Category Archives: Patience

Grace Isn’t Always As It Seems

Grace /ɡrās/ noun 1.) free and unmerited favor

It’s a word known and familiar.  Regardless of one’s personal convictions, its highly likely that nearly every American and countless many abroad hear the words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” whenever its familiar melody begins to play.

We are deeply touched, even unsettled, whenever we recognize its been given to us. At times, the role of “grace giver” can feel deeply satisfying. This lovely notion that has spurred on artworks and anthems, namesakes worldwide and notoriety to iconic figures through history: A tiny nun who spent her years giving orphans a home. A friendly cardigan-zipping neighbor elevating the dignity of a fellow human being above society’s dividing lines. A Babylonian king extending his scepter at the unbeckoned approach of an unlikely queen. A carpenter’s son who found greatest worth among the least of these. Hymns and homilies and hashtags have waxed poetic of grace in action while traditions and fairytales have shown glimpses of its worth.

Grace.

We all need it.  

We’d like to think we freely give it.  

And I’ll bet my bottom dollar, in one form or another, we all crave it.  Desperately.

At least, I know I do. 

Sometimes I recognize it when given.  Obvious signs of favor I neither deserve nor deny.  Evidence of mercy’s bestowing opposite twin; where mercy withholds deserved consequences without leverage, grace bestows favor without merit.  I see its evidence and feel its weight, warm as a cloak wrapped round the shivering shoulders of a helpless child.  It floods my heart with gratitude and fills my sight with awe.

But sometimes, there are other times when its evidence hides in plain sight, when the cloak is not warm but absolute as a deathly hallow, hiding the enclosed contents completely from searching eyes. In times like these, my mind runs rampant. I’ll recall those hymns and homilies, declarations of grace amazing and sweet, their comfort felt sharp as a knife and bitter on my tongue.

If I’m honest (and can’t we all just be honest), I quickly arrive at conclusions on my worth and the grace-giver’s intentions and all the reasons why this gift, by nature undeservable, has deliberately been withheld. Shaming conclusions and deliberate rejections. I look for grace and find shadows instead. And I determine my perspective accurate, informed, right.

You too?

It’s unnervingly easy to come to such conclusions. At least, I find it so. I look for grace like a river while sorrows like sea billows roll.

But maybe, just maybe, circumstances aren’t always as they first seem?

What if the shadows are not vacancies but evidence of a stronger light?

What if the pain is not a punishment but a provision to expose and spark rescue from a subversive deadly woe?

What if felt silence is not absence but rather the quiet nearness of a gentle embrace?

What if when we wrestle through the night, as Jacob did in times of old, what if the resulting limp IS the blessing?

What if hope is not in fact hollow but firmly rooted in a foundation eyes cannot currently see?

It’s a lesson lifelong for this girl named for what she must relearn again and again. A gift often wrapped in peculiar packaging.

Sometimes grace is a shelter and sometimes grace is the rain.

Sometimes grace is a placeholder, holding off the good as it keeps place for something greater on its way.

Sometimes grace is a cradle and sometimes grace is a crucifixion.

May my eyes behold this gift when wrapped within various forms and remember at all times, it bestows favor, unmerited and free.

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Filed under Faith, God, Patience, Struggles, Suffering, Thoughts

A Year’s Reflection: Word Edition

As 2018 draws near its close, I’m often found in a reflective state of late, taking stock of twelve months come and gone.  It’s a humbling practice, this looking back on experienced highs and lows to find the redemptive thread woven through it all.

The year began with a friend’s question, “What is your word for 2018?”  I had observed this practice in loved ones’ lives before: asking God for a word for the next year and prayerfully waiting until a word resonated deep in their spirit.  For some, it was a virtue to aspire in growth towards.  For others, a promise to cling to through a season of waiting or trial.

My previous several years had been admittedly hard, enduring circumstances I’d sworn never to walk through and finding my faith stripped down to sure studs of grace.  Something about the nearing new year struck a fresh chord, a distant tune that perhaps this year might be different.  So, when I observed surveys circling during 2017’s final days, asking what my word would for 2018 might be, the question stirred curiosity of whether God perhaps held one for me.

Sure enough, whispers of a word rose to the surface of my mind, resonating as true to my wondering heart below.

On January 2, 2018, a group of girlfriends gathered around my table to celebrate and set the tone for this new year.  After indulging in scrumptious offerings of cookie butter, waffle biscuits, flavorful pies and toasts to our collective health, we spent hours exploring enneagram wisdom and related spiritual formation tools.  We dove deep into our stories, asking provoking questions and offering honest answers to trusted friends.  What Scriptures did each of us need to cling to in the new year?  What practices would fuel our faith and direct us closer towards the heart of our loving God?  And, of course, what word spoke to our souls for 2018?  Chalk in hand, 2018 took shape in colors and phrases before our eyes and together, we felt seen, sought, significant before our Maker.

Being an Enneagram Six, the verses 1 John 4:18 and 1 Peter 5:6-7 stood out as timely, passages on the perfect love of God dispelling fear and calling me to cast my worries upon the One who cares most.  Disciplines of Scripture memorization and fasting would promote further growth while grounding practices of singing, journaling, and meditating on God’s Word would stir faith where fear often tried to reign.

