Category Archives: Faith

Wear Love For Chloe

The Via family is giving everything to fight for their adopted Ugandan daughter, Chloe.  They are living out love for this former orphan in a profound way.  Please watch this brief video about their remarkable story.   We have a unique opportunity to be a small part of bringing home to Chloe.

We are partnering with Corinne McGowan of Stella & Dot for a unique way to support this family and be reminded to pray for them.  This beautiful Love bracelet sparkles with delicate gold beads, brass chains and brilliant red cording.  Symbolic of the Via’s love for Chloe, wear this bracelet as a prompt to pray for them during their time in Uganda and as a way to share their story.

Screen shot 2013-02-28 at 5.47.06 PMProceeds from EVERY LOVE BRACELET and ALL other purchases made from the link below will go towards the Via’s moving expenses to Africa.  Every bracelet, necklace, accessory from this trunk show will benefit their family.  Estimated costs to make the move are $35,000.   So shop away!  Share their story with your friends, family and coworkers.  Together, we can make a big impact for this family!

Join us in wearing Love for Chloe!!

*IMPORTANT!!!  At the top of the website, click “Find your hostess” and type in “Patience Leino”.  You will then see “SHOPPING PATIENCE LEINO’S TRUNK SHOW” at the top.  This is essential for proceeds to go to the Vias.  This trunk show is open through Saturday, April 20th.*

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http://shop.stelladot.com/style/b2c_en_us/shop/bracelets/bracelets-all/love-bracelet.html

 

 

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When Hope Seems Lost

This week overflowed with struggle and heartache.  Friends in pain, a terminal baby boy born and lost, a life-saving transplant seeming just out of reach, a new diagnosis plaguing one who has suffered much already, a beloved teenage boy’s life ending suddenly.  My heart has been heavy for people I love whose anguish I cannot ease.

Then yesterday happened.

Everything in me aches for Newtown, Connecticut.  My mind still can’t grasp the devastation the families of Sandy Hook are experiencing.  20 CHILDREN murdered.  Tears flood my eyes every time I think about it.  While our family celebrated Eliana’s first Christmas musical performance at school and laughed at Evan’s entertaining antics, other families were being recklessly shattered.  I know the pain of loosing a child, seeing their end near over a long period of time.  I cannot begin to fathom the agony of having your child’s life stolen so violently, so senselessly, so brutally!  Final words left unspoken, last goodbyes and I love yous never exchanged.  Why?!  Picking up Eliana from school became a luxury yesterday.  Hearing breath fill Evan’s lungs as he slept on my shoulder – a freshly appreciated gift.  My mind cannot contain the evil in this world, my heart overwhelmed by the pain it causes.

As thoughts raged and fear loomed closer, the words of a cherished song began to play gently in my mind.  Throughout the night and into this morning, Holding Us has grown louder in my ears as the Lord reassured my aching heart.  Written by my friend Josh Via during a season of great trial and uncertainty, its words hit home like never before.  I hope every person in Newtown…in our country…can hear this song.  Written out of suffering and based completely in Truth that never fails, it is a melody of hope for hopeless times.  May its truth still your restless heart today, drawing your gaze from fear to faith in God who holds us.

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Perspective

Lately, I have been troubled.  Troubled with worries, inadequacies, looming fears and a burdened heart for my precious friend in the fight of her life.  Focused on the awful things I cannot control, the fretting became consuming.

Last night, our worship team at Journey Church rehearsed for this Sunday’s services.  My mind continued to wander as we ran through songs, dwelling on pain Tricia is walking through each day without knowing what the Lord’s intended outcome may be for her life.  I want so badly to take this awful struggle from her, to ease every pain afflicting her weary body, to make all things right.  Unfocused and heavy-hearted, it was honestly difficult to engage in rehearsal.

The Lord’s timing is so perfect.  In the midst of my struggle, we began to practice a simple song that shook me in the best possible way.  You Are Good written by Kari Jobe.  Simple lyrics containing profound truth.

Your kindness leads me to repentance. 
Your goodness draws me to Your side. 
Your mercy calls me to be like You. 
Your favor is my delight.
Every day I’ll awaken my praise and pour out a song from my heart.
You are good, You are good, You are good.  Your mercy is forever.
Your kindness is forever, Your goodness is forever, Your mercy is forever, Lord.
 

I had been so focused on the broken, changing elements of surrounding circumstances that I had forgotten the constant, steadfast, ever-present goodness of God.  In the midst of failing health and daunting fears, the Lord is good!  In the face of the frightening unknown, the Lord is good!  He is always good!  It is who He is!  As the Psalmist sang over and again in Psalm 136, the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.

