Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Open Hands and Open Heart

Yesterday I shared a small part of our story over at FosterCareStories.com. Click the link to read my thoughts on the change of seasons, foster care, and being surprised by grace!


Thursday, May 24, 2018

He's in the Details

Have you heard the song Details by Sarah Reeves playing on Christian radio? I don't generally listen to the radio, but I have loved this song lately. I love this section of the lyrics: 

You drew the lines of my fingerprints
I'm the design, you're the artisan
You wrote the tales of my destiny
And on every page reads your love for me
I was thinking about how different my life looks than I imagined it as a child, or as a teenager, or as a young married. Sure, some of the big things are what I hoped...I'm a wife, I'm a Mom. I write regularly (though, it's still not my job...yet.) But the road that led me to this place has been drastically different than I could have imagined.

I never would have imagined that I would be a foster Mom, or adopting a teenager.t. I never would have imagined that I would write devotions for our church, or be scheduled to preach another sermon. I never imagined that I would be surrounded by friends who believe in me far more than I believe in myself, and don't allow my halting insecurity to stand in the way of my callings. I never imagined I would consider going to seminary, or launching into pastoral care ministry.

I was driving with my daughters in the car the other day. I needed to stop at a gas station to fill my tank, and I needed to take them to school. I knew at that time of the day that traffic on the main road would be a mess, and it would be better to take the quieter back road. As I made the turn leaving the gas station, my six-year old protested. "Mom, you're going the wrong way! This takes us back home! This isn't the right way!" I (not so gently...because I'm very much a work-in-progress) reminded her that I'm the Mom. I know the best way to get there, and she doesn't drive yet, so she's not familiar with all the roads. And suddenly it hit me, that I do the same thing to God. 

I look at the moment by moment, and sometimes ask, "What are you doing, God?! We're going the wrong way!" because in my humanity I don't see the rhyme or reason. I can't see the long road, and I don't see my own life through the lens of eternity. God is the ultimate navigator, shepherding my wandering heart in directions that I could never have grasped or orchestrated on my own. Most of the time, the story he's writing isn't seen in the day-to-day, but it's clearly seen as I look back and notice all the details that he expertly organized to lead me to the exact place he wanted me. I only see the road map in hindsight.

So often, we look for God to use a wide brush to paint his story, but often he's writing it in the shadows with a fine tipped pen. His redemption is most often seen in the details. Where I want his plan laid out in skywriting and fireworks, he's whispering it quietly in my heart, or sketching it out in the shadows where it can be difficult, even impossible, to see with my human eyes. My vision can be so dark.

And when my vision fails, there is only one thing left to pray. Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart. Let me see the story you're writing, and if I can't see it, let me simply trust that you are there, in every detail, working all things for my good because you are all good, all the time. Let me simply trust you as the ultimate story-writer, the best navigator, and the ultimate visioneer for my life. Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart. Be thou my vision.


Monday, May 21, 2018

The Life Changing Magic of JOY

I wrote this post last year as we were rebuilding and re-imagining what our lives could look like. It still rings true this year, as we face the start of a new chapter.

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I've written about our journey towards minimalism here and here. But I wanted to touch on a subject that's come up quite frequently in my study of what minimalism is. You may have heard of the book "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo

For full disclosure, I have not read this book. But I've read enough about minimalism, and I've been in enough minimalist Facebook groups to have heard a lot about it. (I'm interested in reading it, if I can ever remember to check it out from my library. Having heard several negative reviews, it's not at the top of my to-read list for now.)

The "KonMari Method" that the book outlines involves holding each object you own and deciding if it "sparks joy." If it doesn't, out it goes. I found this article that outlines the process in a straightforward infographic. The part that jumped out to me was this: "Your home should be joyful and every single thing around you should be a reflection of that."

Last year I posted this photo on Instagram with the caption: "This #pioneerwoman butter dish #sparksjoy for me. As we refurnish our home (after majorly downsizing 2 years ago), I'm intentionally selecting things that are equal parts beauty and function. 💙 And I'm trying very hard not to rush the process of rebuilding our lives."

And all of that true. But like with any snapshot of a life, there's much more to the story than that little square can tell. Because while I'm intentionally trying to choose things that spark joy, I'm also intentionally practicing gratitude. And that's worth far more than any cute little butter dish, or new car, or fresh paint job.

