Tuesday, April 24, 2012

 "...our lives full of cluttered ease, muffle out the songs. That when we go to the places that strip life back to its barest essence — of courage and love and raw, unmasked pain — our hearts feel again, beat again, hear again the haunting music of a beautiful, bleeding humanity.

Maybe we are only at our most beautiful work in the same places too — the places where we don’t hide behind the distractions of stuff, where we finally empty our hands of all our possessions and idols and come to God empty and ready. The places where we can make art with tears.

Where the notes can finally soar in the space." Ann Voskamp

Keith and I are at a place that is so scary.  A place of change.  Unknown change.  Not sure of what the near future holds.  Being fully supported missionaries, our support is dangerously low.  We are trying to raise that support level up, but in the meantime we are looking around wondering how to stop the bleeding.  How to change our lives so that we can live on what He has provided instead of constantly trying to make more.  Looking around and seeing that our home is the biggest source of financial expense.  That monthly mortgage, the monthly homeowner's bill, the monthly utilities to heat and cool an old home, the insurance, the maintenance.    And I wonder, is this home, this 2500 square feet worth the debt, the worry? 

 If we lived in less could we live more? 

Could we spend our money on things that matter instead of things? Could we travel and see God's country and God's people?  Could we give more of ourselves, more of His money?  

But I don't want it to seem so simple.  It isn't simple.  A house is so much more than a payment.  It is a comfort to weary bodies and growing boys.  It is an identity.  It is a place you invite friends in and welcome neighbors.  It's sights and smells and ownership.  And wondering if a place where we could afford our expenses better might be a place that isn't as pretty.  As comfortable.  As nice.  What if it's humbling and perhaps even humiliating?  What if it's older than this house?  What if we don't own it, but just rent it?  Will that hurt?

I'd like to think that being relieved of some financial burden would more than make up for the loss of this home, but it might just hurt.  A little?  A lot?  I am not sure.  Perhaps it would be a decision we'd say, "Why didn't we do this sooner?  Why did we hold on to stuff and relinquish our peace?"  

I am praying that if God wants us to sell this home that He will sell it quickly and for good value.  I pray He opens wide a new door with clear answers and that we can lead our sons through those doors with hope and excitement for what it could mean for our family.  I never want to love my stuff so much that I clutch it tighter than God.  I have been saying that a lot lately.  Do I mean it?  Do I want Him more than all else?  I think so.  I think so.  Not because I am brave or particularly faith-filled.  But because I believe God might have a great thing for us.  A great new thing.  Because I know He will take care of us.  Because I have a bit of adventure to me and I wonder, "What's next, God?"  We have adventured with Him before and it's quite a ride fraught with wonder and fear and expectation.  Not all adventures are easy.  I wouldn't say this adventure to FamilyLife has been easy.  In fact, it has been a hard 7 years.  Not all places God leads are easy.  Hard lessons are learned.  Big mistakes get made. 

"...one only gains higher ground by climbing up through the valleys. Every mountain has its valleys.  Its sides are scarred by deep ravines and gulches and draws.  And the best route to the top is always along these valleys."  Phillip Keller (A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23)

The Good Shepherd leads through the valleys because the valleys are well watered and full of plentiful grass to feed on.  They are darker, more dangerous valleys, but they are the best route to the top.  I am a stubborn sheep.  I am content to drink from dirty pools and eat the grass in the pasture I am in until it is withered and dead.  I can't see where the Shepherd leads, but if I remind myself how He always leads me well then I need not know where He leads...just that He leads.  Could you pray that we will follow and that He indeed will (perhaps, if only) lead clearly and with unmistakable signs?  My weary, faithless heart could use some clear signs.  Thanks! ~M.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My shoulders are heavy with burdens I shouldn't be carrying, but I won't let go.  Stupid.  I know.  Let them go.  Let them fall.  But sometimes it doesn't really feel like God is carrying them.  You know, on the days when I feel happy and lighthearted I don't think I have released them...I think I have just chosen to not think of them.  They are there.  Lurking.  And things like having to pay the bills or balance the checkbook or go to the store bring them back to mind.  A boy needs shoes.  Someone is having a birthday.  The weeds are overtaking the flowerbeds and mulch is needed.  A van needs tires.  A dentist wants his money. Support needs to be raised and deadlines loom.  Decisions beckon and answers dart behind the bushes.

