Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Gift of Him

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Unto us. 

He was born unto us. Given to us. 
A gift. 
Jesus was given to us as a gift from the Father. 

He knew we needed Him.

And his name shall be called Wonderful.
Wonderful: Inspiring delight.

In my moments of disappointment, sorrow, unhappiness, 
He is there offering the gift of Himself to me,
The gift of delight. 
Right in the middle of the pain, depression, or misery. 
He holds out to me enjoyment, happiness. In Him.
Because He is Wonderful.

One who gives guidance.

I have problems; He has answers. 

When I'm stuck, just absolutely stuck and I don't know what to do, His gift to me is Himself, 

He offers to patiently and ever so tenderly guide me and counsel me and show me the way I should go.

Is there not a moment in every one of our lives that we just feel utterly lost: unable to figure out the answer, unsure of what to do?

Was there ever a greater gift to mankind than the Gift of an all-seeing, all-knowing Counsellor?? 
With this gift received into my hands, why should I ever worry again?

Mighty God.

Mighty is defined as "possessing great and impressive power or strength, especially on account of size."

Problems have a way of quickly escalating into something like a mountain that seems insurmountable.

But my God is bigger than any and every problem I am faced with. He isn't moved by or worried about them because He is in control and He is stronger than the force of all my problems and questions and pressures combined. What a gift, to have all of His grace and all of Himself offered to me in the face of my problems. 

Everlasting Father.
Can we just take a second and think about each of those two words individually? 

Everlasting. Never ending. Boundless.

Ahh. I can breathe a sigh of relief. 
I won't ever come to a point where He says, "Okay, that's it. I've brought you this far, but that's as far as I can lead you. You're on your own from here on out." We won't ever be on our own. Emanuel is everlasting.
God is always with us. Always.

Father. How do you even define "Father"? Those who have a loving father in their life know just what a daddy-child relationship with God can look like. Those who have not had a loving father in their life know in their hearts just exactly what they've been missing, and they can know the fulfilling of that longing in God. But He is so much more than even the best of earthly fathers. He is the Originator of love, care, acceptance, protection: He thought up the whole idea. God is love. God is Father. 

Everlasting Father. 
A Father that never leaves. A love that never ends. A Protector who never lets go of us. 
The One who gave life to us and filled out lungs with breath, continues to give us life and breath day after day after day. Always loving the hope back into us as we journey down this road of earthly life. 

Prince of Peace. 

It's in the middle of the postpartum nights, hormones surging and thoughts racing; when the icy fingers of panic and fear closing tightly around my mind, that I feel it the most: just how much I need the Prince of Peace to come and save me in my distress. 

It's in the loud commotion of my day, in the clutter and the plans gone awry, in the toddlers having a meltdown and in the racing of the clock that won't stop ticking away while I'm running late, that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is offering again to me the gift of Himself. He's saying, "Come. Taste and see that I am good. (Psalm 34:8) Let me quiet your heart and mind in the midst of the noise."

It's in the confrontations and the misunderstandings and the disagreements with those close to us that our ruling and reigning Prince brings the gift of Peace to our very specific situations, free for the taking if we will simply ask and receive.


Any and everything we need or could ask for is found in Him. 

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

What a gift.

He knew we needed Him.

"Every good and perfect gift 
is from above, coming down from the Father..." 
James 1:17

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Changing Seasons

I sat down cross-legged on the kitchen tile yesterday afternoon, the season’s last piece of pumpkin pie, leftover from Thanksgiving, on a plate in my hand. My three toddlers crowded close, mouths open like little birds, clamoring for bite after bite. We scarfed it down before even having lunch. It was our last hurrah to the season of the year that I always think I love best; our bidding adieu to what had been the best Autumn I could remember.

I pulled down all the Fall decorations and piled them on the table... the pumpkins, the coloured leaves, the stuffed Mr. Squirrel Nutkins who’d been hugged countless times by googly-eyed girls as we read stories of Fall and pumpkin picking and Thanksgiving, cuddled on the loveseat under a blanket.
I won’t deny it: I was a little sad that Fall had come to a close once again. I’m not ready.

I don’t like change, people. At least, I think I don’t.

My in laws came and put up the Christmas lights outside. I brought up the bin of winter decorations from the basement, set up a manger scene, introduced the girls to Mr. Nutkins’ replacement, namely Sugar the stuffed snowman, and sat him on the mantle next to all the wintery board books I could find… but, truth is, I’m still dragging my feet into this new season.

My babies? They turned one today. One whole year. Just like that, an entire year just flew by. Gone. Over. Complete. Engraved into my history.
Twins do that, you know. They make time fly twice as fast. I guarantee it. Just yesterday I was holding both tiny, swaddled newborns in the same arm. I know it was just yesterday, there’s no way it’s been longer than that.

