Thanks for the struggle!

Thanksgiving has come and gone here. It’s a busy time and this year I did the cooking. Cooking is my thing anyway, so it doesn’t bother me. Everyone was together and it’s what I expect each year. It’s a little chaotic for me and I ponder that there’s no way to heap a year of thankfulness into one day and the oft heard “we should be thankful every day of the year”. It’s almost too busy of a day to spend a lot of time on Thankfulness. So the weekend after, my husband and I had time to finally recap many things in life. We are of course grateful for our family and truthfully can’t wait till everyone’s grown to enjoy the fullness of it. We looked over the last many years and were easily reminded of God’s faithfulness over the years where Dale worked in another state and I managed alone here. Then after we moved with him, his job changed back to our old home state and I was left there to finish that house before we could all come home. It was only the faithfulness of a good God that got us through. I recalled how lonely and hard those days were.

A very specific low during those years came to mind as we were reminiscing. It was a blistering hot day. A clog in a pipe somewhere out in the yard was causing a backup in our kitchen sink. That clog seemed to be under thousands of pounds of water right under our pool. It meant changing the plumbing under our sink and rerouting things a bit. The house was old and things weren’t done right in first place. The pipes between the main floor and the basement and the weird “second floor” of the main floor seemed to be a problem. But it was old lead pipe and I couldn’t get it apart. I had replaced everything but that little section. I was exhausted, nursing little twins, caring for the youngest seven by myself with my husband 14 hours away. I walked away exhausted and went to the front porch where I sat down and just cried. It was a full blown “Come apart” as my neighbor who saw me called it. After a good cry and telling the Lord I couldn’t do it, resolve finally kicked in and I went down and beat the pipe to death until it gave way. It was a traumatic time. But…during that time God provided an opportunity to lead a small group that affected people for eternity sake. Our MI kids came down and had a very productive mission trip. I got to teach a lesson I had been preparing for months on a subject that I didn’t know I would be offered to teach on. In that time of struggle, God was at work!

This recollection reminded me that when we are thankful, we often list the good things we really are grateful for. But we shouldn’t forget to thank him for the struggles. That is when opportunity to accomplish is the greatest! I may never look back on our years apart as glorious. It just wasn’t. But I can look back on it with Thanksgiving. In the struggle, I found out how strong we are when we rely on Him. In the struggle, I saw Him work wonders! In the struggle, we couldn’t rely on each other, we had to rely solely on God and the way He was equipping is. In the struggle, I learned I was capable of much more than I thought. In the struggle, I learned to produce what my husband could not while he was away, lessening the burden on him. In the struggle, we could only trust Him! In the struggle, I believe God was glorified. I AM THANKFUL FOR THE STRUGGLE. That’s what I am most thankful for this year. Be thankful for the struggle. Dig in, work hard, pray always, do your part. Be thankful for the opportunity to struggle, and point to Him in the process. God is good!

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Tell Tale Signs

The other day I sat out in the woods for bow hunting season. I readily admit to being a little fair-weather hunter. The freezing cold is not my favorite! As I stood in the light drizzle and the wind blowing, I could hear thunder rolling. Thunder in November isn’t the norm. The sky and the wind were impersonating a spring storm but the trees overhead told the truth. The colors of the leaf canopy that swayed above me in gold and red and brown and the accumulated leaves on the ground said we were fully into fall. Michigan in November is so conflicted. The leaves struggle to let go till the cold settles in and visions of warm sunny autumn are spoiled by rain and cold and sometimes even snow. The cold, wet, heavy white stuff graced us the other way in what should’ve been a dusting, but turned out to be about four inches of good packing. The kids were thrilled to don their summer-forgotten snow clothes and build a few snowmen and eat the frozen gift from the sky.

The first snow usually melts quickly. And in general, this didn’t disappoint. But today as I drove home from church I noticed snow still on the hood and top of my sons car as he drove behind me. Aside from making a mental note to remind him to clear his car better, I thought it funny as we drove in the city that others might wonder why a car still had snow on it several days later.

Now in his defense we live atop the highest point in our county and it is always colder and snowier up there than down in the city. Often I drive home and everything is clear in the city and yet my own street is snow covered and the last to melt in the spring. Today after I turned into the freeway, I was struck by the snow on the sides of the road. It was very sparse and only existed in the laid down patches of grass. It wasn’t everywhere as it had been a few days earlier. It was as if someone had held the snow in their hand and blew it across the grass, leaving it in all the low spots.

