To Matt on your day of ordination

On Tuesday, December 5, Matt was ordained. After serving first as an intern, then volunteer, and a pastor for nearly the past fifteen year, Christian Assembly’s staff, friends, and family gathered around Matt to affirm the work of God in his life and the calling that he lives out, and wow! What an amazing time of worship, prayer and commissioning. I don’t know why, but I am always so amazed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. That in the middle of Los Angeles on a Tuesday morning, he is there, where he said he would be because we were gathered in his name. But that is exactly who he is … Emanuel; God with us. God for us. God over any storm we face and season we are in. The God who takes care of the big things. What an honor and privilege it is to serve him with the staff at CA and alongside my husband. As we approached Matt’s ordination, I was able to reflect on him and his calling and shared a few words with him following his ordination. For our friends and family who were unable to join us (and so I don’t lose these words), I am posting here.

Matt – 18 years ago when we met, I never would have guessed we’d be here today. Back then you were a dreamer, headed toward a life of entertainment or politics … you rarely saw things as they were. You were always thinking up some screenplay or living life based on how you wanted your memoirs to someday read. A masterful storyteller, lover of history, with a quick wit, you drew me in with your charisma and charm.

Today you are still a dreamer, though your dreams center around God’s desire that all would know him. You still rarely see things as they are, but always find the best in people, and see things as they should be. Your love of history and storytelling most often revolves around His story and whether you are enjoying a good laugh, sharing little known historical facts, preaching, talking to your kids, or calming me down, you are always pointing others toward Jesus.

After growing up as a pastor’s kid and moving around a lot, I was scared when you told me you were feeling called to ministry. Though I had a heart for the church and missions, I did not want my life to continue to be one of constant change, and you asked me to trust you, and promised that we would not move every few years.

Matt, thank you for being trustworthy and a man of your word. Thank you for being steady and predictable (though never boring). What you have given me and our children by remaining faithful in hard times and enjoying good times, is a husband and father who can always be counted on. Thank you for being faithful to your promises and faithful to CA. After years of being hurt by the church, what a gift it has been to serve the last fifteen years in a church with transparent and trustworthy leadership.

Thank you that when you graduated from seminary, you didn’t just go looking for the first church that would hire you. Thank you for being so committed to serving Jesus at CA, that you trusted God and stayed put … not despising the day of small beginnings, but serving wherever there was a need — even holding babies during women’s bible study. Thank you that when an opportunity opened at CA that wasn’t quite what you were suited for, you trusted God to equip you and you pastored our students.

You once told me how much you love the story of Les Miserables and I told you how I love The Count of Monte Cristo. You loved the story of grace and forgiveness and reconciliation and redemption and I loved the story of revenge and justice. At twenty years old, you told me that I had never done anything wrong enough to understand grace. Well, after sixteen years of marriage and thirteen years of parenting, I’ve come to know and rely upon grace. How grateful I am that your love of grace does not just stop at literature, but that you consistently live out the gospel more than anyone I’ve ever known. So much like Jesus, you are gracious and forgiving because of the grace you’ve received. You are transparent — who you are at home is who you are EVERYWHERE. You are kind and compassionate, always welcoming those you meet exactly how they are, but loving people too much to leave them that way. You lead and shepherd, gently through relationship.

It is and always will be, my life’s greatest honor to stand and serve beside you. And because it wouldn’t be like me to not do this, in the words of 4HIM and Psalm 112:

        I guess that we all gamble on some truth to guide our days

       And we trust that it will bring us joy and meaning on the way

       I’ve got friends who feel betrayed by all the things they once believed

       Still with everything I’ve seen I’ve gotta say it seems to me …

       Blessed is he who fears the Lord, who finds delight in his commands

Light shines in the darkness for the upright

He is gracious, compassionate, and righteous

Good will come to a man who lends generously and conducts his business fairly

He will never be shaken …

He will not fear bad news; his heart is confident

Trusting in the Lord

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When He Shows Up

Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.
Expect God to get here soon.

Psalm 31:24, The Message

The past six months have been a whirlwind of excitement, new adventures, mountains and valleys. At the end of December we bought our first house; a completely unexpected, unasked for, unmerited gift. Looking back on our experience from mid-December through today, I’m not even sure where to start. How do you put words to God’s great grace in your life?

Years ago, Matt and I sat down and reflected on our life in Los Angeles. Over the course of our marriage we have often discussed our goals, our dreams, our wants verses our needs — what it looks like to raise a family, and even more what it looks like to raise a family fifteen hundred miles away from family to the north and seventeen hundred miles from family to the southeast, and to do it well. We’ve talked about sacrifice and we’ve talked about calling, and in the end of our beginning we decided that we would forego the American Dream, in lieu of something much bigger, but it has not been a decision for the faint of heart.

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On Sunday morning as I drove down to Eagle Rock (the area of east Los Angeles where our church is located), I looked out on the LA skyline … there have been plenty of times when I’ve longed to live where I didn’t have to look at a sky permeated with pollution, suffocating all the blue and replacing it with a miry brown, but this week I looked at all those buildings with brown hovering above and I just thought, His plans are so much bigger than mine. Living in a concrete jungle was not my dream, but so often — when we let Him — He replaces our ideas with the dreams He has for us. Dreams of ways He can and will use us.

***

Only four weeks after we moved into our home, a waterline in our kitchen broke, resulting in damaged walls and floors. My house that had been renovated only months before we bought it was being destroyed more and more each day, as the removal of water damaged surfaces revealed mold and then asbestos. Three different demolition crews had to come in to make sure that everything was handled and disposed of properly. There were days when we couldn’t walk from one side of the house to the other without circumventing it on the outside. We decided to live through the mess at home — our home — with all four kids and the dog.

Over the course of six weeks (and some of it still continues), we dealt with the insurance company, demolition and mitigation crews, mortgage company, three different plumbers, and a contractor and his suppliers and workers. To say our life was upended and crazy is an understatement.

In the middle of it all though, I had this overwhelming sense of peace. I just kept reminding myself that “Even the winds and waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:27), and if He could know and answer an unspoken prayer by providing this house, then He could work out all the details of the expenses, meals for six in a non-functioning kitchen, and could invade every room of this house with His peace, and He did.

Today, that is where I find myself. Completely blown away by His goodness, overwhelmed by His grace, and inspired to live bravely because of the way He shows up and cares for me, and yet so often my inspiration gets pushed to the side as I get overwhelmed with an obstacle, challenge or change in life.

***

A few weeks ago we left Texas after an unexpected and unplanned trip. We had all been feeling tired and worn after the mess of renovation and the end of the school year. We needed a break. What a refuge that land has become for me over the past sixteen years. There is something about the wide open spaces on my in-laws’ ranch and the way a thunderstorm can roll in and dance across the pasture. Maybe it’s the clean air or the humidity and it’s definitely the company, but I always feel so refreshed after spending any time there at all, and yet when I leave, I am inevitably sad.

Even with our new home and our great church and school communities, it is still hard to live so far from family. And I want my kids to feel free to express all the emotions that ebb and flow with our coming and going, and so I am open with all that I’m feeling — allowing joy and pain, happiness and sadness to mingle in a hot mess in our mini-van as we drive through the Big Thicket of east Texas.