As for my word, it started stirring my spirit days earlier.  First heard as a whisper, it echoed in reverse, growing stronger with each refrain.  A notion of new life springing forth from ashes.  Phoenix.

Time passed, turning that evening’s events to memory as life for this solo working mama bustled by with ferocity. Those first few months of this new year seemed circumstantially contrary to the practices and promises scribed in chalk.  Had I misheard?  While “new life” remained elusive, ashes continued to abound.

In time, phoenix fell forgotten.

Now with another year nearly gone, December ushered in a new season of listening for a word.  Once work deadlines and scheduled festive mania subsided, I began reflecting once again.  What had transpired over the course of 2018?  Did the year’s end find me any closer to those elements shared with friends back at it’s beginning?

Thankfully, the chalkboard’s goals and guiding practices had been captured that January night.  I pulled out the photograph to refresh my memory.  In taking stock of the twelve months past through this renewed lens, a remarkable truth emerged:

Every item listed that night had occurred in 2018.

Scriptures memorized.  Seasons of fasting with prayer transpired.  Fears and anxieties brought to the mind’s forefront for purposes of growth and healing.  Songs sung in secret and on stage.  Journaling proven essential in processing the year’s highs and lows and elements between.  Lessons in casting cares onto the loving heart of God, learning to believe His love instead of loud fears (though admittedly this is still very much in process).

As for phoenix, evidence of new life springing from ashes covered the year.  Signs of fresh beginnings and revived dreams: personally, professionally, and in the lives of my children and loved ones.  Encouragement received and distributed in the telling of broken stories redeemed and past pain woven into provision.  Though it had not taken the form I anticipated on that January evening, elements of renewed rising had indeed come to fruition by the mighty hand of God. And it proclaimed grace – all of it.

Today finds me in a familiar space, reflecting on a year gone by while holding hopes for the coming year with open hands.  The new year’s word came in a moment, tucked within a conversation with my dearest friend and sister.

“Remember being brave doesn’t mean feeling brave and you are stepping into bravery with every part of this.  Trusting Jesus when it feels so close yet so far.  And maybe part of this is just abiding.  Not doing but abiding in the present season.”

It jumped from the screen straight into my heart, echoing affirmation all the way down.

Abide (verb): to bear patiently, tolerate; to endure without yielding, withstand; to wait for; to accept without objection

I know not what this new year may hold nor how this word will take shape as days turn to weeks, to months, to another year lived.  Indeed, for an impatient ginger named Patience, this call to deeper resting in my Author’s pen rather than scrambling to take control from my limited perspective feels daunting, unsettling, yet divine.  Looking back to find fingerprints of God’s faithfulness has fueled my faith today to trust Him as the unknown soon unfolds.

Phoenix rising
Now abiding
Beneath the shadow of Thy wings

Sovereign timing
Author scribing
Mine now Yours, an offering

What word might He hold in store for you this next year?

In my experience, its proven worth the asking.

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Filed under Faith, God, Patience, Poetry, Words

A Lesson In Laughter

Every December, a beautiful book comes off the shelf and into my family’s hands. Covered in patchwork colors, it weaves the ancient tail of Christmas from a Garden to a Promise fulfilled, wrapped warm within a manager. Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping The Greatest Gift: A Family Christmas Celebration has become a treasured tradition for this mama. I earnestly hope it’s precious truths sink deeper year after year in my children’s minds and hearts. Only time will tell.

img_8481Tonight found us home for the first time this week with a few unrushed hours before bed. Tis’ the season when stressful….I mean “festive”…merriment abounds around every nook of the calendar. First world problems, I know. Regardless, my little brood and I found ourselves with time to spare, time enough for a timeless story. I grabbed this beautiful book from the shelf and turned to December 6th’s reading.

The Gift of Laughter – the story of Isaac

This story, both fresh and familiar, speaks of a promised child to a couple, barren and nearing triple-digit years. A covenant that could only be measured by an immeasurably starry sky. A long-offered prayer answered with a laughable word of hope. Could it be, after all this time, this dream deep and tender might come true? It was utterly absurd, rationally speaking.

“…She laughed too – but Sarah laughed sad…the way you do when you think someone is teasing you, and you laugh brave so you don’t cry hard.”

Even the clinical, doubtful dismissal by a waiting-worn woman would turn to joyful laughter as Isaac eventually entered the world by her womb.

God always answers prayers; He keeps His promises.

As I sat beside my admittedly distracted children, the heart captured afresh was my own. How many times had I heard this story? How often had it impacted my life already? Indeed – enough to name my firstborn after Sarah’s promised son. But tonight’s reading of familiar words and Ann’s poetic prose exposed a needed truth.

At times, I am Sarah who, upon hearing a good promise from a good God, responds with lacking belief or worst yet – interprets it as cruel. The words jumped off the colored page, straight into my exposed heart.

“Sometimes you use laughter like a shield to protect your heart. Could Sarah let down her guard and believe that God would be gentle with her dream to hold a child of her own?”

Could she?

Could I?

We all hold something deep and tender as Sarah did. Perhaps it’s for a struggle relieved, a relationship revealed or restored, a recognition long denied or a dream brought to reality. While our details may vary, we all can relate to Sarah’s angst in some way, understand her disbelief that her most precious hope might actually, finally, be brought to fruition. To a weathered soul, it feels an awful risk.

