Monday, April 27, 2015

When your faith is tested.

Dear friends,

My heart is heavy tonight, as I prepare to share with you the journey we have been walking through over the last month.

After months of hoping to turn our little family of three into a family of four, we were delighted when we found out that we were expecting last month.  The timing of our little bundle of joy seemed perfect.  The waiting and the difficulties we had faced in the prior months suddenly made sense.  The fog of months of trying to get pregnant was suddenly lifted when we saw those two little pink lines.

Unfortunately, it was a short lived happiness.

Two weeks later, we awoke to an ordinary morning, and by that evening, we were sure we were having a miscarriage.  I hate to even use that word.  To mis-carry makes it sound like you dropped something.  We lost a child that day.  Our hearts grieved for the loss of our second child, but after several days of mourning, we shared our news with our friends and family and prepared our hearts to move forward.

The next few days were anything but typical.  I continued to take pregnancy tests, expecting that one day the two lines would fade to one...but it never happened.  In fact, that second line just kept getting darker.  And darker.  And darker again.

So I made an appointment.  My heart dared to hope, but my mind told me it was impossible.

My PA did a thorough exam, and informed me that everything was consistent with a complete miscarriage.  No surprises there, right?  Until a few days later when she called me with the results of my bloodwork.  To our surprise, my hormone levels had doubled in 48 hours.  (To you non medical folk, or those not familiar, this is pretty typical for a healthy pregnancy, certainly not for a miscarriage.)

My PA was baffled, so she asked me to get an official ultrasound at the hospital.  Much to our surprise, the ultrasound revealed a tiny gestational sac...that wasn't there the week before.

Now my heart was soaring.  Was it possible?  Just one week after a miscarriage, I was pregnant again?  It's hardly possible.  In fact, the exact words from my ob-gyn were "medicine can't explain this."

We believed this was our miracle baby.  That God had seen our pain and sadness and had mercifully granted us a miraculous pregnancy.  We praised our gracious Father for what seemed like an extraordinary gift.

So we waited and watched.  And watched and waited.  I began having some light bleeding, but my hormone levels continued to go up, so we got another ultrasound.  While the gestational sac hadn't grown as much as we had hoped, it had grown.

Today marked the end of our journey of hope.  I had my third ultrasound this morning, which revealed little to no growth, and no signs of life.  While we had been mentally preparing for this, I still felt a palpable weight in my stomach as I looked at the ultrasound screen, desperately willing it to show me what I was looking for.

So now, for the second time in 5 short weeks, we again mourn the loss of a child.  While I know they are in a better place, and hopefully keeping each other company, selfishly I crave those moments that I can only dream of now...the first embrace, the first smile, first steps.  The hopes and dreams I had for each of them will remain just that.  Their lives will never be fully realized on this earth, but I take solace in knowing that I will know them someday.

My heart hurts.  My brain is spinning.  My soul, you may ask?  That's the toughest of all.

As a Christian raised in church my whole life, I could spout off several verses off the top of my head that I would quote to a person in my shoes.  But I feel like I am at a proverbial fork in the road.  Will I ask those impossible questions, and when I don't get the answers I want, will I turn my back on my Creator?  On the Creator of those precious babies?  Or will I embrace my grief, embrace my doubt, and choose to walk forward?

Today my faith is a choice.

Today I choose to say that although I cannot see the goodness in this situation, I know that my Father is Good.  Because even though today feels like the farthest reaches from good imaginable, today is just a ripple in a sea of God's provision for me.  Today I choose not to focus on my pain, but to focus on the abundance of goodness God has shown me personally, and has written for us in the Greatest Story Ever Told.

I've always thought of faith as a feeling.  A small, quiet voice in my heart, the Spirit ministering to me in my time of need.  Not today.  Today it is a choice.  A choice to take a step forward, even though I can't see the road ahead.  The book of Hebrews tells us that faith is the assurance of things not seen.  And while I feel I am drowning in an ocean of sadness, I know that in spite of my blindness, I can trust in Someone who is All Seeing.  Someone who has not only seen my future, but has ordained my steps to get there.

Most of my favorites passages of Scripture can be found in Isaiah, and the following is no exception:

Isaiah 43:1a-2
"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name and you are Mine.  I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.  You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you."

For those that have been journeying with us, you know that this year has been tough.  The toughest year I can remember emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  JP and I feel like we have a giant target on our backs, just waiting for the next thing to come.

We have been through the waters, then through the rivers, and right now, we feel the desolate heat of the fire...but we are not scorched...and we are not burned.