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***

Tomorrow I will go to work for the first time in six and half years and I am so nervous. Years ago in one of my seasons of fear, Matt asked me what my ideal living situation would be. I said “I would love to live in a suburb of a large city and have my kids in private school, but that will never happen.” Every time I think I’ve figured Him out, He comes in and blows the doors off the hinges of the limitations I’ve placed on Him.

I keep reminding myself of God’s provision of our home in a quaint suburb outside of Los Angeles, of His grace in giving me this job; of the way that He has seemed to orchestrate our life so that the kids and I will all be on the same campus during the school week, but I’ve been surprised by my thoughts and emotions and doubts as my first day has gotten closer and closer and is now here. Am I capable of being a working mom? Will I be able to keep the house clean and the uniforms washed and ironed? Will I have to give up exercising or cooking most of our meals? What if I break the dress code or let someone down? Will we be able to continue to afford our home and private school? What if I just can’t do it all?

I am learning that sometimes just living in the dark corners, sharp edges or in the unknown is brave.

Coming back to the home He’s given in the place where He’s called is brave.

Not having all the answers, but choosing to put one foot in front of the other and to do my best where I am planted is brave.

Letting go of the supposition that there cannot ever be crumbs on the floors, dishes in the sink, or unfolded laundry, and choosing instead to be fully present with the people you love is brave.

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It was so loud when our house was daily being torn apart and put back together. For six weeks there were always men in the house. Each time I thought I could escape and go to a store or drop a kid off at school, a new face would appear at the door and I would end up being late or a no-show. On the second day of all the chaos, I remember thinking “How are we going to do this? How am I going to make it through this? But in that moment my mind was flooded with promises:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?'”

Hebrews 13:6

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1-2

They say that the eye of the storm is still, and as the ins and outs of daily life became tumultuous I found myself growing more and more calm; not because I am naturally a settled person, but because I became completely convinced of God’s great, great love for me. When something else would go wrong or an expenditure was growing, I found myself thinking “If even the wind and waves obey him, then bring it on!”

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I want to live brave like that, not only in the huge upheavals of life, but in the daily moments when things get rough … when I’m running late, when the kids aren’t listening, when the house isn’t pristine, when I haven’t had a second to myself in days, when I feel unheard or unknown. I want to live bravely knowing that the Creator of the universe is for me and with me, and not one thing I go through throws Him off or surprises Him. I can be brave in all things, because I am not the author of this story, and no matter what the situation He will show up.

Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Ephesians 3:17-19

 

If you’d like to read more on being brave, read Allison’s post, and follow the links through the blog roll.

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What I Am Today

“Sometimes I wonder about my life.

I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder,

do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?”

– You’ve Got Mail

There are fears and there are failures and frailty.

And there are tears.

There are also the arms of a man who has loved me for nearly thirteen years.

And his words, they spur me on.

He speaks truth; Not what I want to hear — his words do not validate how I feel.

Honesty can hurt, but it can also heal.

And that man has taught me more about the love of Jesus than anyone I’ve known, and just like his Savior, can make me squirm in light of his humility and grace.

Sometimes God brings two very different people together to show them more of Himself, to minister to the deep parts … the shame … what we try to keep hidden.

My brokenness causes me to feel like I’m so close to greatness, but more often the brokenness is a two way street, and I know I can never be anything great at all; How everything that others perceive about me is a sham. That I am a fraud.

No one sees the bits of Cheerios or goldfish all over the floor or the pile of laundry that I allowed to take over the corner of the kitchen — the days when not much schooling occurred or the nights when I am just too exhausted to make dinner and resort to peanut butter and jelly for the kiddos, nursing for the baby, leftovers for my husband, and me choking on my tears and disappointment.

I’ve fooled myself into thinking that I would just be better than this. That I could — would be great.

Is it discontentment with motherhood, with not being the wife I thought I’d be, or just with my whole self?

I voice it and he hears and he doesn’t let me get away with it and then — he teaches me with my own words.  Words from a time past, when there were just us two; when he needed to lean on me.

“You know you once told me that people who are great, didn’t set out to be great.  They were just faithful in the little things.

***

But what if I don’t want to bloom where I’m planted?

What if I just want to give up — to do and be something else?

What if going back to work is easier than cultivating beauty and training minds and leading the young to His father heart for them?

But that’s when he encourages me to just take it one minute at a time; He tells me that I am doing better than I think, and that where I am growing, grace abounds.

It’s maddening to lose permission to wallow in self-pity, and nothing combats self-centeredness more than giving to others …

When he leaves for work, I am left with four precious children who need someone to pour love and grace into them, and it’s then that I realize that no matter what I choose to do in life, before I took my first breath I was created for this. To raise these little hearts; to remain close to the Father so that when they look at me, when I talk to them, when I choose to respond instead of react, they see a little bit of His love for them. That by the time they decide to make this faith I’ve taught them their own, they have been bathed in mercy and grace in their shortcomings, championed in their wins, comforted in their heartbreak, soothed in their fears. What they know of Him, they will learn first from me, and so I must keep close to His side.

“Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me” (John 15:4-5).

***

When I sat down this morning I noticed how many drafts I have unpublished and began reading through them. I stumbled upon this post, and was reminded of a difficult season that I couldn’t see an end to, but I was also flooded with memories of God’s faithfulness during that time.

Over six years ago I went on maternity leave and decided to take a break from teaching. Two years later, I found myself homeschooling a five year old and a seven year old, while potty training a two year old and breastfeeding an infant. So often He draws us to His side, in less than ideal situations, as our own neediness threatens to suffocate us.

But not being enough isn’t easy …

What I want to be is my final draft self and to only let others into the parts that I am proud of. So I delete or file away my drafts, my musings … I don’t call a friend when I’m discouraged, hoping that tomorrow or next week or in a year, I might be good enough, but He reminds me

“… this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11, MSG

I’d like to say that I have grown so much from that day four years ago — that I no longer wish that I was great, but even tonight, I find myself trapped in a game of comparison. If you’re like me, you look at your inner story and compare it to someone else’s outer life — the friends for whom everything always seems to work out perfectly, but when we play that game, we lose. We become blind to the blessings around us — our prayers that He has answered and “comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt).

But He calls me to live authentically; to bring what I am today, and allow Him to pour grace into me … To live bravely, though imperfectly. To be real.  And I’m learning that my kids need to see the ups and downs of life; to experience reconciliation and restoration, to understand that who they are today — whether it’s a good day or it’s a bad day — is not the end of their story.

God is constantly working in each of our hearts, gently shaping us into His greater design. My rough draft is not His final draft. There is hope.

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Who I Am

“You think you’re unlovable, He says you’re unforgettable.”
– Jo Saxton

I was insulted when his kindergarten teacher told me “He’s a tricky one.” What are you talking about, lady? My child is amazing. He is lovable and funny and curious and … tricky. I don’t know about you, but it’s one thing for me to know something about someone I love and a completely different thing for another person to voice it. And yet right from the beginning of his life, he’s been a bit of a mystery. He talked and walked on the early end of the normal range. He was inquisitive even before he had the words to be. He’s an explorer, an adventurer, a climber.

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Lucas is my baby who sent me into pre-term labor, but settled down until a few days post due date, resulting in a dream labor and delivery. Easy peasy. He napped and slept well as long as I kept his routine consistent. But boy oh boy was (is) he willful. Luke has challenged us in ways we never anticipated. If there are two possible roads to take, one easy and one difficult, he defaults to the difficult.

