Monday, November 5, 2012

praying for samuel

 "She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.  And she vowed a vow and said, "O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your servant and remember me and not forget Your servant, but will give Your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life."  1 Samuel 1:10-11

Yesterday in church, as I watched families walk in and the worship team sang... my eyes filled with tears.  I stood there crying and prayed silently in my heart.

"Even if You just give us one Lord, I will be satisfied.  Please give us our Samuel and I will give him back to You."

As Sarah sang about the extravagant love of Jesus, I wiped away the tears and prayed again.

"Lord, even if You do not give us any children, I will still praise You.  Blessed be Your name."

Waiting for our Samuel has been an emotional roller-coaster over the past couple years.  There are times when I'm more okay with it then others, times where it stings a little more and times where I am soothed.  Times that I remember the things God has done while we wait, and times that I feel hurt and bitter.  Times that I'm excited still for opportunities we may have while we are still childless and times that I simply wonder why?  Times that I feel like it will happen and times that I feel like it never will.

I haven't often prayed specifically for a baby because I have been afraid to.  It's hard to sort through the emotions that keep me from praying for a child but they seem to fall into two categories.

Sometimes I'm afraid to pray for a baby because I know it may not be God's timing yet and that there are more things for us to do.  I know things will change a lot and maybe I'm not ready.  Maybe there are a few more adventures that are planned for Tim and I without children.  I worry that I will pray for a baby and then will see that God gave me what I wanted but it wasn't what He wanted.

And other times I'm afraid to pray because I'm afraid of the answer being no.  It's almost like if I hold back on that prayer, there's still a chance that we will have a baby.  There's a chance that I haven't tried everything yet, and I want that answer to be yes so I'll wait.

It's all very emotionally convoluted and I realize it doesn't make much sense because it doesn't make sense to me.  I also realize that there are many couples who have waited much longer than we have.  This struggle is widespread and painful for many.   It is difficult because you are reminded of it every month you aren't pregnant.  Some months are better than others, but the disappointment remains.

I often think about the women in the Bible that were barren.  Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth.  Many of them waited many years, some of them until they were very old (Sarah & Elizabeth) to bear a child.

I love how in those stories it isn't punishment that is causing them to be barren, but for God's glory He chooses to wait sometimes.  Sometimes the answer is not yet, and sometimes it is never, but God always works things for good to those that love Him.

I didn't want to post this.  I cried about it in the car yesterday because I felt like it was what I needed to write and I didn't want to share.  I didn't want to let anyone in to my pain, I wanted to lick my wounds alone.  But I know that often it is through the sharing of our suffering that we are healed.

While we drove to my parents house and talked about praying for a baby, "Casimir Pulaski Day" played in the background through our speakers.

As I shoved the tears off my cheeks the last lines repeated in my ears.

"And He takes, and He takes, and He takes."

In my mind I heard the words to "Blessed Be Your Name" as an echo.

"You give and take away, You give and take away.  My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be Your name."

I will pray and wait patiently for our Samuel.  Whether he comes from my womb or the womb of another, I will pray for him.  And I know that barren or fruitful, children or no children, the Lord is good, the Lord is love, and His mercies endure forever.  I will praise Him as long as I have breath.  My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be Your name.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

corner-cutting, a looking-glass, and true love

Friday morning last week I hit the snooze button.  Then I hit it again.  And then maybe once more.  I woke up a little flustered and hurried through my quiet time with God.  Checked my email.  Showered.  Dressed.  Facial routine.  Blow-dried my hair.  Ate breakfast.  And so on.

As I turned over the morning in my mind on the way to work, I got to thinking.  "How come the only thing that gets shortened or cut out of my routine in the morning when I oversleep is God?"

That made me uneasy.  How does blow-drying my hair somehow have greater importance than the One who knows how many hairs are on my head?

Where I cut corners shows where my heart lies.

I'm ashamed to say, my desire on Friday morning was to look presentable and not stink like a greasy animal.  I'm not saying that isn't a worthy goal that we all should strive for in the morning, but maybe there is something more, much more.

What if Jesus (our time with Him and just Him Himself) really was more important than anything?  I want that so badly and yet I have to keep working at it and remind myself to work at it.

