Category Archives: Struggles

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 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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Filed under Faith, God, Isaac, Patience, Struggles

Beneath a Tree

It’s been a day, a wearying one, filled to the brim with projects, problems, and parenting. Also known as Thursday.

Before dawn’s light crested the horizon, this household of mine was on the go. Funny how the “most wonderful time of year” never ceases to coincide with year’s end mania. Every arena of daily life seems bursting at the seams with all that must be done. Today was no exception. Tonight finds me weary and worn.

And yet.

Here, in the quiet of sleeping babes and labors laid aside, of thoughts alight with needed do-overs and never-agains, of small successes and ample failures, I sit beneath a tree.

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Warmly lit, small splashes of color clad forest hues, a tree bedecked in memories. Something about its glow ushers in thoughts of holidays gone by, of a Savior child come to live among us. Emmanuel, come to die.

Slowly, surely, the sounds of today’s missed moments and mishaps fade, replaced by a gentler, stronger song: Come. Come let us adore Him for He alone is worthy. Christ the Lord.

And with its silent melody, Peace.

Tonight finds me now grateful: for the privilege of enduring life’s chaos, for the harrowing honor to steward children’s hearts and youth for a time, for the quiet that now fills my home, for the Reason behind a glowing tree. This has become a Silent Night, a Holy Night.

Indeed, all has been made calm and bright.

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Filed under Christmas, Faith, Struggles

Bestow The Words You Crave

Another long day, grappling past lies and current insecurities and future worst-case possibilities.  Craving words of reassurance to raw wounds open, I reach out to friends with said aching, seeking remedy.  Disappointment comes again as well-intentioned words fall hollow on these doubting ears.  Shame lays another layer down upon a battered heart.

And round about this carousel of craving I go again.

We’ve likely all taken a spin or seventy on this merry-go-round, seeking wholeness in the words of trusted friends for our scarred places, wounded spaces. Guilty as charged.  For me, it happens most often come evening. When the world slows, and children finally sleep, and I lie alone in bed.

“Am I enough?  Is God still kind?  Not to us all but to me.  Did my failures today scar my children for life?”  These are some of my frequent flyers.  I’m confident your list stands ready in the wings too.

What do we do?  What do I do?  I grab my phone and reach out to people to fill these aching gaps.  They respond as best they know how yet my holes within only expand under the weight of sincere yet inadequate platitudes.  This cycle repeats until loud lies feel true and worth seems lost and alone becomes more than a place but a defining status.

Maybe it’s just me.

But I know it isn’t.

Life happens, wounds happen, heck – simply human existence happens – and we reach out battered hearts for divine balm from mortal sources.  Funny how loneliness often perpetuates itself through the avenues used in seeking remedy.

Recently, I found myself on this well-worn path again.  Questions of worth, the purpose for pain, value where history had “proven” otherwise.  In the middle of the familiar reach towards my mobile, a soft stirring began to sound.

You’re not alone in loneliness.

I’ve heard it said that if we recognized how often people feel lonely, we’d find community within our loneliness.  Or something like that.  Bottom line – you’re not the only one aching, the only one seeking, the only one asking these same questions.

What do you long to hear?  To believe?  To have someone who knows your story believe of you, for you, speak over you?

Such questions gave me pause.  What did I truly want to believe as TRUTH in my depths?  Words began to fill my mind, snatches of verses often cliched in their application.  Words of worth, destiny, beauty springing from ashes and hidden hopes realized.

“Ok, Lord, I ‘know’ all these things are true, but I want to believe them, and I honestly don’t.”  His next whisper surprised me.

Who else needs to hear these words too?

Full stop.

I sensed the Lord challenging me to trade seeking for serving, to lift my eyes from sorrows, off licking proverbial wounds, and recognize those surrounding me.  It took conscious effort, this changing of perspective: wounds in one hand and desired spoken truths in the other, both held out before the One who ultimately bore all wounds, who alone bestows all healing.  And the results astounded me.

