We have been a family of nine for a little over three months now. Life is as nutty as it ever was, maybe a even a little more so because of some schooling changes we made this fall. But tonight, I chose to linger. I didn’t rush his feeding. I cuddled him when he was done. I talked to him as I gave him his mid-week bath. I soaked in every beautiful part of this gift God so graciously bestowed upon me.
The old me…the very type-A, overly-legalistic and “what will people say?” self could have never imagined the choice I made. But, oh, for more of grace! When Maxton came into our lives, I realized quickly that his life (a vapor just like mine) would disappear soon and that I would miss a lot of it if I wasn’t intentional. After all, the days are full, bustling, often hectic and lingering over a newborn babe doesn’t have much space in my Google calendar app. So I told Kevin one night that I wasn’t going to Wednesday evening church for the next several months. In part, I made the decision for Maxton who is an amazing sleeper and doesn’t really love his schedule to be interrupted. Getting across town on a weeknight in Atlanta isn’t the easiest of feats, particularly with a baby. But mostly, I knew I needed a night to re-center, re-group, be quiet and just be with my baby.
So tonight, I did just that. I made myself an easy dinner while I worked on Mallory’s Christmas Shutterfly book. Then I cleaned the kitchen a bit. Then I went up to Maxton’s room, woke my precious baby and took time to just soak him in. He has the sweetest demeanor I’ve ever encountered in a baby. I love just sitting on my bed talking and cooing with him. I love gazing at his face and remembering how intimately God knows me and thus, fulfilled my desire for just one more baby. I love worshiping my Father as I celebrate this incredible, adorable little life that lay in front of me.
I recognize that to most, my life is a complete anomaly. I certainly never could have fathomed it a decade ago. But I’m so thankful that I know myself and my God so much better ten years later and I know that God is glorified by my choosing to say “no” to one good thing in order to do a better thing. Several older, more mature women in my life have said to me often recently “oh, Laura, that’s for another season. Enjoy the one you are in and take care of those babies…that is more important.” Another season…yes. That season will be here before I can blink and my babies will be all grown up.
For tonight, I’m going to give myself grace and just love this moment, this night…the one where I get to gaze upon my babe and shower him with love, hoping with all my heart that my love opens his eyes to Unfailing Love.
I’ve long known my best writing comes from my personal experience and for weeks I’ve been thinking about grief and loss. Two weeks ago, we were able to share with our kids that we are going to Disney World in December (a trip I literally prayed for because I knew we could never do it by our own means but had hoped to shower our kids with all that Disney magic and Kevin’s mom and stepdad turned out to be the means of God’s gift)! After the news, Molly Kate began systematically listing off the events of this past year. In part, I think she was surprised our year could end on such a good note…on the other hand, I think in her own small way, she desperately wanted to prove to herself that this year had more good than bad.
But, in truth, the bad of this particular year has felt heavier and harder and never-leaving in a way that makes it always seem to outweigh the good. Enter grief…grief over the hard parts, grief over so much death, grief over so much loss. Loss of actual people who either left our lives, moved or changed so drastically that life with them doesn’t feel like it used to, loss of a dear pet who spent so much life with us that life doesn’t feel the same without her and I’m beginning to assume it never will, loss of a season of life where my children all seemed little (not just some of them) and the sin issues were so much simpler (don’t touch, no fuss, do everything without arguing or complaining). Here lies grief…grief for death, grief for the loss and grief over change.
And the thing about grief is that it doesn’t just magically go away. “Time heals,” they say and maybe it does a little. Or maybe we spend the rest of the journey heavenward grieving what this life was never meant to be so that we hope in a much, much better one. I prefer the latter 🙂 I find it much more comforting to know that a life is coming when there will be no more loss, no more change, no more seasons gone by. I prefer an eternal home where joys are found at my God’s right hand and there are pleasures forevermore. And in a week where my grief has felt like it was hovering over me, I have often heard God whisper “keep trusting me, Laura…take your eyes off this passing world and put your hope in Me.”
In the spring, our family started studying Shakespeare together (for anyone interested, I highly recommend Ken Ludwig’s “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare“). The first lines we have begun memorizing are from A Midsummer Night’s Dream…”I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows.” Every time we recite it together I’m struck by the idea of “wild thyme blowing”. Shakespeare truly had such a way with words. I think about actual “time” in this world and how bound it is…only twenty-four hours, only seven days in a week, only fifty-two weeks in a year. There will never be more and never less. And yet, thyme growing in the wild is unfettered, undisturbed by boundaries, free to just grow and flourish and spread. It blows gently as its stems move closer to heaven and receives even more freedom to enjoy the sunshine, the rain and the breezes.