Everything in my head knows He will provide because He always has.  Everything in my head knows He has the best in mind for what He is taking us through.  But my heart knows the way is long.  The road may get rough.  It may not be easy.  And that is where I say to myself, "Where's the relief in handing it over to Him if He may not make it better, or easier?"   He may choose to make it a time of refinement through suffering.  I don't want to go.  As much as I know He is good and He is loving I also know that a good, loving parent makes the hard decisions like saying no.  Or taking the child to get shots.  Or disciplining them when they have done wrong.  Again.  And He is more about my character than my comfort...about His glory than my happiness.  Believe me, I am more about my comfort and happiness.  I don't want discipline and I don't want suffering.  I want easy answers and a measure of security that can help me sleep at night and awaken with calm.  I know.  I know.  I can awaken with calm if I know He is handling it and He has better things in store than I can imagine.    But I can't see it.  I can't see quick fixes.  And I want quick fixes.  And I am tired of being stretched beyond what I feel I can bear up under.

I am a stubborn child.  I see my clenched fists and my tight jaw.  I feel my feet dug in and my back firm.  I won't go, God.  You can't make me go.  I don't like where You have us.  It doesn't feel good and I am not good at it.  I don't want to trust You and I don't understand You.  

And this space?  This is the space where a paragraph was deleted.  The paragraph where I tell how hard it is to be a fully-supported missionary.  But I can't share that.  I never want a supporter to read this and think we aren't grateful.  Or that God isn't providing through them.  Because we are.  And He is.  One paycheck at a time we see Him provide.  But, honestly.  Our outgo exceeds our income.  And we are just months away from an empty account.  And some days I want out of here.  God, let us earn our wages.  I don't want to ask people to join us in ministry. It hurts.  It asks too much.  I am not good at it.  Grace sufficient in my weakness.  When I am weak, He is strong.  

I can speak lies to myself but Truth fights back.  It'd be better if I quit fighting and let Truth wash over.  I know.  I am going to get up.  I am going to get back to work.  I am going to step one foot in front of the other.  I am going to go the way God says go because I don't know where else to go.  Even when it hurts.  I will never leave you or forsake you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

prayer...out loud

You make my heart overflow.  And out of that overflow I really want to live.  I really want to know You more.  I want so much more of You and so much less of this world.  This world is choking me.  This house.  This stuff.  These bills.  These wants.  These worldly desires.  Choking.  Binding.  I see myself serving two masters.  Many masters.  And when there is another beside You then You are not my God at all.  I could sacrifice myself on the altar of the world, I am sad to say.  But I cannot sacrifice my sons.  The thought that my sons would be lukewarm Christians that You would spit out of Your mouth makes me awaken from sleep...makes my stomach churn.  Can they really see You in this home?  Amid choices I wish we'd never made...video games, television.  Wasted hours of their lives.  How can I grow men who love You with their whole heart by simply telling them they should?  What love is that?  What love is there that doesn't make sacrifices?  Painful sacrifices that cost something.  Comfort.  Desires.  Choices. 

These boys are Yours, Lord.  They are from the depth of my being.  I want nothing more than for them to really love You.  I don't want them to struggle like I have.  Struggle to understand Your love.  Struggle to not carry around yesterday's mistakes.  Struggle to understand and extend grace.  Struggle with the world.  The choke-hold of the world.  Wanting to be rich.  Wanting to be famous.  Wanting to be thin, handsome, accepted by the world's cruel standard.  I want the life they have lived when they leave this home to already be so God-wrapped that they know nothing else.  But God, how can that be when we are so awash in life's cares?  

Our life looks very much like our neighbors'.  I don't know.  Maybe it doesn't.  Maybe having a good marriage, six sons, homeschooling, living a missionary's life is all very foreign to my neighbors.  They have as much as told me so.  Maybe they see us loving You Lord.  Have they?  Have we loved them well Lord?  Have they heard me losing my temper with the boys in the yard?  Have they seen me angry with my husband?  Are they comforted that, in fact, I am human.  Sinful too.  Forgiven?  Do they see the difference?  Lord, I want to be different.  I don't want to fit in quite so well.  It doesn't have to be in sack cloth and ashes Lord.  I know it.  More joy.  More peace.  More love.  That would look different.  But Jesus.  Has Jesus come flowing from my life? My mouth?  My heart? 