As this Sunday school story revived with tonight’s reading, I was struck afresh not only by the reluctant recipient of a promise but by the resilient generosity of the Promise Keeper. Sarah’s struggle to believe did not sway God’s bequeathing Hand. Rather He, in His perfect way, replaced her bared-teeth grimace with the purest laughter of a blessing made manifest, clenched fists now spread wide as they embraced the embodiment of laughter – in fact, it was his very name – Isaac.

As the story ended and my children dashed off to their next endeavor, I sensed that familiar whisper near while I closed the quilted cover.

“You’ve been like Sarah. And I am the God of Isaac. Trust me to turn waiting into wonder. After all – I always fulfill my Promise.”

Tonight finds me yet again beneath a warmly lit tree, struck in awe at the message of Christmas cast in new light. Like Sarah, I’m prone to doubt His kindness, to laugh dismissively over long-awaited prayers. But He – He is the God of Isaac, from whose line came the Ultimate Long-awaited One – Jesus, the Messiah. It has ignited my faith with renewed hope, not in outcomes, but in the One who came, who will surely come again. He who was faithful to Sarah will surely be faithful to you and me.

May the laughter of this season remind us all that hope placed in Him is never in vain.

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Reflections Of A Summer Gone By

It’s been a gift, these past 3 months, wrapped in various packaging.

Near & far.

Brief & lengthy.

Joy & sorrow.

Filled up & poured out.

Lessons taught & wisdom received.

Laughter & lament.

Camps, car rides, & cookouts.

Memories. Oh the memories, new & re-remembered.

Summer break brought a welcome respite from our family’s frenetic school year schedule. While lunches still needed packing, this working mama reveled in the reprieve from early carlines & driving east simply to commute further west. Most glorious of all – NO homework! Praise be.

Of my many summers in motherhood thus far, this one stands out unique. A summer of healing, maturing, of digging deep & mending hearts, thoughts, lives.

I witnessed confidence return to a worn child.

I saw faces alight with fresh fun & freckles from days soaking up sea & sun.

I rocked sleeping giants & whispered Truths constant & prayed over dreamers whose hearts I now carried surely as once had my womb.

I learned to listen a bit quicker, to respond a bit slower, to relinquish control a bit less begrudgingly.

I offered broken hallelujahs with bittersweet celebrations, holding more tightly to things lovely while more willingly laying down arms.

I cried honest admissions & harrowing realizations & humbled celebrations of grace freely given.

I watched a daughter rise after a hard, hard season to shine her inherent light again.

I watched a son wrestle life lessons with resilient kindness & curious wonder.

I watched the woman in my mirror start smiling in reflection once more, beginning to dream, to dare for days brighter ahead.

I witnessed grace falling like monsoon rains, undeserved, unrelenting, free.

Three months come & gone. As tonight falls soft, this house quiet with sleeping babes & a mother reminiscing, a wise king’s words resound amidst the silence:

“To everything there is a season; a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Summer draws to its close as a new elementary academic year begins. When a new season dawns with tomorrow’s rising sun, may it find me grateful. It’s certainly been a summer to remember.

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So God Made A Sister

As God looked upon the world He’d made, upon the family unit He established, He saw a heart cry for a specific life companion.

So God made a sister.

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He saw children’s desire to explore and dreams of adventures far and near.  He knew princesses would twirl, delighting in each other’s beauty as they wore dresses five times their size.  He knew outfits held more fun when worn in tandem with a close friend.  He created them to nurture and be nurtured, to inspire and to be adored.  Before they could even walk, kindness lavished was needed.

So God made a sister.

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He created daughters filled with joy, brimming over and longing to be shared with others.  Laughter needing sharing, victories (even the smallest ones) needing celebrating, and griefs needing carrying by strong, sympathetic hearts.  Secrets bubbled for entrusting as songs echoed in hearts craving harmony.  Joys to share and burdens to bear.

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So God made a sister.

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He knew this fallen world could be cruel, whispering lies stripping value and beauty from rightful beholders.  He knew a woman’s worst critic would often be herself and how desperately she’d need her vision readjusted by another seeing more clearly.  As valleys low loomed and high mountains called for climbing, He desired entrusted history and friendship to never leave her side.

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So God made a sister.

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From sidewalks to school halls, down aisles and through delivery wards, He desired she not be alone.  From Nana’s shoe closet to dress-up trunks, from prom dresses to wedding gowns, He desired her beauty be shared and celebrated.  From little league to Varsity, from summer camps near to excursions abroad, He longed that His daughters experience adventures, make memories, transform from girls to women together.

So God made a sister.

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In 1986, the world changed as a beautiful curly-headed ginger entered the scene.  Her bright green eyes and dimpled smile sparked inspiration as her contagious joy filled every darkened space.  Strangers became new-found friends and the insecure found encouragement.  She shone light as though she’d soaked up the sun.  Dance partner, adventure companion, sleepover snuggle bug, and persistent friend.

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Through life’s darkest valleys, she would inspire strength and resilience among her family, often giving them cause to keep going when it seemed easier to give in to cynicism.  Infectious joy, she would grow to hold wisdom beyond her years and compassion beyond reason.  Love for the broken, kindness for the downtrodden, and enduring hope through it all.

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God knew a family would need reminding over and again of His goodness, His faithfulness, His love through dark seasons to come.  As darkness sought to tear apart, He desired they be knit close together.  Someone to pray, someone to encourage, someone to inspire and trust. Confidant and best friend.