When I was in high school my parents sent my brother and I on wilderness backpacking trips with a camp in the North Woods.  Their goal was to toughen us up, I think.  For nine days we didn't have deodorant, soap, or toilet paper.  We didn't have phones or watches, and the counselors only let us see enough map to get where we were going each day.

On the last evening of the trip, my group camped close to the main camp.  We were next to this old, abandoned looking cabin-shack.  It had a dirty glass window and as I passed by it with my handful of sticks for the fire I saw my reflection.  And for the first time in my life (since I was an infant I guess), I didn't recognize myself.  I hadn't seen myself for days and the faces that I really knew well were the faces of my counselors and the other girls in my group.

I think about that whenever I think deeply about the face of Jesus and what it would be like if I truly lost myself in Him.  Wouldn't it be amazing if we were in the Word and prayer so much all we could think of was the face of Jesus?  What if we forgot ourselves in our love for Him?

Love is like that.  When you fall in love with someone you lose your mind.  You stay up later than you should just to spend more time with them or one more minute on the phone.  You spend all your extra money buying them presents or saving up for cool dates.  You think about them every minute of the day... writing their name everywhere and counting down the minutes until you get to be with them again.

And it's awesome.  You wouldn't change it. You are in love.

What if Jesus really consumed us, what if we fell in love with Him?

"May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ."  2 Thessalonians 3:5

God is love.  Deep, strong, passionate, jealous, tender, holy, perfect, forgiving, unending love.  Are we willing to say yes to it?  Are we willing to lose ourselves in His love?

Can we commit to this love even when it is difficult?  When it calls for an early morning, a stressful day, or a lifetime of sacrifice?

I guess you could ask the same question to a young couple as they say their wedding vows.  Do you think this is worth it?  Do you think it's worth the imperfections, trials, and heartaches?  And as they look their loved one in the eye, they say "I do."

I'm saying yes to Jesus and I'm choosing to say yes everyday to His love.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

longing, heartache, and the north wind

Several years ago, fifteen to be exact, I was a young girl and my family had just moved from Illinois to Southern California.  Many tears were shed in the days leading up to, during, and after that move.  We left our extended family and close friends behind...and at 10 years old I didn't think that I could recover until we moved back.

I clung hard to the memories.  I kept a box of things that reminded me of my best friends from Illinois.  There were letters mailed and phone calls.  There were visits from Grandparents that were always wonderful and always too short.  There were tears shed before bed and dreams that I fought to stay in as I awoke, dreams that had magically transported me back to our old home... which were strange and unlike the real thing, but a part of it nonetheless.

I couldn't understand why God had moved us away, and struggled with that for a long time.

My family moved again, this time to Fresno, California.  Gradually, as we made friends and grew to love the beautiful state we lived in, I became more accustomed to the idea of being there... even as my heart longed to be back with family once again.

By the end of my junior year of high school, our family faced another change.  We were finally moving back to Illinois.  Our stay in California was over.  A wide ranging storm of emotions came over me at that time and felt I would drown in them.  By the time I had really grown to love where we were, it was time to go.  Those years in California, though challenging at times, were full of wonderful memories, a very sweet time in my family's history.  Many lessons learned, many experiences shared.

As I look back at that time, do I wish that none of the changes had happened?  Would it have been easier to have never moved, never have felt the heartache in the first place?  Or to never have moved back from California and stayed there the rest of our lives?

In the past I would have said yes to any of those questions.  "Spare me the pain, please" would have been my response.  But removal of pain isn't always this answer.  Think of the famous quote... "Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."

I was thinking about a variation of this to fit my experience, "It is better to have lived and missed than to never have lived at all."  Less poetic, but you get the idea.

I think we need to allow ourselves the freedom to miss things and then challenge ourselves to be content if things never return to their former glory.  It doesn't mean that the glory and joy of life have passed away, it has simply changed.  And you will miss the now when it is gone too.

Looking back now I can see God orchestrating all things for good, and I'm so thankful that He is in control.  So many good things would never have happened if I had had my own way and been able to spare myself from pain.

Living to protect ourselves from hurting is a good way to hurt ourselves.  We are going to have heartache and sadness, we are going to miss things and wish for different circumstances no matter where we are.  Why not find a way to love the here and now?