The facts of any circumstance will never negate the enduring goodness of the Lord nor His love towards us.  Though I am still immensely concerned for my friend and desperately praying for a divine miracle worked on her behalf, my perspective has shifted back to remembering that no matter what, she is loved by Almighty God and treasured in His heart. (Deuteronomy 31.8; Isaiah 43.1-4)  Though the cause of some worries have not changed, I am different facing them by having the proper perspective that God reigns sovereignly above them all. (Isaiah 55.8-9)

Never underestimate the importance of proper perspective.  It can mean the difference between hope and despair.  In Jesus Christ, we ALWAYS have hope.

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Wear Hope For Tricia

One of Tricia’s favorite passages in Scripture is the teaching of the sparrow.  Just as the Lord’s eyes are always mindful of every sparrow, how much more is His gaze ever fixed on us! (from Luke 12)

This gorgeous Hope bracelet is rose gold with a delicate sparrow’s wing in the middle.  Wear this Hope bracelet as a reminder to pray for Tricia and a great way to share their story.  EVERY HOPE BRACELET purchased from the link below through Dec. 10 will have ALL proceeds go towards Tricia’s medical care.  In addition, ALL purchases from Patience/Corinne’s trunk show will go towards the Lawrensons.  So shop away!  The trunk show closes at midnight, December 10th.

*IMPORTANT!!!  At the top of the website, click “Find your hostess” and type in “Patience Leino”.  You will then see “SHOPPING PATIENCE LEINO’S TRUNK SHOW” at the top.  This is essential for proceeds to go to Tricia.*

http://shop.stelladot.com/style/b2c_en_us/shop/bracelets/bracelets-all/hope-bracelet.html

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Caught Between

Life seems to be a journey caught between two realities: the facts of our circumstances and the Truth of God’s character.  With every situation, we are faced with the choice of which reality we will choose to cling to.  The facts surrounding our existence may not all ways be easy nor quickly change for the better, but our perspective within those seasons will determine how we walk the path ahead.  It is a lesson I continue to learn over and over and over again.  Praise be to God who never tires in loving instruction, who’s faithfulness knows no bounds.

When caught between the facts and the Truth, we must always cling to the hope of Jesus and the Truth of His Word.  Here are a few examples:

If it seems impossible to choose the correct perspective: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days…”  Deuteronomy 31.19-20a

A child is sick or disabled, whether in utero or after birth:  “For You formed my inward parts; You womb me in my mother’s womb.  I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”  Psalm 139.13-17

Someone is maligning you for doing the right thing or you’re gripped by fear of the journey ahead: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the One who goes with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you.  The Lord is the One who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Plans go awry and hope seems lost: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'”  Jeremiah 29.11

You can’t make sense of what God is doing: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘For 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

You’re under attack and everything in you wants to fight back: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12.19-21

You’ve messed up so bad that you don’t know how you’ll make it right:  “…All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…But God demonstrates His own love towards us, tin that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 3.23; 5.8; 8.1

We all get caught between the facts and the Truth.  Choose the Truth for it will surely set you free.  (John 8.31-32)

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The Snare Of Comparison

Comparison.  A tug and a trap.  The older I get, the more I realize how dangerous comparison to other people can be.  Amidst the craziness of life, I find myself easily tempted to hold up my experiences and surroundings with others.  And as my pastor, Jimmy Carroll, wisely says, we often compare up.  When my kids are misbehaving, my thoughts quickly go to the many friends I have whose kids seemed well-behaved.  When my house is disheveled, I remember their orderly homes.  When my walk with the Lord feels dry, I’m quickly reminded of those who seem to be intimate with Him always.  When I see someone’s strength, it often makes me ponder my weaknesses.  Compare becomes despair.

In those moments, what I fail to remember is their kids also have meltdown days.  No child is perfectly behaved all the time.  When I’m frustrated by a weakness, I neglect to recall my strengths.  When I become consumed with the gifting of another, I’m wasting opportunities to use and strengthen the giftings He has given me.  When their clean home comes to mind, I don’t remember that it was clean because company was coming over or the other times when my own has been orderly.  When I feel discouraged that my walk isn’t at the level of so-and-so’s walk, I’m not considering the dry seasons they too have experienced nor the trials that grew their walk with the Lord.