There was just enough left to know snow had been there and left it’s mark even though no big evidence still existed. I thought of my own relationship with Jesus at that moment. Could anyone see the evidence of Him in me? While none of us has seen God himself, can the evidence of Him and the principles He taught in His word still be seen in me? Like the snow on my son’s car that was out of place in the city, would anyone look at me and see a pile of love and grace on the hood of my life and notice a difference from the world in which we exist. God’s imprint on our lives should be real and noticeable, not cloaked by the conflict around us. It should leave a lasting tattoo on our hearts that says “Jesus is evident here”.

It was a good reminder today to ask myself “where’s the evidence?” I don’t mean the scientific evidence of God’s existence, but where is the evidence of kindness, goodness, mercy and self-control that proves He lives in me. The Bible is clear, if He lives in us and if we are in Him, there will be evidence! The fruit that comes from knowing and loving and following Him will be real!

When the wind blows and “stuff happens,” do people look at you and still say “Jesus lives there.” Because unlike my little ones who recently took a bag of chocolate chips and ate it all so no one would know, there should be evidence!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”

‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:22‬ ‭(NIV‬‬)

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.”

‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23‬ ‭(The Message)

Meghan

That day lives in my mind like it was yesterday. Yes time has made it easier, although this is the first time in 13 years I’ve talked at any length about it. Only a couple of times have I maybe shared a few words or sentences here and there when someone else had a similar story. But I can feel the gut punch deep inside without even trying to think. I was at my normal prenatal visit when the look on the doctor’s face showed some concern as she looked for the heartbeat. She mentioned our baby was just probably “hiding” and pulled out the ultrasound machine, but my heart and head were already jumping to a conclusion. When she focused in on the baby, she wasn’t stretched out and moving around as she had been. She was laying still in the bottom of my belly. Her heart wasn’t beating anymore, but mine was banging off the office walls it seemed. One more week and she would’ve lived outside the prenatal safe-spot I had been carrying her in. We had waited over half-way through our pregnancy to tell family and friends. But we had loved her for much longer. And just like that, she was no longer the hope my arms would hold in a short time.

Our boys were leaving on a National Soccer Tournament and so we chose to carry on for a few days until they were on the road with another family. With six kiddos already in tow, there was a lot to put in place. During those few days, I carried her with all the love of a momma knowing she may not be alive, but she was still mine for a couple more days. The day came when we would walk the saddest walk I ever experienced. I clearly thought, as I made my way down the hospital corridor, that I could’ve kept her forever. I didn’t want to give her up and hand her little body over to anyone where I would never see her on earth again. I was induced that morning and labor was slow and quiet. She was born without a sound of her own while my sobs filled the hospital room. She was wrapped and blanketed just as if she was older and bigger. A group of women made handmade blankets for just this occasion and touched my heart without even knowing me. The hospital offered a wonderful photographer to take pictures of her for us, but I couldn’t bring myself to freeze this heart crushing moment even in a photo. I was afraid of feeling this way forever.
As my husband fell asleep beside us, I remember wondering if I’d ever be the same. If we would ever be the same. If life would be bearable. I worked hard on a plan for her burial, refusing to leave her with the hospital where she might remain for months until they do their free mass burial of such infants. I knew she was whole in Jesus arms, but my heart and mind were not. Not for a long time. The weeks ahead were the loneliest weeks of my entire life. No matter how much support and how much love surrounds you, I am convinced birthing a stillborn is one of the loneliest feelings on the planet. After a couple months of moving through the motions of life, I joined a grief support group. I walked away sadder than ever. They all had a lifetime of stories to tell about their loved one. I did not. I had only months of reassuring movement inside and then a day of looking into this baby’s face that would never cry or coo. The doctors did not assure me there’d be another baby. In fact, I was old enough, they assured me there would probably not be another. I couldn’t believe it would end like this. It wasn’t till a couple years had gone by, when we were surprised at age 41 with a baby girl, that healing came. A then 18 months later with twins to thoroughly occupy our minds and hearts.

Today, I finally decided to revisit the depths of emotions I felt back then. It was 13 years ago today she lay in our arms as peaceful as could be, never knowing the anguish of our hearts. But I chose to share the story for one reason only. Please understand, babies born early are as real as those who are born on their expectedIMG_3307 birthday alive and well. Her long little fingers and toes were perfect. Her little eyes closed, her body perfectly formed. She was real.

