became shouts and the mark of my inherent shamefulness was stamped on me in the most personal way.  One day I will share that story too, but not today.

This story, however, has the happiest of endings, a gift still to come that was, and is, far greater that the honored title of beloved mommy.  In August of 2003, I got my wish.  All the trying, waiting and testing was done.  We were pregnant!  It was pastel baby-booted bliss, twinged with nausea and clothed in maternity pants.  Pregnancy and motherhood.  The unexpected became expecting.

For me though, prolonged stress means ‘major depressive episode’.  And eighteen months of reproductive endocrinology is definitely prolonged stress.  What I had waited and hoped for had come, but it did not bring peace.  My joy was battered with insomnia, panic attacks and uncontrollable crying spells.  

In 1 Samuel, the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb.  It wasn’t that she just couldn’t have children, but the Lord closed her womb.  She cried for a son for years.  To not bear children at that time was a source of shame, and Hannah was ridiculed her for her barrenness. She needed a son to bring her redemption.

She made a promise to Him.  She said "Lord, you rule over all.  Please see how I'm suffering! Show concern for me! Don't forget about me! Please give me a son! If you do, I'll give him back to you. Then he will serve you all the days of his life. He'll never use a razor on his head.  He'll never cut his hair."  1 Samuel 1:11
The Lord closed Hannah’s womb until she came to a place of relenting and gave Him all that she had.
So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  2 Cor 12:9
One night, in the middle of my pregnancy and in the darkest part of my depression, I came to a place of relenting and gave Him all that I had.  I had always believed, but never understood, claimed but never submitted.  But that night, on my knees in front of our second-hand sofa in our cheap little apartment, I cried out to God and he sent me a son to redeem me.
Not my son, but His.  And then He whispered in my ear.
I will give you eternal life.
I have a room for you in My house.
I treasure you so much that I numbered every hair on your head.
I will meet your needs according to the riches of My glory.
My grace is sufficient for you.  And I will fill you with it until your cup runs over.

It’s in the broken places that we give way.  What I wanted was a family, to give me love and belonging, and to cover what was the shame of me.  I would have settled for the dream house, and used it to bind my own heart up whole again.  Bind it tight and close it forever.  But water in the desert comes only from the rock-  it was my wounded heart that allowed living water in to wash me through.  And with it rained steadfast love and plentiful redemption, a new mercy every morning, and the honored title of beloved daughter.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

I Feared Anyway

Supposedly God says “Do not fear” 365 times in the Bible, once for every day of the year.

I feared anyway.

My husband just took the shortest Emmaus Walk in the history of the world- 22 hours from start to finish.  The Emmaus Walk, if you don’t know, is a Christian retreat tradition that dates back to the 1960’s.  It’s 4 days in the woods with nothing but solitude and Jesus.  No phone, no lights, no motorcars.  No way to call your wife.

I cried the whole time he was gone.

I made it 16 hours before I called the camp.  I was mad.  I was hurt.  This was just not the right time for him to go away.  We have too much stress in our lives right now- heavy, caustic burdens that I can’t bear by myself.  And I had to tell him right then because I knew that if I suffered the weekend, it would take months to bind the wounds.

But I couldn’t say any of that.  I could only cry and say you left us.

He came right home.

Last July, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, a very aggressive but relatively easy cancer to treat.  Four months from diagnosis to cure– bloodwork, CT scans, surgery, port catheter, IV’s, drug cocktails, shots.  80+ hours of poison dripping into my husband’s veins.  A pulmonary embolism.  Chemo and third grade started in the same week.  His goatee fell out on his 37th birthday.  I saw it, a clump of hair missing from his chin when I was giving him a cupcake.  He was too weak to blow out the candle and too nauseated to eat the cake.  

That’s cancer.

But now he is cancer free.  Divinely touched by Yahweh-rapha, God who heals, and sent back to life.  Emails to answer, homework to check, grass to cut, dog to walk, bills to pay.  Life.

It’s been 206 days since he last sat in that chemo chair.  On every one of those days, God has told me not to fear and I did it anyway.  I feared that my husband would die.  Everyday.  I just didn’t realize it until he went away.  I don’t want to spend a weekend without him, much less a life.  I fell utterly apart. 

But that was all yesterday.  Today, I’m safe and loved in a cabin in the Smokey Mountains with both of my boys.  Nobody left.  Nobody died.  Instead we retreated together.

I’m now on the sofa writing with the dog at my feet, and the boys are playing pool in the rec room below.  In the cabin next to us, 5 musicians unpack.  One of them plays his trumpet on the balcony.  Surreal.  And God watches over all from above, just as he said he would.

Earlier this morning, my husband called the boy and me outside to look at the clouds.  In the distance, we could see the blue horizon of the mountains covered under an endless blanket of clouds.  Covered.

There was one wisp of a cloud that had descended to settle in the valley below.  Just one wisp.

Behold He comes
Riding on a cloud
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet’s call

I am in the valley, but I am not alone.  A trumpet calls desolate and Jesus descends, gentle in the mist, to sit with me.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
 I will fear no evil, for You are with me; 
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  Psalm 23:4

Thank you Abba for telling me every single day not to fear.  Keep telling me.  Keep telling me.