This life is short, Lord.  People are dying.  Sons.  Daughters.  Loved ones. Lost.  Not just to death...but to hell.  Parents who didn't care enough to lead their children to the cross.  Life is too busy.  They aren't sure You are there and they are too busy hunting down life's pleasures to figure it out.  How can we be too busy to lead our loved ones to the cross?  HOW?  And how can Christian parents think that we can take them to church, homeschool them, pray at meals and consider it done?  How can we be hypocrites who white wash the cup when all the while the inside is filthy?  

Oh God, forgive me for being this parent.  For being lazy and idle and full of self and world.  Too busy to lead them to the cross.  Too scared to lay down the things that hold us back.  To timid.  Too cowardly. Lead us Lord.  Take us further on.  You have been so faithful.  SO faithful.  I love You, Lord.  I know You love my boys more than I do so please cover my weakness with Your amazing grace.  Your grace is sufficient for all I lack.  Praise You. Praise You. Only because of Jesus can I ask, Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

There is so much welling up in my spirit.  When I get overloaded with burdens...and lately the burdens feel heavier than usual...eventually my soul gives way to this: there is so much more God in this place than I am seeing.  And I want to really see God.  

But eyes get bleary with worry.  And worry capsizes faith and eventually I am drowning in my own self pity.  And I come to realize that my worry centers around my stuff and how my stuff owns me and clutches my heart.  And I don't want to be owned by anything or anyone.  I want to be free.  Free to be His.  Fully.  Free to serve and free to go. And I'd put the "FOR SALE" sign up right now on all this stuff if I could.  Then I am struck with the reality that we need some of this stuff.  I guess.  We need food.  Clothes.  Shelter.  How much though?

"...give me neither poverty nor riches, 
   but give me only my daily bread. 
 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you 
   and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ 
Or I may become poor and steal, 
   and so dishonor the name of my God." (Prov 30:8b-9)

A life grows weary carrying unnecessary burdens.  And so much of what I carry feels self-imposed.  Debt.  The sin of wanting more than I need and more than God has provided.  A heavy burden.  Diet.  The sin of wanting to be thinner, prettier, accepted.  Combined with the sin of gluttony and using food as an idol.  A poor substitute for sitting at Jesus' feet waiting to be filled.  Selfishness.  Always wanting what I want.  Being focused on my own emptiness.  Again...a sure sign of not waiting at the Savior's feet.

But, He beckons me.  He reminds me...  You are not unloved.  Or unforgiven.  And if Rahab was a prostitute, David a murderer, Peter denied Me, Jonah ran away, Noah a drunk, Elijah depressed, Jacob a liar, Gideon fearful, and Martha a worrier...then I am able to use you. And were their problems self-induced?  Oh yes.  Then why do I see God as less in my life than in theirs?  Why is the Word of God so full of the broken and yet I do not have hope?  Why is His story the story of redemption and yet I feel unworthy?    

Lord, how do I live this life with all its necessary encumbrances...like food, clothing, and shelter and yet not steal from You?  From the poor?  From the widowed and orphaned?  How do I own my things with a lightly held hand instead of a clinched fist?  O Lord, move us out of this place of complacency and a clutched heart.  Help us be courageous and do things that make no sense to the world.  I have had my fill of the world and it leaves me painfully empty.  

You are in this place.  Lord, let me see. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Setting up an altar of remembering...

Sometimes the Lord reminds me right smack dab in the middle of life how faithful He has been.    This morning it was reminding me of His provision of Keith.  Keith and I have been married 18 years...not all of the memories are joyful...but all of them redeemed.  Redeemed!  Redeemed from the pit, from the locusts.  Praise HIM!  But, this morning He was reminding me of the prequel.  You know, the years before the marriage.  Those are great memories!  

I could recount those early days for you.  They are a little blurry as far as order and such but some of them so clear.  Like how he shared his candy bar with me at the campus movie.  Or how I laughed at his flat tire story in Waffle House when no one else was laughing.  Or how I wore ridiculously thin boots (totally fashionable but totally impractical) in the middle of winter and he held my feet in his lap to warm them.  Or how he asked me to walk with him in the snow to Dunkin Donuts and he fell flat out on the ice.  (I laughed.  He did too.)  Or how I kissed his cheek when he hugged me goodbye one night and I wanted to DIE because I totally did it without thinking.  (We had yet to kiss and it took a couple weeks until we did.)  The first kiss...at his parents' house.  We were both dry mouthed and acted like silly kids.  I blush just to think of it now!  But he was sealed on my heart.  I knew it straight from the Lord.  Before we shared the first kiss or held each others' hands...I knew it.  The Lord let me know this was the man and I just couldn't believe it.  I mean, really Lord?  I had just broken up with a two year relationship and I was set on letting men go for a while! Keith has just broken up with a long term girl also.  And here was this redheaded soccer playing goofball, FOR ME?  My ex boyfriend was a 6'2" dark hair football player.  I guess God didn't know I had a "type!"  HA!  Actually, He knew just what my type was: godly.  In love with ME!  Devoted, loyal.  Funny.  And really HOT in a pair of jeans!  Oh yeah.  The jeans.  I used to watch him walk back from class to his dorm LONG before he was my man.  Oh,  yes I did! :)