Every day in this land, babies even farther along than Meghan are aborted cruelly and as mechanically as if they were not human or special to begin with. You have a chance to put an end to these barbaric practices. I have shared my heartbreak for one reason, and one reason only. Go vote ProLife! They are real babies! I’ve seen with my own eyes! I’ve held with my own hands! I’ve cried with every tear in my body and I’ve silently loved in my heart. I really don’t care what ever else is on your agenda. But babies are the most vulnerable of all our civilization. If you can’t stand up for them, just sit down please. I’m afraid you just don’t understand.

The Expectation

It never ceases to amaze me. And after a few times, you’d think I’d get it and my expectations would be lower. Maybe it’s the hope that runs deep, but I’m consistently disappointed, and yet, I try again. On a day that I have an errand or two, or a doctor appointment, or have to take two kids to dance, or one to soccer, etc., I leave a list of sorts for the others to accomplish. It may include homework, or dishes, or taking out the trash or cleaning something up. There’s times I’ve even text a list of items so I could cover multiple kids with a chore or two. It makes the expectation more apparent and no one can ever say they didn’t know exactly what was asked of them. However, it seems lately, that if I say “do the dishes”, I come home to “some” of the dishes done. Or if I say “take out the trash and shovel the chicken coop,” I come home to find only the trash done. I say clean the porch and maybe a chair or two gets put along side the tables, but the leaves and the falling pears are still on the ground. The direction is clear and is well understood but the effort doesn’t match the expectation.
The parent in me gets so annoyed that my kids don’t understand that there’s no hidden line, there’s no grey area, there’s no middle ground. There is a very specific expectation. I can imagine my Father God feels the same way about the children he created. And I couldn’t blame Him for being sadly disappointed. He really did give us clear expectations in His Word, and we skew it, or justify it, or omit what we don’t want to put under that expectation. At the end of the day, does He look at what we’ve accomplished and say, “you didn’t do what I really asked.” Let me give you a for instance. When scripture says “whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is right, think on these things,” how do you think God feels when we watched a crime show on TV, or a drama with premarital sex or adultery? Because His standard is so absolute, and His expectation so clear, do you think he’s disappointed? When we let our kids watch gruesome scarey shows, or we visit haunted houses or decorate with items intended to scare or be grotesque, do you think He says, “what was my expectation?”
I’m not going to lie, I’m truly bothered by this. Some may just call me prudish or old fashioned, but I’m looking at the expectation and thinking what makes us different from the world if we don’t try to meet the expectation? Some may say, “you’re just being legalistic.” Legalism is an excessive adherence to the law. I don’t believe that to be the case. I’m talking just staying within the expectation. My own daughter came home from a Halloween party, and I looked at her face. She was supposedly a creepy clown. There wasn’t anything “pure, lovely, right or good” about it. Maybe it wasn’t awful. But I didn’t look at it and think it was anything within the expectation of “pure, lovely, right or good.”
Why haven’t we raised our personal best, our standard, to meet the expectation? Why do we choose to disappoint the Father by fulfilling only part of His expectation? Why do we tolerate ourselves indulging in anything less than “pure, lovely, right or good.” I don’t want to apologize anymore for hating TV drama’s, and haunted houses, and sleezy lyrics. I don’t want to apologize for expecting kids to be dressed decently and their language and the language of their peers to be “pure, lovely, right or good.” I don’t want to apologize for feeling in my soul that I am tolerating us disappointing the Father at the end of the day. I want people to understand His grace and mercy, in all of its glory. But we need to know His grace and mercy aren’t there as a means to behavior that is less than His expectation. It is a cover for us when we fail, but it is not a crutch while we fail!
What would it take to raise the expectations of ourselves to the expectation of the Father? Would you have to give up a TV series you watch? Would you have to drink without being drunk? Or give it up altogether if you couldn’t do that? Would you have to change the way you dress, or the way you talk? Would you have to let go of anger bitterness? Would you have to live in harmony with those around you? Would you have to work harder and faster? There are so many things in our own lives to examine in light of the expectation. What would you have to change to meet the expectation of “whatever is pure, lovely, right or good?” No more apologizing for keeping the lines of the expectation clear. I don’t care what the world will call me for my opinion, I only hope that when the expectation is this real and this clear, that He will call me faithful.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable –if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, ” Deuteronomy 6:18
“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” Romans 7:21-23