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As a toddler and preschooler, he was subject to nursemaid’s elbow; a condition where the elbow gets displaced and has to be reset by a doctor. We were told to be careful … we followed the doctor’s instructions but because of his spirited nature, Luke was frequently in the emergency room in great pain, because he had somehow twisted out of our hands or jumped while holding onto someone or something and — nursemaid’s elbow.

Lucas is highly allergic to bees (a lesson we learned the hard way, after he continually played with them). He goes into anaphylactic shock — scary. I now carry an epipen with me and though we’ve never had to use it, I am keenly aware that I may at any point have to jab my son with a needle to save his life.

When he was seven he had a febrile seizure and was unresponsive … staring off into space for several minutes, until suddenly he began jabbering nonsense before finally crying out “Am I going to die?” All the while we were speeding toward the emergency room.

Luke has had two casts and more injuries than I can count. He’s thrown fits and I often have felt like I’m banging my head against a wall when I need him to do something that’s not his idea.

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In first grade we watched our willful, but sweet, child become a different person. His school was not a nurturing place and although he had a good teacher, the playground had only three part-time aids for three hundred kids at a time. He became angry and violent and used language that he hadn’t heard at home, and the fun that we used to have disappeared as he spiraled into fear.

I never intended to be a homeschool mom, but when your child is scared to use the restroom at school and is acting more anxious than a six year old ever should, you do what you have to do. In the fall of 2012, I began teaching our seven and five year old at home, while potty training a two year old and nursing a baby. It certainly wasn’t perfect, and “way to go” all you mamas who make it work. I’ve seen it done so beautifully, but for us homeschooling was an act of love. It wasn’t our goal, but a means to the end, which was providing a place of rest and security for my boy to heal from shaming and bullying and to step into grace. Homeschooling provided an opportunity to pour love into my kids with every last ounce of energy I had, and it was right and it was good for that time.

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My Lucas … Even though he’s been in an amazing school for the past year and a half, we are still figuring him out. He was diagnosed with mild ADHD last year, but medications only made daily life worse. School was a struggle, though he loved going and is so happy to have a good group of friends. Homework took my complete attention in the evenings resulting in the younger kids starving for my attention and a whole lot of take out.

At the end of last year, we painfully decided to have Luke repeat fourth grade. It was, to date, my most difficult parenting decision. He asked if he could meet with us and his teacher to discuss the possibility of him continuing on to fifth grade. During that meeting, we all tried to show him how repeating fourth grade would be the best thing for him. He eventually agreed to a “bonus year.” He was trying to look so brave and sure, but his face and neck were turning pink, and I know my boy, and I knew he was just barely holding on. I looked at his teacher as my eyes filled with burning tears, wanting so badly to give him what he wanted, but determined to do the hard thing, because it was the best thing.

This year has had its ups and downs, and Luke is doing so much better. Instead of walking him through every question of homework, I am only checking his answers. I have had to let go, and let him make his own decisions and learn from the consequences. It hasn’t been perfect, but it has been his year.

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A couple weeks ago, when I was out of town, Luke climbed into the car with his nonna after school and told her he had failed his math test. Seconds later, Bethany got into the car and announced that she had received a principal’s award. Luke looked at Nonna and said “Yeah, she always gets things like that.” Pain and disappointment, achievement and rejoicing mingled messily in the car that day.

When I heard the news that night, I tried to be ok with it. I’m not mad when my kids don’t succeed, but when they hurt? Oh. My. Heart. In a hotel room, a thousand miles from home, I looked at Matt and said “I just wish something in life would be easy for Lucas,” and I rolled over and cried myself to sleep.

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I’ve been thinking about my boy this week. When I look at him, I see my baby … his precious face, perfect freckle splattered nose, hair dark as his daddy’s and skin as fair as mine. I see the person who launched me into my life’s work as a mama. I think of his belly laughs and the many crazy places I’ve found him highly perched in his nearly eleven years. When I speak his name, I am reminded that his story is far from over. Lucas Emanuel — so often I don’t see light or a reminder that God is with us, but even though at times these things are hard to see, they are still true.

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In a world so focused on our outward achievements, we can forget the most important thing in life. When we’re in the throws of a parenting battle, when we are fighting for love to win the day, when I’m struggling to pour grace into a situation, Luke sometimes feels like he is unlovable. He’s now old enough to recognize when he’s made a situation difficult, and I’ve heard him say “I hate myself.” These are the times when I scoop his gangly body in my arms and I reassure him of my love. “I don’t hate you. I love you. There is nothing you could ever do to make me stop loving you. If I could have chosen any boy in the entire universe to be my boy, I would choose you … every. single. time. You are mine!

How I wish that being mine was enough. I wish that being the son of Matt and Lindsey Price would envelop all of the less than feelings Lucas has and that he could live boldly because he’s mine. There are times when I just want to say, “If you’ll do this and rest knowing that you’re mine and that I’ve got the best in mind for you, things will go well.”

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Yet when I think of the way my big boy feels, I can completely relate. How many times have I done the thing that I wish I hadn’t? How many times have I spoken spitefully instead of with love? So often I look at who I am — this thirty-something girl living in a huge city full of success stories, and I all I can see is my insignificance. I’m just this girl who gave up her scholarship for her master’s degree, and instead got married and worked her husband’s way through graduate school. The girl who chose home and babies over career, and sometimes wonders if that was the right thing. The writer whose words are often trapped in her own head instead of typed, let alone published. I look at all I’m not, and I forget who I am. But “what’s beautiful about Jesus is that He calls to me in the middle of my circumstances” (Shelley Giglio).

Like Luke, I feel unlovable. I see what I haven’t done, the missed opportunities, the times when I’m less than …

Traveling alone last weekend, I had a lot of time to think and it occurred to me that a lot of my fear issues are rooted in my feelings of being unlovable. I look at my husband, and after sixteen years I still wonder why he chose me. I get distracted by all the things that other moms are able to give or be for their kids — I see my failures instead of the victories. There’s this voice that says “You’re nothing. You’re just a stay-at-home mom.” But my value doesn’t come from what I do, my value comes from who I belong to and who He says I am.

“I have called you by your name; you are mine Isaiah 43:1 NKJB.

He looks at me and says “I would choose you … every. single. time.” (Ephesians 1:4)

I am constantly trying to do the best I can for my kids, and like a good father, God is always doing His best for me — for you, the difference is He can’t fail. He will never fall short. His best will always be the best.

He’s calling me deeper into His boundless affection, that I may not just say that I am loved, but that I will truly know the depths of His love and rest in the knowledge that given the chance, He will choose me every single time.

 

Good, Good Father – Chris Tomlin

 

Every month, I’m honored to write with a group of ladies from all different seasons of life. This month we’re talking about loving the unlovable. Read Allison‘s  thoughts and then scroll through the circle.


 

 

 

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Fearless

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
–Eleanor Roosevelt

Fearless is exactly what I’m not. I remember when I was little, I would have recurring nightmares, and then one night it would end, and I’d never have that dream again. The amazing thing about dreams, whether pleasant or otherwise, is that often you can’t remember them. I do, however, remember one dream that I had throughout my childhood, or I should say, I recall its soundtrack. It was this repetitive noise — not music, not talking, but almost rhythmic. If I’ve ever mentioned this dream to you in person, you’ve heard the noise. It’s been decades since I’ve had the dream, but it still keeps me from doing things like listening to repetitive songs, allowing the kids to say the same thing over and over again, and if you look at me when everyone is clapping on every beat, you’ll see me rebelliously clapping on the off beat. I can’t help it. Repetition will probably forever freak me out a bit.