I have several hopes in writing to you, friends, and I sincerely hope that my meager words will speak to at least one of you.

If you are also a Mommy to a baby in heaven, I hope you find solace in my silent solidarity, and know that you are not alone.

If you are walking through the middle of your own personal fire, I hope you find the courage to choose to believe and continue walking.

And if you don't know the One That Provides All Comfort, I hope you will reach out to myself or another and ask us about the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15.)

Thanks for reading, friends.  I cherish you all.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Into the Wild.

Hi faithful readers, all 3 of y'all...

Yes, it's been a while since I've laid my life out in print.  This season has been simultaneously abundantly blessed, abundantly full, and abundantly challenging.  To be honest, I haven't written because I simply have not had the words.  I still don't, but in the interest of vulnerability, I am inviting you into a small part of my life right now.

The Bible is pretty clear that God wants to bless us.  Like a father, he delights in His children.  While I don't give much credit to the idea that following God equals a big home, nice car, perfect marriage and easy life, as Christians, I think it is easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking "if the going's good with God, the going's good with me."

Am I making any sense?  Probably not.

Some of you know that there are big things developing on the horizon for us.  Some of you don't.  If you are part of the latter party, don't fret--all will reveal itself in due time.  Let's just say that more than any other time of life, JP and I feel that we are living in the will of God.  That's not to say that we are perfect, that we have audibly heard from God, or that we are not making mistakes along the way.  Simply that we heard a word from the Lord, and in devoting our lives to following it, God has not just opened doors, He has bulldozed entire walls to make openings that we were formerly sure were blocked.

Sounds great, right?  All should be well.  That's what we're told.  That's what we're taught.  One of the dark secrets of the church is that we love to share when we're happy, but we keep to ourselves when the going gets tough.

Well, things are tough.  While we have never been more assured of our purpose in life, we have also never felt more lonely.  Did we hear from God wrong?  Did He forget that He designed us for community?  Did He miss the part in our prayers where we prayed for friendships and support and encouragement?

Or is this part of the journey?  Are we being brought to the wilderness as a test, meant as a roadblock to prevent us from going forward, or is this part of His plan to equip us with exactly what we need?  Is this wilderness journey a detraction from our calling, or confirmation of it?

Over and over and over in the Bible, the Lord leads His followers into the wilderness before BIG things happen.  Moses in the desert with the burning bush.  The Israelites before they inherited the promised land.  Jesus before He began His sermon on the mount.

Stop right there, people.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not much of a wilderness adventurer.  I mean, I own some Chacos, and I've been rock climbing a few times, but I've never spent the night outdoors.  I have literally never been camping.  And I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

I am not enjoying this metaphorical wilderness any more than I enjoy the literal.

Maybe He knows that we need a challenge.  Maybe He allows us to be cut off so that we have no choice but to be dependent on Him.  Regardless, I am choosing to believe this is a blessing and not a curse.

One verse in particular has stood out to me more than any.  After the Israelites were led by Moses out of Egypt, we all know they spent 40 years wandering in the desert.  Sounds mighty depressing.  Sounds like God forgot His roadmap.

But Exodus 13:17 tells us "When Pharoah let the people go, God did not lead them along the road to the land of the Philistines, even though it was nearby; for God said, 'The people will change their minds and return to Egypt if they face war.'"

What did the Israelites gain by journeying into the wild?  They witnessed God as a pillar of clouds during the day and a pillar of fire by night.  They saw God literally part the waters before them.  They filled their bellies with the Lord's provision of manna and quail and drank water from a holy rock.   The 10 Commandments, the law that governed Israel for many generations to come, was given in the desert.  All of these miraculous signs and wonders would never have been revealed if they had simply crossed the border and taken what was promised to them.

So folks, here we are.  We have seen the Promised Land, but we are not there yet.  There is wilderness between us and our future, and while it is dry, and it is desolate, we take comfort in the fact that is also ordained.  Ordained for our benefit, and for God's glory.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I serve a small God.

Wait!  Don't burn me at the stake just yet....

I have been wrestling through a study on the book of Hosea and it has been both painfully and gloriously enlightening.

One of the shocking self discoveries I have uncovered is this: It is so much easier for me to believe in a Big God, than a small one.

Not sure what I mean?

I'm down with the Big God.  You know, the God that parts seas, demolishes whole towns/armies/people; the God that can create an army out of skeletons, that can send a variety of rather horrible plagues; the God that sends bread from heaven just to feed his favorite children; who can both strike the living dead, and raise the dead to life; the God who can both shut a lion's mouth, and open the belly of a whale; a God who literally stood in the fire with 3 of his followers.