Slowly, surely, as names came to mind, a choice lay before me.

No, an invitation: set aside my own wounds to extend balm for another.  And if asked of its source, I’d only be able to point to the One who was pointing this all out to me.

Pick up a phone, select a person, type away.  Only this time, not in gathering, but in bestowing, in speaking life.  As their faces came to mind and words were sent on blessing’s mission, the most remarkable thing occurred: My own ache began to ease and texts started coming in.

“How did you know?”

“I so needed this.”

Grateful, I responded, “Me too, my friend. Me too.”

This paradox turned hurting on its head, bestowing community where moments before loneliness reigned.  It’s counter-intuitive when wounds screaming loud bleed raw and words from trusted friends fall flat on aching ears – to lay down craving in place of grace-proclaiming.  What if we transformed our intuitions to seek into commissions to serve?  Who else might need to hear the very things our own hearts long for?

Simply put – bestow the words you crave.

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Filed under Struggles, Thoughts, Words

Learning To Let Go

Bright-eyed at 5:45a.  With a jump and a smile she leapt from bed.
The day had finally arrived.  Today everything changes. Today our home will never be the same.

Today Eliana Faith became a Kindergartener!!

I’ve never seen her more excited.
I’ve never felt such bittersweet ache at her gain.
My baby girl now an Elementary Student.

Last night she slept like a rock.
I slept like a restless child, tossing, turning, watching the clock tick slow.
Like the relentless tide so questions assailed my insomniac mind.

Did I do enough?  Where did I fail in preparing her?  How did the long days of toddlerhood pass in a flash?  Is she ready?  Did I do enough?!

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I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.
(‭Psalms‬ ‭121‬:‭1-8‬ NASB)

Though she came from my womb, she was knit by heavenly Hands. All her days were ordained before one came to be. In God she lives and moves and has her being. His plans for Eliana brim over with hope and love. His thoughts towards her outnumber the stars. His mercies pour out afresh on her every morning.

On Eliana. And her momma.

Grace.  Grace.  God’s grace.
Grace that will cover and cleanse within.
Grace.  Grace.  God’s grace.
Grace that is greater than all my sin.

Where I lack, His grace covers.  Where I fall, His arms reach low to lift me up.  Where I have failed my daughter, His love remains strong on her behalf.  He has not called me to be a perfect mother.

Just a faithful one.

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Today begins a new chapter of learning to trust God further, to lean on Him harder, to release what is ultimately His into His steadfast arms.

Eliana, you continue to teach me faith, to adjust my eyes to see God’s continued answered prayers.  Walk tall today, sweetheart.  You are ready for this.  Not because of me but because Almighty God walks with you wherever you go.  Listen for His voice.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Enjoy today, my darling girl.  You are ready!

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Filed under Eliana, Motherhood, Parenting, Struggles, Thoughts

Taking Stock

This week has taught me a simple yet profound truth: familiarity can blind.

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Twice a year, the NC State Fairgrounds fills with the gianormous Kids Exchange Consignment Sale. Thousands come to sell their used goods from kids clothing to computer systems, books to bikes, furniture to furbies. Run like clockwork, this huge sale brings an awesome opportunity for families to sell outgrown items and purchase others for a fraction of store costs.

I’ve attended this sale in years past but this time around, I decided it was time to purge our house of everything outgrown. As the gathering began, something caught me off guard to a stagering, humblingly degree.

In a culture of excess, I confess how easily I fall into the lie of lack. Comparisons, complaints, kids growing faster than my clothing budget. Without due diligence the slide into dissatisfaction grows slippery and steep. Like quicksand, the more I see, the more I want, the more others have, the more I feel I lack. Ugh. ‘Tis a dangerous cycle.

But as I sat amongst boxes and boxes and boxes of my children’s used clothes, reality reduced me to tears. I’ve been surrounded by this striking evidence of God’s tangible provision yet its familiarity blinded me. God has truly taken care of our family!