Find a way to live fully.  As Jim Elliot once said, "Wherever you are, be all there."  A simple little quote, but a challenging one indeed.

But what about when the pain is too great?  When the people that we have lost were so dear we look to heaven and like Job wish that we had never seen the light outside our mother's womb?  The deep and abiding missing of things leads me to thoughts of heaven.  To the day that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  There will be no more longing, no more aching of separation but peace within the arms of God.

I look forward to heaven knowing that the God who made every good thing here, and there are many good things here despite the fallen nature of our world, has created an eternity that is beautiful and perfect and good.

The God who made the roaring ocean, sunsets streaked with purple clouds, soft velvety puppy ears, chubby baby fingers, blinding lightning, fiery red autumn leaves, musical notes that make us cry, joyful laughter, breathtaking spring wind, and dew covered grass knows how to create a pleasing, magnificent existence.  How much greater will forever be than now?

I just finished reading At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald last night.  Early on in the book a little boy named Diamond is befriended by the North Wind.  She takes him on adventures and one day she allows him to visit her back.  At the back of the North Wind there is no suffering or pain, but beauty and glorious music.  Diamond comes back from the North Wind and is always trying to remember the song that he heard sung by the brook.  He hears things on earth that remind him of it, but nothing is quite as beautiful.  You learn that Diamond was very sick while he was at the back of the North Wind, that it was a near death/heaven experience.  He longs to go back, and has no fear of any earthly thing... to the point that people on earth find him silly and think he has a screw loose.

I love that picture and the idea that once you have had a taste of something so beautiful, you won't be afraid anymore.

C.S. Lewis said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

Missing things can steal joy from the now we have been given, and distract us from the longing we have for our resurrection.   

I want to find ways to live in the balance, to not live in fear of heartache but to remember, to live fully, and live in expectation of the coming One. 

""Surely I am coming quickly."  Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"  Revelation 22:20

Monday, October 22, 2012

don't worry about tomorrow

Life is often a mess of worry and stress.  I started a new job a couple months ago.  I'm still working with adults with disabilities.  Same building, new programs, different non-profit, schedule change.  Now I work after-school programs and a Saturday program.

I underestimated the amount of stress I would feel with all the changes and the added responsibility of being a supervisor.  I find each week my stress level goes higher and higher until it reaches its peak on Friday evening as I feel unprepared for my biggest program on Saturday, and it slowly comes back to normal by Saturday evening.

I allow too many worries to flood my mind... worried that my class plans stink, that the staff think I'm ill-suited for the position and disorganized, that there is going to be a behavior I can't handle, that a parent is upset with me for a phone conversation that was confusing, and so on.

Despite all this anxiety, every Saturday night, even when the week had some hiccups I look back and say, "I didn't need to worry that much."  The stress that I allowed didn't make me more productive, more secure, more confident, more anything but unhappy and sick to my stomach.

On Wednesday evening last week I randomly decided to read from Matthew 6 before I went to bed.  I usually choose something from the Psalms but felt lead to the gospel.  I read the section about the birds and the lilies... and came to the final verse.

"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."  Matthew 6:34

As I read that passage and felt its comforting truth seep into my soul I realized that what I deemed a random choosing of a passage was a divine moment from the Father.  There were the words of Jesus, speaking into my life what I needed at that very moment.

It is so easy to be anxious and worry.  I think I mistake it at times for planning ahead, but there is a difference.  Planning ahead shouldn't make me feel sick in the morning and weepy at night.  Anxiety is an absence of trust, and I felt convicted.  I hadn't been trusting that God was going to take care of me.  I didn't trust that He could take care of me when I inevitably made mistakes and didn't handle things the right way.  When I didn't have things planned perfectly or when I just plain failed.

Thursday morning I re-read the passage in Matthew 6.  I felt so much better, and drove to work without worry.   As the day rolled on I was amazed to see how many things I was able to accomplish, but more than that my heart was at peace and free from anxiety.

"You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You." Isaiah 26:3

I write this with an understanding that I am terrible at it.  Even as last week improved there were times on Friday and Saturday that I was tempted to revert to my old, well-worn habits.  It is almost humorous that it is so tempting to make ourselves feel so sick with worry about things we can or can't control.