More often though, fears are cyclical. I’ve noticed this more and more with every passing year with four of my own kids. We’ll go weeks where no one wakes up and climbs between Matt and I in bed, and then we’ll have a night where three of the four will visit us, and I wake up half-hanging off the bed with a numb arm. In fact, having four kids, with four different sleep patterns and fear cycles means that there is some little person in our bed for part of most nights.

I’ve tried to fend off the fears before they appear. We have to be mindful of what we allow Lucas to read — his imagination can fill in visual effects and what was once a harmless classic novel is now riddled with his mind’s rendition of goblins and Gollum. Bethany likes to be brave, and so we rarely know something is bothering her until she has an episode of delirium and all our efforts to calm her are in vain. Nicholas gets scared when something gets stuck in his head. A song will be a favorite of his, and he’ll sing it non-stop, until he can’t stop and the inability to move on scares him. (The entire family is banned from singing Eye of the Tiger, currently.) Mary Elena is mostly peaceful, but occasionally when she wakes up in the night decides that her room is too dark.

Bethany, my sweet and spicy middle-child, has more fear about food than anything else. She will sit at the table and cry over not being able to eat something, without having actually tasted it — she just knows she won’t like it. There have been many nights when she asks me what’s for dinner, hears the menu, and  gets ready for bed, because she knows she is incapable of sitting politely at the table and eating 8 bites (since she’s 8 years old) without a meltdown.

When Bethany is scared of something, whether food, or a movie preview she accidentally saw, Matt has begun to reason with her. “Bethany, if you take a bite of your dinner and you don’t like the way it tastes, what will happen?” Or “Bethany, if you have a bad dream, and you wake up, what will happen?” In the end, she rationally realizes that if she tastes something she doesn’t like, it isn’t going to kill her — she might gag, but she’ll live. If she has a bad dream and wakes up, she will call for Matt or I to come get her, and we’ll pray and she’ll go back to sleep in her bed or ours. Though she can answer the question rationally, the realization that all will be ok, rarely changes her turmoil over the possibilities.

Fear is not rational.

I have been fearful my entire life. I can pretend that I’m not — that I’m brave, confident, but in the end it’s just a sham.  I don’t want to be fearful. More than that, I don’t want my children to be fearful. I want them to live life to the fullest, to not sit on the sidelines, to choose action over observation.

Though I am capable of overcoming my fears, I often allow them to paralyze me, and I am so aware that my kids are watching me, learning from me and my fear. There are things that I would have never done, if I hadn’t had someone push me to do them. I love when I push through my fears — I meet the greatest people and make the best memories.

I once decided to walk up and talk to a girl I thought looked interesting, and twenty-two years later, and miles apart, she is still my dear friend.

I took Speech in eighth grade because I had to, and then time after time entered classes and competitions because I discovered that speaking in front of people isn’t scary, it’s energizing …

Once I decided that I’d  go out with a boy I’d only met once, because going out with boys that were friends never amounted to anything, and I met my best friend, love of my life, soul mate, father of my children, favorite person in all the earth, and I get to share everyday with him still.

We decided to stay in California after Matt graduated from seminary, because even though he didn’t have a job, I did, and we loved our church. Nearly eleven years later, here we are, and our church is more than a place to worship, it’s our family.

Matt convinced me to kayak for the first time in the jungle of Mexico. I was certain I’d topple the boat and be eaten by crocodiles, but I wasn’t and lived to snorkel for the first time in a cenote, even though I’m so claustrophobic I think I can’t breathe if someone sits on top of the blankets I’m under.

One more time. We’d wait six months after our miscarriage, and decided that if I wasn’t pregnant in that time frame, our family was complete. Though the pregnancy was laced with fear, I have my joy-bringer, Nicholas and Mary Elena (the icing on the family cake), because no fear of loss is great enough to snuff out the joy of having a child.

Choosing life over fear is amazing.

***

For the past several years I have chosen a word to intentionally live out over the course of the year. I’ve loved my word the last two years. Simply— to choose simplicity over drama; to simply love; to follow Jesus simply; to embrace the mundane moments of motherhood. Last year, my word was content. I wanted to choose contentment in all things; to be satisfied always because I know the Source of my provision; to allow the satisfaction of my soul to spill over into all areas of my life.

I love choosing a word for the year, because it becomes a part of my identity in a way that less intentional resolutions do. At the beginning of a new year, we all want to be healthier, to spend less money, to leave a mark on the world, but as the year trudges on, these good ideas will mostly fall by the wayside. Two years later, I’m still choosing simplicity and contentment in all things.

Today, I was sitting in the waiting room of a lab, preparing myself to have a ct scan. As I was waiting for the nurse to come out with the chalky “smoothie” I’d have to drink  before the scan, I was getting worked up. This is silly really (but also the only time I really understand Bethany’s issues with taste and texture), because there are so many things in life that I can do. I delivered my babies without epidurals, for goodness sake, but the three times I’ve had a ct scan, I have been overcome by fear … fear of having to drink that gross concoction and only having an hour to do it … fear of having to lay still … fear of what the pictures will reveal.

Lying on the table with machinery all around me today I knew. 2016 is my year to be fearless.  I don’t just want to fear less. I want to know Who I’m living for and believe that He loves me and let His love “… expel all fear” (1 John 4:18).

So what if the doctor calls and says the tests showed some abnormality? What then? I will live trusting that I serve a good God, who is for me and with me.

Now this is what the Lord says—
the One who created you …,
and the One who formed you … —
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; 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.

Isaiah 43:1-2

But it’s not just the test results — it’s working out the details of living well in Los Angeles; it’s balancing dreams and reality; it’s wanting a suburban existence in a city; it’s choosing to love and serve the church and the city without sacrificing the well-being of home life; it’s all the little wants and needs that four kids have and the parent hearts that have to pick and choose what’s right and good for them even when it means disappointment; it’s thinking that your life would turn out one way and waking up to find yourself living an equally good, but less exciting existence than you imagined.

All of the unknowns, the things that I can’t control, all of the many scenarios I work out in my mind for how this year could play out for me and my family and friends — those things do not change the end of my story.

You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139: 5-10

In 2016, I can be fearless no matter what is going on in the world around me, within my own home, or the worries that skip through my mind, because of Who I belong to and Who is writing my story. He is sovereign and I can trust Him.

I am writing with a group of ladies this year. If you’d like some inspiration for the new year, let Allison‘s words encourage you and follow the links to the other blogs.

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Be Still

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;’
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Psalm 46:10-11

Before we got into the busy-ness of Christmas this year, I took some time to pray. I prayed that I would be present in the moments; that we wouldn’t rush through the motions, but that we would really take the time to relish the season — to rest in the waiting; to practice Advent.

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I am a do-er. I have a hard time sitting still. It is difficult not having something I’m trying to achieve. My kids and husband got sick over Christmas break. In a strange way, I can see how this was an answer to my prayer. We were forced to live in the moment; to make the best of the situation. For almost two weeks, I did what was necessary and let go of the things that I generally fill my days with.

