Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Control Freak

There was a time a few years ago when I sat around a campfire in my backyard, watching the coals burning slowly and brightly, wondering if there might be more to God than I understood at that time. I wondered if there could be more to being a Christian than just being a servant and having a list of dos and donts? While I appreciated living in community I wondered if going to church and joining a small group were really the most that I would experience of God? I understood that it was good news that I would spend eternity in heaven instead of hell, but I wondered if there wasn't more to hope for in the time from now until I would enter into eternity? I wondered why we spend so much time teaching children the miraculous things that happened in the Bible, and then when children become teenagers and adults we spend so much time just teaching them to be nice? I wondered why my experiences of God didn't really line up with the songs I sang about Him on Sunday mornings? I know now that the Spirit was calling me; beckoning me to draw near. I think back to that night and I can almost hear God whispering in my heart, "Follow me. I want to teach you who I am." So, I did. And so began the adventure.

The first thing God taught me was that He is not in control of everything. I know. It rocked my world too. I know even just reading that will make some of you feel like you've sinned! I know some of you reading this will immediately dismiss simply won't fit into your belief system. But I also know for others, you are going to set that belief system of yours aside and you are going to fall in love with God. I am so excited for you. Because I know from my own journey through this that once you begin to understand who God is and how He functions in this world, that's really just the beginning of experiencing Him and understanding who you are and how you are to function in this world.

So here's the deal. I'm sure if you have been around church for any length of time you are familiar with God as being sovereign. And it is true, God is indeed sovereign (supreme in power and authority). There is nothing or no one that is above Him. He is in charge. But being in charge and being in control are two different things. If you remember back to the beginning, God created all this awesome stuff, right? Animals and oceans and light and humans. And when He created humans He delegated authority to us. He commanded us to rule over His creation. It didn't take long for us to lose that authority in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned. Enter into history the works of hell-disease and death and pain and decay. But because God is sovereign the story doesn't end there. He sent Jesus, His son, to earth who became sin on the cross so we in turn can become righteous. Authority was bought back by the blood of Christ. Then what did Jesus do? He gave us marching orders and took His place at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. He told us it was good for us that He leave so that the Holy Spirit would come and empower us; empower us with His authority. So now, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead resides in those who surrender their lives to Him giving them authority to destroy the works of hell on earth. Hallelujah!

There is no problem with God being sovereign. There is only a problem when people use God as being sovereign to claim that He is in control of everything. And when we believe God is in control of everything, we also believe that everything that happens is God's will, that He ordains everything, or that everything is His administrative choice. Not everything that happens is God's will. All believers understand it is God's will that none should perish. Yet people are perishing everyday. Clearly, things happen that are NOT God's will. Also, when we believe God is in control, we tend to link that belief with the belief that everything happens for a reason. Right? One of the first things you will hear from a Christian going through tragedy is, "But...I know God is in control and everything happens for a reason." Why? Well, because believing God is in control of everything means it is ultimately God that is responsible for everything that happens. Including the cancer your loved one was diagnosed with, the miscarriage you experienced, the car wreck you were in, the job you lost, the house that burned down, the spouse that left you, the father that was never there, etc. And believing that God is responsible for pain and death and disease and tragedy doesn't exactly put you in a position to trust Him, or praise Him, or love Him, or desire Him. So, we comfort ourselves with the thought that everything happens for a reason. And we pull scriptures that talk about God working all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) to help us cope with this God. Really what is created is a stronghold. And suddenly we are pointing the finger at God for the work of the devil here on earth. Everything does happen for a reason. Actually, everything happens for exactly two reasons: Either 1) Stealing, killing, and destroying-which are ALWAYS works of the enemy or 2) Life and life abundantly-which are ALWAYS the works of God (John 10:10). So, we will always be wrong when we attribute anything that has to do with stealing, killing and destroying to God. It's immoral. It's unthinkable. And yet, it is so widespread in the body of Christ.

I want to take a moment and be clear that I do believe Romans 8:38 is true. I absolutely believe that there isn't anything in this world that can happen that God can't take and work for good in the lives of the people that love Him. God is in the business of redemption! But that has nothing to do with God causing those tragedies to occur. And I will be honest here and tell you that if you believe God is responsible for the pain and destruction in your life I do not believe that you can truly, truly worship Him with your life. I know I couldn't. And I didn't even realize it until I was freed from the stronghold.

Part of the devastating effect of believing God controls everything is that it renders the Christian powerless. We become disarmed. Disengaged. Our lives aren't used to fight the battle the way they are intended to. We assume what will be will be. Our prayers aren't even effective because we don't understand the will of God and what to ask for. If you're still reading this, I would encourage you to do something. Pretend you're sitting around a campfire, watching coals burning slowly and brightly. Think about what it is you believe about God. Think about the hardships you have experienced in your life. Have you made God responsible for them? Think about what would happen if you redirected the responsibility to the Thief that comes to steal and kill and destroy. Think about what it might be like to believe that in you resides the power and authority of the sovereign, almighty God. And that He comes through prayer, by your invitation. Ask Him to teach you who He is. Listen closely to see if you can hear Him whispering to you. Welcome to the adventure. Hold on, it's gonna be a wild ride.       