I remember the four dragging days in the NICU, the first wakeful night with them in our own room… the adjusting, the learning, the praying for grace… the two of everything, the explaining to each and every visitor every time which baby was which and how one could learn to tell the difference.

But then, of course, just as I think there’s no way a whole year has passed, I think of all the other things this year has held and I know it has been a very full, very busy and very long year after all.

So many milestones, so many memories to cherish. I don’t think I ever realized, before now,
...just how much can take place,
...just how many changes can happen,
...just how many seasons there are
in just one year.

One year ago at this moment I was breathing through the pains of labour, soon to birth these two daughters of mine into the world. And not one day has passed since then that I haven’t laboured to nourish, to nurture, to care for, to teach these daughters of mine, to make sure they make it in the world, but more than that: to make sure they make it into the Kingdom of God. Labour doesn’t end in birth, it has only just begun.

There have been many a night when I begged God to make these babies go back to sleep, and prayed for grace to change my attitude because, honestly, at three in the morning the very last thing I would really like to do is get up and change two diapers, then prop up all the pillows on my side of the bed to nurse two babies back to sleep in the dark and the cold. Some nights I get so frustrated. Some moments I just lose it. And then I labour again to find the grace I need to be the mama they need.

But the seasons keep changing. Already they are sleeping better (or am I just totally getting used to it?) and they definitely don’t go through as many diapers now as they did in the newborn stage.

So I can say “I don’t like change”, but then these changes, of course, are welcome ones.

Hmm. My heart attitude is coming into full view now. Who am I to pick and choose which changes I’ll give thanks for, and which changes I will whine and complain about?

We don’t get to choose the seasons, but we do get to live them. They make us who we are.

Sunday evening I was doing my best to hold it together inside. There’s another season I’m dragging my feet into, and it’s a season of mothering three toddlers and saying goodbye to their babyhood that flew by all too quickly. Because the twins aren’t the only ones who had birthdays this week. My first daughter, the one who opened me up and made me a mother in the first place, she turned 2 on Sunday. Two whole years. I’ve already reminisced about this last year and where it went, but what about the year before? How did it come to be that that tiny treasure whose name means praise no longer wakes up in the middle of the night squalling until satisfied with milk and her mommy’s warm touch? How can it be that she no longer needs to be swaddled or bounced or carried everywhere? When in this spinning world did that little tiny baby-miracle of mine learn to walk on her own, talk on her own, feed herself, put on her own socks, pull up her chair to turn on a lightswitch, pretend to read a book aloud and care for her dolly like a miniature mother? When?!
When did I become mother of three toddlers?
And quite frankly, when did I become a mother of three?

Because if yesterday I was holding tiny newborn twins, it surely was the day before that I was welcoming my first daughter into my arms and whispering her name over and over. And undoubtedly, it was just the day before that that I was walking down the aisle to those babies’ father, the love of my life…. and just days before that I was travelling through Romania, El Salvador, Honduras, Uganda. RIGHT??? How can it be that years of my life have gone by in the blink of an eye? Where does time go and how does it drag and fly all at the same time?

Breathe. Slow down, Self. Breathe. I must remember to breathe through this labouring.
Breathe and remember. Breathe and give thanks. Breathe and rejoice in the changing of the seasons of life.

If seasons didn’t change-
No, seriously. If seasons really didn’t change-

I say I don’t like change, but if seasons just stopped changing; if, let’s say, at some point when I was feeling really very happy and content everything just stopped changing and stayed the same from that point on: look what I would’ve completely missed out on!

I might still be in Africa: loving it, I’m sure, but living an unfulfilled life because that was just part of my life story.
I might still be single: permanently lacking my other half.
I might still be enjoying our honeymoon in Hawaii, but would have never had the joy of knowing my three precious daughters.
I might still be sharing our bedroom with two babies. (Um, that season also just came to a close on Sunday when we moved them into their new nursery. Yes and amen!)
I might also be starting to get really tired of Pumpkin Spice Lattes. If seasons never changed.

Change is good. Change is how we grow. Changing seasons let us experience joy in so many different, beautiful forms.

And, okay. I admit it.
One year old twins? Two year old daughter? Time isn’t really passing me by thaaat fast.
It’s not like they’re leaving home yet or anything. However, I may refer myself back to this post tomorrow when she’s walking down the aisle on her wedding day.

And in the meantime? Alright. I get it. Breathe and give thanks. Give thanks for each moment while it lasts. It’s time to enter into the new season my Father has so thoughtfully prepared.