I want my time to be more like that thyme. God’s boundaries are beautiful, the psalmist makes clear they have fallen in pleasant places. I’m not saying to throw the boundary of time out the window! Instead, I want my time to be spent well. I don’t want to be so chained to the clock that I can’t stop to rock my fussy baby or comfort a child who was just randomly injured by a chip clip (both happened in our home today!). I don’t want to choke time so tightly that there isn’t room to have sweet new friends over for several hours on a Sunday evening just to hang out and fellowship and feed one another’s souls. I don’t want my Google calendar to have every color coded category staring me in the face each day, so much so that I am unavailable for gospel needs, unable to stop and show compassion and mercy to someone who is hurting. I don’t want my days to feel so long that I am not able to grow and flourish and spread because there doesn’t even seem to be enough time to feast on God’s Word daily and converse with Him in prayer. If I am not careful, the boundary of time can all too easily become an evil snare, a greater opportunity for sin and a barrier that blocks the sunshine, the rain and the enjoyment of those beautiful and refreshing breezes.
Friends, let’s be careful with our hours, with our weeks, with our years. We know time is fleeting and tomorrow is not promised. God’s Word makes both truths clear (Psalm 39:4 and James 4:14). Busyness does not equal godliness. Let your time blow a little…let it blow wild and free and see if God doesn’t do something marvelous as you yield your hours to Him.
Why is it so hard to find time to do something I love? Writing, writer, one who enjoys word and paragraph and thoughts…I feel like that’s me and yet I regularly struggle to do this thing that I love. And I struggle because of time…time gets away from me, there is never enough time, time moves too quickly and the hours become weeks before I can even blink.
This last year, really since Mallory graced our lives with her presence, I’ve been in a hamster wheel of life and dying to break free. With six kids and a pastor-husband, freedom can seem impossible. So impossible that you end up at your doctors office in need of meds because you have hit the bottom of a dark well called depression. The meds helped, at least in order to be able to see straight again and put one foot in front of another. But meds never fix sick hearts and my heart has been pushing deeper and deeper into dangerous waters for a while now.
February of this year could be called a breaking point. Annie, our beloved chocolate lab of 12 years, somehow got lost and hit hard on a busy road behind the woods that our house borders. Talk about the hamster wheel stopping and feeling like the biggest failure ever. While still thankful it wasn’t my child, I know deep down I still haven’t forgiven myself for not keeping eyes on her that evening. Everyone can tell me it wasn’t my fault, but it was…I was so busy spinning that I dropped a very big ball and it cost our family a huge love. On top of losing Annie, Kevin and I hit one of our biggest marriage speedbumps yet…the kind that does damage to the underside of your car. And when it hit, I sunk.
But the beautiful part about sinking when you are a daughter of the King is that you will never drown. You might swallow some big gulps and you might feel like you can’t breathe. But the King is there, He is watching and protecting and preserving…and He pulls us up at just the right time, never too early and never, ever, ever too late.
His rescue was oddly a new job for my husband. Not quite what I had envisioned and yet, as I am learning, exactly what I needed. I loved and still love our former church…I love the people, I love the building, I love the prayer e-mails I still receive. But I also see that the church needed more of me than I could truly give. They need a pastor’s wife who can lead the women and disciple several younger believers and take meals to the sick. And while I absolutely love all of those things and am happy to serve God doing them, I’m recognizing more and more that this is not the season for such service.
So, I recently began a book titled “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist…a title that sounds like she opened up the insides of my heart and put my deepest longing on the cover of her book. And in it she says “If I’m honest, I let words like responsible and capable govern many of years. And what good are they? Words that I’m choosing in this season: passion, connection, meaning, love, grace, spirit“(p.104). Earlier, she wrote “I’m committed to a particular, limited amount of things in this season, and if what’s being asked of me isn’t one of those, then it stands in the way. That’s why knowing your purpose and priorities for a given season is so valuable — because those commitments become the litmus test for all the decisions you face” (pp. 54-55).
If I’m honest, I let the word “godly” govern many of my last few years. But what I considered to be “godly” was meeting the expectations of everyone around me, not necessarily going before the Lord to see how I should spend these days, when my life is full of raising babies and toddlers, and grade-schoolers and now a pre-teen. “Godly” was leading a women’s bible study and having church members into our home two times a week and overly helping in the children’s ministry and having visitors over for Sunday lunch and on and on and on. Oh sure, I was also shepherding hearts at home and teaching my children God’s word and educating them and making sure they were involved in extracurriculars. But…and this is a big all caps BUT…I haven’t been “present” in this home in a very long time. I’ve been shuffling people around and needs around and crossing all my t’s and dotting all my i’s. But, at the end of the day, I don’t know that I ever sat and just held Mallory simply to gaze into her big beautiful eyes. I don’t think I really heard that story Maggie told me about her baby doll…what was it she was saying? I missed Madden’s cool new idea (because he is always coming up with the most imaginative ideas!) because I had to shoo him away so that I could vacuum the floor…we had guests coming…again! And Mikias really needed a heart-to-heart…I actually saw his heart hurting, but I couldn’t get to him because I had not prepared for the bible study I was to lead in an hour and women were counting on me.