But, all of that to tell you...God gave me Keith.  The best gift I never asked for.  The man who walks with me in the darkest days and leads us on this amazing journey.  Even the memories redeemed from the locusts...I thank God for those too.  Because without the times where we fought for our marriage I don't think we'd know the depth to which we could sink or how badly we needed our Savior.  And I think we'd still have our guard down.  We'd not know how badly the devil wanted our marriage to fail.  And if Satan wants something of yours you better know that thing is worth protecting.  

Keith:  I love you.   Better today than yesterday.  And even more tomorrow.  (And I still love to walk behind you in your jeans.  Oh. yes. I. do.)  ~M.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Words.  I love them.  I have always loved them.  And I don't mean the kind of words that fall out of your mouth often at far too rapid a pace to be thoughtful.  I mean, words.  Written on a page.  Life-giving.  Full of momentum and potential.  I would far rather write than talk.  I like the option to read and reread my words. A chance to be more tender, more honest than I would be in person.  A chance to delete.  To rethink the harshness or boldness of what I said.  I am, after all, a woman gifted with prophecy.  Not look into the future prophecy...but the gift to discern and to see black and white among shades of gray.  The gift is a beautiful gift but it can be a flame which burns and injures if not carefully, spiritually used.  It is why I sit here so often and write what spills from my heart only to hit delete all.  

I feel deeply.  Black and white is so, well, black and white.  And we live in a world turning grayer by the day.  We all possess a paint brush and for some reason we'd rather paint in shades of gray than boldly paint what the Artist puts in our hearts to paint.  I am only coming to realize this for myself.  It seems impossible for me to paint in gray.  I just can't do it.  So I go silent.  I lay the brush aside.  I say nothing.  I paint nothing.  That flame I mentioned, the one that burns and injures, frightens and delights me.  I have a bold heart but, I have a soft heart.  I don't want to injure another heart.  I recognize the struggle that every person is in on this earth.  I know how hard it is.  I have hurts and cracks that run deep.  And when someone assumes the worst of me, I run my fingers over those cracks and I often choose silence.  I have even been entertaining the thought that God wants me to be silent.  But lately, I am confronted.  It is my fear, not my God that keeps me silent most of the time.  And while I do not want to offend someone else and I most assuredly do not want to make anyone's cracks run deeper, I do want God to use me...my words.  

I keep looking at the lives of people who touch me deeply.  People who make me run my fingers over the cracks in my life and contemplate whether I love the cracks too much or if I trust a Potter who mends broken vessels. I read on A Holy Experience this morning~

"You never break apart-you break open..."  

Words!  Life-giving.  Full of momentum and potential.  And she speaks of joy.  Joy.  An elusive benefit it seems.  But she says~

"...you can't get to joy by making everything perfect.  You can only get there by seeing in  every imperfection all that's joy. The joy is in having the Beloved, not in loving what we have."

And I have been creating my eucharisteo.  My list of gratitude and joy amid imperfections.  And I am waiting for God to bring the miracle.  To change the hard rock in my chest to a heart that is pliable and His.  I am so hard.  So very hard.  Life does that.  It takes a little girl full of promise and tosses her headlong into painful circumstances and it makes her hard.  But I am praying it is a hardness like that of a rock or a fruit that when chiseled with precise intent gives way to currents of water or nourishment.  "You don't break apart, you break open..."  Truth is, breaking open scares me more than breaking apart.  I think.  After all, what is open is laid bare.  Gentle Savior...I am reminded.

May you be reminded today too.  ~M.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Once I became the mother of that first little boy I began loathing the advice that comes from so many strangers and friends alike: "Enjoy them while they are little because it goes so fast." I mean, the HARD TRUTH of that statement is not lost on me. Not an ounce. Especially as I look at my towering (almost) 15 year old and wonder how did time slip by so fast. But perhaps the thing about having a large brood of boys is that while my 15 year old seems to have grown overnight...my preschoolers seem like they will NEVER grow up. :) And that's just it. When you have the benefit of hindsight, advice is so easily given. But when you are knee deep in the trenches...it feels like a poke in the eye.

