Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Slickery Road

Several years prior to starting our family, Todd and I stumbled across a photo booth in an arcade.  This wasn't just any photo booth mind you, no, this photo booth…this photo booth took a photo of you and your partner, melded the photos together, and created an image of your future love child.  You know where I’m going with this don’t you?  Yep.  We went there.  Tempting as it may be, I do not recommend this photo booth.  At all cost my dear friends, you must avoid it!  You’ll thank me later.  Trust me. 

I remember waiting for the photo of our child to print.  And, I also remember throwing up in my mouth a little when I saw said picture.  Yikes is not even a strong enough word to describe what I felt at the sight of that photo.  We had selected to have a daughter.  Much to my surprise though, she looked more like a Pakuni from the 70’s cult classic TV show, Land of the Lost.  She was frightening.  It took years for us to overcome that trauma and decide to have children after that.  Years. 

Recalling said photo booth trauma, during my pregnancy, I prayed fervently for a healthy and beautiful baby.

“Lord please, please let me have a healthy and beautiful child.  I mean, you saw that photo. 
What, dare I ask, was up with her eyebrows? 
Heaven help me.  Healthy and beautiful, Lord.  Healthy and beautiful.  In Jesus name.”

August 14, 2002, Todd and I welcomed our healthy, beautiful son, Jack, into the world.  Life could not have been any more perfect.  Little did I know of the road that lie ahead though, and how unprepared I would find myself to handle it.  

The next evening, during a routine check of Jack’s vitals, our nurse discovered Jack’s breathing was labored.  Further examination and lab work revealed he had pneumonia, and would need to be placed in the neonatal intensive care unit.  And, just like that – life changed.  Jack was no longer healthy.  All the elation I had moments prior was suddenly slammed by a Mack truck carrying a load of hysteria; and I wasn't even wearing a seat belt.  

I was discharged the next morning.  We left the hospital, car full of balloons and flowers, but an empty car seat.  I had never experienced such an out of control, helpless feeling.  A feeling of uncertainty.  I hated it.  Life unfolded in a manner that was anything but planned, and we found ourselves venturing down an uncharted, unknown, and totally unscripted road. Nine days had passed when Jack was finally released from the hospital.  The hits just kept on coming though.  By the time he was three, Jack would have two surgeries, and three more hospital stays.

“The road sure looks slickery today,” Jack (age three and a half at the time), chimed from his car seat.  A dusting of snow blanketed the road.  Every ounce of my being longed to go back inside – back to the comfortable, the secure, and the safe.  It was a familiar longing – the three years prior had been a journey on one metaphorical slick road after another – and I was desperate to get back to my comfort zone.  

Sometimes things happen that aren't part of the plan, or roads, we envisioned we’d be traveling.  Things outside our comfort zone.  Things that shake us to our very core.  When cruising down an easy road, it’s a breeze to give a fist pump or two toward heaven and shout, “Praise the Lord”.  But, how do we stand (and give aforementioned fist pumps) when the ground beneath us seems unstable?  How do we manage not to fall squarely on our keister when the hard times hit?   My goodness, when the road gets tough, some days mustering the strength just to have a smile is difficult, much less a fist pump and a “Praise the Lord”.  I've fallen on my keister many times, my friend.  Many, many times.  Glory to God for giving me a well cushioned backside, in addition to a divine hand up.  He has lifted me, and stabilized me more times that I can count.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us like having reasons and explanations for things that happen.  We like to compartmentalize and analyze and when we can’t, we find ourselves not only longing to get back to our comfort zone, but longing for answers as well.  One day, in the middle of my desperate longing,  I cried out for answers.  

"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Neither this man or his parents sinned, said Jesus, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'" (John 9:1-3)

This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

When the road gets slickery, we have a choice.  A choice to consume ourselves with grief.  With bitterness.  With hopelessness.  With sadness.  Or a choice to consume ourselves with peace.  With hope.  With trust.  And, with a life that displays the work of God.  

I don't claim to always understand why things happen, but I pray in every season of my life, whether good or bad, His work is on display for all to see.

Father in heaven, I thank You for the peace and hope You provide.  A peace and hope so comforting it surpasses my understanding.  You replace my anxiety with joy, and turn my mourning into dancing.  For no matter how great my love is for my family, Yours is indeed far greater.  Thank you Lord.  Please help me trust them to your care.  Fix my gaze on You and display Your work for all to see.  For all to see…

Monday, January 28, 2013

As For Me and My House...

"...choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... 

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
- Joshua 24:15

A short post today, but certainly not one lacking in importance.  My sweet son, Jack, was baptized by my dad yesterday.  I can't even begin to put into words the joy that fills my soul.  

Many times I have heard my dad quote, Proverbs 22:6.
"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it". 