Comparison can be a shoddy lens.  While it is wise to observe characteristics and habits in those we admire to better strengthen ourselves, we must remember that we are ALL uniquely made by a loving Creator.  He gives us all a beautiful life inheritance, giftings and a future.  (Psalm 16.6, Jeremiah 29.11).  When consumed with what we lack or struggle in, we are restrained from living fully the life He has perfectly crafted for us individually and end up being poor stewards of what has already been entrusted to us.  I have wasted years resenting the successes of others in areas I desired for myself.  How kind the Lord has been to show me this error.  It was His loving design to lead me down the path I’m on.  He has given me gifts and talents for good were I to actually develop them rather than waste my energies coveting the giftings of others.  (1 Corinthians 12.7-26, 1 Timothy 1.6-7)  As I was recently reminded in Radically Obedient, “We miss the joy and freedom of radical obedience, of becoming all that God has designed us to be, when we try to be like someone else.”  The LORD defines His plans us.

So if you find yourself scoping the circumstances of others and coming up short, take heart.  Be mindful of what you are comparing yourself to and the incomplete picture it may be.  Remember that we are ALL a work in progress.  We ALL have been entrusted with amazing gifts, talents, and blessings.  Focus on what He has given you and celebrate His gifts to others.  With a heart of gratitude and humility, we can avoid the snares of comparison and live out fuller lives.  All to the glory of God.

 

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Living And Active

I recently completed Radical Obedience: The Joshua Study for the second time.  To say this study is life-changing would be a stark understatement.  This Scripture-saturated 9 week study by Aliene Thompson dramatically impacted me the first time through three years ago.  Going through it again only furthered its impact and has left me changed for the better.  Aliene has brilliantly written this study in such a way that the Word truly speaks for itself.  Nothing is conjured.  Rather, it guides the reader in learning to hear the Lord’s voice through the whole cannon of Scripture.

“The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.  It penetrates to divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  Hebrews 4.12

Radically Obedient brought this truth to new light in my life.  As I went through the Scriptures, the Lord spoke often to my heart.  He exposed root issues in my life, showed me areas I needed to confess and grow in, and gave me a deeper perspective of His magnificent grace.  I was stretched as a woman, wife, mother, daughter, Christ-follower and friend.  Though my life circumstances are far different now than my first time through this study, He worked through it to profoundly impact me today.  Fresh manna.

PLEASE!  Get this study!  Not because Aliene has written it so well (though she has) nor because Joshua is an amazing book of the Bible (though it is).  Get this study because the Word of God is its sole focus.  His Word IS living and active!  Allow it to penetrate your heart and change you for the better.  No matter your circumstances or season, there are treasures to be found within its pages.

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Qualified

Over the weekend, I caught up on my One-Year Bible reading.  Truth be told, I got behind during the less-than-riveting Book of Leviticus.  As I made my way through the beginning of Numbers, a passage in Chapter 8 stood out to me in a way that continues to preoccupy my mind.

Picture this: The tabernacle has finally been completed.  Moses and Aaron are going through the process of anointing and consecrating the tabernacle and the leaders of Israel.  God sets apart the Levites for Himself from among all others in the nation.  He calls them to complete service of Aaron and the tabernacle, to perform priestly duties for the whole congregation of Israel and to care for the tabernacle itself (Numbers 1.50)  In short, the Levites were called to specific service in the place of worshiping God.  The Lord said that they shall be Mine (Numbers 3.12 & 13).

Then comes Chapter 8.  The Lord instructs Moses to cleanse the Levites and have them make offerings before Him that they would be consecrated for their service.  Verse 11 states, “Aaron then shall present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the sons of Israel, that they may qualify to perform the service of the Lord.”  What struck me so powerfully about this passage is this: this tribe had already been called by God to specific duties in the tabernacle.  They had already been called to a priesthood, to serve in unique ways in the sacrifices and worship before God.  YET they still had to cleanse themselves, make offerings (symbolic of confession) and prepare themselves to be qualified to fulfill their role in serving the Lord in the tabernacle.

How tempting would it have been for the Levites to feel a sense of superiority over the nation of Israel?!  How easily could they have felt somewhat entitled to the position given them?  “We’ve been called.  We’ve been given such and such responsibilities in the tabernacle.  We’ve been set apart to serve in this specific way.”  But as verse 11 reminds us – though they had been called, they still had to be qualified to serve the Lord.  This did not reflect on their physical ability to perform the duties assigned to them but on their spiritual condition before God.

As one who serves from the platform with the worship team, this greatly resonated with me.  Countless times in my life, I have heard others say and at times felt within myself, “I know I’ve been called to sing, to lead, to serve on the worship team (or whatever position applies to you)”  This may be valid but it must be taken a step further.  While God does place callings on His people, so often we jump from receiving the call to feeling entitled to that position of service without qualifying ourselves to walk in the path prepared for us.  We focus more on the position we feel obligated to rather than our condition before God.  As I read Numbers 8, I sensed God say to me, “Being called to something and being qualified to walk in that calling are two different things.”  The Levites were called to serve but they still had to act in humility and obedience to cleanse themselves, to confess their sins and to consecrate themselves before the Lord in preparation of that service.  They had to take ownership of their own condition before God rather than proudly assume they were good simply because of their given status.