Breathe and remember: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb. 13:8)
He doesn’t change with the seasons. He gives more grace for each season we walk through and He continues to satisfy our hearts and our souls with all that we need throughout each season. He stays the same, His love endures: “He delights in unchanging love.” (Micah 7:18)

So I’ll pack away the last of those infant clothes, store the baby rattles and chew toys in the basement until next time, and embrace this new season of full-blown toddlerhood-times-three that He has put before me.

I’ll finish putting away my Fall candles and pumpkin spice, pull out the advent calendar, and dig out the stockings. And while I get dinner going, I may just turn on some Christmas music and make myself a peppermint mocha. And I will give thanks to the Giver of all good things, because this season, too, will be blessed and beautiful because He made it.

He makes the seasons, and He makes the changes.

And I will labour 
to take hold of the grace I need 
to embrace the changing seasons.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Precious, tiny thing that you were, you opened me up to a pain I could've never imagined possible. The contractions in my body that pushed you down, down, down from your cozy place in my womb; they scared me. They hurt in a way I couldn't describe. I writhed and groaned and squeezed your daddy's hand way too hard.
And then, then you opened me up. You opened my body, I was broken for you.

You made me a mother.

My life was changed and your life came forth.

Oh my goodness, the relief. The joy. The completion: you were finally HERE.

In those moments my lips opened and I couldn't stop whispering praise and thanks to the Emmanuel who created Motherhood. Oh, oh. I can't even describe it.

Each one of you. All three times. The same feelings of pain, of fear, of relief; the same ecstatic joy.

And then? Then my heart was opened up to love so big I didn't even think I could hold it in. All three times.
Day after day, month after month, my heart has opened wider and wider because this love, oh this love, just keeps growing. Why? Oh, because you keep growing. And when a baby-dear grows into a person, a Mommy's love grows too, because there is continually more and more and more to love: with every inch added to your stature, every word added to your vocabulary, and every attribute of your personality revealed.

And also, you open doors for me. Yes, you! Each one of you precious, tiny girls. Doors to my community. Doors into people's lives. Neighbours I've never met came to our home to welcome you  with a card and a baby gift. Random people stop and peer into the stroller when we're out in town, smiling and asking questions; "How old is she?" "What's her name?".... And now, "Oh my word, you have three?" "Are they triplets?"
I have gotten to know the neighbour next door better in this last week than I have in the two years we've lived here, just because twice I've happened to step out onto the back porch with you and there she was, out on her back porch too. Seeing you little cuties she grinned and said you were adorable. Then we started chatting. And from there, well, you know how it goes: conversations start. Relationships are formed. Opportunities to share Jesus present themselves. She has an auto-immune disease: that basically means that the cells inside her body attack other cells inside her body and that makes her so sick all the time. I didn't know that before our chat this week.

YOU opened that door with her.

You, and your pigtails. You, and your charming gummy smile. And yes, you, with your funny, baby growl that makes everybody laugh. The three of you have opened the doors to opportunities with more neighbours and locals than I can count. Opportunities for me to smile and spread the light of the joy that Jesus puts in our hearts even right in the trenches of sleepless, unpredictable, busy motherhood.

But those are not the only opportunities you open up for me. Because of you, I have had the opportunity to learn and and to grow personally in so many areas.

For one thing, my knowledge has grown. Growing up I learned to change diapers, bathe a baby, dress a child, braid hair, cook meals, teach reading, babysit... All the basic things, because I had a good mommy, and because I was given the opportunity to practice what I was taught on my siblings. I'm the oldest of 5 brothers and 5 sisters, you know. But because of YOU I have begun to learn MOMMY things. Since you have arrived in my life, my mind has been opened up to so many, many new topics I hadn't even considered before. Like what foods to introduce to a baby first, how to nurse two babies at the same time, what to look for when you're worried your toddler got a concussion because she fell off the couch on her head when being silly (you didn't, thank the Lord), how to treat a cold in a very young infant, how to train up a child in the way she should go.... Things like that, just to name a very few. Oh, I've learned much already, and I'm learning more every day.

But also I've had many opportunities to grow spiritually. I've learned from you. I've learned because of you.

Patience. That's the classic answer; ask any mom, she'll tell you, "If anyone teaches me patience, it's my kids!" But really, though; you do. The Lord does, anyway. Through you.

The thing that stands out the most in my mind, though, is how much the eyes of my heart have been opened to the love and character of my Heavenly Father... Just by mothering you. It's amazing. Oh, I needed this. To have my eyes opened more, like this.

But why all this about opening?? Well, my darlings, simply because there is this strong, subtle, dangerously-venomous temptation in motherhood to look at all the doors, opportunities, seasons of life... adventures, experiences... that are now closed to us, and grow so discontent in the place we fill.