There's an insidious danger in feeling like every item we own must spark joy of its own accord. And if you're a huge KonMari fan, please hear me out. What I mean is that we can't assume or expect that every item we own should be able to bring us joy. There are things that I enjoy in my home (like that adorable butter dish), but that butter dish on its own holds no power to bring me joy. If I am not using it to prepare meals out of deep love and gratitude for the people in my home, then I might as well be scooping margarine out of a plastic tub.  Any joy that we experience must first be birthed inside. 

Last year, our family transitioned to one vehicle. It wasn't that difficult a transition because my parents generously allowed us to use one of their vehicles whenever we "needed" to- we could have functioned without their assistance, but it definitely made our lives easier. But over time, I felt myself resenting our pickup truck. I was frustrated that we had spent a lot of money to keep it functioning well. I was frustrated about how the interior looked and how the A/C was kind of "quirky." I was frustrated by its imperfections.

But at some point, I felt this need to give thanks for that truck. So I began to intentionally offer up gratitude every time I drove it. I would get in, put my hands on the steering wheel, and say, "Thank you God for this truck. Thank you that it gets my family safely wherever we need to go. Thank you that it gets us home again. Thank you that the A/C blows cold air. Thank you that the radio and speakers work so we can listen to music we love whenever we travel." I would say whatever came to mind. "Thank you for the soft seats. Thank you for the sun visor. Thank you for the side view mirrors." Every little thing that I used (the blinkers, the cruise control, the windshield wipers)  I would offer up thanks. And something shifted in my spirit. I can honestly say that I love that truck now. It's not my favorite color and the back of the driver's seat is ripped; I have to use pliers to adjust the A/C, even! But I love that truck anyway. It's a gift and now that I see it that way, it definitely sparks joy for me.

Maybe you're in a place in your life where you can afford to trash anything you don't love and replace it with something that sparks joy. Maybe you're in a season of life where you're scraping every penny you can to pay the bills and you have to "make do or do without." Regardless, my challenge to you is to give thanks anyway. That ugly thing that you hate and you'd rather replace? Give thanks. The totally functional bath towels that don't match your shower curtain? Give thanks. The wobbly dining room chairs, or the sofa with the stained cushions or the purse that doesn't match your shoes? Give thanks. And as you give thanks, you may find that as your heart changes, your view of those items changes as well. Maybe they'll begin to spark joy for you.

Blessings and much joy to you, friends.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Rewriting History

A few months ago, we had a caseworker visit for our sixteen-year old son who is in foster care. We were talking through some of the issues that come from having a child whose life has been full of trauma, and attempting to knit him into the fabric of our family, creating something entirely new. Our caseworker looked at me and said, "April, you have to understand that he came with a history book. And his history book says "Moms abuse you and Moms abandon you. And every time you show up, and every time you don't hurt him, but you help him instead, you're rewriting his history book."

"His history book says Moms abuse you and Moms abandon you...you're rewriting his history book."

Those words have been ringing in my ears and echoing in my heart since that day. I think of them when I interact with all of my children (not just the teenage son in question.) And I think of them when I interact with my husband, and friends, and extended family. Because we all have history books, don't we?

I talked here about how I preached a sermon at church in February. And shortly after, I spoke at a women's retreat. And since then, I've been working with our pastor on a few minor projects, getting his input and guidance on a big writing project, and being (constantly) encouraged to step out of my comfort zone, and really take on this big thing I feel God calling me to (even though I don't know exactly what it is yet.) He's been pushing me to think differently about myself, about the world around me, about the Word and how I interact with it.

At some point, I realized that he's rewriting my history book. Because my history book says "Pastors use you, abuse you, and discard you." And although I've had some good pastors in recent years, the chapters about the painful pastoral experiences I've had are long, and hard to read. They're even harder to share with others.

I was meditating on Ephesians 4:11-16 over the last few months and I have been pierced through the heart by this specific section (v. 14-16.)

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
I've often heard this passage used to talk about confronting sin in others. However, I think there's so much more to "speaking the truth in love." I think more often we actually need the people around us to speak the truth of the Gospel, the truth of God's Word to us. We need to be reminded where our strength and grace and mercy comes from. We need someone to speak the truth of right doctrine when we get a little lost, and speak the truth of our call to maturity in the faith when we find ourselves feeling lazy or falling into self-pity.