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Failure to Report for Duty

When I was nineteen I signed into the Army Reserves. I was an 88 Mike in the 660th Transportation Company in Cadiz, Ohio. An 88M is a Motor Transport Operator, responsible for transporting personnel and cargo. Despite my recruiter's promises of being qualified for endless amounts of jobs, I in fact only qualified for like three-a cook, a motor transport operator, and one other that must have been even worse because I don't even remember it. After spending a day at the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Pittsburgh, I sat across the table from the job placement guy trying to look casual as I decided my destiny. I felt like the daughter in Father of The Bride when she tells her dad she's getting married. Like, I'm pretty sure I reverted back to being about four years old. I wanted to ask the guy in my squeaky little girl voice if he was sure there weren't more things I could do...who let me come here by myself anyway...are you sure I'm even old enough for this? So, without much thought (or options) I chose to be a transporter. Whatever that meant.

Since I was in fall semester in college at the time I signed in I was put on the delayed entry program (DEP). I immediately began reporting for drills one weekend a month, but was not scheduled to go to Basic Training until the following summer. My first weekend at drills I called my dad in a panic because while I was trying to drive to Cadiz, OH, I suddenly drove under a sign that read "Welcome to West Virginia." West Virginia? How the heck am I supposed to drive a hummer in Iraq if I can't even drive from Pennsylvania to Ohio?! My dad looked at the map and assured me I was on track, I just needed to pass through West Virginia a smidge to reach my destination. Reeee-lief. When I arrived at the 660th Transportation Company, I quickly parked my (dad's) truck, took a deep breath, and headed in the building. I knew not where I was going once inside, nor what I was supposed to do. I was going through some introductions to the place and to people in my unit when a little situation arose. The captain of our company had arrived and he wanted to know who had parked their Ford F150 in his parking space? Oops. Let me just move that out of your way...sir. I didn't stay there for very long that first time. Me, and a couple other new guys on the DEP were shipped off to Toledo, OH for an intense training weekend. To this day I'm not sure what it was all about. My understanding was it was a weekend preview of Basics for those who had not yet completed their training, and also a refresher course for those who had. All I know is that I got yelled at a LOT, I earned the nickname "track star" (which was not a good thing despite how it sounds) and I had to do push ups for several other girls in my platoon who weren't able to do their own. At the end of the weekend when the drill sergeant asked who had fun, I was the only one who didn't raise my hand. While some began to talk to me about Officer Training School because of my physical strength, I began to wonder what in the world I had done signing into the military at all. But, I continued to report for drills each month. I trained hard physically. Learned to disassemble and reassemble guns. Rode around in Humvees. And made friends. As my date for Basics got closer, I felt more confident that everything would be OK.

Little did I know that I would never complete my training. Long story short, a series of events occurred in my life at the time I was supposed to be leaving for Basics that left me unable to go. I struggled with what I should do. And I could not make contact with my recruiter who I later found out literally was in Disney Land at the time on vacation. I, thankfully, happened to be dating this cute guy who was in law school (wink, wink) who was able to help me navigate my way through contacting the right people. In the end, I was granted an uncharacterized discharge from the Army Reserves. I was told it was neither good nor bad and that I could re-enlist in the future if desired. I never did. Sometimes when we are in church and "those that have served in the military" are asked to stand up and be honored, I jokingly ask my husband if he thinks I should stand up. In reality, I will never stand up because I did nothing to "serve" my country in the military and I more closely had a failure to report for duty. Though I think I would have made a good soldier, I don't think I was meant to have that as part of my life. I'm thankful for the experience, the laughs, and I have a genuine appreciation for those who do serve in our military.

Why do I share this with you? Well, I often reflect back on that experience. And I think of how I could relate my life as a Christ-follower as a failure to report for duty as well. I have realized that I have reduced being a Christian to gaining a ticket to heaven. I have been satisfied with praying my little salvation prayer and then sucking up all kinds of blessings for myself. I have set standards for being a "mature" Christian that include church attendance, giving financially, serving on Sunday mornings, joining a small group. Really what I have done is neglected my part to serve in the army of God, while reducing the Christian walk to something that is self-serving, boring, and more often than not just fulfilling an obligation or requirement. I have sung all kinds of songs on Sunday mornings about God as Healer, yet never once responded to his call to lay hands on the sick so that they would recover. I have spent a lot of time surrounding myself with other Christians because it is safe and comfortable and hardly any time at all with the lost, even though I claim to follow Jesus who gave his life for lost people. I have judged people whose lives look different than mine, instead of running to them with the good news of the gospel that their lives can be different. I have claimed that I am free in Christ, yet held offense against others who have wronged can a truly free person be offended? I have quoted feel-good scriptures about mercy triumphing over judgement, and yet I get annoyed at the cashier who is taking a ridiculous amount of time to ring up my groceries. I have used the sovereignty of God as an excuse not to engage in the battle against evil and not to live victoriously. Really what I have done is given my heart to God, but not my life.