Godliness is the goal for every believer…but not when that word is distorted into something God never meant for it to be. And now, it is September. Fall (and my favorite candle of the year) is just around the corner and I am learning new words. Kevin is settling into his job as a young families pastor. People want to know me but they aren’t expecting anything from me. So I’m using this season to learn “rest, grace, play and joy“. I’m saying “no” to things that don’t fit this particular season…they may indeed be great priorities for a season yet to come. But, at this moment, I am called to be a disciple of Jesus, a wife to Kevin and a teacher-mom to six beautiful little treasures. That is my whole purpose and they are my priorities.
So, I ask…what have you been striving to live under that perhaps you have put on yourself and God never meant it to be? What is your word? And…what should it be?
Truth be told, I just don’t get ’em. God’s ways, that is…
I once heard that “articles,” such as those written for websites, are more intellectual in nature and blog posts are more musings of the heart.
Maybe she’s right. But no one has asked little ole’ me to write for a website and I still want to have a voice for God’s glory, so I guess my “mere blog post” will just have to do 😉 Plus, I do have quite a few of those musings of the heart!
But, back to the point…I’ve always, always been struck by this verse
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
Funny enough, my favorite part is “declares the Lord“. I need some God declaration in my life…yes, Laura, you thought you knew best. Yes, Laura, you thought this church was permanent. Yes, Laura, you thought five kids meant you were “done”. Yes, Laura, you thought the last house was your “Atlanta” house. Yes, Laura, you thought you were done having to start over.
But…”DECLARES THE LORD”…He had other plans. He had a different house. He had one more baby girl named Mallory. He had me starting over once again. He had another church. He DECLARED. Guess there’s not much use in arguing 😉
So, here it is…on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, my hubby will officially begin as the Family Pastor at The Church of the Apostles (www.apostles.org). Life is changing again, friendships must be made, again. Kids have to start new, again.
Not my ways, but His. Aren’t I glad they are higher than mine. I don’t fully understand it…I’m excited for this next path and at the same time my heart is pretty down and broken. But, oh, this promise. It will see me through…His ways and His thoughts are higher than mine. I am so, so glad.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. As women, that’s what we do. From the time we are little girls, we look for friends. We seek other girls to attach ourselves to, to play with, to journey life with. As we grow older and come to faith in Jesus, we find women to connect with, to enter into community with, to bring joy to our lives and to link arm with as we journey to Jesus. We look to our girlfriends for wisdom, counsel, comfort and encouragement. But, do we also look to them for correction?
As Christians, I believe we should possess a certain humility, one that stems from understanding that from the beginning, we have never ceased to get it all wrong and only Jesus got it all right. Who can be prideful about that?! And that humility should spill into all of our relationships as we recognize that we don’t have it all together, we are quite frankly a huge mess and we need God’s grace more today than even yesterday. And if we truly grasp all of this, we should readily find ourselves willing and even wanting our closest friends, those who know us best, to honestly evaluate our lives. Afterall, Truth has already told us that the heart is deceitful above all else. And we need people who can see us for who we really are and still love us enough to point out the weaknesses, the failures, the sins that we are often prone to justify, sweep under the rug or just plain overlook.
In my last 23 years of walking with Jesus, I’ve had all sorts of girlfriends. I’ve had those who almost led me astray, those who were willing to stand with me and go against the grain and those who came into my life briefly but then realized that I’m pretty serious about Jesus so they bailed. I’ve also had those who thought I was Jesus…this never works. I’m a wretch of a sinner and if you start looking to me to fulfill your needs, trust me…it’s going to all come tumbling down. Then I’ve had the girlfriends who truly know me…the kind that I can let my whole guard down and just be the truest version of myself. One of these is my sister…sometimes she knows me better than I know myself! These are the friends that are worth more than gold, the friends I pray I’m sitting right beside at the marriage feast of the Lamb. And these are the women that I regularly want to evaluate my life.
This past week I had the blessing of spending a couple of days with one such friend. On the evening before her departure the next morning, I asked her to be thinking about what she had seen the last few days and what she thought I could be doing better or paying more attention to or seeking grace for. The next morning we went for a run and she told me her exact thoughts…water to my soul! You see, I know I’ve got rose-colored glasses on when I look at my life. Sure, I can be hard on myself and maybe set unrealistic expectations but still, I’m pretty easy on myself at the same time. Really, I can justify my sin and laziness with the best of them 🙂 To have a friend who could honestly assess my life, give me areas to work on and encourage me in my faith…what a gift!