This is a BIG GOD.  Surely this is a God that is worthy of worship, am I right?  

This is a God that inspires awe, and maybe a little bit of fear?

At the end of the day, you want to be on this God's team, because surely this Big God can handle whatever your meager problems are, right?

The God that is harder for me to wrap my mind around is the God of small things.  The God that whispers quiet words of encouragement in my ear; the God that knows the hairs on my head; the God that knit me together in the womb; the God who knows all of my deepest, darkest, scary places, but still pursues me anyway.

Sometimes it seems like two different Gods.

When I am faced with an insurmountable task, I want the Big God.

When the world is too big, and I am too small, I think I'll take the Small One.

Are you ready for a little secret?  It may not come as too much of a surprise, but YOU DON'T HAVE TO CHOOSE.  He is a constant presence, both Big and Small, all you have to do is ask for Him.  Whether you are screaming for Him to rescue you, or whispering for Him to dry your tears, He is there.

Rest in that, dear friends.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top 10 things I love about my hubby.

Hello, readers.  As I'm sure most of you do not know, yesterday was my hubby's birthday.  What better excuse is there besides a birthday to lavish someone with love and kind words, am I right?

Drumroll, please.

10.  He is an all or nothing kind of guy.
If you know JP at all, you know he gets passionate about a few select things.  But these few select things he is REALLY in to.  For instance, anything related to the Arkansas Razorbacks.  If you have a less than favorable opinion, please keep to yourself, unless you want a quick avenue to hubby's bad side.  Likewise, if you have a positive opinion, please share, because you will quickly become one of his favorite people.

9.  His patience.
I have met very few people who are more patient than my hubby.  He is slow to anger, quick to forgive.  It will be great for our kiddos, as they grow up, but it's also really great for me.  I mess up sometimes, if you didn't know.

8.  His IT-minded-ness.
Despite the fact that I hate technology, my husband is a techie-guru-of sorts.  One of the things I hate most about technology is the fact that it is so undependable.  But with a techie in the house, things do not stay broken for long.  He can either magically fix it with his Jedi skills, or use his secret insider knowledge to get it to someone who can.

7.  He does not know a stranger.
I joke that this man could talk to a brick wall, but it's not that much of a stretch.  Many people who did not know me pre-hubby mistakenly think that I am an extrovert.  Not so.  I am a hopeless introvert who just pretends really well.  JP has brought out my inner people person, and I can now function much better socially....kind of.

6.  He encourages my potential.
My hubby is not someone who expects a spotless house and perfectly home cooked meals every night.  He encourages me to pursue my career, my intellect.

5.  He is not afraid to get his hands dirty.
He is honestly so great at helping out around the house.  He frequently helps with sweeping and vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen or bathroom, helping with laundry, in addition to his man chores of taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn.

4.  His sense of humor.
This is truly one of my very favorite things about him.  He will randomly pop into a conversation with the most random and hilarious one-liners that keep you constantly guessing.  Laughter truly is the best medicine.

3.  He is so hands on with Henry.
Part of the deal with my working every other weekend, is that hubby has to take care of Henry in the evenings.  All by himself.  I know a lot of men that would freak out if left to their own devices with a child, but JP loves having that one-on-one time with Henry.

2.  His love for Henry.
People say you never know how much you love your husband until you see them loving your child.  I can personally attest to this fact.  It continually amazes me that somehow, despite our extraordinary differences, and despite our flaws, God used us to create such a beautiful child.  Loving the entirety of your child means loving your spouse, because your child is half of them.

1.  His love for me.
JP is such a steady source of love for me, that never asks me to be anything other than myself.  There is nothing so attractive as someone who knows all of your crap, and loves you anyway.

There you have it, folks.  I bet now you wish you were married to him.  Well, too bad, because he is MINE.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Top 10 things I do not have all together.

To continue my Tuesday top is a list of some of the things in my life that I do not have altogether.  Lest you be confused, let me remind you that today is Wednesday.  Which is appropriate.  Put days of the week on the list of things I don't have together.

1.  My house.
Yikes!  If you have ever been over to my home, just know that probably 5 minutes before you walked through the door, I was frantically sweeping up ALL OF THE DOG HAIR.  It's amazing.  I could literally sweep my floor every day and somehow come up with enough dog hair to clothe an entire person.  So I just don't.  I let the dust bunnies/piles of dog hair accumulate in corners and on the rug and hopelessly try to keep my son from eating them.