And when He looked upon this beauty, He smiled knowing His creation was indeed very good.

For God made my sister.

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Lessons From The Blueberry Patch

imageSummer finds me bent low often, stooped in search of something sweet. Tiny treasures hidden in foliage green. Gathering bites of blue has become a welcomed habit, gleaning far more than berries in a bowl. The yield of lessons has surprised me.

My mom, or Maima as my children call her, is an avid gardener. Since childhood, she has nurtured life and beauty all around her, creating lovely homes and providing for those within. Lining her backyard is a delicious hedge of blueberry bushes, three gleaning berries through June and three bearing fruit through the end of July. What a scrumptious sight! Her estimate of thousands of berries adorning the branches was no overstatement. Nearly a gallon-sized basket fills every few days with plump blues. Every year since their planting, these bushes have produced exponentially more berries than the year prior. Their first harvest was sparse, the berries somewhat sour. But rains came, Maima pruned and nurtured, God brought the growth.blueberry

While gathering today’s harvest, I sensed the Lord near. He who breathed life into creation, who began all things within a garden, dealt truth to me through my simple task: picking ripe blueberries. His voice came inaudibly, more as a stirring within, nudging my heart by truth reflected consistent in Scripture.

“You see,” I sensed Him say, “these bushes did not stop growing nor producing fruit based on comparison. They did not grow discouraged when their first berries weren’t just right. They simply kept doing what I created them to do: be fruitful. They’ve grown sweeter with time, more plentiful each passing year. Had they ceased to bear fruit, they would have been pruned, cut off, disposed of. But they bore down – against winds, through rain, enduring snow, standing against heat. They simply persevered.”

Another handful of dark delectable dropped into the bucket. I wedged through the densely fruitful branches, not wanting to miss a berry. Again He nudged.

“Do you see these? Shriveled and hard? They once were ripe, sweet and plump. But they were never harvested so their sweetness was wasted. Some remain stuck in place while others fall to the ground, slowly rotting away. Had the gardener come in time, they too could have been enjoyed.”

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A still breeze blew through the air and my soul, quieting all around.

“My child, you are this blueberry patch. I have planted you with intention, creating you with purpose. Your job is not to pull back based on a less-than-perfect outcome nor grow discouraged with early sparse harvests. Your job is to keep on, to grow deep roots, to do what I’ve created you for and trust the outcome to Me. Maturing comes with time. Be fruitful with what you’ve got now. It will grow sweeter, more plentiful as you endure.”

“My child, you are the gardener. Realizing the berries at their ripe potential keeps the bushes strong, feeds your family and provides enjoyment to those you share your harvest with. But when you neglect to gather what I have brought forth – your talents, your gifts, the opportunities I bring – then they shrivel like these hardened berries, once plump with potential now dropped to the ground. Don’t miss what I have for you nor neglect the harvest for fear of failure, of imperfection. If you never picked a berry from worrying that it may not be the sweetest, you’d miss out terribly and the bush would go to ruin.”

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“But oh my child, how great is My grace! Even those berries fallen to the ground can nourish the soil. Be not discouraged. Learn. Grow. Reap the harvest I have planted and TRUST ME with the outcome. I am the Great Gardener.”

Today I came to the blueberry patch to gather fruit but left with so much more. Oh how sweet the harvest!

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Parenthood

No experience has made me more aware of my sinful human frailty and desperate need for a Redeemer than parenthood.  It frazzles me quicker than I’d like to admit, stretching my patience and compassion.  This is NOT a reflection on my children.  After all, they are only 1 and 3 years old!  Every struggle they face is an opportunity to learn and my responsibility to lead them in the way they should go.  Wasn’t I in their place but a few short decades ago?!  Parenthood ought be cherished as it is a gift not given to all.  It is an unmerited blessing and a privilege.  But oh, how it shows the weaknesses in myself!

When raising small children, ample opportunities abound to grow impatient, to respond out of frustration, to frazzle and fray.  Whether giving an answer for the umpteenth time or teaching a life lesson again, perspective can shift in a nanosecond off of the big picture of their developing lives to how inconvenienced I am by the whole thing.  To respond in anger gives momentary satisfaction and long-lasting regret.  I have given in to my frustrations far more often than I’d like to admit and had to ask my children’s forgiveness more than I ever dreamed necessary.  *sigh*

Yesterday was one such day.  Certainly not a mom-of-the-year worthy day…at all!  Once the kids were finally napping, I lay in bed – exhausted and reeling in regret over my responses to them.  “Come on, Patience!  You’re 30!  You’re the PARENT!  You set the example!  Good grief.  How do you expect them to learn and feel loved if you act like that?!”  The shame fell thick on my heart.

Hours later, the Lord worked through story time with the kids to speak His love and grace over my heart.  We read The Good Shepherd chapter out of The Jesus Storybook Bible and though the words were about David, it felt like the Lord was speaking straight to me.