So, let me ask you…do you have women in your life that you look to for correction? If a friend sincerely approaches about sin in your life, do you immediately play the defensive or do you trust the Holy Spirit? Do you have people in your life who know the real you? Girls, this is important! If we long to be women who are being sanctified by the truth, becoming holy as He is holy, then we cannot neglect the responsibility of surrounding ourselves with friends whom God will use to carry out this great work!
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
I knew it was coming. The past few weeks have been so hectic and so busy and so full and we haven’t done the best job of juggling it all. We’ve been running and gunning and in a family of eight, that leaves little time for the important stuff…stuff like instruction, discipline, reproof and correction. Sin has been blazing all around this family the last few weeks but in the busyness (which also brings with it great fatigue), I just let it keep on blazin’. Oh sure, I could have turned on the sprinklers here and there and tried to put out a few embers. But I knew what we needed was more than the sprinklers…we needed those helicopters that dump that special powder that has the power to put out entire forest fires. We needed God Himself to slow us down, sit us down and bring His truth powerfully into our lives once again. And I knew it was coming.
It rained all day yesterday which was actually kind of nice. At least until about 4:30 pm when everyone was starting to go stir-crazy and the house was getting louder and louder and I was feeling kinda cruddy from a head cold I’ve been battling the last few days. Kevin went out to the garage to work on Molly Kate’s Halloween costume (she wanted to be Amelia Earhart so awesome daddy that he is, he’s making a cardboard plane for her to wear!) and I sent all the kids out to the garage with him (again, awesome daddy that he is!). It didn’t take long…sure, there were a few shrieks of laughter as they bumped around the garage on plasma cars but before I knew it, there was whining, shouting, arguing and crying. You would have thought I sent them out to the garage and said “hey, I want you to go do as much verbal damage to your siblings as you possibly can!” So I opened the door, told everyone to clean up and come sit on the couches and not say a word. I think I even muttered something to the effect of “If you can’t use your words kindly, you can see what it feels like to not use any words at all!”
Mostly their time sitting on our couches facing one another in silence gave me time to think. It’s funny how many times we mamas dive into a discipline situation before we really think about the best course of action and we’re spouting off bible verses mixed with cliches mixed with our own anger like a half-crazed television preacher! We’re so scattered and flustered and usually so irritated that what’s on our tongue probably isn’t even beginning to reach their hearts. But one thing is for sure: we aren’t going to win them to Jesus by yelling and screaming and carrying on about sin and disobedience and the like. And in this particular situation, yelling and screaming and anger is what landed four little bottoms on the couches in the first place.
So I thought and I prayed “God, give me wisdom. Help me reach their wayward hearts.” I pulled up a barstool and opened my bible app and did a search for “tongue”. With their full attention and the house so quiet you could hear nothing but Mallory babbling in her crib, I proceeded to read several verses including the following:
He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; Psalm 15:3
Keep your tongue from evil
And your lips from speaking deceit. Psalm 34:13
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
And his tongue speaks justice. Psalm 37:30
Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips,
From a deceitful tongue. Psalm 120:2
The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver,
The heart of the wicked is worth little. Proverbs 10:20
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. James 1:26
So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell…But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. James 3:5-6, 8
The beautiful and wildly gracious part about raising kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is that He often uses our discipline of our children to discipline us. I sat there reading these verses and several others and became a bit awe struck by the power of our words. I was quickly convicted of how regularly I spew forth death words…with my kids, with friends, with Kevin, with church members. As the kids and I began discussing what these verses meant, I could see personal defeat written all over their faces as they thought about how powerless they are in the battle against their tongues. So together, we looked to Jesus. He had the perfect tongue…the praise of His Father was always on His lips and not once did He utter a word of hurt, a false word, a word of slander or gossip or a word of death. His words were always life and His words have brought us life. We trust His death to cover our hurtful words and we trust His Spirit to tame our tongues. We recognize we are powerless and we look to the One who holds all of the power to change hearts and change mouths.
This is just one tiny window into one small moment but I do think this is what gospel living looks like. I don’t get it right very often…I am the mama spouting of this verse and that verse, giving myself a pat on the back for recalling a pertinent Scripture all the while my kid has completely tuned me out. But yesterday, in my willingness to slow down, take time and rest in God’s ability to pour that special powder over the forest fire our tongues had created in this home, I got to take part in a unique moment of family repentance…each one of us recognizing and admitting that our words are often full of death and asking God to take them, change them and bring forth life instead.