2.  My closet (aka my bedroom floor).
This is probably the one thing that drives my husband crazy, but like the patient husband he is, he rarely says anything about it.  If I'm looking for my favorite new top/skirt/pants, etc., chances are, it's on the floor.  Or draped haphazardly over my dresser.  Oops.

3.  My garden.
I fantasize about a perfectly manicured lawn, lovely, fragrant blooms in our flowerbeds, and a garden of home grown herbs.  This just does not happen.  Our back yard is doomed due to two large sized dogs who insist on running the same paths over and over and over.  Everything else requires a lot of work and attention that frankly, sits at the bottom of my to-do list.  We get notices from our Homeowner's Association frequently, asking us to weed our beds.  I keep talking about ripping everything out and planting some fool proof, Houston-worthy, low maintenance plants, but life happens, and this does not.

4.  Mother's Day Out.
Every time I walk through those doors, I am met with a gallery of women who have it all together.  Or at least look like they do.  Matching lunch pails and backpacks that are monogrammed, perfectly groomed children, and all in either pristine work-wear complete with heels, or some fancy, matching Nike workout clothes that miraculously have no sweat on them.  Henry and I are lucky to be there on time.  And by on time, I mean 5 minutes late.

5.  My mind.
I'm gonna come right out and blame the pregnancy for this one.  I admit, I thought pregnancy brain was possibly one of the biggest hoaxes to ever be believed by the human race.  Until I got pregnant.  I am still looking for my mind, so if anyone finds it, let me know.

6. My sleep.
This fabulous little article came out recently that says that women need more sleep than men.  Boo-yah!  I knew it.  Now, I feel only slightly less guilty that my husband gets up approximately 1.5-2 hours earlier than me.

7.  Motherhood.
If you ever think you've got this motherhood thing down pat, just wait for the other shoe to drop.  Babies, infants, toddlers, children...they are a constant surprise.  Mostly good things.  But teething...honestly, I could do without that.

8.  My books.
Laugh all you want, but this is a big one.  Normally, I am simultaneously reading two books: one fiction, and one non fiction.  As of now, I think I am 1/4-1/2 of the way through like 5 books.  It makes it very confusing to keep the plots straight.

9.  My cooking.
Let me be clear: I do not love cooking.  I enjoy it when I can do it MY WAY.  As in, go to the grocery store with a list that has been double and triple checked.  Pick up only the things that we need, and not forget anything.  Come home to a clean and empty fridge and organize it my way.  Then proceed to cook everything on my menu without anything spoiling.  THIS NEVER HAPPENS.  My husband and I are the worst about making a last minute decision to eat our favorite take out/fast food while perfectly good food sits in the fridge.  Oops.

10.  My health.
I have been sick more this year than any year I can remember.  Maybe it's Henry, who brings home all kinds of germs from church, school, etc.  Maybe it's increased exposure working in the emergency room.  Maybe it's working nights and getting less sleep than I used to.  This really should be #1, because it's the thing I desperately need to get under control.

Despite the fact that my life is a mess, and likely always will be, God is still able to use me in His story.  In fact, I think the messier my life is, the more glory He gets.  Be encouraged that you do not have to have your life all together for God to use you.  If you are feeling a tugging on your heart, just say "Yes!"  Don't wait for your life to come together, because it never will.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Was I afraid?

Confession: I actually wrote this post a couple of months ago right after I got back from Guatemala.  At the time, I thought people might be getting overloaded with Guatemala stories, so I decided to wait to post this....and then life happened and I forgot to ever publish it.  Little did I know that this would be a recurring theme for me that I could walk through again and cling to the faithfulness God showed me in this time.

The biggest question I get asked when people ask about my trip to Guatemala is "Was I afraid?"

It comes in different forms, like...

"Were you afraid to leave your son?"

"Are you afraid to travel to a third world country?"

"Are you afraid of getting sick/catching a disease/contracting malaria....?"

My answer: A big, resounding "YES!"

Let me remind you that I had already been to Guatemala twice before I returned this summer.  Twice.  And I have absolutely no memory of being afraid.  Granted, I was 16 and 17 when I traveled the first two times, so perhaps I was still in those teenage years where I was blissfully unaware of danger and my worst nightmare was that I wouldn't get asked to prom or would wake up with a zit.  Those that know me can probably attest to the fact that I was never really one of those kids that just didn't worry, but I digress.

Before traveling back to Guatemala this year, I was plagued by absolutely crippling, paralyzing, heart-squeezing, hope-crushing FEAR.

I think this fear stemmed from two things:

1.  I legitimately like my life.  I have a wonderful, supportive husband, a beautiful, healthy son, a fulfilling career that I happen to love, and a comfortable living.  This comfortable living that was so hard for me to leave is something I wrestled a lot with once I was in Guatemala...but that's a completely different post.