“David was a shepherd, but when God looked at him, He saw a king.  He had a heart like God’s heart – full of love.  Now, that didn’t mean he was perfect, because he did some terrible things – he even murdered a man.  No, David made a big mess of his life.  But God can take even the biggest mess and make it work in His plan.  ‘I need a new heart, Lord,’ David prayed, ‘because mine is full of sin.  Make me clean inside.’  God heard David’s prayer.  He forgave David…”

In reading those words, the Lord spoke gently.  “Yes, you do terrible things some times.  But I can redeem those things.  You’re not perfect but I AM.  Come to me with your mess.  I love you.”  Later that same day, I was reading 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Once again, the Lord spoke from heavens high to my fallen, weary heart as I read Ann’s words:

“The parent must always self-parent first, self-preach before child-teach, because who can bring peace unless they’ve held their own peace?  Christ incarnated in the parent is the only hope of incarnating Christ in the child….Do I really smother my own joy because I believe that anger achieves more than love?  That Satan’s way is more powerful, more practical, more fulfilling in my daily life than Jesus’ way?  Why else get angry?  Isn’t it because I think complaining, exasperation, resentment will pound me into the full life I really want?  Give THANKS to keep your gaze on heaven.”

In all this, I felt overwhelmed by God’s goodness.  After all, He is my Heavenly Father.  How often I act the part of child, tantrumed and defiant and selfish.  Yet never once has He responded in anger towards me.  Never once has He failed to show love and grace, even on my most deplorable days.  When I honor Him, His grace remains.  When I go against all He has ever taught me, His grace remains.  When conviction fills my heart and I run to Him, never once has He held His arms crossed, still too mad from my behavior to reconcile.  No.  His arms are ALWAYS open wide for the wayward child to come.  His love is ALWAYS lavishing, even when we least deserve it.  God, the ever-faithful, ever-patient, ever-enduring Father.

Parenthood.  It stretches, it tests, it can refine.  When my little ones act out, may I focus not on their indiscretions towards my inconvenienced heart, but on the One who never grows impatient with me.  May I remember His grace that is ever extended and show the same to my children.  In the moments of meltdowns, may my mind remember the many I’ve been forgiven of by my Heavenly Father and show the same kindness to Eliana and Evan.  May I be grateful for their very lives, that I even have kids to love and train.  Lord, keep me grateful and mindful of Your great love towards me.  On my own, I will surely fail as a parent.  May I rest in Him and simply pass along to my sweet ones that which He has poured out on me.

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Pinning Inspiration

I find when there is a lesson, quality, memory verse, mindset or habit I’m trying to gain, I need to be reminded of my goal.  Often.  Very often.

Enter Pinterest.  This has become my go-to tool for visual reminders.   I’ve been gathering artistically displayed verses and quotes on a board titled “Points To Ponder”.  I’ll select a pin fitting my current circumstance and display the image as many places as possible.  Seeing these reminders throughout the day has really helped my growth in desired areas, memorizing verses more quickly and often restoring my mindset on frazzled days.

One great place to display such prompts is on your phone or desktop.  For example, recently I was struggling with feeling overwhelmed.  I grabbed a pin from my Pinterest board, copied the image to my phone’s wallpaper and voila!  My mind was directed towards the Lord EVERY time I used my phone.  Every call, every text brought this verse to mind.

Its a little trick that I’ve found greatly helpful.  Hopefully it will encourage you too.  Get pinning!

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Bloom

Its tempting.  That persistent pull during stressful moments and amidst the chaos of motherhood.  When it seems you’re treading water just to make it through the day, yearning for bedtime to finally come for a brief respite from life’s ever-rushing flow.  It whispers in the mundane as I fold yet another load of laundry and look at the messy room that was clean just moments before.

“I can’t wait for this season to be over.”

I have found myself wrestling with this tug to look more towards tomorrow than enjoy whatever is held in today.  Don’t get me wrong.  I absolutely ADORE my children!  I’m beyond grateful that I’m able to stay home to raise them in these small years.  What a blessing to have a home to keep and a full fridge of food to prepare.  All gifts.  All luxuries.  All able to wear me out more than I’d like to admit.  Motherhood has proven thus far the most refining role I’ve held yet.  Sacrifice.  Selflessness.  Patience.  So much patience.  ‘Tis not a glamorous job but oh so worthwhile.

As I’ve wrestled with this pull during today’s struggles to be more eager for tomorrow’s elusive ease, the Lord continues to bring this passage to mind.  Oh how I need it!

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for me, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3.23-24)

Whatever you do.  Whatever.  Whether folding laundry for the millionth time or cleaning another dirty diaper or putting down the book that you’d really like the chance to read to give your child a needed hug, do it ALL for the glory of God.  When tomorrow’s dreams feel like they lay on the back burner in order to accomplish the needs of today, work at today’s tasks as unto the Lord.  Rather than hoping this season will quickly pass because of my own shortcomings and impatience, I ought embrace the gift of today that He has given me.  After all, the whole of life is a sum of todays.  If I spend it all looking towards the tomorrows rather than embracing the now, I will have squandered it all.

Jim Elliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”  In other words, bloom where you are planted.  That is my hope, my prayer, the lesson I continue to struggle in learning.  When the tugging comes to wish away the present struggles for tomorrow, may I remember that it is the Lord Jesus whom I serve.  May I work at all before me as working unto Him, knowing if this is the season He has for me, then it is for a good purpose and I can trust Him in it.  After all, today is but a wisp, here for a moment and then gone forever.  May I be found faithful in His sight.  May I bloom where I’ve been planted.