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The house wasn’t pristine. We didn’t eat a well balanced, home cooked meal every night. The beds were occupied more than they were made. The bathroom was cleaned often, and its door might as well have been a revolving one. We missed out on our Christmas Eve plans with friends. I wasn’t even sure I’d cook our Christmas day meal until late in the afternoon, but what could have been a disaster for the planner, do-er, friend-cherisher that I am, was a gift in disguise.

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We made memories that would never have been ours, had everything worked out the way I had planned. I was forced to slow down, which was exactly what I had wanted. We watched classic movies and ate Texas Trash; we made a sick room downstairs so that no one had to be alone while sick; we read all our favorite Christmas books multiple times; we played game after game and laughed a lot; we ate prime rib in our pajamas! For as sick as everyone was, we had a great holiday!

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With the start of the new year and the kids going back to school, it has taken some time to get back into a good routine. Two weeks in and we’re still not there yet. We’re playing catch up, and that has meant that I’m home a lot more than I usually am. Sometimes I feel like I’m moving in slow motion; that what a month ago I could have accomplished in a day, now takes me a week to complete.

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All this being home, has given me so much time to think. It’s no secret that time is moving on and my kids are growing, and with every passing day we experience change. I thought I was good at change. Now I’m looking at all the things that are basically up in the air in our life, and I’m trying to hold it all together. My purse, kitchen counter, and my dresser are cluttered with little scraps of paper with numbers and notes on them, tangible pieces of me trying to figure it all out. I’ve worked out multiple scenarios … if this happens, then this will be the plan … but if that happens, then this would be the best solution. Seriously, I’m constantly “figuring” and in the end, all I have is a messy purse and no answers.

***

Mary Elena Leigh stayed home from school today. She took a four hour nap in the middle of the day yesterday, and so she was up really late. All of my kids outgrew their nap by two and a half years old, and so if a kid of mine is sleeping in the middle of the day and just won’t wake up, I know she isn’t feeling well. You’d never hear her complain; that’s not her nature. Parenting her is both a joy and a mystery. She is so laid back, so quiet, such a little partner in life, that I have to read between the lines and make the call on what she will or will not do. She is happy to just be and to be with.

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For a mother of four, that is a gift. She’s at home this morning and she is with me, whether I am transferring or folding laundry, dredging eggplant in bread crumbs, doing the dishes, eating, lost in my thoughts, or writing. Mary Elena is there, and she is contentedly playing, whispering to her toys, smiling every time I look at her. Whether she is sick or completely healthy and full of energy, she takes joy in being.

These days, I’m learning a lot from my three year old. Though our days are woven together, my life looks so different from hers, and it’s not just the difference of an adult and a child. The difference is in the heart.

Mary Elena has always just gone with the flow. When each of my kids was a baby I gave them a lullaby — their song. Each song is filled with words that I hope and pray for them. Words of love. I’ve been thinking about different words in these songs, as I look at all that could change in the year ahead. Making decisions used to be so much easier, but the older I get, the more I realize that I do not live in an autonomous realm. My decisions affect others, and so often the people they affect are the ones that mean the most to me. It weighs heavy on me that I’ve sung these words to my baby for the past three years:

I won’t let nobody hurt you
Won’t let no one break your heart
Now no one will desert you
Just try to never grow up

What if I make the wrong decision and I hurt them … if what I do breaks their hearts and forces them to grow up just a little more this year? What if what I think is the best for us, actually isn’t?

And then I remember this

“For in him all things were created … He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16-17

I can spend every free minute I have trying to work it all out. I can allow all the details of the life I’m trying to make for our family distract me from everything else. I can try to hold it all together, but in the end and from the beginning, that was never mine to do. It’s not my job.

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with love for my kids. I see them playing or eating or sleeping, and I’m just overcome with a love that I would have never dreamed possible. I want what’s best for them. Matt and I would do anything to keep them safe, to give them what they need, to try to satisfy some of their wants. That sounds like someone else I know.

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Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ … your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:26-34

That being that Mary Elena is so good at? Part of that is her own wiring, and part of that is the security within which she lives. She’s never been given a reason to worry. Never has she had something disastrous happen to her, to cause her to question or doubt that her needs will be met.

I’m a little more weathered. I’ve lived thirty-two years longer than Mary Elena. There are times when I’ve been let down, disappointed, mistreated. Like everyone, I’ve thought my lot in life was unfair at times. The imaginary, perfect world that I’ve created in my mind rarely matches my reality, and my prayers are often poised to help God make my perfect world exist.

But if He’s holding all things together, then my ideas, my efforts, my “perfect” world, is completely superfluous to His perfection.

This year, while I continue to slow down, I’m feeling urged to trust in ways I never have before. To not expect that God will work everything out because of my efforts, but in spite of them. To trust, because He is good. To trust because like I would do anything for the good of my kids, He can do anything and everything for the good of us.

When I look at all the unknowns in my life right now, I get discouraged. I want certain things, because I think they are what is best for me, for my friends, for my family, for my church. But this year I want my wants to be submissive to His great love; to know that He is for me and I can trust Him.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1


 

Oceans

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Pure Grace

When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us?

~ Ann Voskamp

This year on my birthday, I had a rare opportunity to go out with a couple of friends for breakfast. We visited and talked about my hopes for the year, and as we do in our little community, they read loving words they had written about and for me. I wanted — needed — to keep this morning small; intimate, because when you know all the broken parts of your own story, all the darkness that lives within, when you focus on what’s wrong in you more than what’s right, it can be difficult to hear what others think and see. I felt like I was in the hot seat, but not one that burned. Rather that morning, as grace upon grace was poured on me, as my friends called out the best in me and called me toward who I was created to be, joy welled up within me and warmed my heart.

One of the gifts I received that day was perfume called Pure Grace. I looked at it and smelled it and like I do with all things, planned when I would wear that particular fragrance. Little did I know, Pure Grace would be so necessary in the coming days.

The following week, we were off to Texas and anyone who has taken a road trip of 1700 miles with four kids and a beagle (or any other interesting conglomeration of traveling fellows), knows that being stuck in a vehicle for that long with other people breathing and talking and performing singing and snoring requires a good deal of grace. And yet I love a good road trip. For the planner and list maker I am, there are few things that make me come alive the way the unexpected adventures of a road trip do.

The last couple times we’ve made that drive, we’ve driven straight from Los Angeles to San Antonio, with a little sleep in our car in a Cracker Barrel parking lot just before reaching the Texas border. We have a white noise maker and coloring supplies and blankets and great snacks and toys, an eclectic play list and movies and a little training potty should it become necessary to stop on the side of the road in barren west Texas.

Traveling this way is not for the faint of heart. For all its excitement, it is also exhausting. After our evening in San Antonio there was nothing I wanted to do more than just get to the ranch, let the kids run around, take a walk around the wide open spaces, and just crash in the comfort of a home I’ve known for fifteen years, with family who loves and accepts me at my best and worst — to just be tired me.

I had known before the trip that part of our time in Texas would include meeting my brother-in-law’s fiancée and her daughter, and then attending their small wedding in the living room of the ranch house two weeks later.