What brings this to mind? It occured to me as I sat in a group of Godly moms offering advice to (mostly) younger mothers. And inevitably the sentiment of, "Enjoy them now..." came up. And it stuck in my spirit as it always does. And not because I was in a hard place with my boys. Not at all actually. But because I could see in the eyes of so many moms there...that they are knee deep, grasping for hope and then....the poke in the eye. I don't know. Maybe they are encouraged by the advice and it is just my VERY practical brain that finds it painful. But the way I see it a young mom needs someone to tell her HOW to enjoy the days. I mean, really...how do you stinkin' enjoy them when your post partum hormones are raging out of control? Or how do you enjoy them when you have had so little or no sleep and yet the children wake up full of energy? Or when you feel alone? Inept? Like a failure? Ugly? Fat? Weary? Hurt? Depressed? What do you do when your homeschool kids aren't learning and are lazy? Or when your finances are strapped so tight they don't meet your budget? Or when your husband works the second shift and is barely there to help? Or when your engorged breasts are cracked and bleeding and the baby has colic and your two year old is teething?

It sounds preposterous doesn't it? But come on...these are NOT isolated days. These are days that come in succession or even all at once. Satan loves a mom piled high with burdens. And when you hold the all important task of rearing God's children can there be any other way but to feel heavily that yoke sometimes? Of course we should be laying the yoke on Jesus' shoulders but sometimes our spiritual eyes get out of focus. And does it really bring our eyes into focus for someone in that moment to say, "Enjoy it! It will go by so fast!" I mean...REALLY? All that mom can DREAM of is that it will go by fast! And then she beats herself up for feeling that way because SHE ALREADY KNOWS IT WILL GO BY TOO FAST. See, there it is. Every mom already knows this. She can see it before her eyes. That little newborn she brought home from the hospital is now walking and talking. Her toddler is now in kindergarten. She gets it. But she can't stop wanting the deep pain in her gut to end. To get to that time in parenting when she can see some fruit. Some reward. Some sleep! :)

So, what do you say to that bleary eyed mother of four who is cradling a precious newborn on her chest but her eyes are filled to the brim with tears? You give her practical help. Of course extending an arm of help is first. After all, love is hands and feet. People need food, shelter, rest before they need advice. But, in reality none of us can step into another mom's home and shelter her from the hard work that needs to be done. She must learn skills. And I am not talking about how to clean her home or pump a bottle of breastmilk. I mean, the skill of eucahristeo (giving thanks) as Ann Voskamp outlines in her book, "1000 Gifts". I cannot recommend more highly this book to young moms...and "old" moms. The skill of counting blessings. Of writing down or speaking out loud your gratitude. Gratitude for small things and big things and hard things and lovely things. Ann Voskamp puts it this way in her book:

"A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit."

"This pen [writing down what she is grateful for]; this is nothing less than the driving of nails. Nails driving out my habit of discontent and driving in my habit of eucharisteo."

"Some days, ones with laundry and kids and dishes in sink, it is hard to think that the insulting ordinariness of this [writing down your list of gratitude] truly teaches the full mystery of the all most important, eucharisteo. It's so frustratingly common-it's offensive. Driving nails into a life always is."

These quotes hit me hard. It really is that simple. When we begin replacing our thoughts of self-pity and self-loathing and anger with thoughts of gratitude and humble amazement at our God, we begin driving nails out of and into our lives. We change our thoughts. We change our outlook. We pronounce it loudly in the midst of selfish children and demanding deadlines. We shout out, "Thank You Lord for this mess. For these children. For this man who loves me." And suddenly we pound out the ugly nails and pound hard in the nails of gratitude. Voskamp reminds us that we can only experience one emotion at a time. Choose gratitude. Pound it in. Like the driving of a nail. There is not one thing a mom can change about how hard the days are when you rear children...young and old. We have no control over that. And asking a woman deep in the battle to enjoy it is like telling a new widow to hang in there because soon enough she will find a new man. POKE...straight to the eye. Perhaps the advice is true. But ill-timed advice is well, a poke in the eye...and the heart.

Hear me well. No advice is more true than the sentiment to seize the day at hand and live it with great joy. But in truth, there is no help in that sentiment. And help is what hurting moms need. Teach that mom how to find gratitude amidst her work and you may have just given her the best gift of her life!