And we also need to speak the truth about what we see in others...the truth of their callings and identities in Christ. We all desperately need to be reminded that we are called to love others in ways that are specifically designed by God.  We need people who see the value that God has planted in our hearts and help us cultivate that so that we grow up "into him who is the head, into Christ." We need people who show us what it looks like to grow in our own gifts and abilities so that we look more and more like our big brother Jesus.

I am so grateful for the people in my life who are rewriting my history book. My prayer is that you have people in your life who will speak the truth in love, and help you rewrite your history book, as well.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Growing Pains

A few weeks ago, my 8-year old daughter was going through a growth spurt. I knew it was coming a few weeks prior because she did the typical pre-growth spurt gorge. She was eating everything in the house! We couldn't send enough food for her school snack, and lunch, and after school snack. She would ask for a pre-dinner snack, eat dinner, and then eat more snacks...she was starving all the time! Then like a switch had been flipped, suddenly she had no appetite at all. But she was sleeping like crazy. She was hard to wake up in the morning (which is unusual for her), she was tired earlier in the evening. She was falling asleep in the car (VERY unusual for her!) and she was just generally cranky. She also had pains she'd never had before...pain behind her knees, in her elbows, muscle aches. It was a little over a week of this, and then she was back to normal. Back to normal, just an inch taller.

For ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through His workmanship [all His creation, the wonderful things that He has made], so that they [who fail to believe and trust in Him] are without excuse and without defense.
 Romans 1:20 (AMP)

I love this verse in Romans. It's the primary reason that I love nature study so much. When you study a creation, whether it be a piece of music, a painting, sculpture, or a literary work, you understand, at least a little bit, about the creator. And when we study Creation, we learn about our Creator, his invisible attributes, his eternal power, and divine nature. We learn about God's character through what he created. I was thinking about my daughter's growth spurt the other day, and this verse suddenly came flooding back to my mind. What does her growth spurt reveal about the way God works in us? 

I mentioned here that I spoke at my church in February. I also spoke at a women's retreat a few weeks after that. So the time from December to March was spent preparing for these two opportunities that God dropped in my lap. I had an insatiable appetite for the Word of God; I felt like I was starving and couldn't get enough! I was getting up early, staying up late, waking up in the middle of the night, and reading Scripture. I was journaling like crazy, trying to process all that I was taking in. I was reading books about the topics God planted in my heart for these two events, and having deep conversations with people I love about what God was revealing to me. I did little else outside of that, besides all my normal wife/parent duties...you know, my family still had to eat, and needed clean clothing. ;)

But then after the events, a switch flipped. Suddenly, I was tired. Not physically so much, but I didn't want to take as much in. I was still reading, but I had started re-reading the same passages (not a bad thing!) And I was having some growing pains. There were some things I'd learned during that season that I needed to put into practice, and some of that process was (and has continued to be) a bit painful. A bit achy.

When a child goes through a growth spurt, it's not in the "eating everything in sight" part where they're growing. It's actually that few weeks after, when they're sleeping so much. That's when everything they have taken in actually becomes flesh. It is transformed from fat, protein, and nutrients, into muscle mass, and bone. It's in the painful, resting time when they actually grow.

And I have seen that play out in my own heart. It wasn't in that first few months of the year when I was growing. It's now, in the growing pains, in the resting season, when Christ actually becomes fleshed out in me. When I develop spiritual muscle, and my spiritual bones lengthen, and I actually "grow up into him who is the head." This is when Christ becomes incarnated in me, when it hurts, and it stretches, and the scriptures that I took in move from theological, theoretical words only, and become life-transforming practical action, when the life I live actually begins to look like Jesus himself.

If you find yourself in a season of growing pains, take a  moment to rest, and recognize that this is part of God's process. Thank God for allowing you to grow up in him, to mature in the faith and become more like Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. So, take heart...this season of pain doesn't last forever. And every day pursuing him is worth every bit of discomfort we experience along the way.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Run with Endurance

This has been a hard week for me. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally. A sinus infection, a situation with foster care, a busy schedule, car problems...it all piled up. But the biggest issue was that I preached at church Sunday, and can I just be honest? I was SO nervous leading up to it, but when I got there, I felt completely at peace. At peace that this was exactly where I am supposed to be, and who I am supposed to be in community with. and what I'm supposed to be doing. That God had orchestrated my life up to this point to share this story, at this time, with these people. That he had anointed me to invite people into the story that he's writing with my life. 