Are you happy when you think about and wish for what you don't have or can't have anymore? No.
And neither are Mommies. And an unhappy mommy can really do damage in her home.

It can be easy to vocalize about how our children tie us down, keep us at home, close us off from the world we used to know, keep us from the "fun" and the "freedom" we used to enjoy... 

Or even to ever-so-simply mull it over in over minds discontentedly.
Closed doors can be disappointing if you stand there staring at them. YOU know that; I've seen you whine many-a-time when Mommy closes a door to a forbidden room. 
Meditating on the closing can often brew a perfect cup of bitterness ...if we forget the opening
The more we turn this thought of closed doors over in our minds, the more unhappy we become in the very calling that is meant to give us life and joy... 
AND the more we whine to others... 
AND the more we lash out at our little dearies... 
Making it really hard to be "a joyful mother of children." (Psalm 113:9)

I'm a mommy now. I might never again get to fly through a day and a night to Africa: care for orphans, pray with AIDS victims, walk sandal-clad on red Ugandan soil, feel a hippo bump the boat I'm sitting in, or watch the sun set of Lake Victoria. 
I may never again see the Cataratas de Puhapanzak in Honduras or tour PeleČ™ Castle in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania or pray with a young Guatemalan mother on the curb of her cobblestone street.
I probably won't get to go back to Hawaii with your daddy, or be invited join the single ladies for a shopping trip to the city, or get to sleep in until 10 on a Saturday morning, or have a flat, tight belly again. I might not ever get a solid eight hours of sleep again either (actually, I prefer ten, if we're being honest). Those are just a few of the roads closed off to me now, because I am a mother of three babies. 

Oh, but Loves, just look at the joy, the life, the amazing adventures that the Lord has opened up before me NOW! Why would I even sigh about the places I can't go, things I can't do, person I can't be; in light of the privilege of motherhood???

You've opened up a whole new world to me... 
Of diaper bags and bottles and baby toys, 
of cluttered floors and animal fridge magnets and Cheerios, 
of carseats and swings and bouncy chairs and exersaucers, 
of sleepers and burp cloths and tiny matching outfits, 
of fascination with birdies outside and puppies and motorcycles that roar by past the front window, 
of silly gummy grins and cooing conversations and giggles that end in spit up, 
of 3am snacks in the kitchen and 5am feeds in bed, 
of blow-outs and spaghetti sauce in hair and perpetually runny noses in Winter's "Cold and Flu Season", 
of watching the wonder in your eyes as you see a real cow for the first time, 
of tasting avocados or rice cereal- or ice cream or chocolate chips- for the very first time, 
of teaching you to hide God's word in your heart and rocking and praying in the twilight moments over you and thanking God over and over and over daily for the gift of you... 

And, oh, how I love this world that I live in with you. 
How I love this adventure with that we call motherhood that has been opened up to me because of you.

You opened me up. You made me a mother.

I choose to open my heart and my arms to all that my Father chooses to bestow, and not become fixated on the closing. I rejoice to tear open this beautifully-wrapped gift He gives me called Motherhood.

"You give to them, they gather it up; 
You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good."

(Psalm 104:28)

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Match Made in Heaven

{a personal testimony of how God brought my husband and I together, written in January 2013}

While at a youth conference in Colorado during the second week of August, the Lord impressed upon my heart (as He had many times before) that in order to be wholeheartedly devoted to Him I needed to let go of my own plans, desires, and ideas for my future and surrender to HIS will for me... Even if I didn't understand what that was yet. The hardest thing about that surrender was letting go of my long-cherished dream and hope of marriage. After thinking and praying hard and long about it, I chose to let go of what I thought I wanted and give myself to the Lord completely so that His plans and purposes could be brought about in my life. 

During that same week, my mom became friends with a Canadian lady whose son and daughter were attending the same conference as my siblings and I. In a conversation one afternoon, Mom discovered that this friend knew the young man named Tim who was courting my dear friend Whitney, so she began asking questions about him. During this conversation this friend also mentioned Tim's brother Joel several times as being a Godly young man whom she and her family highly respected. That day, even though she couldn't explain it logically, my mom knew in her heart that this Canadian Joel Holloway (who we had never met) was the one the Lord had chosen for me.

As the Lord would have it, two weeks later I met Joel.

Joel had accompanied his brother Tim down from British Columbia to Missouri for a week of (what I assumed was) visiting Whitney's friends and family. The second day of their visit the two brothers came over for dinner along with two other friends from their hometown and our mutual friends from Tennessee. When Joel walked through our front door for the first time my Mom once again felt confirmation in her heart that he would be my husband. I had no clue.