At my birthday breakfast, I admitted to my friends that I was so nervous about this. My sister-in-law had passed away from cancer nine months earlier, and I still felt raw. The last time I had been to Texas was for her funeral. I had spent nearly two years praying for her healing, and if I’m really honest I felt like God had let me down. How is it possible that a 37 year old could die from Stage IV colon cancer? It was a nightmare. I shared with my friends that I was needing God to do a work in me, because I was feeling so ugly inside. How could I accept and embrace a new sister-in-law when I was still mourning the loss of one I never fully got to know? At the same time, I was entirely aware that this girl didn’t choose the circumstances in which she fell in love, and I did not want the questions and pain that still surrounded Tiffany’s loss to cast shadows on this new beginning.

When we pulled up to the ranch, I was startled to find that the two people I had been, and still was, so nervous about meeting were sitting on the porch swings. The moment had arrived and I wasn’t ready. My kids all tumbled out of the car and ran to greet Nonna, Papa Price, and Uncle Josh. I am not sure what all transpired as they met our new family. I was frozen in place. My memories of the minute that I waited, unready in the car are in slow motion. I reached for my purse, pulled out Pure Grace, and as I rolled it on my wrists prayed “God do in me what I can’t do on my own. Pour your grace through me.

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As I met Trakena, my soon to be sister-in-law, I knew that I wanted to welcome, accept and embrace. Fifteen years earlier I had been invited into this family, first as a girlfriend and then two years later, warmly espoused as a daughter when Matt and I married. I will never know if I was accepted with hesitation; whether there are things about me that gave my in-laws pause, because in the Price family — in our familyif you are loved by one, you are loved by all. And the grace and acceptance that was given to me fifteen years earlier was exactly what I wanted to give to Trakena.

Sometimes in life, you have to act your way into a feeling, but that evening a miracle happened. As I first hugged her in greeting and met Jasmine (before my kids completely enlisted her as their first cousin on the Price side of the family), I felt immediate love for her. It was, and continues to be, clear that she is a gift to Josh and to our whole family.

That night we got to know each other over dinner, and began talking about the small ceremony that Matt would lead them through later that month. As details came up, Josh mentioned that they wanted me to sing, but that Matt had told them I don’t do that anymore. Which is true. (The last time I sang in public, other than at my grandmother’s funeral, was the day my miscarriage began. Unknowingly, something that used to give me such joy, had become a source of pain.) And yet in that moment, as I looked at Josh and Trakena, I found myself saying “That’s true, but I’ll do it for you.”

In the following weeks I became involved in the details of the upcoming wedding. I was honored to learn two songs for the ceremony, invoke my hidden florist skills, decorate the living room, choose clothes for the boys to wear as ring bearers, go shopping for Josh’s suit, help my new niece do her hair, and then share sweet, holy moments while doing Trakena’s hair and make-up.

The wedding was intimately beautiful, with only family in attendance. The love and confidence displayed on the bride and groom’s faces was breathtaking. Never have I been more acutely aware of the limitations I place on God, than when I experienced the infinite joy that He has for us when we let Him enter in and take brokenness aside.

And that’s what grace does. Grace doesn’t let go. It knows all the broken bits and ugly parts that are hiding under the surface, and it covers them all. Grace will

… comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:2-3

Sometimes when you least expect it, into the darkest of situations, grace sparks and ignites into this glorious flame of joy.

In Greek grace is charis and it means a gift or blessing; unmerited favor; leaning towards to share benefit.

Joy is chara, meaning  gladness; extend favor, lean towards, be favorably disposed.

It is no coincidence that when grace is bestowed, joy follows.  See, grace and joy are inextricably related. And in my experience, the grace that we give is often as much a blessing to the giver as the receiver. When I prayed for God’s grace to pour through my graceless self, He was quick to answer my prayer. I’m sure Trakena was as nervous as I was about meeting, but what God gave me and continues to give me because of that prayer is a gift of joy. A gift of sisterhood; the realization of a desire that I prayed as the only Price girl for years. That God would give Matt’s brothers wives and that we would be friends … sisters of the heart.

I think about this often. Anytime that God comes close and enters into the mess of our lives is miraculous, but I don’t want this to be a fleeting miracle.

There have been many times in the months since that wedding on a balmy, east Texas, June afternoon when I’m at the end of myself in whatever situation I’m in — whether with a child, my husband, family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, the person in front of me in line at the grocery store, or the guy that cut me off on the freeway, and I haven’t had grace to give. In those moments, I pull out Pure Grace and  I pray “God do in me what I can’t do on my own. Pour your grace through me.”

And when I let Him have more of me … when I allow His Spirit to move through me, miracles happen. I see my kids or my husband as the people He created them to be, and not as the source of my irritation. I remember that everyone has a story that I don’t know, and I tread lightly. Sometimes, in this season where the majority of my attention goes to the concerns of my home and raising kids, I feel like I don’t have much to offer, but grace … I can always give grace.

This year, I want grace to be my first reaction, instead of a last resort.

Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8

 

Grace That Won’t Let Go, Mark Harris with Gateway Worship

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Surrounded by Grace

Like the wind, Grace finds us wherever we are and won’t leave us however we were found. ~ Ann Voskamp

I woke up late. On days like this it is hard not to begin to rush immediately. As a hurrier, I feel the lost time, but I’m discovering that for me, hurry is fueled by worry. And I’m a worrier …

I worry about time lost and goals not met; about messes and cleaning up, about appearance and reality, I think about inability and dreams not realized and then I worry and when I worry, I hurry.

Our internal worlds can feel chaotic and scary and we put on a brave face, pushing aside our concerns, but without the help of Someone greater than our deepest fears and insecurities, the worry turns into hurry and we suffer at every turn. Relationships feel rushed, conversations become merely functional, eyes are blind to the wonder of the world around us, meals become a mad mangle of food, and instead of mindfully giving thanks and taking time to discuss the day and hear from the hearts we love, we just eat.

This morning I woke up late and began to scurry around the house … picking up legos, gathering laundry, making lists and plunging the kids’ breakfast dishes into a sink full of sudsy water, doing hair, packing snacks and filling water bottles, signing papers …  and as I moved on to yet another task, I found myself mentally asking “What is your hurry?”

I’m asking myself that question a lot lately, and when I notice hurry consuming me, I try to take a deep breath in and when I breathe out, I try to release my worries, and when I do I slow down and accept peace. I can’t contrive peace on my own. I can pray for it and I can receive it. I can even be a peace maker, but I have to accept peace in order to live in peace.

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give peace to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

(John 14:27, NLV)

I love how the Amplified Bible expounds on this

“Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.”

With all the kids in school this morning I am resting in this peace. I’m slowing down on training wheels, because when noon hits I will go from sitting at a bakery reading and praying and writing, to a car and then a house filled with loud, energetic kids with needs (and if I know my kids, there will be at least one of them that is demanding or cranky). As I sit here, I am readying my heart and my attitude to meet each request and need with grace. I can’t do it on my own. I just can’t — none of us can — so I am grateful for this:

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

(2 Cor. 12:9, NIV)

And isn’t that so encouraging? It is easy to get caught up in feeling ill equipped for the tasks or the life we’re given, and yet we were never meant to go it alone.

***

It was much easier to slow down and drink in the goodness of the life I’ve been given this summer when I had only two of my kids to care for, when school wasn’t part of our days, when the rush of the fall wasn’t upon us.

This morning it is easy to take things slowly when I only have myself to take care of, and when I pick up the kids this afternoon, my tendency will be to look at all that needs to be done and to hurry, but when the inclination to hurry rises up, I’m going to breathe out my worry and breathe in peace, because when we slow down we see clearly, and beautiful things happen in the slow moments.