Thank You, Lord, for this timely reminder!  I pray it be true for Journey’s worship team and for anyone who has a calling of service placed on them (in essence – anyone who calls themselves a Christian.  God has a calling on your life!)  May we walk humbly before the Lord.  May we never disqualify ourselves from the calling He has placed on us because of our own sin, lack of obedience or pride.  Every time we step up on our “platform” (be it a stage, work, your family, any audience, or simply alone before the Creator of all things), may we assess the condition of our heart and bodies to make sure we are qualified to walk in the calling He has placed on our lives.

We have been called.  The question is: are we qualified?

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Choose Life

This day I call the heavens & the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life & death, blessings & curses. Now choose life, so that you & your children may live & that you may love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, & hold fast to Him. For the LORD is your life, & He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”  Deuteronomy 30.19-20

This passage never ceases to challenge me.  I’m sure I’ve read it scores of times, but with each time I hear God’s instruction to “choose life”, I’m convicted.  Am I choosing life today?  This world surrounds us all with circumstances and situations – some beyond our control and others completely within our grasp.  We may not always be able to influence what happens to us but we always have the choice of how we handle ourselves through it.  In Deuteronomy, God reminds the nation of Israel that life and death are ever before them.  But it is up to them to choose which one they will walk in!  You can hear God’s loving heart for His people, wanting them to walk in the life set before them and to hold fast to Him in love.  But He will not force it on them.  They must make the choice for themselves.

We all must make the same choice every single day.  Will we walk in the life that God holds out for us?  Will we choose life?  Or will we easily succumb to trials and temptations that so easily abound?  When facing a mountain, will we stand in awe of the God who holds everything together, who is far greater than any obstacle?  Or will we only see a massive barrier between where we are and where we want to go?  Will we see the opportunity for an adventurous climb or crumble beneath the daunting thought of the journey that lies ahead?

Life is an adventure!  God is almighty, great, wondrous and unfathomably loving!  He has set before us life and death, blessing and cursing.  Which one will you choose?  Which will I choose today?  As it says in verse 20, “For the Lord is your life…” I pray that this passage always stays at the forefront of my mind – that I would remember to dwell on His goodness, His salvation, His power in my life rather than the menial trials and tribulations this temporal world may bring.  Today is a new day.  Heed God’s compassionate voice as He invites us all, “Choose Life!”

 

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Where You Are

I recently finished reading through Exodus with my quad girls.  It has always been a favorite of mine as I see so many parallels between Israel’s wanderings and the Christian life.  Our human fickleness contrasted with the steadfast faithfulness of God who never breaks His promises.  Even as Israel faced the consequences of their own poor decisions and disobedience, God’s love for them remained.

One passage has stuck with me for days.  It’s a passage that I’m sure I’ve read in the past, but stood out in a new way this time around.  Exodus 33.  Just prior, Moses is on Mount Sinai for 40 days as God gives him the Ten Commandments.  Meanwhile, the nation of Israel grows impatient and quickly forget all God has already done for them.  They build for themselves a golden calf to worship instead.  Both the anger of the Lord and Moses burn against them for this sin and Israel suffers severe consequences for such disobedience.

Thus begins Exodus 33.  The Lord instructs Moses to lead Israel on towards the Promised Land, sending an angel before them to drive out their enemies.  However He says that His presence will not go with them due to the people’s obstinance.  But Moses responds in verse 15 and 16, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.  For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people?  Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?”

Think of it!  God was sending Israel on from their wilderness wanderings towards the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  He promised an angel to go before them to fight their enemies.  Israel would finally be out of this never-ending desert and arrive at their Promised Land!  If I were Moses, how tempting would it be to get this massive group of complaining, difficult people to their destination and be done with the struggle of leading them?  How eager would I be to move from this place of total dependence and weakness to a land promised full of provision and ease?  For generations, Israel would have heard of the foretold Promised Land.  Would they not be jumping at the chance to get there as soon as possible?

Yet Moses’ response struck me powerfully.  “Lord, if Your presence does not go with us, I would rather stay in the wilderness where You are than go to the Promised Land without You.”  He was far more concerned with being with the Lord in a place of uncertainty than to go on to an easy place without Him.  As recorded in verse 16, he rightfully said that it was the Lord’s presence that made Israel special, that set them apart in the earth.  Nothing of Israel itself was exceptional.  Quite the contrary.  They were a fickle, whiny group of people who would receive miracles and yet crave their former slavery the moment anything got remotely hard.  It was the God of Israel that made this nation exceptional!  It was God’s presence!  When given the choice, Moses emphatically chose to stay in the place of struggle with God’s presence as his guide than to move to a place promised for generations without Him.