Many times throughout the next week I had opportunity to observe Joel's character. I knew there was a difference in our ages so I hardly considered the possibility of him being interested in me and interacted with him very little. I did notice, however, an admirable character displayed in this young man which I respected greatly. I'd seen him interact with my younger siblings: volleyball in the rain on the little-kids’ team and long conversations about fishing with my ten-year-old brother. In passing, I'd noticed him enter into worship during the several fellowship gatherings we’d attended that week: eyes closed to all surroundings and singing with a wholehearted passion that couldn't be mistaken. This blessed me. 
We had found ourselves one afternoon in my best friend's living room discussing mission trips and discovering -much to our surprise- that we'd both been to the Central American country of El Salvador at different points in our lives. I'd also immediately taken note of the fact that he not only like coffee, he loved coffee. Just like I do. Still, the thought that he had considered me never crossed my mind.

Then, on the last day of his trip, Joel asked my Dad to go out for a conversation over coffee. 

Peace filled my heart later that afternoon when my Dad called me into his office and told me that Joel had asked for the blessing of beginning a relationship with me.

Little did I know that early in August Joel had received an email from an older brother in the Lord -and mutual friend of ours- that mentioned me. It was then that Joel began to pray about me for the first time, even though we'd never met.

Joel had then flown those 2,315 miles down to our little corner of Missouri with the single goal of observing my character throughout the time he was  here and asking the Lord for guidance regarding a relationship with me. When Dad told me this I was very blessed remembering the honorable way in which he had conducted himself when he was around me. I'd had no clue whatsoever of any such observation going on the whole time. At the end of his week here he was encouraged by what he’d seen and felt total peace and confirmation from the Lord that he should ask my dad for his blessing to begin a relationship with me.

As Joel headed back to Canada I began to pray, along with my parents, to  understand God's heart on the matter. Peace like I had never felt before continued to guard my heart every single day as we waited to know the Lord's will.

After a week and a half of praying and discussing things with my parents, all of us feeling a confirming peace from God about the situation we decided to take the next step in faith.
I found that same peace living inside me, swelling and overtaking me, as I began correspondence with this man I barely knew who felt God's leading  to get to know me for who I am. It wasn't without occasional trepidation, however. There were those little fears that crept in, unnoticed and unwelcome, quietly as I lay in bed at night considering the circumstance. Humanly speaking the whole circumstance seemed impossible and even scary; simply because Joel and I hardly knew each other and lived nearly a continent apart. But whenever I'd take the fears and concerns to the Lord He'd remind me that He wasn't the Author of fear and He'd bid all fear to leave me alone. Peace came back every time.
So in faith I stepped out into a relationship I could've never conjured on my own and the scary became okay.

For about two weeks Joel and I communicated daily through email. We talked about all kinds of things including what a normal day looked like in each of our lives, favorite colors and pastimes,  personal convictions or strong beliefs, hopes, dreams, experiences, and what the Lord was teaching us that day specifically. It’s amazing how much can be communicated through writing! We learned a lot about each other’s lives that two weeks and looked forward to every new email with excitement. Then Dad gave Joel his blessing to call me, and when I heard his Canadian voice for the first time come over the phone so clearly, him speaking my name in that beautiful accent, there was that peace again: over and under, all the way around; filling that first conversation in a way I couldn't hardly believed. There wasn't even any awkwardness.

From then on we corresponded mostly by phone calls. The more I got to know Joel the more I not only began to trust and admire him, I began to discover that he was everything I had been asking God for in a man since I was sixteen.

It was a season of learning to walk by faith like never before. I had nothing to base my decision on but the unchanging character of God. It was beautiful because it daily proved to me that my Father loves ME and had tenderly and faithfully gone before me and provided for all of my needs; even throwing in a few trivial wants for my extra assurance of His genuine care.

And then the day arrived in early October, only weeks into our relationship, when I found myself walking down a jet way: one step at a time, making my way to visit Joel in Canada for the first time. Whitney, who was now engaged to Joel’s brother Tim, turned to me as we sat together on the plane and asked with a smile how I was doing. Above the clouds somewhere between my home and Joel’s I told her I felt nothing other than peace. Still: peace.

Five days I spent in British Columbia, getting to know the families at Joel’s church, celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving with him and his family, touring some local attractions, and getting to know Joel better by spending time with him in person. I left more encouraged than I had gone, and more convinced than ever that Joel was the one for me.

We continued our long-distance relationship on into November with daily phone calls, emails, texts and even a few video calls. The Lord continued daily to confirm to us that we were moving in the right direction and that we had been made for each other.