Every once in a while when I am trying to remind myself that life isn’t a race, I make French Onion Soup. Taking the time to caramelize five pounds of onions, forces you to slow down. You’d think something as simple as onion soup would be quick to make, but as simple as French food is, the recipes are often time-consuming — not difficult, as long as you take the time.

Low and slow … that’s the only way to caramelize onions. If you try to speed up the process you will end up with brown, burnt, and bitter onions that aren’t good for anything. When you turn the temperature down and you let the onions almost sweat …

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they will slowly turn golden …

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they will begin to release their hidden sweetness …

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and their color will deepen …

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They will decrease in volume …

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and exponentially increase in flavor.

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And when you splash white wine into the pan …

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Ooh la la!

When I make French Onion soup, it is always for a special occasion, like an in-house date night or when my little sister visits from Canada and we send the guys out and have a girls’ night. As I stir the onions and wait, I am reminded that the best things in life take time.

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I was twenty before I even met Matt. My friends were in and out of relationships through high school and college, but when Matt walked into my life fifteen years ago, I knew. From the time he picked me up for our first date, I knew he had been worth the wait — all the lonely times, the hours I spent wondering what was wrong with me — why no one ever chose me, all disappeared …

A good thing is worth the wait.

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My sisters and I weren’t close growing up. We got along and we supported each other when we needed to, but we weren’t really friends. Now I consider them my best friends. Often the gifts we’re given don’t seem like gifts until some time has passed, we mature and we value our differences, and we recognize what we’ve had all along.

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I am in a season of parenting that is often painful. There are these four little hearts and huge wills, and I want them to just trust what I say — to obey because it is what is best for them. The thing is, they have their own ideas. So often we are not in calm and quiet conversation, but rather in boot camp. It takes more time and patience than I thought it would and the results are years away. There are times (it may even happen this afternoon), when I want to throw my hands up in frustration and shout “Because I said to!”

I have a friend who has these incredible, mostly grown up kids, and I used to wonder how she lucked out. Do you ever feel like you got a bad apple? On my most desperate of parenting days, I do, but my friend is always quick to remind me that her kids are the way they are because of a lot of prayer and grace, and the faithfulness of a Father who is also loving us into what he created us to be.

***

In a way, I’m like an onion. Cut into me, and I may bring you to tears. Rush me, and I’ll become bitter. Turn up the heat and I’ll burn-out. When I think of my heart and who I am in my raw state, I can easily become discouraged, but there’s this:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger and rich in faithful love.”

Psalm 103:8, HCSB

And like the onions need time and care, so I need shepherding — to be led.

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths …

Psalm 23:1-3, HCSB

There is nothing rushed in his leading; He does not demand change. He surrounds us with grace; He invites us to follow and to rest;  and as we do, he transforms and renews. He restores our broken parts, and brings wholeness.

In just a few minutes I will pick up my kids, my little onions. And as I am confronted with every minute of peace, love, chaos or confusion this afternoon, I pray that I will remember that the Lord is compassionate with me, He is slow to anger and abounding in love.  And in the moments where things don’t go as planned, attitudes explode, words are harsh, or hearts are hurt, we will hold onto grace. May I respond to them in gentleness, allowing them to grow, knowing that the best things take time.

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Brokenness Aside, All Sons and Daughters
© 2011 Integrity’s Alleluia! Music


 

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New Seasons

“There is an occasion for everything,
and a time for every activity under heaven …”

Eccelsiastes 3:1

My Tuesday mornings look a lot different than they have in the past. For so long, I worked full time and then part time and then more than full time as a stay-at-home mom. All of my days include laundry and cooking and cleaning and bathing kids and doing homework and reading stories and discipline and a whole lot of prayer and for patience. On a typical day when you walk into my house you will find this at some point:

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Suddenly this fall though there is more time for reading and running errands and finding out what I choose to do when I have the option. Now my Tuesday mornings look more like this:

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I have been a little sad that the season of life that I’ve been in for the past ten years has come to an end. There is no longer a baby or a toddler scampering through the house, no diapers to change, no baby blue or pale pink laundry to do. The sweet baby smell has long since left my home, the crib is disassembled, the high chair stored, the stroller is put away. Being a mom has given definition to my life in a way that nothing else ever has, and it will continue to but in different ways.

I am unusual in that the middle of the night wakings and feedings and the blur of the early months of mothering a new baby never bothered me. Exhaustion was a normal part of each day, but it was good because it was earned by investing in the lives of my own children. I’ve mourned that what I know to do as a mom is no longer a need. I have to learn how to be and how to love and nurture in this season of parenting school aged kids. As I threw away the training toilets a few months ago, I had my first glimpse into how this newness could be a good thing.

***

So in order to mark this new season, I am doing things big today. I am splurging on a muffin instead of fruit or oatmeal, and I am not even making the low calorie version of what I want. I’m talking about all the buttery goodness and crumble topping crunch of a bakery muffin. I may even eat the whole thing.

This day has been a long time coming, and I’m really not sure what to do with it, except write — I must write.

I used to hate that life is always described in seasons. It frustrated me when I was stuck in a challenging season, that it wouldn’t just end because I had decided I was over it. And when I’m in a good one, I find myself holding onto it tightly, willing that it should never end. And when the end is inevitable, I search for something to fill its void — something big or exciting or life changing, in hopes that it will be bigger and better and more satisfying than what I am losing.

So this summer I was set to go back to school, but like I’ve mentioned a few times I’ve felt prompted to slow down; that my idea of finishing a master’s in nursing before I turn 40 was my idea, but not necessarily the right or best idea.

For years Matt has been telling me that he’d like for me to have at least six months to take things slowly (as much as is possible while caring for four kids) — to not do anything extra, but to just be me and to discover what excites and energizes me in this season of life, because if I really stop and ask myself what it is, I find I talk around the question without landing on an answer. So this July when I told Matt that I thought I should hold off at least a semester before going back to school, he was fully supportive.

We had already registered Mary Elena for preschool two mornings a week to make some space for me to take classes, and so here I am on a Tuesday morning, all four kids in school, and I’m alone for the first time in a long time, and I’m celebrating.

I’m celebrating the time to pursue a dream, pushing aside the sadness of the end of the baby season of my life, and I’m embracing this newness — thankful that it is never too late to explore a passion.

“Who would ever have thought I’d write? I mean, if I didn’t have all this free time …”

~ Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail

So I’m rejoicing and writing — it’s what I went to college for in the first place, but taking the time to put pen to paper and etch out the words that swirl in my mind feels strangely foreign. Dreaming and creating  …

It feels completely odd that I am sitting in cafe on a Tuesday morning with a pen and a moleskin, alone, and yet if I think back fifteen years this is exactly what I thought I’d be doing at this moment in my life.

Someone just asked me what I do for a living, and I told him “I raise my four kids.” So while I once thought writing would be my career, it is not what I spend most of my time doing, but it is life giving and I’m learning that’s enough.

So today I will celebrate — dreams and the gift of time, the privilege of provision for my kids in their amazing schools, a husband who encourages me to rediscover myself, a God who made me just the way I am and knows how I think in narration and pending dialogues. A God who knew I’d be sitting here, on this day before I ever came up with the idea.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.