But I am done with that. It is true that a person's life will reflect what they believe about God. Not just life in the public eye, but life when no one is looking or listening. The fruit will not lie. You can claim to be an apple tree all you want, but if you aren't producing apples you've got an identity problem! I have decided that I'm selling out. I am believing Jesus when he says he only does what the Father tells him to do and that he is a perfect representation of the Father. And so I am laying down my life and I am going to follow Jesus. I'm going to do what he did. I am going to lay hands on the sick and pray so that the love of God will wreck their lives. I am going to come out of my bubble of Christians and get messy loving the lost. I am going to walk in the freedom of knowing who I am, that I am a daughter of the Most High God, and there just isn't anything anyone can do to offend me (if God is for me, who really can be against me?). I am going to show mercy every time I could lay down judgement...instead of a complaint I will offer an encouraging word, instead of ripping off a bad waitress, I'll tip double the bill. I am going to use the finished work of Christ as my victory over evil.

At the end of my life I don't want to be there before my Creator, unable to stand up as a true soldier. I want to be there knowing I did everything I could for the sake of love. No more failing to report. This soldier is going active duty!  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Josh and I moved to Clarion County in July 2007. We had not been married even a year yet. We rented a tiny house on Barber Street and without even knowing it began growing our family. We had no indication when we came that we would spend as many years here as we have. I think likewise we didn't realize the blessings God would have for us here, and probably haven't even recognized them all except maybe from a hindsight perspective. Like looking in a rear view mirror you can see them passing quickly behind you. Jobs, homes, babies, relationships, etc.

As of last week, we have officially sold our home and will be moving on to Pittsburgh. I have many mixed emotions about this, but if there is one thing I can say about our time here, it is that I think we have lived life to its fullest, truly experiencing the best of Clarion County. We have been surrounded, supported and loved by the best people I have ever met. We learned from our church what it means to truly live in community and be family. Cook Forest was like a second home, the ALF 5k was a regular part of our fall activities, Saturday mornings in the summer required a stop at the farmer's market, and a drive to Walmart provided a view of some of the prettiest landscape I have ever seen. I hope I always remember those drives.

We don't know where we are going. It is no small thing to find a rental big enough for a family of 6 and a dog...unless you don't mind paying a fortune or are willing to give up eating or something like that. It is no small thing to find somewhere that has a yard or sidewalks or enough space between homes that you can't reach out your window to touch your neighbor's house. I'm no city girl. I covet those drives with rolling farmland, flocks of sheep, and that cow that always seems to have a bird sitting on its head. Thinking about a 10 minute drive taking 25 minutes because of traffic makes me want to cry a little. And if you turn me around twice I'm likely to get lost, so city driving and me are not really friends. Add to this that we are walking away from a home we love. It is big and beautiful, full of character, and has a pool that is an endless source of summer fun. Owning a home was not in the stars for Josh and me. We know that God provided this place for us and we have appreciated every bit of it. We would often look around and say, "How the heck did we get this place?!" And is time to say goodbye.

Although I don't know where we are going to live, and despite my aversion to city living, I am not discouraged. Not even close. In fact, I'm excited. I once heard, and truly believe, that the will of God is our home. I know that God is calling us to move on. It has been a long time coming. And it has been painful, like slowly ripping off a band aid. I know that taking a step in obedience will open doors for the Spirit to move in our lives. And I know that we could stay here forever, clinging on to all the comfort and sentimentality in the world, and miss what God has in store for us and what He has called us to. I want the adventure. I want to make my home in the will of God. I'm looking forward, expecting God's faithfulness ahead, and praising Him for all those blessings I see in the rear view mirror. Clarion County...thanks for loving us. I am grateful for you and will always hold you dear in my heart. Let the adventure begin!  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

That Girl

I love the month of March. I love spring. I love watching winter come to an end. Seeing birds return. Feeling warmth in the air. I love discovering grass again. Going for walks without having to put on triple layers. Sensing nature waking up. Feels like such a hopeful time of year. I also love March because it represents a birthday of sorts for me. Eleven years ago this month I gave my life to Christ. And a few years after that, also in March, I was baptized. Before I can tell you about my new life, I need to tell you first how I became That Girl.

In the fall after my senior year of high school I received a phone call that would change my life forever. It was a Wednesday morning, my third day of college classes. After my morning class I stopped in the mail room where I got a care package from my boyfriend. Getting any mail in college is exciting. Getting a big box is super exciting! So it was with excitement that I opened it to find a bunch of my favorite snacks, some sentimental items, and a note letting me know I was loved by him. I headed to the computer lab and began to type him a thank you email when my phone rang. That call set off confusion and panic to where I would eventually learn that my boyfriend had shot and killed himself that morning. In just one moment I went from feeling on top of the world, to watching my life come crashing down around me. And instantly before I even knew it, I had become That Girl.