I am so thankful for the gift of Godly parents.  Parents, never underestimate the influence you have on your children's lives.*   As they grow, they may wax and wane in their faith, but it is truly, truly, the greatest gift of love you can ever give them.  When my days on earth are through, the gift of love remains....

Father God, thank you for the gift of Godly parents.  And, thank you for the joy of being a mother.  Please watch over my sweet babies.  Hold them in Your hands and keep them safe.  May they grow to be mighty men of God and faithfully serve You as they travel the many roads in their lives.  

*Certainly, parents aren't the only ones with influence in children's lives.  Grandparents, in particular, have had a very strong influence in my life and in the lives of my own children (see photo above!).  People of influence are all around each and every one of us, and they need not be blood relation to share the love of Christ with our children.  May each of us be blessed to have people in our lives who share, or have shared, the greatest gift of love with us.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Breaking the Ice

Have you ever attended a social gathering and had to play one of those awkward icebreaker games? Gosh, I hate those games. Silly as it may sound, I always feel ill equipped for them. In my mind, I nervously go over again and again what to say. Seriously. How hard can it be to say your name? Apparently, I have a condition in which I totally forget English; but am somehow completely versed in gibberish when it’s my turn to speak. Talent. Sheer talent. At least that’s what I tell myself to feel better. And, don’t even get me started on the crazed lunatic sway I develop when it’s my turn. It’s quite likely I could star in a television series titled, “When Icebreakers Go Wrong.” Sigh. I would be so much more comfortable having a prepared statement to read during an icebreaker. I don’t care much for being put on the spot.

Hello, my name is Angela and I have a Type A personality.

Structure, routine and control are my friends. I thrive on organization and planning. I love sticky notes. Highlighter ink runs through my veins. I'm not a fly by the seat of the pants kind of girl. I even prefer to plan my spontaneity.

"In our hearts, we may plan our course, but it is the Lord who determines our steps."
-Proverbs 16:9

Earlier this year, the Lord brought a couple into our lives. Our new friends have a beautiful home. Every nook and cranny is decorated like the pages of Martha magazine. Even my seven and ten year old boys love visiting. Of course, their love might have something to do with the outrageous toy room filled to the brim with toys from current and past decades. Needless to say, if this family should offer to adopt us, we would be willing to move in stat!

For months, we visited our friends’ home for food, fun and fellowship. Their friendship was a welcome respite to our parched, hearts - hungry for friendship, community and love. But, then…then, the time came for us to reciprocate. I had put it off long enough and we were long overdue to extend a dinner invitation at our home. It’s not that I didn't want them to come over, it’s just that…well, it’s just that I didn't want them to see my house. I felt it paled in comparison to theirs. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home. But, what if they didn't? What if they thought less of me after seeing my home? After all, it wasn't nearly as big as theirs. It wasn't nearly as new. It wasn't nearly as decorated and tidy. My boys’ toys weren't perfectly displayed and organized in a toy room. Quite the contrary! Their toys were littered all over the living room. Lego Star Wars had taken up occupancy there and one would be hard pressed to find a place to sit without an Ewok, Jedi or clone trooper poking you in the rear! Their home had beautiful siding and brick. My home had many shades of peeling paint. Their lawn was beautifully landscaped and manicured with gorgeous flowers and trees. Mine was overgrown with weeds and dead flowers. Sigh…they were perfect. I was not.

I looked forward to their visit, but the anxiety in my chest rose higher and higher as the visit drew nearer. I shared my concerns with my husband,Todd.

“You know they aren't going to care what the house looks like, right? They aren't like that.” 

He was right. I knew and believed it in my heart. They had never made us feel inferior…they never flaunted their home, or bragged about their belongings. I had no reason to feel threatened or anxious. But, I did.

I took a day off work prior to their visit to plan and prepare. Step one: Take back living room from evil Lego Star Wars forces. I was determined to get the “situation” under control and serve up some eviction notices. I carefully crawled under my seven year old son, Joseph’s, bunk to retrieve one of many plastic containers I felt would work nicely for the new abode of Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, et al.

Oh. My. Word. Help, I’m under my son’s bed and I can’t get up! 

With eyes huge and mouth wide (and I mean W.I.D.E. - WIDE) open, I laid under the bunk in absolute astonishment.

We are totally going to be on an episode of "Hoarders".

Somehow, someway, Joseph had seemingly prepared for the apocalypse by stashing things under his bed. Short of beverages, this kid was set. Struggling to look at this in a positive light, I found a shred of peace in knowing if I got stuck under there, I’d probably survive a week or two on the bag of parade candy I found stashed.

Four and a half hours. FOUR. AND. A. HALF. HOURS! That’s the amount of time it took for me to clean Joseph’s room that day. (Did I mention I'm Type A?) It appeared this child, this flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, had saved every paper from preschool to present and shoved them all under his bed. And, the toys…OH! THE TOYS!