Wow!  This passage has given me great pause over the past many days.  Am I more focused on what I want to receive from God or on experiencing His presence in the midst of trials?  What do I crave more – arriving at my “Promised Land” or being in God’s presence even if that means remaining in a wilderness?  Am I defined by my situation on this earth or by my relationship and intimacy with the Living God?  Think of it – the Promised Land was a good place.  After all, it was promised!  But Moses rightfully recognized that no matter the destination, God’s presence along the journey was of paramount importance.  He would rather stay in a barren land with obstinate people and have God’s presence than go to a place of ease and freedom apart from Him.

My hope and prayer is that given the same choice, I would respond as Moses did.  I certainly have not always done so in the past, eagerly awaiting reprieve from seasons of trials and wanderings.  But may Exodus 33 take firm root in my heart, that I would crave God’s presence in my life above anything and everything else.  Lord, I want to be where You are.

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You Are Faithful

Another couple of dear friends have been hit by loss.  My heart aches for them, as well as the others we know who have recently been affected by the frailty of this fallen world.  I don’t know that I’ll ever fully understand the why.  In the midst of it all, a simple song continues to play over and again in my mind.  Its an old, Australian song but the Truth contained within remains as powerful as ever.  When all around aches with confusion, His faithfulness remains.

You Are Faithful by Hillsong

Lord of all the earth
how You care for me
You have made me
You will save and carry me always

You are faithful
You are faithful
You are faithful
Your joy is my strength

Lord, You are my God
I rely on You
I put my hope in things not seen
Your promises all true

Always You’re with me
Your hand will lift me
My trust is in Your hands

You are faithful
You are faithful
You are faithful
Your joy is my strength

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I Belong

The season of love is upon us.  Valentine’s Day is a mere four days away and everywhere you look, hearts and chocolates and the color red abound.  Personally, I find the holiday quite strange.  If you love someone, do you really need an “official” day to show them?  Do you need the calendar to mandate that you make that affection tangible in some special way for the day?  Just my personal opinion. Though I always enjoy a good chocolate. 🙂

That said, Jordan has been amazing on this day for as long as I’ve known him.  From grand occasions to celebrating in sweet, simple ways, he has a knack for romance.  I am truly blessed and continually grateful for him.  Whether its February 14th or some obscure day anytime year round, he never ceases to show me love and value as his wife.  It is a gift I never knew possible and one I do not take for granted.  I am most fortunate to be Jordan Leino’s soulmate.

Beyond the holiday festivities, the subject of love has been in the forefront of my mind of late.  Wrapping my brain around God’s love, applying it to my life (not just knowing about it), and learning more how to live out His love in my own life.  He has taught me much but heaven knows, I still have a long way to go.  This past Sunday, Pastor Jimmy began a 4-week series on Love at Journey Church.  His sermon focused solely on God’s love for us.  It was saturated with Truth – that God is love, He pursued us before we even knew we needed pursuing, and NOTHING can separate us from His love.  Nothing!  He closed with a passage from Romans that has been a rock for me through the ups and downs of my life: Romans 8.38-39

“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.”

This passage continues to amaze and challenge me.  Is it even possible to wrap one’s mind around the vast expanse of this love?  Regardless of my circumstances, do I remain convinced His love remains unlimited and unchanging?  Blows my mind.  A simple song by Kathryn Scott captures these verses so beautifully: I Belong.  It has been playing in my mind all week.  I find myself waking to its melody and humming its lyrics as I go about my day.   It reminds me of the truth in Romans 8 – that nothing can take me from God’s great love.  Click the link below to hear I Belong.  This song has blessed my heart; perhaps it will do the same for you today.

I Belong by Kathryn Scott

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Faith, Hope & Lovebugs

I have been blessed by countless friendships over the course of my life.  Some for a season, others for a lifetime.  God has graciously crossed my path with many incredible people who have taught me life lessons, inspired me and challenged me…simply by how they live their lives day to day. To put it plainly – their lives have changed mine.

One such friend stands out in my mind today.  I first knew of her casually during my time at Liberty University.  She was the brown-eyed girl who always wore a smile.  Everyone who knew her would comment on how amazing she was anytime her name came up in conversation.  But it wasn’t until the fall of 2007 that our paths would divinely collide and begin what has grown into a sweet friendship.  A friendship that I’m honestly humbled and overwhelmed to have.