“My God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

What amazed me most was the sheer amount of clothes from the seasons when we had stepped out in faith, leaving a salaried/benefits job to start a business, when we had to completely trust God for every new student, new client, new child born. It was from the seasons of smallest income that the tallest piles of clothes stood.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

As I sorted this massive collection of clothes, memories overwhelmed me as the majority of items had been gifts. Memories of kind strangers, generous friends and unexpected finds flooded my mind. God truly had provided for our little family. He not only clothed my kids – He clothed them in style! This evidence of grace had sat unnoticed in my home for years. It wasn’t until I stopped to take stock of it all that I saw clearly.

God has been faithful.
God will remain faithful.
God can be trusted with the needs of today and tomorrow as I hold evidence of yesterday’s provision in grateful hands.

Familiarity blinds. Stop and take stock today of all He has already done, already provided, already shown Himself faithful and strong. You’ll be amazed by the treasure trove of blessings already in your grasp.

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:25-33

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Filed under Comparison, Faith, Generosity, God, Motherhood, Struggles

Anchored

This may surprise you. It certainly surprised me. You’d think after nearly 5 years, the truth would have sunken in by now. But my eyes opened wide this week to new knowledge of myself, a perspective I’ve long yet unknowingly carried deep. Watching my children run strong and bubble over with laughter, it struck me as never before.

Eliana and Evan are growing up.
They’re alive!
And I’m.
Completely.
Shocked.

In an instant fear and wonderment collided as my children’s growth hit me afresh. As if scales had fallen from my eyes, I saw my children as the little man and young lady they’ve become and the babies they will never be again. Sounds odd, I know. But in awe I watched them converse like little adults, laugh at each other’s jokes and console their sibling’s occasional boo-boos. They’re growing up.

They’re still here.

Loss lingers long past its welcome, tucking itself down deep to rear its worrisome head when you’d least expect. Startling defenses, it stalls progress and silences hopes at their onset. Like the rolling tide, you may jump over the first big wave but if you don’t continue forward, the aftertide will quickly follow. You’ll still get wet. You’ll still feel its pull.

Loss leaves you changed. No matter if its death or disease or disappointment, loss is loss is loss. By His grace and faithfulness, God has bound broken heartstrings, cradled my woes and shone hope into darkened places of my soul. But I realized stark this week that the tides had continued to roll deep within long past its initial breakers. I never fully believed these days would come and had braced my inner depths for the assumed “worst” to follow.

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I fear it
Prone to leave the God I love
Take my heart, Lord
Take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

As the tide of truth rolled in, realization reduced me to confession. Confession of walls built within from loss that in turn had inflicted loss – they had held me captive from fully enjoying each gift of today, from fully committing to daily now of my children, from dreaming of days to come.

Loss has marked me. Its tide will ebb and flow until my breath fails and pulse stills. BUT. Truth understood renders choice. Every fearful impulse, every braced breath, carries on its back the choice to succumb OR to offer it full to the only One with grace enough to make it through. Loss acknowledged can breed gratitude and faith-filled trust in the One who bore our griefs, who carried our sorrows to Calvary. Its a journey. A most humbling journey. But one worth traveling. As we offer our fears into trustworthy Hands with honest confession and resolve to see through grateful eyes, hope sinks down deep. Amidst the turbulent tides of this worrisome world, we can cling to our Anchor, firm and secure. Sure as the rising dawn, the hope found alone in Jesus will always hold fast and true.

My children grow before my eyes. I breathe deep in gratitude, trusting their tomorrows to the One who has renewed my hope today.

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Thank You, Jesus, for all You’ve redeemed. Thank You for loving every wounded place, for pursuing every fear-built wall with love strong enough to breech boulders. Thank You for grace to see beauty in ashen spaces, for joy in mourning’s place, for patience while we learn to trust You. Thank You for redeeming what You allow. Thank You for all my children. You have taught me much through them with lessons more in store. I am grateful.

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Filed under Eliana, Evan, Faith, God, Isaac, Motherhood, Struggles, Thoughts