An inner focus can only lead to sadness, anxiety, depression, doubt, and other unpleasant and downright awful consequences.  I've experienced these things and I don't want to continue the cycle.

I pray that the following verse would be a reality for me everyday, no matter how great or small the obstacles may be.

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation."  Isaiah 12:2

an excuse of absence

In case you are one of the 14 people that read this blog and wonder why I haven't posted for the last six months... there is a reason.  I have been focusing my efforts lately on fiction, poetry, and finishing some projects.  So I may be posting some of those stories soon. :-)  Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 12, 2012

every day beautiful, every day sacred

I've been listening to the soundtrack to the movie Amelie repeatedly on Spotify the last couple days. Sometimes I like to think of different songs as the soundtrack to my life, and the Amelie songs by Yann Tiersen are so wonderful. They are light, they are moving, they are happy, they are sad. They run the gamut of daily emotions and color them beautifully. They make the everyday seem extraordinary.

If you have seen the movie Amelie, the heroine makes everyone's lives around her better in beautiful, caring ways. Amelie doesn't live in extraordinary circumstances. She has a mostly normal life, works at a diner. Doesn't really get to travel or do incredible things, but that doesn't stop her from living creatively and finding adventures.

I love how Amelie's care for the people around her makes her world beautiful. The everyday goes from being normal and commonplace to lovely and meaningful.

While the movie has some questionable content, the overall theme makes me want to make life beautiful where I am too. I want to live each day purposefully for Jesus and others. I want every day to be sacred.

Last night I was feeling down about work. Tim and I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller. Keller preached on Ephesians 6:5-9. In the passage Paul is addressing the relationships of slaves to masters and masters to slaves. Keller illuminated the context and showed that in many ways the slavery of Paul's day was more like our present day work situations than the slavery we are familiar with. We are supposed to honor our masters, our mangers as unto the Lord. Unto the Lord. He said that the way to make work bearable, make life meaningful, is to work for Jesus. Whether you are mopping floors or running a Fortune 500 company, you will only experience true joy and purpose when Jesus is your Manager, your Captain.

Keller did a good job explaining why every job is important in God's economy, from the lowest to the most praiseworthy of occupations. Our world simply cannot function if it isn't maintained, cleaned, managed, and cared for. Every task is important. Every work is beautiful when accomplished for Jesus.

Honestly, I felt frustrated when we were finished listening to the sermon. I thought, “Thanks Keller, that's easy for you to say. You are a pastor, your direct manager is God. Don't tell me how to do my job better, you don't know what it is like to be me.”

Not a cool reaction, but that is what I felt, even though I knew it was wrong. I felt convicted, I know there are unhealthy ways that I work and I don't usually work as unto the Lord. I don't work like I'm working for Jesus.

Tim and I debriefed the sermon together and when I woke up this morning I prayed, “Jesus, please help me work today for You.”

I felt more at peace today at work, enjoyed the people I serve, and felt all around better. Really better.

If it is so much easier for me to just work for Jesus, why the pain, why the anger?

Part of the struggle for me, and its a struggle I've been dealing with for years... I don't want to admit that I may be called to something that is hard for me, something that I don't love. I have felt that admitting that I'm called to something that I didn't dream of doing makes me a failure, and that ultimately I'll just be unhappy. I don't want to give up my perceived right to my own calling (which, if I'm the one doing the calling, it isn't much of calling anyway, is it?). I don't want to give away my right to a future I'm satisfied with. I don't want to give up my dreams to anyone, even God.

This morning, I again gave to God these things that I hold on to. My dreams and hopes for the future. I know that I just suffocate them when I hold them in my grubby hands.  They are always safer in His.

I had a bit of a personal watershed moment after listening to the sermon when I realized that I struggle with calling, purpose, and so on because I see every path as leading to a different me. There is the childless Abby that works a job she doesn't really like but gets to do some cool things because she has less responsibilities, maybe writes a book, learns a little French, has a dog, goes to Europe with Tim, and teaches a little poetry on the side.

There is the mother Abby, five babies in tow, enjoying the wonder of childhood and helping out at church with Tim. She doesn't get to do things she dreamed of doing but its ok because she has five cute little Tim's to care for and love.

