Thursday, June 16, 2016

You Have Grace

{Dear Graduate,
This letter was written originally to my younger brother 
in honor of his high school graduation. 
I share it here because this is essentially the message 
I would like to send out to each and every one of you as well. 
May you walk in grace.}





My dear brother,


This morning my thoughts have been mostly of you.

Memories of you as a toddler; silly, witty and wild;
Thankfulness and pride swelling as I think of who you've become. 

Today is the day we celebrate your accomplishment of completing 13 years of school. And if we count all those preschool activities and games I got to do with you way back when, well then we could probably chalk it up to 14 years, at least. 
You've stuck to it, displayed an admirable amount of perseverance and motivation, and I, personally, am inspired by your example of determination. Along with that, I've seen you choose Jesus, choose grace, stand up for what is right.
You're finished with one season of life, and you're walking into another.
The hard work doesn't end here, in fact it may get harder from here on out. The choices set before you may prove themselves to be tougher, bigger and more challenging than any you've faced before.


But you have the grace of God.
Grace that is readily available to you at any moment, and it's more than sufficient for any and every choice, challenge or struggle that comes your way.



This morning my thoughts have also been of the world we now live in. Today news flashed of the deadliest mass shooting in US history. One man ended fifty lives by the choice he made.
One man. One choice.

Last week headlines all raged about a young man, not much older than you, who chose to dishonour and harm a young woman in one of the most humiliating, personally damaging ways possible. People everywhere hashed out laws and rights and the value of a human being. Again.
All because of one man. One choice.


Unfortunately, these things are not even uncommon anymore in the world we live in. It doesn't all make news, but it's all reality.
We live in a world that calls defiance bravery,
Calls arrogance manhood,
Calls lies truth,
Filth; beauty,
Wrong; right.
We live in a world that despises the grace of God. A world where real men are rare. Not nonexistent, but rare. Real men who make wise choices. Lead exemplary lives. Walk in grace.


Regardless of the grand celebrations, today is just another day. You've been becoming a man for a long time now, but today especially, we acknowledge you leaving behind yet another chapter- a very large part- of childhood, and stepping more fully into manhood.
Boys leave their marks in the world, and occasionally some boys even make history, but it is men who shape and build the world we live in. It is men who leave the biggest impact and who make the choices that affect masses. It is men who lead, men who blaze the trail, men who set the pace.


Many men have made wrong choices and failed to take hold of the grace of God to overcome the entangling, crippling power of sin. Countless times the world has been left reeling in the wake of a single wrong choice made by one single man, but you, my brother don't have to follow in the footsteps of a man like that.


You have the grace of God.


You are stepping more fully into manhood now, and you have choices to make.
You have work to do. There's a path laid out before you that you are to walk. You have the world and all its opportunities and beauties before you, as well as all its temptations and snares:


And you have the grace of God.


I know you know that. Never doubt it.


I'm so proud of you, my brother, and as long as I'm here on this world with you I will always cheer you on and lift you up before the Throne of Grace.





"You therefore, my son, 
be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."

2 Timothy 2:1

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What I Pray For You


My daughter,

I do not pray that all your wishes will come true and all your dreams be fulfilled;

Because I have been there and seen that wishes and dreams can turn out to be different than we first thought and emptier than we realized.


But I pray that your heart will be captured by the Lover of your soul, your mind arrested and captivated by the indescribable glory of your Maker so that as you grow to know Him deeper, you will gladly and wholeheartedly rejoice to dream HIS dreams for you; 

choose to walk out HIS gorgeous wishes for your one, beautiful life.


You are precious and priceless, 
and His dreams for you are far greater and more fulfilling than you can ever imagine.



Trust Him, my child; as you grow.






And blow all other worries to the wind. 🌾


Friday, March 11, 2016

Wanted


The room was silent except for the whir of the machine beside me.
I shifted my gaze from his face; pursed lips and eyes that stayed fixated on the screen... to my husband's furrowed brow... to the ceiling and the exam light above me that burned my eyes.
I was just over seven weeks pregnant.

The doctor slid the probe gently across my belly. Too gently. I wished he would press harder, dig deep for answers.


Please just give me an answer.
Any answer.


Please say, "Ahh, there. I found a heartbeat."
Or even "I'm sorry, I found the baby; there is no heartbeat."
But please give me an answer.