I quit school and went home. Home. Where I was That Girl. That Girl moving through time, but feeling like I wasn't really even there. That Girl that some thought should have known something was wrong. That Girl that some thought was crying too hard, exaggerating my position in or connection to the tragedy. That Girl that still others had an overwhelming sense of pity for. That Girl that people found easier to ignore for fear of not knowing what to say, but undoubtedly would ask those around me, "How is she?" That Girl that lost a sense of the future. That felt alone everywhere. That belonged nowhere. Including home. So in January I went back to school. To my surprise, I was still That Girl.

At school I was That Girl that was new...again. That Girl that missed fall training for track and field. That Girl that many knew something had happened to. That girl that was fragile. That some professors, my coach, my advisor, etc. knew to be sensitive towards. That Girl that still felt alone. Still didn't belong anywhere. Still was moving through time in a state of numbness. That Girl that fell into all kinds of destructive behaviors because the future didn't really matter anymore. That Girl that was afraid to take her life, but no longer desired to live. That Girl that felt guilty for smiling, pathetic for not being able to get myself out of the pit I was drowning in, hopeless that much could ever really change for me. That Girl that became a master at going through the motions, learning how to put all kinds of barriers up so that no one could really get close to me again. And then in a moment that once again would change my life forever, something happened.

It was March, just a year and a half after that Wednesday morning that ended in tragedy. I went with one of my roommates to Upper Room, which was a student led worship service. I was unsuspecting. Once again, I was going through the motions. Singing songs to a God I resented. One of the girls in the student band stopped worship to say that God was putting it on her heart that somebody there needed healing. That they didn't understand how God was going to be able to bring that healing. But that God was telling that person just to trust Him. There isn't really a way for me to describe to you how I knew that I was the one she was talking to. I will just say that when you have a true encounter with God, you know. You know that you know. There is no second guessing or wondering. You just know. And I knew. And I had a vision of light and a hand outstretched toward me. That hand was beckoning me to let go. Let go of everything I was holding onto. My broken heart. My hopelessness. My relationship with my boyfriend. My misunderstanding of who God is. My future. My identity. My life. I knew in that moment I had to choose to let go so that I could walk forward. I had to die to myself so that I could begin to really live. And I did. Some people around me layed hands on me and prayed. I surrendered. And the peace that I heard a lot about from churchy people, became a reality in my life that day. I was different immediately. I was new. No longer That Girl. I was a daughter of the King. I was far from alone. I belonged. I had a destiny. A future. A hope.

The next time I was home on a weekend, I stopped by my boyfriend's grave for the last time. I had to say goodbye. I loved him. Thought my future was going to include him in it. Was broken when I learned that it wouldn't. But I told him my God is bigger and that in order for me to move on, I had to say goodbye.

Sometimes I forget who I am. Even all these years later. Maybe it is brought on by the anniversary of his death. Or a memory is triggered. Or sometimes just simply being in my hometown. Lies start to creep in. I can feel myself falling back into an old identity...That Girl. But then I remember how in John 8:36 I am promised that, "He whom the Son sets free is free indeed." And I remember who I am and Whose I am. I remember that in Romans 8:38 I am promised that "...nothing can separate us from His love. Death Can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away." 

I don't know what your life has brought you. What has made you That Girl or That guy. But I know who you are. Even if you don't know yet. I am praying for you right now. That you too would surrender that old identity that you were never created to put on. And that you would claim your new identity, your position as a daughter/son of the Most High God. "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17    


Monday, March 2, 2015

Vaccines: Our Story

This post is about my family's journey with vaccinations. I would like to say that I have felt compelled to share my experiences and thoughts a number of times, but keep resisting. First, I really don't desire to enter discussions about such polarizing topics. And second, I am not confident I will adequately express myself on the matter. Please know that I am not speaking from a position of judgement, I am simply sharing our story.

In case you don't know, I have three children (ages 4, 2, and 1) and another one on the way. My husband and I have made different decisions for each child when it comes to vaccinations. With our oldest, I was still working full-time, and so we often would go to well baby checkups together. We both were a little concerned over the amount of vaccines our daughter was supposed to receive, and so we decided at that time we would spread them out on a delayed schedule. In the end, she received all recommended vaccines (minus the rotavirus and flu vaccine-no one in our family has ever received a flu vaccine) and is considered now to be fully vaccinated. By the time our second daughter was born, I had quit working full-time and assumed the responsibility of taking the girls to their checkups. In all honesty, I was overwhelmed with being a mom of two, and though I still thought it best to spread out vaccines, the thought of returning to the doctor multiple times to make that a reality seemed like too much. Consequently, our second daughter followed the normal vaccination schedule until she was a year and a half when we decided to stop vaccinating her.