2.  I'm a Mommy.  While the world sees me as just another somebody, to my little guy, I am his only Mommy.  I was terrified that he would miss me too much, but also that he wouldn't miss me at all.  I dreaded the thought of leaving him behind, but I also dreaded the thought of spending the next few years of my life hiding behind my kids.  I was absolutely panicked at the thought of leaving him without a Mommy, but I also panicked at the thought of being a Mommy who is physically present, but spiritually empty.

I finally came to this conclusion, and it's a tough one.

I was having a conversation with my husband about being afraid, and he point-blank asked me, "What are you afraid of?"

I allowed myself to say the words that had absolutely robbed me of any joy and excitement for Guatemala: "What if I die?"

So we walked through the practical aspects.  I'm serious, y'all.  If you don't have kids, maybe you'll think this is morbid, but we legitimately talked about the financial and legal aspects of what would happen if I died.  I wrote down my physical address while in Guatemala, and we talked through the process of reporting me as a missing person if I just never came back.  We talked through my husband's role as a single father to Henry.  We talked through remarriage.

But we ended on this.  JP said, "Imagine the legacy you would leave for Henry if you died on the mission field."  Out of everything else we talked about, this is what brought me comfort.  As a parent, what better example can I leave for Henry than to give my life for Jesus?

Now, obviously, I did not lose my life.  I'm home, safe and sound.

But as we take the beginning steps towards a brand new, big, scary, exciting journey, I again find myself battling fear and insecurity.  And I rest in the fact that God has brought me through that valley of despair, and that He will not fail to do so again.  I take comfort in the fact that my answer to the toughest of questions a Christian will ever face: "Would you give your life for this?" is YES.

Some people, like the Christians dying in the middle East or missionaries on the front lines in hostile environments, are asked to give their lives all at once.  For most of us, we are asked to give our lives away a piece at a time.

If you had asked me what my life would look like 5 years ago, and especially 10 years ago...this life is not what I would have answered.  My spiritual journey and the small sacrifices I have already made have led me to this place, and I can honestly say, I wouldn't have it any other way.  For every sacrifice God asks you to make, He has something infinitely better for you in store.

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it."  Matthew 16:25

I hope you find this encouraging and I hope more than anything that you would find the courage to step out in faith to a bigger, scarier life, found in the hope of Jesus.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday Top 10.

In honor of my obsession with lists and to force me to blog on a semi-regular basis, I give you...

Tuesday Top 10!

To catch up with my first (and last) Top 10, hop over to Top 10 Ways to Stay Grounded.

For most of Houston, including our little family of 3, yesterday was Back to School Monday!  I could practically hear the Hallelujah chorus singing in the heavens as millions of mamas dropped their little ones in their respective air conditioned hallways of learning.

In addition to the luxury of a child-less grocery store trip, I am looking forward to a little independent down time where I can devote myself, mind, body and soul to my first and longest love affair.  Reading.


So, without further ado, I give you my....Top 10 Books on my Reading List.

1.  The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  
I may or may not have accidentally/on purpose gotten myself a pity invite to a friend's book club.  I'm really hoping she remembers she invited me.

2.  A History of Modern Israel by Colin Shindler.
Because who really understands the constant crisis going on in Israel? 

3.  The Locust Effect by Gary A. Haugen.
Super pumped about this one!  I plan on pairing it with this Bible study on justice.

4.  Silence by Shusaku Endo.
Set in 16th century Japan, an historical novel about Portuguese missionaries who travel to Japan during a time of Christian persecution by the hands of Japanese feudal lords.

5.  Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
Written by the first married couple to win the Pulitzer Prize for journalism.

6.  Art Briles: Looking Up: My Journey from Tragedy to Triumph by Nick Eatman.  (Foreword by Robert Griffin III).
Because football.  Sic 'em!

7.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.
Life, death and hope in a Mumbai Undercity.

8.  Carry on, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton.
This sounds like a pep talk written just for me.

9.  So What's the Difference? by Fritz Ridenour.
A look at 20 worldviews, faiths and religions and how they compare to Christianity.

10.  If I Stay by Gayle Forman.
Ok, technically I have already read this one, and technically it's teen fiction, but this was just an enjoyable book.  A super quick read about a girl trapped between living and dying and her battle to choose between the two.  As a medical professional, I've heard similar stories of experiences from patients in the throes of death and I just find this to be a fascinating subject packaged in a teen romance novel.  

There you have it, folks.  Happy reading!