Uncomfortable as the place and the situation was, I was glad to be there.
Even the cold gel against my bare skin on a chilly February evening felt comforting somehow.
At least now we will know something. At least now I can get an answer as to what is going on.

Please search hard, doctor, sir. Please do everything you can to figure out what's happening. Why is my body emptying out when it should be growing a life?

My mind knew what was happening, but my heart wanted to keep hoping.


Because that’s what love does, it always hopes.


Please say something.
Don't come up empty...


But he did.


He blamed the machine, it was just an outdated, portable ultrasound machine. I was also just so early on in the pregnancy, he wasn't able to see anything more than the enlarged uterus.
He was gentle and kind, the type of doctor we had prayed we would encounter that afternoon. He explained things and answered questions, but he couldn't give a diagnosis, he was just there to operate the machine.


I held Joel’s hand as I lay on the bed, and we waited.
More nurses, another doctor. Blood work, explanations, pressing around on my belly, internal exam.


Please give me an answer to go on.



Somewhere down the hallway a baby cried. I thought about the baby we were so excited to meet in September. I thought about my three girls back at the condo with their grandparents. We weren't even in our hometown, we were on vacation. Not only that, it was Family Day.
No one plans or expects to lose a family member on Family Day.


Were we really losing the baby today?


Somewhere in the blur of words and procedures I heard the doctor speak the phrase, "...if this was a wanted pregnancy..." And I don't remember a single word after that.


If it was a wanted pregnancy?


Oh, sir. If you only knew just how wanted.


Stop.


Baby, I want you to know right here and right now: you are wanted. You are loved.
So wanted.
So loved.


They sent us back to our condo, encouraged us to pack up and drive the two and a half hours home that night, in case things were to get worse. They couldn't say for sure it was a miscarriage, although they said it seemed likely. They couldn't say for sure that it wasn't an ectopic pregnancy, although they seemed to have ruled it out. They couldn't do any more for us in this town than they'd already done so they recommended we go back to the bigger city where we could get more help, should I need it. So we did; we packed up and went home that night.


I tried to process what was happening.
Was I really losing the baby?
Was this a miscarriage?


Miscarriage.
Stupid word.


How could it be that one. word. could so effortlessly describe everything that I'd just heard, experienced, seen that day? How was it that that one simple word could waltz right into my life, unannounced, becoming an easy label for people to use to describe all of the pain in my heart and the dashing of hopes and dreams and plans?


I'd seen blood on the bathroom floor.
I'd watched my body empty out and I couldn’t do a thing to stop it. The feelings were similar to the night that earthquake shook our house; I was helpless and powerless against a force greater than my own will and intentions. I just watched this thing happen to my body, I prayed and I tried to keep on hoping that what was happening was not what seemed to be happening.


And then everything was still. The pain stopped. I soon felt almost… normal. Too normal.
If that was a miscarriage, part of me wanted it to be worse. To give my mind time to wrap around it all. But it happened so fast it didn’t even have time to sink in before it was done.
Worse, because you were more than just a word, more than a medical term like, “miscarriage”. You were a life, and if you were being lost I wanted to feel that loss in every way.
Part of me kept hoping for the best. The rest of me just waited in the silence of the next few days.


But those days went by and it became clear. My hCG levels, those numbers that showed how much of the pregnancy hormone existed in my body, were tested again 48 hours after they had been taken at that little Emergency Clinic on Family Day, and the results came back showing a dramatically lower number. My midwife called me personally to give me the news, along with her condolences. Joel held my hand as he sat beside me, he could hear enough on the other side of the phone to know what she was saying.


That emptying out that I’d borne witness to? That was my body saying goodbye and letting go.
It happened so fast, I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye and let go.


It was over. Just like that.
That was not the answer I wanted, but it was an answer. At least now I had an answer.
I could stop hoping now.


But wait.


No.
I will not lose hope. I will not let go of hope.


I am disappointed. I am sad, and I grieve the loss of my child.
Wasn’t it just yesterday that I had rubbed my already-growing belly and smiled?
I loved carrying you around inside.



You were wanted. So wanted. So loved.