Our story begins in September 2007.  It was the month following Isaac’s death – a time when we were still shell-shocked and perhaps numb from all that had occurred during the 6 months prior.  A time when we were surrounded by more love and support than I ever imagined possible by people we knew well and others who only knew of us through our blog.  September was a month of learning a new “normal” and figuring out how life was supposed to move on as a family of two again.  It was a time when God carried us moment by moment.

I received an email from an old acquaintance at Liberty – Nathan Lawrenson.  He had served on one of the ministry teams at the same time as Jordan and I.  All I remembered of Nathan was his incredible singing voice, constant humor, and that he had married the brown-eyed girl everyone spoke so fondly of during my time at LU.  I read on to learn that he and his wife, Tricia, lived in North Carolina’s Outer Banks where he was a worship pastor and had just learned through a mutual friend that we had just lost Isaac.  His condolences were so sincere.  He wrote that Tricia had cystic fibrosis and they would soon be traveling to Duke to begin the process of qualifying her for a necessary double lung transplant.  With Duke being a mere 40 minutes from us, they hoped to attend October’s First Wednesday service at the church where Jordan then worked and catch up with us a bit.

At that next month’s First Wednesday, we saw Nathan and Tricia.  It was a wonderful service and we were so excited to catch up with these fellow LU alumni afterwards.  I remember first seeing them after the service ended.  They looked shell-shocked and tired.  All I knew is they had arrived at the church immediately following a full day of tests and doctors appointments at Duke.  With the late hour and their apparent fatigue, we made plans to postpone our catching-up date for the next time they were in town – just a week or two later.

That following visit, we met up at Coldstone for some delicious creamy calories to catch up with each other.  And it was that day that a beautiful journey in friendship began with the lovely brown-eyed girl named Tricia.  We reminisced over days at Liberty and memories from serving on ministry teams.  We laughed as we realized just how many mutual friends we had from LU.  We shared some of our story with the Lawrensons and how we were coping with the sudden change in our family.  And then they caught us up with their lives, explaining why they looked so shell-shocked at the service a few weeks prior.

Tricia’s CF had deteriorated her lungs to the point of now needing to qualify for a double-lung transplant.  It would be a rigorous process of tests, strict diets, and strong medication to ready her body for the new lungs should they become available in time.  Their visit at Duke had been going smoothly until they learned shocking news that would forever change the course of their lives.  Tricia was pregnant!  While most cases of pregnancy begin with pure elation, theirs was a mix of shock, awe and fear.  Terminating the pregnancy was NOT an option as they knew every child is a gift from God.  But how could Tricia now qualify for the lungs she was needing with increasing severity?  The drugs necessary would harm the baby.  Would her body even be able to carry the baby to term, let alone survive a full pregnancy and delivery?  They were smack in the middle of a rock and a hard place.  This precious couple was facing impossible odds, however in the midst of the madness, had a peace about them that could only be explained by their faith in Jesus.  I was so amazed by Tricia that day.  Her very life was in jeopardy, yet she was so full of joy and gratitude for God’s working in her life.  All the while, they kept asking how they could pray for us in our time of grieving!  They were facing the impossible but were so focused on how they could still be God’s hands and feet to others.  I left that afternoon completely humbled and amazed by this sweet couple, particularly Tricia’s grace and genuine love despite her circumstances.

This truly is only the beginning of their remarkable story of faith and overcoming insurmountable odds by the grace and power of God.  Nathan gives a beautiful snapshot of their life since that October here on his blog.  Please read it! My words will not do it justice.  Even during our many visits to the hospital as Tricia’s health quickly declined, both she and Nathan would always ask how we were doing and how they could pray on our behalf.  Since that day at Coldstone, my friendship with Tricia has grown into one I truly treasure.  Every time I’m with her, I’m deeply humbled and challenged by her example to surrender my life more fully to Christ.  She faces so many obstacles each day.  She has nearly every reason to live a selfish, bitter or complacent life.  Yet Tricia joyfully lives out the love of Jesus in each day, always seeking ways to serve others and display Him more.  And to this very day, anytime we are with this precious couple, they still ask how they can serve and pray for us.  Amazing.

Words completely fail me to describe the impact they both have had on my life.  When I think of women I want to be more like, Tricia is always on that list.  It is a joy and privilege to call her friend.  She has recently begun blogging again – Faith, Hope & Lovebugs.  I strongly encourage everyone to read it!  You’ll fall in love with this sweet family as she both inspires and challenges you through the example of her own life and her written words.  There are many beautiful things about Tricia (beyond the fact that she’s gorgeous).  Truly beautiful in every way.  But the one that stands out to me most: she never thinks of herself as inspiring or exceptional.  Rather, she simply thanks God for the gift of every new day she’s given and out of that gratitude and love for Jesus, strives to live Him out however she can.  She loves boldly, serves tirelessly, walks humbly and seeks to better the lives of every one around her.