Psalm 139:2-5

I am embracing my 36th year as one of pursuing only what gives life and enables me to serve my family, friends, and community well. Pushing aside the fear that this may all amount to nothing, I am writing and as I write I will celebrate and eat every last morsel of my (full fat) muffin.

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My Hiding Place

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless
till they find their rest in you …

St. Augustine

 

I was twelve, a seventh grader which is an awkward time for any girl. It was February and the church that my Dad worked at could no longer afford a music pastor. Looking back I realize that my parents did what they had to do. They had to provide for their four children, and my Dad was offered a job, but it meant moving from San Diego to Denver. Of all the times I moved growing up, this one was the most difficult. In California, I belonged. I had friends that went to my school and my church, and I was really discovering who I was … and then we moved.

When our lives were turned upside down, I always wanted to be helpful (I am a great packer) and to help get settled no matter where we were unpacking (though often the boxes were the recipients of my silent tears), and if there is one thing that I learned at a young age, it is how important family is. So even though we moved hundreds of miles away, we had a home, my parents had jobs, we were in the best school district, but ultimately what mattered is that we were together.

The counselor at my middle school arranged my schedule so that it coordinated exactly with one girl, who became my “buddy.” In theory this is genius. It afforded me a group of friends immediately on my first day of seventh grade at Campus Middle School, but what began so perfectly, went horribly wrong about three weeks after we moved to Denver.

I’ll never know what the cause was, but I do remember showing up for school one day and trying to talk to one of my new friends, and being completely shocked when she just walked away. That wasn’t the end of it though. Class after class, mean girl after mean girl, lunch after lunch, I found myself completely alone. I spent my breaks and lunch in the bathroom or the library from February until the end of the year in the middle of June.

When I thought I could get away with it, I would head to the bus stop early and hide in the snow behind  the big pine trees waiting for the bus to pass, and then go home to announce that I’d missed the bus. On good days, my mom would just let me stay home. On bad days, she’d have time to drop me off at school before heading to work.

Seventh grade was such a painful period in my life.

***

It seemed we were always on the move when I was growing up. Whether by choice or the leading of God or the decisions of others, our family moved between every eighteen months and three years. When I was very young, I didn’t realize the impact this would have on me as I grew and began to make decisions of my own, nor did I understand the unsettledness it created in my little heart.

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I’ve mentioned before that I ended up on anti-depressants by the age of six. My depression worked its way out through anxiety and an overactive imagination, feeling like there was danger lurking around every corner. These days I still fight that anxiety, though through prayer and deep breaths and calming down before responding, I am living more than I’m fearing.

But there are times when Matt is working late and the kids are in bed, my mind wanders and I remember …

Crying myself to sleep in a new room, holding a teddy bear I received when I was just five and had left the only home I’d ever known.

Praying that someone would request to room with me at camp and later on at retreats …

Being left out of parties in high school …

Never being asked to homecoming …

The call I received the summer after my junior year of high school from a group of girls who had always left me out of almost everything, and they called to see if I wanted to hang out, but it turned out to be a joke — and I hid in my room, hurt and angry because they had done this only weeks after I had found out we were moving on, but we didn’t know where we were going and the only certainty was that I would graduate from a school where I’d only go for part of my senior year.

And then struggling and failing to find a place of belonging three months into my senior year of high school, and hiding by only taking the classes I had to take in order to graduate.

When I started over in Texas between my first two years of college, I was determined to reclaim the me that I had been before all the hurt and shame I experienced in seventh grade. What a place of healing that was for me. For the first time in years, I felt complete freedom to be 100% me. And in that time I met and married my husband and I finally found my place.

There are times when I still feel like I don’t have a landing spot or a place of belonging — being on the outside whether real or imagined became part of my inner life somewhere in the middle of attending fifteen schools before graduating high school. My memories are speckled with different images in living color of times when I just didn’t belong. Now I’ve lived in the same area for thirteen years and I’ve gone to the same church for twelve years, and while that is such a gift of grace for this well seasoned mover, staying put doesn’t guarantee immunity from loneliness.

Almost seven years ago, I went through the most isolating time of my life. On March 21, 2009 I began to miscarry our third baby. I was almost nine weeks pregnant and there was absolutely nothing they could do, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. There were no answers to why, only speculation and even when I was surrounded by people, I was always completely alone.

All my fears came rushing to the surface and I plummeted into depression that couldn’t be reversed by another baby, because it wouldn’t be that baby. I felt broken and battered and like the one thing I knew I could do well had been taken away from me. On top of that, it was as though Matt wasn’t grieving. It seemed my loss was just my loss and it began to define me.

Suddenly it was difficult to be with my friends who had just had babies. Two of my friends found out they were pregnant in the days after my miscarriage and didn’t want to tell me. Another friend became pregnant shortly afterward, and my sister delivered her third baby a few months later. The months of my greatest loneliness were filled with parties of the baby shower variety, hospital visits where I’d hold babies drinking in their newness while trying to hold myself together, and making meals for families that were growing, while mine had just gotten smaller.

I would sit on the front row of church and just cry during worship or the message, and I wanted to be present but I was drowning on my own. Though I became pregnant six months after my miscarriage, it did not end my sadness or my loneliness; it increased my fears. I found myself reciting this Psalm over and over again to quiet my spirit and reassure my mind of what my heart was still trying to believe.

The one who lives under the protection of the Most High
dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1,2, HCSB

And in the months and the years that followed losing our third baby, I’ve whispered these words countless times. On flights when fear has overtaken me, during a labor induced panic attack with Nicholas, while receiving the ever feared spinal in an unexpected c-section delivery with Mary Elena, when I count four heads and still feel like one is missing, in the middle of the night when I couldn’t calm my heart, while trying to settle a crying baby, as prayers laced with anxiety as I’ve held fevered kids, croupy babies, or a kid in the middle of a seizure.

What I now realize is that whether I am surrounded by friends or family or in a silent living room alone — when I feel completely known and loved by a friend or when my texts, calls or emails go unanswered — when my kids are loving spending quality time with me or they are disappointed with me — when my husband is fully engaged and present or when he is busy with work or distracted by the news, my belonging is not contingent on my circumstances. I belong because I have been chosen.

Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:4-5, The Message

What I know now, I wish I could go back and tell a fearful five year old girl trying to adjust to a new home and a baby sister  —

Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you …

Isaiah 41:10, HCSB

What I know now, I wish I could whisper to the twelve year old hiding in the pine trees trying to miss her bus —

For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory. 

Psalm 32:7

And what I first cried, willing myself to believe, I can now say with confidence; no matter what the storm around or within me may be, I know this to be true:

The one who lives under the protection of the Most High
dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
He Himself will deliver you from the hunter’s net,
from the destructive plague.
 He will cover you with His feathers;
you will take refuge under His wings.
His faithfulness will be a protective shield.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
the arrow that flies by day,
 the plague that stalks in darkness,
or the pestilence that ravages at noon …
Because you have made the Lord—my refuge,
the Most High—your dwelling place,
 no harm will come to you;
no plague will come near your tent.
For He will give His angels orders concerning you,
to protect you in all your ways.

Psalm 91:1-11, HCSB

How thankful I am that in Him, moments of isolation no longer define who we are. I am excited to be writing this year with an amazing and diverse group of women. Please read what my dear friend Allison has to say about belonging and then click through the rest of the blogs.

 

 Hiding Place, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers, 1992


 

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