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In Response Of Wrongdoing

We’ve all experienced it.  We’ve observed its wreckage from afar and felt its sting first hand.  Wrong done in the name of right.  Intentional harm from trusted hands.   It bruises at the onset and rattles our being long after.  Wounding sin.

Today found me wrestling unexpected thoughts of past experiences.  Thoughts of harsh words spoken, lies told, accusations thrown, trust broken.  While enjoying some java during the kids’ naps, this sudden flood began and with it, a wave of anger.  It quickly grew from a steady simmer to a roaring boil.   My heart raced with righteous anger against the utter nastiness of sin and its devastating effects, both in my life and the lives of loved ones.  We all have been wronged at one time or another.  And we all have done wrong to someone else.  We are, after all, innately sinful.  Nevertheless, this morning’s awareness of these offenses, some of which may never be rectified, left me frantic with frustration and nearly tachycardic in wanting justice served.

“In your anger, do not sin.”

But it’s wrong!  It mocks Your Name!  It harms undeserving people!  It’s not right!  Why do You allow such things to happen?!

“In your anger, do not sin.”

I know, Lord, I know.  But I’m so angry!  Emotions raged as memories raced.  Some wounds fresh along with old scars resurfacing, reminding me of whence they came.  Where was this coming from?  And what in the world was I to do with it?!

“In your anger, do not sin.”

Over and again, the Lord whispered Ephesians 4:26 to my heart.  In the midst of feeling the weight of others’ sins against me, I did not want to respond in like kind.  I would be no better than those who caused the original harm.  It would not leave me better off.  It would bring NO honor to the Lord.  None.  But what to do…

I had no answers but knew I needed to go to Scripture to find them.  Anything apart from that would simply be based in opinion and emotion.   A trusted friend immediately came to mind.  Ever since I first met Beverly Carroll, she has always spoken Biblical truth into my life, ever pointing me to Christ in times of wrestling.   Today was no exception.  I shared with her my consuming struggle, asking what passages had guided her when she faced wrongdoing.

James 1:19,20   2 Corinthians 10:5   Ephesians 4:25-27, 29-32

Beverly immediately pointed to passages that deal with such ugliness, mostly our response to them.  As I scoured these verses, the Lord began calming my turmoil.  The words turned my attention off of the wrongs done and onto the One who came to redeem all things.  Slowly, my mind went from being consumed with the sins of others to dwelling on the One who forgave MY sins.  What Beverly shared next diffused the fury burning within me, shifting my focus from the wrongs to the Redeemer.  As I could not say it better myself, here is what she wrote:

Matthew 5:23,24 instructs us to be reconciled, regardless.  That means that we cannot indulge negativity or bitterness even when they are warranted and justified.  Forgiveness is vital, required, even when the offenders don’t deserve it.  God requires it.  It is an act of obedience that can become our offering to the King.  They may not deserve it.  They simply benefit from our unwavering desire to please God.  It cannot be done on our own.  It is a supernatural gift, to “be not overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).  2 Peter 1:3,4 assures us that we have everything we need, in Christ, to live the lives He expects us to live.  We are promised that that we don’t have to do it ourselves.  We partake of the divine nature that is already in us.  We don’t have to muster up love or forgiveness.  We don’t have to remove our own bitterness.  We simply partake of everything that is available to us in Christ.  We help ourselves to His very nature thus enabling us to escape the very corruption you reference.  I think, regarding these types of struggles, that victory is a daily laying down, much like surrender.  It’s certainly not a once-for-all victory.  But it does drive you to Christ repeatedly, and that fact, alone, helps us to count it all joy.  It’s just one more example of the fact that God redeems what He allows.”  Wow.

So what to do in response of wrongdoing?  Forgive.  Speak truth in love.  Overcome evil with good.  Not because it is deserved but because as our act of surrendered worship to God.  Because while we were in the midst of our sin, Christ died for us.  Because it reminds us yet again of our need for the Savior.

We all have been wronged.  We all have wronged someone else.  We all must run to Jesus in the midst of the mess.  Only there can true healing, true forgiveness, true peace be found.  To Him and Him alone be the glory for it.

Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.  Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  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 12:9-21)

 

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So Here’s The Thing…

Thirteen months.  It has been thirteen months since my last blog post.  Thirteen months since I let a day pass without writing…then two..then a week…then 2012 is halfway over and not a single thing has been written!  THIRTEEN MONTHS!

Truth be told, I set out to be perfect.  I wanted to write a post every day, each week, all year long.  I have several amazing girlfriends with far more children and responsibilities than I who are able to wax poetic daily.  They don’t simply write posts; they inspire, they encourage, they are consistent.

I love to write.  Since I was a young girl, words have gripped me in inexplainable ways.  I will choose a book over a movie anytime.  Something about putting thoughts to paper has always brought great joy and focus to my heart.  I don’t claim to be a brilliant writer by any means.  Writing is simply the venue the Lord has given me to sort my own thoughts and analyze my life experiences.  When faced with a blank page and words begin flowing, all the madness of life seems to fade and for a brief while, the scrambled things come into focus.  Many times, the Lord has brought words and passages to mind in the midst of writing that He would use to work in me later on.  So much of my writing during Isaac’s life was words He would give in the midst of writing sessions to later use in ministering to my weary heart.  Its nothing that I have earned nor take credit for.  Its just the way He has wired me.