Tricia lives every moment on purpose and because of it, my life will never be the same.

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Boast In This

Last weekend, Journey Church began the New Year with a unique worship service: Set Apart: From All Else To God For His Glory.  The service was stripped down and simple. Pastor Jimmy Carroll gave a Scripture-packed message on what it means to consecrate ourselves as a church and as individuals to the Lord.  He taught through the four elements of prayer: Praise, Repent, Ask and Yield (Surrender wholly to God).  Throughout the morning, the five-member acoustic team of Josh and Tasha Via, Lisa Masteller, Kody Masteller and Chris Gladden, led in worship both sincere and reflective.  What a morning!

Of all the passages Jimmy read that morning, one has stuck fast with me.  It really hit home the moment I first heard it and continues to challenge me every time I’ve read it since.

Jeremiah 9.23-24  “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.”

Boast not in who you are nor what you do nor whatever you have.  Boast in the Lord!  Boast in knowing Him who is kind, just and righteous.  How many times have I so easily slipped in finding confidence and security in my mere earthly situation – all of which is only mine by the grace and generosity of God!  The Lord delights in showing kindness.  He is the embodiment of justice.  He alone is fully righteous. Lord, I’m sorry for all the million times I have rested and bragged in myself.  All I have and anything of merit found within me is only from You and You alone.  May my boast ever and always be in You.

“…let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the LORD…”

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Christmas Chaos

All month long, I’ve been pondering what this Christmas would be like.  We’d begin our own family traditions this year with Eliana, opening presents together Christmas morning while eating a delicious Christmas breakfast.  Family would come over for a scrumptious lunch and to relax together.  All gifts would be purchased and wrapped by the week before “The Big Day” to allow plenty of time for cooking, cleaning, sending cards and making gifts for neighbors and friends.  Everything thought through and prepared, it would be the first of many Leino family Christmases.

This week has not gone as planned.

Sunday began with NO Christmas gifts purchased yet.  (well, I take that back.  Jordan had bought a gift for me, but as far as my gift-getting responsibilities – nada)  Church was AMAZING!  Our pastor, Jimmy Carroll, preached a strong sermon focused solely on celebrating and exalting Jesus.  Seriously, its worth your time to watch it.

Sunday also brought the beginning of a nasty stomach bug that slowly overtook our entire family.  Poor Eliana got the bug first, followed by myself and finally taking out Jordan.  It even took out my mom and brother who live nearby.  From Sunday through Wednesday night, the Leino family was down for the count. Jordan was a CHAMP and did a bulk of the shopping before the bug sent him to bed (and as you know from earlier, this hardly EVER happens).  By Thursday morning, we were all well enough to venture out to finish the shopping, raid the grocery store and recover the apartment from its former invalid-ridden state.  Well, we hoped to do so anyway.  As of 8 o’clock tonight, the presents have all been bought and wrapped.  That’s it.  No grocery shopping done.  No prep-cooking completed.  The apartment is….better but not great.  Christmas cards will have to wait for 2011.  And I haven’t even begun to prep for our trip to the mountains on Monday.  Last week’s Corolla debacle has reduced us back to one vehicle so I’m home with my precious little girl while Jordan practices w/the Journey worship team for tomorrow’s Christmas Eve services.  In short, this week has felt more like chaos than Christmas.  Tonight has found me frazzled, overwhelmed by lack of checks on my to-do list.

Getting tired of my pity-party yet?  God certainly was.  As the evening has wound down, I’ve sensed Him wanting to bring comfort and ease into the midst of my self-imposed madness.  My heart began to still as I felt His reminder, “This season is not about your to-do list, your boeuf bourguignon, your perfectly clean apartment, your ducks standing all in a row.  Rest in knowing it’s not about all you have to do.  It’s about all I’ve already done!  Perhaps I allowed sickness to hit your family for a few days to make you slow down and simplify.  Whatever doesn’t get “done” won’t matter in the end.  What matters is Jesus came for YOU.  He died for YOU.  He rose from the grave, victorious over sin and death for YOU.  Relish in that.  Rest in that.  Remove your chaos from what Christmas is really all about: love, sacrifice, humility, My pursuit of humanity’s heart, and above all – Jesus.”