By this time we had experienced what I am confident was three vaccine induced illnesses. The first occurred when our oldest daughter contracted the chicken pox after receiving the varicella vaccine. Our, then, 13-month-old baby woke up in the middle of the night screaming uncontrollably, thrashing, had a high fever, had bumps scattered over her body, etc. We rushed her to the ER where they offered a slew of tests, but determined she had a double ear infection. Within about a week and a half, my husband became ill with the shingles virus as a result of being exposed to our daughter's chicken pox, our second vaccine induced illness. Another trip to the ER and more medical bills piled up. Lastly, our second daughter contracted the measles after receiving the MMR vaccine. At 15-months she got a rash that covered her entire from her scalp to the bottom of her feet and everywhere between. She had a fever, red, watery eyes, was fussy, had a runny nose, etc. It was frustrating to go through those illnesses as a family. But, in the end everyone recovered and medical bills eventually got paid. We could have just gone on not thinking of it again like you might with the common cold or flu. But we actually couldn't just forget about it. Because what was far more disturbing to us than the actual illnesses was the reaction we received from the medical professionals involved. At the ER with our daughter that night, we were asked all kinds of questions about what we had been doing prior to the onset of symptoms. We listed everything we could think of which ranged from going camping to having just received the varicella vaccine. The possibility of her symptoms being related to her vaccine were immediately dismissed and we were told the bumps on her body were likely bug bites from our camping trip. Bug bites? Like 20+ bug bites? Bug bites...even in her diaper area? When we got home we looked up chicken pox signs, symptoms, etc. Red flags began to go off because it seemed so simple and plain that our daughter indeed had chicken pox. Fast forward to the measles. When we called our doctor's office to give them a rundown of our daughter's symptoms, the doctor looked through her chart, made mention that she had just received the MMR vaccine, but upon noticing we didn't get her a flu vaccine, told us it must just be the flu and that it would run its course. We were intrigued that she had even mentioned the MMR (it hadn't occurred to us yet that it could be an outbreak) but she refused to acknowledge at that point that it could be related. We began to learn quickly that there was something unapproachable about questioning vaccines. Again, a quick online search of measles perfectly and simply described what it was we were seeing in our daughter. I think it was probably around then that I stopped just trusting.

When our third daughter was born it is fair to say I was hesitant going forward with vaccines. Something in me told me it wasn't right to just blindly follow the recommended vaccination schedule, but I was unsure of how to become educated to make another decision. I expressed my concerns with my husband. We agreed that if I could put the time into researching and acquiring valid information we could then discuss what we might want to do differently. I didn't know where to begin and by the time her first well baby checkup came, I wasn't prepared. I spent a few hours the night before scouring the internet and decided that I should go ahead and get her the DTaP (for the pertussis because it seemed scary) and Hib (because of links to meningitis that also sounded scary to me). Since then, and for the past year I have taken things much more seriously. I started by contacting a natureopathic doctor and asking for resources on vaccinations. From there I have spent countless hours listening to lectures given by medical doctors, reading books that are hundreds of pages long, reading online articles, and putting together over 18 pages of notes. I've specifically studied the who, what, when, where and why behind vaccine development. I've studied each individual vaccine and the viruses they are created for...the risks and benefits of both. I've studied the ingredients, the manufacturing process, the side effects, the difference between vaccination and immunization, and so on. All information has been retrieved from medical professionals, medical/scientific journals, and statistical information gathered from entities such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Department of Health (DOP), World Health Organization (WHO), etc.

Having said all of that, what position have I taken on vaccines? Personally, with what I have learned along the way, I simply could not, as a mother who loves and desires to protect her children, continue to vaccinate at this point. I cannot ignore the facts that I have learned. I am completely aware how even stating this might bring judgement, condemnation, ridicule, etc. And I am okay with that. Because at the end of the day, I am the one who is responsible for making decisions that are in the best interest of my children. I feel confident that I have made an informed decision. And I am completely dedicated to continuing to study, learn, read, watch, etc. and to go forward with an open mind. 

I want to end by encouraging others who might be on a similar journey. I want you to know that you are not an idiot simply because you choose to question, or possibly to take a different position than the majority. I want to encourage you that there is solid, reliable, trustworthy, scientific, medical information out there available to you. If you are in need of some direction, some resources, please feel free to contact me. While I don't feel it is my duty to lay out the facts of the argument for anyone other than my own family, I am happy to point you in the right direction so you can begin to gather your own facts. So, be encouraged. While we can always choose to vaccinate later, we can not ever un-vaccinate. For that reason, I think the journey is worth pursuing.   


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

God Made Girls

RaeLynn "God Made Girls"

Somebody's gotta wear a pretty skirt,
Somebody's gotta be the one to flirt,
Somebody's gotta wanna hold his hand so God Made Girls

Somebody's gotta make him get dressed up,
Give him a reason to wash that truck,
Somebody's gotta teach him how to dance,
So God made girls.