So here’s the thing:  As I said, I want to be perfect.  Not to impress or gain attention but to accomplish every goal I set.  Since I was young, I’ve had an innate desire to get it right every time, all the time.  To set a goal and fully achieve it.  Type A, anyone?!  So when I set out to be a consistent blogger, I was gung-ho.  Posts were flowing, lessons being learned and in need of sharing if for not other reason than to record His workings for myself.  But then it happened.  A day would go by, then a few.  Writers block would creep in and suddenly I was faced with inconsistency.  My pride bruised from imperfection.  One would logically think, “Just pick up where you left off and keep on writing.”  But no.  It turned into anxiety, embarrassment.  I couldn’t just write any post.  It must be epic!  Profound.  Worth the loss of days.  As each day passed, my self-inflicted pressure continued to rise.  Thirteen months later…

This is but one of countless examples in my life that has caused me to face my frailty head on.  How often I strive for perfection, to have everything all together, all the time, on my own.  Were I truly honest, it is a struggle that has impacted my walk with the Lord.  I fail and my natural response is embarrassment, discouragement, inaction.  At its core, isn’t that the human experience?  In the Garden, Eve desired to be like God by eating the fruit, to become perfect.  Yet once she sinned, rather than running to the arms of the One who loved her most, she hid in shame.  We seek to be complete and self-fulfilling all on our own, as if we will impress God with our “grandeur”.  Yet every ability, every gifting, every good and perfect thing to be found in us ultimately comes by His generous hands.

It may seem like a silly issue, inconsistent writing, but it has been a simple lesson on a greater issue for me.  The Lord desires my communion with Him, not perfection of my own accord.  After all, I will NEVER be perfect.  ‘Tis the human condition: broken and in need of a Redeemer.  So whether it be a large life issue or simply a blip in the blogosphere, He is teaching me to move ahead.  Lay down the discouragement and press onward, further knowing my desperate need of Him and His gracious delight in me.

So here’s the thing:  I won’t be perfectly consistent in writing.  I will set goals and sometimes fail in achieving them.  Writers block may come and go.  But when the words do come again, rather than being silent out of my shame of inconsistency, I will simply pick up my pen and scribe again.  After all, anything of merit in my words comes from Him.  I simply want to be faithful in expressing what He has given.

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Still Here…

To say the past few months have been a whirlwind would be a ginormous understatement.  In a blink, time has flown from being massively pregnant and traveling to DC to now being a mother of two amazing kids.  Evan Garrett turns 3 weeks old tomorrow and though he has only been with us a short time, I could not imagine life without him in it.  I am completely smitten with this precious little boy and amazed at the love Eliana shows him daily.  Jordan continues to astound me with the incredible father he is to our kids and how he finds little ways daily to encourage and love me.  Simply put — I am blessed beyond measure and comprehension.

I hope to blog more regularly in the days and weeks ahead as I adjust to our family’s new routine (and hopefully gain more sleep).  There are pictures to be posted, stories to be told, posts to catch up on, and hilarious pregnant moments to share.  But for now, know that the Leinos are having an amazing summer.  Thank you all for your prayers on our behalf as we waiting for Evan’s arrival and the joy you have shared with us since his birth.  More to come soon!

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Road Trip

It’s finally here!  A weekend I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time.  For the next three days, my mom, sister and I are having a culinary weekend together!  My amazing hottie of a husband is watching Eliana for the whole weekend so that I can spend the next three days off of mom duty with my girls.  Mornings in Georgetown and historic Washington, D.C., an afternoon in my hometown – Annapolis, MD, exploring the eastern market in our nation’s capital, a full evening at a Julia Child cooking class in Pentagon City.  The fun has just begun!  I truly am blessed to spend these next three days with my mom and sister, laughing throughout each day and enjoying delectable food together.  What a blast!

Happy weekend, everyone!  Be sure to check back next week for the delicious details of our foodie weekend.  I’ll enjoy some Georgetown Cupcakes on your behalf. 🙂

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Under The Weather

I’m not sure what it is about this week: perhaps the change of seasons, this ever-growing baby boy, or some bug that’s going around.  Whatever the cause, I have certainly been under the weather this week.  Nausea, leg cramps, heart burn, migraines.  Not my best week for sure.  But despite the lingering yuck and sleepless nights, I’m reminded there is much to be thankful for in the midst of feeling ill:

God has provided so much for our family.  A safe home, a warm bed, food, clothing, medicine to help with aches and discomforts, healthy children, a new baby on the way, white cells.  While I don’t feel my best at all, I’m in far better shape than countless many in our country and around the world.  This too shall pass.  Being physically slowed down for the week, I’ve been able to focus far more during my reading times in the Bible and elsewhere.  Some times the most undesired circumstances can bring about rich, hidden blessings.  Who knew the Book of Numbers had so much to say!

My husband is truly amazing.  He has cared for Eliana and I incredibly well all during one of the busiest work weeks of the year so far.  He sweetly tells me I’m beautiful on my yuckiest days, rubs my ever-cramping feet, and has made many runs to Target for more ginger ale…at all hours of the day.  My daughter is precious.  She seems to understand why Mommy has needed to be on the couch so much, often running over just to give me a hug or lay there with me.  So sweet.  I’m blessed with an wonderful family, both immediate and in-laws.  They are all caring and considerate, praying on my behalf and sending encouraging messages throughout the day.  I’m surrounded by incredible friends.  They are always a delight to be around and can bring a smile to even the most nauseous face.  Friends in every season.  What a blessing!