So here I sit, peace now replacing my previous frenetic state.  Lord, thank You for your continued patience with me and Your gentle calls back to Your heart.  Yes, I’ll do what I can to finish preparations for this weekend, but the task won’t drive me as it was before.  Its humbling to be this age and still finding myself in need of such a reminder.  But oh, how grateful I am He never tires in giving it.

May you be surrounded by the peace that I so desperately needed…and God so graciously gave.  May you rest in the true heart of Christmas rather than be caught up in the tempting chaos we so easily create around it.  Above all, may your heart and mind be filled in knowing Jesus came out of His limitless love for YOU.  Not you as in humanity in general, though that is true.  He laid aside His divine deity to come in human form for you specifically.  For YOU, you.

Merry Almost Christmas, everyone!  Time to get back to cleaning…

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He Saw Me

Have you ever had one of those days when your faith and trust in God is seriously challenged?  You’re normally certain in Him and rest in how He has guided you through highs and lows.  But then some days come where that assurance seems to come under fire and you weakly feel so vulnerable, desperately needing a sign that He is there…that He sees you.  Today was one of those days.

Since learning that we were pregnant again, there has been a low rumbling of fears on the outskirts of my mind.  Once you’ve had a child born with severe difficulties, you’re keenly aware that the unlikely is possible.  After all, nothing is ever guaranteed.  I’ve been able to fend off the fears and worries for the most part, but for whatever reason, today they came on like gale force winds.  Jordan and I were at Integrity’s Glorious worship conference all day.  One would think that in an environment with other Christians, fully focused on worshiping God, the day would be incredible!  But from the first song’s downbeat, a tsunami of anxiety washed over me.  It flooded my being and its waters did not recede.  Rather as the day went on, my worry moved to fear, fear opened the door to anger, anger gave way to hardness – a hardness that I could not shake.

Where was this coming from?  Why could I not break its weight?  In the past 3 years, God has healed so much of my heart that had broken after Isaac died.  His peace has enveloped me, opening my eyes to see His love and provision every step of the way.  But today, dark clouds skewed my perspective.  All I could see was the hurt, the loss, the pain.  Why was this all coming back?!

By 4 o’clock, I felt genuinely stuck.  The Integrity team began a Soaking worship session – a time for people to sit, meditate and rest as worship to God was sung over and around them.  It was to be a time of reflection and peace.  But there I sat: stuck and not knowing how to move.  “Lord, I’m angry.  I’m afraid.  And I feel like You are a million miles away right now.  Why did you not heal my son?  Why did you let him die?  You’re going to have to do something.  I know all the right things to do and say in the midst of this, but frankly, I just don’t want to!  If You really care, You’re going to have to make the first move.”  Man, I was in a dark place.

Over the course of the next hour, Kathryn Scott and Brian Doerksen sang beautiful songs of brokenness, surrender and the majestic love of God who hears and heals.  Tears kept flooding my eyes as I felt caught between the two worlds – the reality of how I felt and the reality of who God is.  “Lord, You’re going to have to make the first move.  I can’t and I won’t.”  As the session drew to a close, I just wanted to leave.  I was so weary from the day’s weight and could not see a reprieve in sight.  I simply wanted to run away and hide.

And that’s when it happened.  A stranger walked up to Jordan and I, smiling sweetly.  This young woman reached out her hands to shake ours.  “Hello, I’m Jenna.  You don’t know me.  I followed your journey with Isaac and recognized you from a picture on your blog.  Ever since I saw you earlier this morning, I just had to come meet you both and let you know that you are being prayed for.  I prayed for you all while Isaac was here and I’ve been praying for you ever since.”  And with another smile, this precious stranger walked away.

As she turned to leave, I crumbled to a pile of sobbing cries at Jordan’s side.  I could not contain my tears!  In that moment, God spoke clearly and gently to my heart.  “I see you.  I’m with you.  I will not let you go.”  In the depths of my anger and wallowing self-pity, the almighty God of the universe reached out again just to let me know that He saw me.  He had already shown me time and again of His love, His grace, His provision.  But in my fallen, broken state – needing yet another reminder of what I already should have fully known – God moved on my behalf to show His care for me.  He did not judge or condemn my weakness but rather met me in it.  The King of the universe stooped down low to lift my head.  He saw me as I was and loved me in the midst.

Lord, Your love endures forever.  You are slow to anger and greatly abounding in love.  Though I fall a thousand times, a thousand times more You will pick me up again.  I don’t deserve it.  I’m overwhelmed by it.  Thank You for seeing me and for taking the first step to bring Light into my darkness.  Where would I be without You?  While I don’t know what the future holds, I know You will always be there with me.  I love you, Lord.

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