He needed something soft and loud and sweet and proud
But tough enough to break a heart
Something beautiful, unbreakable, that lights up in the dark

So God made girls, God made girls
He stood back and told the boys, "I'm 'bout to rock your world."
And God made girls (for singing in your front seat)
God made girls (for dancin' to their own beat)
He stood back and told the boys, "I'm 'bout to rock your world."
And God made girls.

Somebody's gotta be the one to cry
Somebody's gotta let him drive
Give him a reason to hold that door so God made girls

Somebody's gotta put up a fight,
Make him wait on a Saturday night
To walk downstairs and blow his mind,
So God made girls.

Something that can wake him up and call his bluff and drag his butt to church
Something that is hard to handle
Somethin' fragile to hold him when he hurts

So God made girls, God made girls
He stood back and told the boys, "I'm 'bout to rock your world."
And God made girls (for singin' in your front seat)
God made girls (for dancin' to their own beat)
He stood back and told the boys, "I'm 'bout to rock your world."
And God made girls

Somebody's gotta wear a pretty skirt,
Somebody's gotta be the one to flirt,
Somebody's gotta wanna hold his hand

So God made girls, God made girls
He stood back and told the boys, "I'm 'bout to rock your world."
And God made girls (for singin' in your front seat)
God made girls (for dancin' to their own beat)
He stood back and told the boys, "I'm 'bout to rock your world."
And God made girls

Somebody's gotta wear a pretty skirt,
Somebody's gotta be the one to flirt (and God made girls, yeah)
Somebody's gotta wanna hold his hand

So God made girls 

There are a lot of girls in our home. There's a lot of pink. A lot of emotions. A lot of crying. A lot of loud singing. A lot of dresses and baby dolls and Frozen gear. Even our dog is a girl! When the girls are out and about (with or without my husband) people like to say, "Dad's outnumbered!" Indeed he is. But he also loves it. My husband has a heart for women. He treasures his position in our family and the opportunity he has to make us all feel edified and valued, like the princesses God made us to be. Upon learning that we are expecting again, people automatically assume that Dad must want a boy. Actually, if you ask him, he would tell you he'd love to maintain his house full of princesses. 

Girls are all we have known. While each of our daughters possess their own unique personality, as the mother of all daughters I understand their general makeup. I understand their parts, their hearts, their emotions, etc. I know when they push me away the most, what they really are asking is for me to hold them close. I know when they need me to buckle down and be a disciplinarian and when they need to just have a breakdown for a moment instead. I know they need to run around and be really loud sometimes. I know it's normal for them to change their clothes three times a day (It's no small task for a girl to get the right outfit!). I know they literally may not be able to stop talking (ever). I know they genuinely care about how their hair looks at the age of 2 and that simply being allowed to wear chapstick makes them feel beautiful. I know their inner desire to be seen, to be affirmed, to know that they are enough. When people have asked me what gender I'd like the new baby to be, I say, "Well, girls are all I know. I don't know what I'd do with a boy!" 

This morning at our 20-week ultrasound we were able to learn the gender of the newest addition to our family. We asked the nurse to write it down and put it in an envelope, and then we opened it together with the girls once we got home. I was overcome with joyful tears when we learned the news.

I still don't know what I'll do with a boy. But I know I'll learn. I'll learn his parts, his heart, and all the other things that make him a prince at the core of his very makeup. I couldn't be more excited. We have a son!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Don't Let That Steal Your Joy

We have some cousins on my husband's side of the family that have a small herd of children. Every time I'm around them I find myself admiring them more and more. For lots of different how they grow a lot of their own food, their philosophy behind their decision to homeschool, their grace and patience amidst the chaos of raising five young children, etc. But one interaction with them many years ago made an impact on me and continues to move me to this day.

We were eating pizza together at our house. Our oldest daughter was just a baby at the time. I'm not sure we had many toys that appealed to their older kiddos. So, they were drawing pictures. Their son, just a toddler, went up to their older daughter and scribbled on her picture. She was crushed. She had been taking her time creating her work of art, and now there was unwanted color spilled carelessly on her picture. She went to her mom in tears. I watched with curiosity to see how the mom would react. I was surprised. I guess I expected the toddler to be addressed. Not necessarily reprimanded, he was just a toddler after all. But at least told what he did wrong or something. Instead, the mom looked at her disappointed daughter and very calmly told her, "Don't let that steal your joy." Sometimes in life you have an experience that you are able to glean something significant from. This was such an experience for me. I tucked that little piece of wisdom away in my heart and trusted it would be used someday.

Fast forward to now when my husband and I have our own small herd of children. I have found myself many, many times encouraging my daughters not to let a particular offense steal their joy. It is a regular occurrence around here that someone's picture gets scribbled on or someone's feelings get hurt (even my 2-year-old verbalizes that her "feewings" are hurt or when so-and-so is "being not weawy vewy nice" to her!). Living life with others is tough! And it's messy. And frustrating. And sometimes just plain irritating. Do I correct the child that is in the wrong? Oftentimes, yes. But whether I do or whether I don't, I try to make it a habit to look at my child who has experienced a hurt and calmly say, "Don't let that steal your joy."