And yet, I fell apart afterwards. I've spent the entire week "introverting" because I was completely overwhelmed with the response. I was not mentally prepared for the people who came up to say that what I shared really ministered to them, or that they were impressed with my "sermon", or that I should expect God to use me more in this way because they really see that in me. I wasn't prepared for people to see value in me in this capacity. So through all the positive comments and encouragement from people who know and love me, all I heard was Shame's voice saying "Who do you think you are? You have no right to share this. You have no right to think you ought to stand up there and speak. You have no right to be used by God in this arena."

And then I was so frustrated with myself. Frustrated for struggling. Frustrated for butting up against shame and fear. Again. Didn't I just struggle with this 6 months ago? Why is this rearing its ugly head AGAIN?! How do I finally break free of it? If #thestruggleisreal then I've been living it for the last two years. And you know what? I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the battle with shame and fear.

I got bent out of shape that this thing "popped up" again because I forgot that I am being perfected. That I am being transformed. The Christian life is not a life of mini-goals, or deadlines, or finish lines. There is ONE finish line and we are running toward it, building endurance, crossing hurdles, being  perfected, and being conformed to the image of our Father.

The track star doesn't get frustrated when he comes to another hurdle, he just keeps running and jumps over it. He doesn't stop for a pity party and cry because he already jumped over one hurdle already. He just keeps running with endurance. 

So when the storms come (not if, but when), when the lies are revealed that I believe, when I struggle with sin or shame or fear, I can rejoice because God has another opportunity to have his perfect work in me. He's revealing another area where I can be more like Jesus, NOT through will power, but through HIS power that works mightily in me.

And he did. He did work mightily in me. He showed me the lies I believe that caused this reaction to the attention after my sermon. And he's setting me free, taking me from glory to glory IN HIM. That's the only place I want to be.


PS: And because I'm trying to be brave and embrace this new season that God is calling me into, click here to listen to what I shared on Sunday. ;)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

One Little Word 2018

Random pictures from our family photo shoots this year ;)

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Wow, it has been a loooong time since I wrote here. If you don't follow me on Instagram, that's where I share our day-to-day life, and have been "mini-blogging." I love to write, but don't always have time to sit down at the laptop to share my heart. I'm jumping on tonight for a quick post...very little editing, just pouring my heart out for a few minutes.

We're quickly approaching 2018 and can I tell you, I'm pleased as punch? I'm SO ready for this next year! I believe there are some big things in store for our family, I believe God has some amazing things in store for his kids, and I'm excited to see what's coming next.

As I always do, I like to choose One Little Word for the year (click the link if you're not sure what that is.) And as God always does, he dropped the perfect word in my spirit a few days ago. My One Little Word for 2018 is

I have felt this word stirring in my soul for several months now, but the last few weeks, God has really been speaking to me about being faithful. Faithful to the story he's writing with my life. Faithful in my relationships. Faithful with my time. Faithful with the gifts he's placed within me. Faithful. My initial reaction was "God, I'm faithful! I don't cheat on my husband!" LOL But as I dug into the meaning of the word, I was taken aback. There was a far deeper, richer meaning to this word than I knew.

Faithful [feyth-fuh l] adjective
1. Strict or thorough in the performance of duty
          |a faithful worker
2. True to one's word, promises, vows, etc.
3. Steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant
          |faithful friends
4. Reliable, trusted, or believed
5. Adhering or true to fact, a standard, or an original; accurate
          |a faithful account; a faithful copy

I had been meditating on this verse for quite some time:

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?" Luke 16: 10-12
In 2018, I want to be found faithful. I want to be faithful to my husband, yes, of course. But I want to be found a faithful steward of my health. All of my relationships. My home. My gifts and talents. The story God is writing with my life. I want to be faithful in all the little things that I think no one notices. Because HE notices. And if it's true that I live for an audience of One, then I want him to see me and know I'm faithful.

My One Little Word this year isn't about changing everything about how I live my life. It's simply about having intentional conversations with my Father God, asking him "Show me how to be faithful with this life you've given me. Show me how to be faithful with the laundry and the dinner, with my marriage and my children, with these gifts and this calling, with every little thing in my life. Show me how to glorify you in the midst of the mundane by being faithful with those things that no one else sees." And then creating space to listen and obey.

This year my word is FAITHFUL. What is your One Little Word?