American Thanksgiving came around to us Missourians, and with it came Joel. Joel and his parents spent the day at our home and shared our traditional Thanksgiving meal with us. We enjoyed being together with our families, playing volleyball, basketball, chatting, walking down our long dirt road, eating and relaxing, taking four-wheeler rides and just enjoying getting to spend time together.  It was a day of celebration and giving thanks, but it was that evening that our rejoicing increased majorly. After dark Joel asked if I’d like to go for another walk. Agreeing, I grabbed my coat and headed out the door on his heels. Shutting the door behind him he turned to me. “Actually,” he said “I really wanted to just talk more than I wanted to walk.” He gestured to the rocking chairs on the porch and we both sat down. I looked him in the face and saw that tears were in his eyes. He began to tell me some of what the Lord had been doing in his heart and assuring me that he wanted to marry me. He gently offered that if I still wanted time to pray about it I had no obligation to answer him then and there, but I knew there was no need to pray about it more. The Lord had already made it clear to me in my heart that Joel was the one I had been waiting for all this time. Joel is the man I was made for. I made this clear to him, and after we talked a little more Joel got down on his knee with a ring and asked me to marry him.

I said yes.

Two days later was Tim and Whitney’s wedding. Joel and I began planning ours.

A week later, at the beginning of December, I flew up to BC again to be at Tim and Whitney’s Canadian reception and spend time with Joel and my future family. Joel met me at the airport with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. That week was filled with many wonderful memories for the two of us, including fellowship with the saints there, coffee dates and planning our wedding. The ladies from Joel’s church threw a surprise shower for me that weekend, blessing us with many things for our future home and then that Monday Joel and I flew out to Texas together. He had some business meetings very close to where my extended family lived there so we decided it was a good opportunity for them to meet Joel. We parted ways there, already planning his trip to Missouri just in time for New Years, and thanked the Lord for the knitting together He was continuing to do in our hearts.

Joel came down at the end of December and spent a week in our home with my family and I. I rejoiced to see the way my parents and each of my nine siblings love him so much and enjoy being around him, and thank the Lord for the many beautiful memories that were made for all of us that week. This was our last opportunity to spend time together in person before our wedding in February, so we enjoyed every day to the fullest and enjoyed watching God grow our love for each other daily as we were together... as He continues to do even now that we are apart again for a little while longer.

As I think of the story our Father God has written for Joel and I, I cannot help but think of the many similarities it has to His own beautiful Love Story. Just as Jesus came from Heaven to earth to a people who didn't know Him with the purpose of winning a bride to Himself, Joel came from another country to see a girl who’d never met him with the purpose of finding the bride God had chosen for him.
In the same way that Jesus patiently, powerfully but gently wooes and captures the hearts of the beloved ones He longs to call His own, Joel patiently won my heart and my trust through prayer and months of listening to my heart and displaying his love in multiple ways. When Jesus finished His days on earth He went back to Heaven to a prepare a place for His Bride, leaving us with a promise to soon return and take His Bride to Himself. I get the beautiful privilege of seeing this exemplified in my own life as Joel Holloway left me the first week of January to go and prepare a place for me with a promise to return soon and take me to himself as his bride forever. The Second Coming of Christ has never been more realistic or precious to me before now.

We pray that this glimpse of God’s work in our lives would inspire each of you on to deeper faith in Christ and that you would be encouraged, along with us, to continue to surrender everything to our precious Savior Jesus Christ to the glory of His matchless name.

{photos from our wedding day, credit goes to R&E Photography (c) 2013}

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Maybe This is Why

 {A story from my recent mission trip to Africa... and a testament to the truth that it is sometimes the little things- or the little people!- that make the biggest and longest-lasting impacts on our lives...}

It was June eleventh and I was halfway through my first afternoon at Sanyu Babies’ Home in Kampala, Uganda when I met her.

I saw her sitting alone and motionless on a bench across the hut from me and I knew immediately that something wasn’t right. I put down a baby I had been entertaining and made my way through the little crowd of playing babies to where she sat. She was sitting in an awkward position; as if someone had just sat her down and walked off- and she had just stayed frozen in that posture.

She was staring off into nowhere, a piece of cake clenched tightly in her hand. She made no move when I touched her or spoke to her softly. I picked her up and held her in my arms, but she seemed to just move to whatever I did to her, like she had no energy of her own.

I held her tight and talked to her... I prayed for her and even sang a little bit, but her facial expression never changed and she rarely made eye-contact.

Her arms and legs were tiny and cold. Her eyes were beautifully big and brown, but when I looked into them, at one point, they glazed over and my heart skipped a beat. I was suddenly afraid because I knew that something was very wrong with this child. I moved over to another bench with her, and sat down beside one of the mamas of the Home.