There is the Abby that gets any number of the above things and isn't happy with any of them. And wonders what it is she really wanted in the first place.

Those are just a few examples of my bat-brained thinking, but it really effects how I live my everyday. Last night I realized that I need to stop thinking of the two possible Abbys, or three, or four and just focus on being the one Abby God has called me to be. The Abby that follows Jesus above all things. To not compartmentalize my future into possibilities based on what life events occur. Follow Jesus, do the things I love for Him. You have no idea how freeing that simple idea is to my heart.

Tim reminded me to just look at what my calling is for today. Love Jesus, love the people around me. Today that meant going to work, tomorrow it may too, but it doesn't mean that today's day is the way it will be forever.

This is a new perspective on life for me, one that I have known to be truth but not truly lived. This is a work in progress of course, even as I write this I feel the old doubts creeping back in, struggling to master my heart.  But I desire to make the everyday beautiful, sacred through loving Jesus and loving others. It doesn't matter if every dream doesn't pan out perfectly or if any do. It doesn't matter if I die tomorrow, am paralyzed in a year, never have children, or never set foot on the streets of Paris. It doesn't matter if I work in the same place for twenty more years, if I never write a book. Jesus is greater and the only thing that matters to me is that I grow closer to Him and see His face. My life can be simple and beautiful because Jesus is my Captain. The rest is gravy.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

an addiction to distraction

For the first time in my life I gave something up for Lent.  I have participated in other fasts before, but never the 40 day period before Easter.  Perhaps this is because I didn't grow up Catholic, my churches didn't request it, or I simply was afraid of it.  Whatever the case may be, this is my first Lent.

I considered giving up some kind of food, but was dissuaded from that by my husband who reminded me that I already have a very limited diet due to allergies.  I then pondered giving up Pinterest, second guessed it, and in my reluctance to give it up realized that was the thing I needed to leave behind for 40 days.

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I was completely enamored with the virtual pinboard.  I used it to research projects at work, and when I came home I used it to unwind.  When I was stressed out by the day's activities and trials I let my eyes wander over the beautiful homes, colorful flowers, delicious recipes, gorgeous outfits,  creative crafts, and adorable baby clothes.  It was a useful tool, I have completed projects and made purchases based on finds on that site.  But it was becoming more than that for me.

It was my distraction.

I realized that things like Pinterest get used like anti-depressants in my life.  They distract me from the real issues that are bothering me, and when I get sucked in I don't have to think about them anymore.  Sometimes though, while I surf the beautiful pages, I see something that reminds me of my sadness and it drives me deeper, searching for another link, another page, one more click that will numb me to the emotions swirling around my heart.

These last few days I have wondered... what if I was more willing to tackle the ache face to face in the presence of God instead of pushing it to the side while I consume more media, more something?

The temptation has been to replace Pinterest and television shows with more media.  Tempted to revert back to more Facebook, more Twitter, more blog hopping, more virtual distraction.  More internet drugging.

This isn't a new phenomenon in my life.  I know that I have used other things, other good things to distract me from God, distract me from pain.  Whether it was getting lost in a book for a few days, constant music in my ears, nightly television, or hours of exercise I have sought ways to shield myself from the world and my God.

I honestly don't think that media is evil.  I love it and there are many great and noble things it can be used for, my favorite being storytelling.  But when media becomes escapism from God and reality, I fall into deeper depression, my own cyber slough of despond.

You may not struggle with this the way I do.  There are many different things that keep us from God, and this is just one of the ways I fall off the path of daily surrender.

I'm thankful for Lent this year, and that it's giving me the chance to refocus and orient my free time around connecting with God instead of updating my pinboards.

Unplugging a little bit is allowing my mind and heart to live out the Psalm..."Be still and know that I am God."  Psalm 46:10

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012


You created the world.

You know the heights of every mountain, You molded them with Your hands.

You know the deepest corners of the rainforest, You fashioned the curve of each leaf and vine.

The uttermost edge of the arctic is not a stranger to You.

You know the depths of the ocean that man has never seen.

Your creation is glorious, You are the Lord almighty.

I'm in awe of the work of Your hands.