Hey Joey, Santa called. There’s a toy shortage at the North Pole and he needs your help. 

On a lighter note, I also managed to find a little over a dollar in change (SCORE!).

With Joe’s room and the rest of the house finally in order and Star Wars Legos nestled snugly in their new home, we were now ready for our friends’ visit. Food, fun and fellowship ensued. Not once did they mention the peeling paint, dead flowers, lack of square footage or toy room. Nope. Nada. Not one bit of any of that.

“Your house is so cute, Angela”, she said. 

Oh, thank you. Joseph has said many times he’d like a house like yours. Your home is so beautiful, and he of course, loves the toy room! You have everything so nicely organized. It just amazes me. 

“(laughing) You haven’t seen her bedroom closet have you”, her husband said. 
“Oh, my closet is a mess! I never hang up my clothes! They're all over the floor in there”, she replied. 

Say what? I sat there in awe as I digested this information.

But, but, but…their home. It looked so neat and tidy on the surface. Yet, behind the closed closet doors, it was a mess! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! (insert happy dance here) 

And, then it struck me. Isn't this how our lives are as well? None of us are really as put together as we portray ourselves to be. We clean ourselves up as we head out in the world…putting our best face and foot forward, and praying no one sees the mess underneath. We suffer and stuff our messy lives behind closed doors (or under the bed, in Joseph’s case) with our bags of parade candy and clothes on the floor. But not a one of us is perfect and tidy like my friend’s toy room.   Rather we’re more like her messy closet matter how much planning and organizing we may do.

Letting others see our messes is tough business. I much prefer everyone think I have it all together. So much of the identity I've created for myself is wrapped up in the way I think others perceive me. And, if I think they perceive a hot mess, well…then maybe I am.

“It’s not about you, Angela. It’s not about them. It never has been. It’s about me.”

Thank you Lord.  Thank you for your gentle reminder. 

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” –Proverbs 29:2 

In the messiness of my life, there is a God who loves me. No matter how much I stuff and hide from others, He always sees. He always knows. And, most importantly, He always, always loves me. Me and my mess, we’re safe with Him. And, you and your mess are safe too!  (If you feel the need to highlight that last sentence, I understand)

Oh Lord, keep us safe. Hold our hearts, and let your light and your work shine in our lives. Shine through the mess. For it’s not about us, it’s about You. May the glory belong to You forever and ever, Lord - when the roads in our lives are unplanned and slickery and... when the roads are smooth.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

This is my story. This is my song.

I have felt the call to write, or at least to share my story in some form or fashion, for quite some time. Some days this calling excites me beyond words, and I struggle to describe the humble honor and reward of it all. There’s a fountain of life that bubbles within me, and each time I share what God has done in my life, I get to drink from that fountain. Oh the joy and refreshment He, the fountain, the holder of living water, brings. But, sometimes I sit down to write, and my mind is full. I don’t know where to start. My thoughts get scattered and I feel overwhelmed.

“How am I ever going to tell this story, Lord?” 

I question. I doubt. I fear.

“If only I could slow my mind down. God please. Please help me share. Please give me the words.” 

On the other end of the spectrum, there are days in which the overwhelmed feelings come not from scattered, racing thoughts, but simply from sharing. Days in which reliving these memories is so hard and so painful I put off writing for another day and promise myself I’ll return to it when I am emotionally able. Sharing with others, though therapeutic and healing, can be incredibly hard. When we share, we open ourselves up for others to hear, and to see that which we hold onto so dearly. It can be scary to let others into those places. What if they don’t relate? Don’t understand? Or heaven forbid what if they criticize? Wouldn't it be easier to just keep it all inside? To keep it hidden from the world? I mean, the less you know about me, the less you can critique right? But, the gentle prodding to share is still there…the gentle voice remains, and it beckons me to write…

“…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise
 your Father in heaven”. (Matthew 5:16)

Oh Lord, take this light…this light that I desperately want to shine for you. Take it and use it for your glory. Let it burn brightly for all to see. May they see you in the pages of this blog, and in the days of my life. And, as the light burns Lord, hold my heart.

When we trust the Lord with our hurts and agonies, those very things can then be an avenue to new beginnings. Our pains and trials almost always become our biggest testimonies to God’s love and faithfulness. The key is letting God use them.  And, I wanna be used.

When I look back on all that I've gone through, I don’t want a single moment of it to be in vain…the joys nor the sorrows. I want every last drop to glorify the Lord. He is the foundation I build my life upon, and He is the legacy I long to leave. When all is stripped away, I want to be remembered simply as a woman who fiercely loved the Lord and loved her family. 

"This is my story. This is my song."