I asked her what the little girl’s name was:  she told me it was Beatrice.  

She said that Beatrice had just come to the Babies’ Home from a nearby hospital that very day and no one knew much about her at all.  She had been brought in by the police, the nurse later told me.

The nurse and I both concluded that she was extremely malnourished, and therefore it was hard to determine her age... but because she had a mouthful of teeth we guessed that she was about a year to18 months old. I held her tightly a little later on as Nurse Sylvia attempted to feed her a dose of medicine, but suddenly, from who knows where, the previously-lethargic little girl found an impressive amount of energy. She clenched her teeth and downright refused to swallow the nasty medicine that the Nurse stubbornly poured into her mouth. She squealed pitifully (the first sound I had heard her make all afternoon) as the brown liquid leaked over her chin and dribbled down her neck, through her hair and onto my arm. After a couple terrorizing and unsuccessful attempts to get Beatrice to take the medicine, Nurse Sylvia handed me the measuring cup and had me try..... but I didn’t get much better of results. Giving up, Nurse Sylvia said that she had no options left than to put in a port and give her the medicine intravenously next time.

Finding a roll of toilet paper, I cleaned up the sad little girl as best I could and then- realizing that I was already supposed to have left for Mengo for the evening-  I laid her down in a nearby crib regretfully.

I hated to leave her- especially just then- but I knew I had no other choice. The nurse had already left the room, moving on to other children who needed her assistance, and Beatrice lay motionless on her back in the crib, staring blankly again. I whispered her name until she turned her gaze to catch mine and I smiled at her several times, telling her that I loved her.

Then, hoping and praying hard that she’d have strength to make it through the night,
I left her.

The next afternoon I made my way down the hill from Namirembe Guesthouse to Sanyu as soon as I could.  We were first set to work gathering laundry off the line because the babies were still napping, but it wasn’t long before all 40-something babies were awake and as loud and lively as ever. While the others from my team scooped up little ones and began to play, I passed by everyone in search of Beatrice.
I had received word from another girl from another volunteer team who’d been there that morning that Beatrice had made it through the night just fine, and was seemingly doing a little better according to several who had seen her the day before- including Nurse Sylvia.

I soon found her and held her for nearly all of the three hours I was there. She was still weak and lethargic, but showed a tad bit more energy by grimacing a few times and actually even pushing me away when it bothered her that I was singing or gently rubbing on her arms and legs.

Underneath all that weakness, I was beginning to tell that Beatrice had quite the little attitude!

I helped with the torturous medicine-forcing again that evening and held her still during the intravenous injection, but my heart was sad and I hoped she didn’t develop a fear of me and begin to associate me with torture. Again, she fought as hard as she could, her squealing a bit stronger and more like a scream than the day before.

Sometimes you have to do things that aren’t fun, and I wished she could understand that I wasn’t enjoying making her suffer, but that I was trying to help her ultimately OUT of her suffering.

Nurse Sylvia said that she needed to be able to gain more strength and weight before they would be able to test her for Tuberculosis and HIV, so until then we couldn’t really be sure of what it was she was facing besides malnutrition.

When the time came again for me to leave I didn’t want to just set her down and walk off, so I found an older mama named Beatrice (after whom the little one was named) and asked if I could leave the baby with her.  Agreeing, the mama took Beatrice onto her lap, but the little girl immediately turned and held her arms out to me, whining in her tiny little voice.  This was the first time I had seen her show emotion besides fighting her medicine, and I was sad but extremely happy at the same time. Not only was she already gaining a little strength and beginning to communicate more clearly, she actually wanted me.... she recognized me as someone she felt safe with... and that was immediately one of the biggest highlights of my day.

I was there to make a difference... and somehow... I could see that a tiny difference was already being made. I couldn't help but thank the Lord!

Thursday, June 14th was my last day in Kampala and I was able to get over to the Babies’ Home first thing that morning. I found Beatrice still asleep in her crib and gently woke her up. I was determined to keep her with me as much as possible this day, since it would be our last day together for a while. I had no idea when or if I’d be able to come back to Africa again after this.
I bathed her, dressed her in the cutest little dress I could find in the stack of clothes, and noted that 12 months size didn’t fit this tiny little girl: she wore a 3-6 months sized outfit.

This day, Nurse Sylvia handed me the medicine and asked if I’d do the honors. I was thankful to have the opportunity to try it gently, without the struggle she was used to. She still whined and fought it some, but it went much more smoothly this time. I cleaned the medicine off her clothes and washed her hair again. As Beatrice sat on my lap outside, the nurse gave her a haircut, saying she was beginning to look “shabby”.