I would like to name you Ava. I always liked that name. Your daddy and I thought maybe you were a boy, because you already have three sisters, but we never got to find out. Your tiny body had not yet formed into what you would’ve been here on earth. But now I would like to name you Ava, because Ava means desired. I don’t want anyone to ever think you were not wanted, and I want everyone to know what a blessing your short life was to your mama. I wanted you so very much. You should have seen the way I smiled and laughed and ran to show Daddy when I saw the lines form on that pregnancy test. September seemed like the absolute most perfect month to welcome you into our arms; into our home; into our family. You were due on the second day of Fall, my favorite season.


But Jesus wanted you more. You belong there, with Him. Dancing on those golden streets, endlessly praising Him and never shedding a single tear. I know you love to dance, because I know your sisters and I know your Daddy, and they are forever dancing to one song or another in the Family Room after dinner is done and while I clean up the kitchen. I know you are beautiful. Heavenly. I cannot wait to meet you one day.
Ava also means alive. I know, my child, that you are not gone. You are more alive than ever now.



Seven weeks is young, very young, but not worthless. You were so alive, even then. The knowledge of your presence inside me filled us with such joy, and the dreaming of all you could become gave us so much to look forward to. We loved you then, when you grew inside me... and we love you now; now that you are made whole and alive with Jesus. We know we will see you some day.


Ava also means voice, song, sound. Your life is a song to me. A song of a living hope. Through the growing and the losing of you I am reminded of the hope that I have that remains unshakeable throughout any and every storm that comes my way. Your life and your passing is drawing me closer to the One who created your soul and mine. My perspective of Heaven has changed too, becoming a little brighter, dearer, and a little more real. I know I am held by Jesus as I grieve your loss, and I know you are held by Him and finally whole. He is our living hope, the One who conquered death and therefore fills us with joy even in the face of it. Jesus is the One who heals, gives grace to walk through our trials, and fills us with HOPE in situations that seem, to the soul that doesn’t know Him, hopeless.
Could it be that your sweet song, my dear, will also draw others to the hope we have? It may be that there are those reading this story of ours who have lost much, but do not have this hope in Jesus. What a joy it would be if by writing out my heart here, my baby and I could together be a voice; pointing other broken ones to the Saviour who gives indescribable peace, hope, and healing to all who ask.


So I will not lose hope.


I got my answer, and it was not the answer I wanted.


I want to be pregnant right now. I want to believe the notification that popped up on my phone screen this morning, because I forgot to turn off the app after you passed; I want to believe you are nine weeks today and the size of a grape… eyes and nose and earlobes and gums, even tiny teeth inside those gums, all forming at rapid pace. I wanted to go to that first midwife appointment this coming Monday, maybe hear your heartbeat and grin from ear-to-ear. I wanted to see you on that ultrasounds screen next week, and I wanted finally announce to the world that you were on the way; I couldn't wait to finally post those pictures I took of your sisters on my bed one afternoon, holding the shoes that were meant for you to wear one day. 


I wanted to go buy little matching Big Sister shirts for your twin sissies. I wanted to video your 2-year-old sister talking about the baby in mommy’s tummy, and how she would wrap it and hold it and take care of it when it came out. I didn’t want to have to explain to her in a very simple, toddler-appropriate way that the baby isn’t there anymore. I wanted to keep researching quadruple strollers online, and toddler car seats that would be narrow enough to fit 3 along the back bench of our minivan for your sisters leaving room for your infant seat up front. I wanted to labour and birth you into this world and feel your skin against my own and let the whole world stand still as I soaked in all the glory of a fresh, new, beautiful newborn life that I got the priviledge to cherish and love and raise up for the Lord. I wanted to know you. 
Baby, I wanted you.






But Jesus wanted you more.


And Jesus fills me with hope that even this answer, although fiercely unwanted, is okay. He chose this answer for me, He chose this answer for you, and He never, ever chooses wrong.


This is me saying goodbye and letting go.
I’m giving you back to Jesus, Baby. You, and all the dreams I had for us. I’m giving them to Him. You, my precious Ava Hope, have strengthened my heart in ways that only a blending of grief and hope and love and Jesus can do. You are valuable, and there will never be another you.



There are those who do not realize what a gift life is. There are those who think seven weeks is too young, who think a seven-week-old life is not valuable. They are wrong, my dear, as we know. Every life is valuable.
You will forever be valuable and treasured in my heart.


Live on, sweet baby.


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.



Counsellor.
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.