Recently the atmosphere of our home has been stressful. I blame it on a lot of being cooped up during the winter season, our children seem to be going through difficult stages simultaneously, I happen to have raging pregnancy hormones, etc. I have been venting to my husband about my struggle to deal with all of the crying, and arguing, and bad attitudes, and general discontent I see occurring with our children. I usually feel strong and able to extend a good amount of patience and grace. But, I'm not going to lie, I have been at my wits end. And so I got on my knees today and I asked God to show me how to love my children in the way that they need it. To my surprise, God did not respond by telling me to spend more individual time with my kids. He didn't respond by telling me to prioritize my day better by not worrying about getting things done and just playing with the kids instead. He didn't tell me I need more "me" time or anything like that. You know what he did tell me? "Don't let that steal your joy."

Maybe you are asking, "Don't let what steal your joy?" Let me give you a few examples. It is all the little things. It's not being able to put laundry away without stopping to solve several conflicts. Or realizing my one-year-old got 367 other items out while I was putting that laundry away that I now have to clean up. But not before my older daughter goes running down the hallway and steps on an open bottle of aloe causing it to shoot 3 feet across the carpet and up the wall. Oh, let me just use these cloths I was going to put away to clean that up. Meanwhile, maybe there is a potty accident (again). And then maybe the baby poops for the 3rd time that morning and I have to hold her down while she attempts an alligator death roll to escape a diaper change. On top of that my husband and I haven't been on a date in an eternity and instead of using the couple hours we see each other in an evening to connect and enjoy one another, tired from our day we unfortunately often just scribble on each others' works of art, if you know what I mean.  

The fact is, life doesn't change all that much as an adult. It's still hard to do life with others. It's still messy and frustrating and irritating. People still hurt one another, even when they love each other. I'll never be able to really truly protect my children from what they will experience from others in life. And, for that matter, I can't fully protect myself either. So I'm left with the thought instead, that we simply cannot let our joy be so easily taken. Our joy has to come from somewhere inside us that cannot be moved by what occurs around us. In John 10:10 Jesus plainly states that it is the enemy that comes to STEAL, and kill, and destroy our lives. But it is He who comes to give us life, and not just any old life but life to the absolute fullest. Beyond what we can imagine. More than what we can ask for. Above what we can hope for. This is good news! Knowing this truth I can see how the enemy is up against me in all the little things that come with being a stay-at-home mom. I realized that I cannot expect something from my children that I am not practicing myself. I reclaimed my joy today. And it was a good day.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Motherhood: A Calling

I always knew I wanted to be a mom someday. In fact, I would say when I was younger that I wanted a pile of kids. Like 6 or 7. Then I had one.

My first pregnancy was one of the most exciting times of my life. It seemed like every week was filled with an amazing discovery. Learning the baby had a heartbeat around 5 weeks. Hearing that heartbeat myself a short time later. Watching my body change. Feeling the movement of life inside me. Preparing our tiny home for our new family member. I remember washing the first load of baby clothes so everything would be ready. They were so small and cute. It was like playing with dolls when I was little, only better because it was real! Then she was born.

My first labor and delivery was definitely the most difficult. Mostly because I didn't know what I was doing, despite all my research and attempts at being prepared. And also because I had nothing to compare it to. I often find in life it is easier to persevere through something difficult when you have been through that difficult thing (or at least something similar to it) before. No life experience I had compared to that one! So, I had such a limited view of what was going to be required of me. Could I continue? I didn't long did anyone think I may have to continue for? I remember a nurse saying she thought it wouldn't be long. Even if it was a lie, or a guess, it made me feel better. After 9 hours of labor it was over. Never, ever in the history of Heidi has there been the feeling of relief as strong as in that moment. I loved her right away. Actually, I would say I loved her already. But that experience was such a physical one, that honestly, left me a little traumatized. I remember thinking, I think I want more kids, but I don't know how they're going to get here. After delivery I sort of had this feeling of accomplishment. Like I did what I came to do and was ready to go home. Then I remembered the baby was coming home with me. Oh, yeah. The delivery part was just the beginning.

Once home, the realization that I, actually we (my husband and I), had no idea what we were doing hit hard again. I laid the baby down in her crib and walked away satisfied that I could do something else. A couple of minutes later the baby started crying and that was the first dilemma. What do we do? Do we pick her up? Let her cry? Feed her? Change her? Where the heck are the nurses?! What followed were days and nights and weeks of sleeplessness, so much crying, a lot more pain than I ever expected in the healing process and in the world of breastfeeding (I thought that was supposed to be natural?), frustration, and the feeling of helplessness. I was overwhelmed with the weight of being responsible for another human being. Every noise or movement from her caused a lightening bolt to shoot through my body as all senses were alerted. Like an alarm announcing that I was needed, or maybe just that I might be needed. I was overwhelmed mostly with the feeling that I loved this baby girl, but I didn't want to do this anymore. Can I just put my doll away now and play something else?