I snatched a tiny pinch of her black curls and stuck them in my pocket. (Shh!)

A little while later one of the teachers gave me a packet of something called Plumpy Nut and said that I was to feed it to Beatrice. My friend Emma, a girl who was very familiar with the Home and had also dealt much with malnourished children, assured me that this would be really good for Beatrice (if she’d eat it) and would help her gain weight quickly. At first Beatrice stubbornly clamped her mouth shut, thinking it was just another kind of nasty medicine, but after watching me taste it in front of her and slip some through her lips, she decided it wasn’t so bad after all. I rejoiced inwardly as I watched her willingly open her mouth for more.

The physical therapist who was there for the day asked if I would help with Beatrice's therapy and I felt as privileged as if I'd just been handed the world. I watched almost breathlessly as my baby girl shyly crawled to the therapist when beckoned, and then -upon command- stood herself up and walked across the mat. She was progressing so fast! I helped gently exercise and stretch her muscles and then massaged her body, silently praying for her and her little life as my hands gently moved across her chocolate-colored skin. I kept watching the clock, knowing my time at Sanyu was coming to a close. I had been told to be back at the chapel at Mengo Hospital (where most of my team was spending their time that week) for a service by 10:30, and it was already almost 10. I found Vicky, one of the directors of the Home, in the hallway and asked special permission to take pictures of Beatrice. She said that I could, so my sister Emily and I spent the next few minutes snapping away pictures together with this precious little girl who had become so very dear to our hearts in the last few days.

Finally, I leaned over and whispered to her, simply,  “Beatrice, honey, I’m going to have to leave soon.”
She whined, reached up and grabbed part of my shirt in her little fist and held on.

I couldn’t believe she had actually understood what I’d just said to her!

I could only imagine what kind of a life she had led up until that day, but the fact that I was now leaving her too was ripping my heart up.

holding my shirt tightly

Soon, I could hold it off no longer. I took her inside where some of the babies were having a snack. I found my friend, Laura, and told her I had to leave now; asking if she’d make sure Beatrice was well taken care of until she also had to leave later on. She understood that this wasn’t an easy moment for either one of us, and kindly offered to feed her a bottle while I left. I held Beatrice close, whispered many things to her, kissed her, hugged her, and finally said goodbye. I slipped her into her highchair despite her little whining and watched for just a second, then turned away.

That was the last time I saw her.
Never once did I see her smile. 

Many times since I left her I prayed for her, worried about her, and wrote to the director of the Home asking about her condition. Friends of mine from all over the world were praying for her, this little girl of mine, because she had captured a special place in all their hearts.
In my heart I had begun praying and scheming up plans of bringing her home.

Tonight I would be asking you to pray with me for this sweet little girl, but almost two weeks after returning to the States I was informed that Beatrice went to be with Jesus.

I don’t really know how, I don’t know why;

all I know is that she had been taken into the hospital the week before because of some symptoms which included vomiting. I had been praying for her to be healed, but Jesus had other plans for her life.

I found out after she had died that soon after I had left, another woman had taken notice of her. Jenny is an American mama of 15 children who, with her husband, was in the process of adopting a little girl from Sanyu Babies’ Home at that very time. She has been staying at the Home temporarily until the adoption was complete, and when she discovered little Beatrice and noticed her condition, she immediately began taking measures to fight for her life. She notified people around the world of Beatrice and her needs, and soon The Baby Beatrice Fund was begun and many contributed towards her care. All this, and I didn't even know!
If I’m not mistaken, it was Jenny herself that made sure my sweet girl was taken into the hospital when her condition became worse, and Jenny was the one who thought to go out and buy a beautiful, frilly dress and flower headband to dress Beatrice in for her burial a week later.

How many time can I look in your eyes and say I have nothing to give?

At her death Beatrice was two-and-a-half years old, ten pounds, and HIV positive. She was buried in a graveyard that was surrounded by a trash dump where local people of all ages dig around to find food.

I don’t know why the Lord brought Beatrice into my life, but I do know that I have been changed by the impact of the story of her life and death. At times since her passing, I have wondered and asked the Lord what the point was of those three or four short days at Sanyu with Beatrice, and why in the world He put her in my life and then took her away?

And then- slowly, quietly- it occurred to me that maybe...


it isn’t about me at all. 

Maybe all of that was so that she could be loved in a way she hadn’t before, so that she could be cared for... even just for a few hours... by this insignificant, self-consumed girl from across the world.

And maybe that’s why we go to Africa at all:
Maybe that’s what this Christian life is all about:

Giving away the love that we have received.  Even when we don’t understand the outcome.