This may not be the most fabulous week of my life, but it certainly has not been the worst.  My life is not perfect.  However, in the midst of the good, the bad and the mundane, God promises to with me (Deut. 31.8).  He truly is all I need (Phil. 4.19).  Whether we’re at the top of our game or under the weather, enjoying the views from a beautiful mountaintop or trudging through the fog of a dark valley, there is always an opportunity to be thankful.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”  Philippians 4.4


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Friday Facts

  • I’m 27 weeks pregnant today.  Little Man Leino has become quite a busy-body.  He is definitely strong, kicking and moving his arms with far more force than my other two kiddos at this stage.  At times it feels like he’s doing somersaults or boxing.  I can’t wait to meet this feisty little guy in June!
  • The warmer weather has allowed Eliana to spend much more time outside and she has loved it!  She wants to be outdoors every chance she gets.  Often her first word in the morning is “outside?”  Such a happy little girl.  Whether she’s flying kites with Daddy, helping Maima in her garden or coloring on the porch in a hula skirt, Eliana has a blast anytime she’s in the sun.

  • Leino Studios had a fabulous first week in its new location.  We are so thankful for the new space God provided for Jordan’s business.  Though we are still putting some final decorating touches on the space, Jordan has already enjoyed the benefits of having much more space for all his musical and business needs.  A step forward in every way, we’re excited to see all that is in store for the Studio in this next season.
  • Our little girl loves to sing!  Any time music is playing, she’s singing and dancing along.  Maima has been teaching Eliana the words and motions for “Itsy, Bitsy Spider”.  It amazes me to watch her pick up phrases and hand motions so quickly.  I found her trying to get one of her baby dolls to do the motions this past week.  Precious!
  • Journey just finished a series on Love.  Boy, has it impacted me!  Over four weeks, our church took an in-depth look into what Scripture says about Love: God’s love, our love for Him, our love for others and our love for ourselves.  I’ve found myself reading through my notes over and again, wanting to listen to the sermons more than once as they have really challenged me to grow and convicted me in areas I certainly need it.  I highly encourage everyone to take the time to listen to the messages.  Since Jesus said that the world will know His disciples by our love, its an area we all could grow in.
  • Well the sunshine and an energetic little lady are calling me outside.  Be sure to check back here on Monday as I’ll be sharing the most amazing carrot cupcake recipe I have ever tasted!  Seriously….BEST EVER!  Happy weekend, everyone!

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Blast from the Past

I have the best siblings in the universe.  Growing up with Ian and Corinne was always a laughter-filled adventure.  How truly thankful I am for them both!

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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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A Beautiful Mess

I’ve been a mess the past few days.  A pregnant, emotional, occasionally ugly-crying mess.  In a matter of milliseconds, I’ve gone from laughing hysterically to bawling my eyes out and back.  Wrestling with vastly different emotions on behalf of dear friends: miscarriages, pregnancies in peril, healthy babies born, cancer diagnoses, relationships restored, jobs lost and found.  Add in a healthy dose of pregnancy hormones and you’re left with one whopping mess* of tears and chocolate cravings.  (*insert prayer for my dear husband here)

Then Thursday night came.  The whole drive to pick up Jordan from teaching had me, once again, in tears.  Being the genius that I am, I decided to play a Kathryn Scott song that has me weepy on a sanguine day.  Eliana must have been wondering, “what the heck is wrong with my mother?!”  She simply laughed and sang her heart away all the while.  Our trek from Jordan’s office to Journey for worship band rehearsal had thankfully less tears with precious encouragement coming from my wonderful husband (also probably wondering “what the heck is wrong with my wife?!”)

As the band set up and prepped for rehearsal, I saw a dear friend of mine.  Within moments, we both were sharing tears and our struggles from the week.  Though we live quite a distance apart, we both had been experiencing similar emotions and wrestling with similar heartaches from our own experiences and on behalf of mutual friends.  We cried, we expressed our own confusion in ourselves and not having the answers to the questions that perplexed us.  We laughed at our hysteria and how grateful we are for husbands who love us in spite of us.

Then we were able to pray together.  What a gift it was to pray together to the God who hears, even while not having all the answers ourselves.  I’m so grateful for friendships that bear burdens, rejoice together and regardless of current circumstances, go with you before the Throne.  God worked through those few moments together with this wonderful woman to bring peace amidst my madness and to encourage my hormonal heart.

The rest of rehearsal was a beautiful time for me, relishing in the truth of the lyrics we sang and surrounded by incredible music played by people who genuinely love their Savior.  By evening’s end, I left encouraged and at peace.  Granted, I still feel the weight of concern for friends facing trying times.  But God had worked through my steadfast husband, a dear friend, and the songs we rehearsed as a soothing balm on my emotional, weary heart.  Will I cry again tomorrow?  Probably.  After all, I am still quite pregnant.  But I’ll be able to laugh at myself in the midst of the raging emotions and confusing times, knowing that ultimately God still holds my whole world in His hands and that I am not alone.  Thank you, Lord, for all the ways you work in my life.  Even in my weakest moment, Your strength shines all the more.

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