Like many things in life, it got better with time. We learned how to swaddle her, nurse her properly, and all the little things that she specifically required (like eating and sleeping upright). We also learned she had colic. And so we could accept that challenge instead of seeing ourselves as failing. We learned to live with a lot of crying. Learned to survive on very little sleep. And eventually we crawled our way out of what I call the dark abyss of Newbornland. And it wasn't long before that little girl had us falling in love with every single thing she did. Much like the pregnancy, there were a million new discoveries, each one of them amazing. Our family adapted and changed and after a while we felt we were ready for number two.

My second pregnancy wasn't anywhere near as fun or exciting as my first. I discovered that carrying an extra 20-30lbs while caring for a toddler was a pretty rigorous job. All those new discoveries were replaced with exhaustion and fatigue. I still treasured that little life inside me. Thriving on the movement I'd feel to remind me she was there. Unlike my first, the pregnancy seemed to fly by. And on exactly the day she was due she was born 3 hours from the start of labor. I pushed one time and she came out. The nurse said, "Holy fast and furious!" I loved her already too, and this time had an appreciation for all that I knew we would experience together. I felt much more confident nursing this time and I was sure we wouldn't have 2 babies with colic. Our second daughter indeed did not have colic. But what I didn't know at the time was that she had one fierce little personality! And what I also didn't know was that every time you add a new member to your family, you upset the groove. This became abundantly clear the minute we arrived home from the hospital. It felt more like stepping into another world. As we opened the door to our house our newborn was screaming and so was our toddler. Our newborn had needs she was demanding be met immediately and so did our toddler. What's more, it was a quick realization that it would be impossible to meet all or any of those needs when expected. And also, I felt pulled between whose need I wanted to meet first. How could I let my toddler suffer without me when all she had known was having me available to her? I can still see myself in those early days, running down our hallway with what my husband likes to call 'a baby on the boob' trying to get my potty training 2-year-old on the toilet in time. What often resulted was just a mess I couldn't even clean up until the baby was done nursing. We just learned to live with a lot more crying (including my own crying!) and stress and take one day at a time. Once again we slid into the dark abyss of Newbornland. The land where you still haven't brushed your teeth at 3PM because you simply couldn't make the time. The land where there is no sleep. There is no such thing as no one needing you. And where friends and family come to visit (and even bring you food and nice things) but no one stays for long. 'Cause they know. I loved the new baby. But I was also mourning the loss of our little family of three. The ending of an era, is what my husband called it. He was right. But, again, with time came good things. The girls fell in love with one another. And our family learned a new groove.

That new groove didn't last long! Just 7+ months later we would learn number 3 was on the way. The pregnancy was a little more exhausting because I now had 2 toddlers to take care of. But I tried to appreciate it and I was in no hurry to get back to Newbornland. My labor was completely different. I labored at home waiting for my contractions to become "regular". In a moment of weakness I almost punched my 1-year-old when she tried to feed me a piece of apple skin she had spit out while I was doubled over with a strong contraction. Once I recognized the signs of being almost there (which would be tears) I told my husband I think we better go to the hospital. From the moment I walked into the hospital it was only 20 minutes before we would welcome our third daughter into the world. It was probably the most empowered I have ever felt, bringing a life into the world with no intervention. She was perfect in every way and this time I was thankful we got to take her home with us. I don't know if Newbornland was less difficult this time around, or if it just got overshadowed by larger life stresses (like the fact that we had a baby, bought a house, and started a new long-distance job all at the same time). Either way, I felt more seasoned this time around and it became clear that nothing would really phase me. I spent those next months literally changing one diaper after another, not sleeping more than 2 consecutive hours for the better part of a year, and accepting the fact that life now was largely about trying to control utter chaos.

People like to tell me all the time how I have my hands full. I haven't quite figured out their motivation. Do they think that's helpful? Are they just trying to make a connection with someone? I don't know. I appreciate the people that follow that up with asking if I need a hand. Even if I don't need a hand. What does need really mean anymore anyway? Many people are kind to mommies who have their hands full. Minus the time that I almost punched the lady at Walmart that caught me in a bad moment, I try to respond, "My hands are full, but my heart is too." And that's pretty much the whole of it. Having kids is insane. The other morning I started my day with my 4-year-old letting me know she had wet the bed (AGAIN). As I helped her take her jammies off, eyes still barely open, she sneezed in my face twice. Now that I think about it, maybe it was a good thing my eyes were barely open. I wipe a lot of poopy bottoms, clean up a lot of crumbs off the floor, spend a lot of time cutting food up into small, chewable pieces. I have no "me" time. Even when I am showering, I am fighting my 1-year-old off trying to keep the curtain closed as she repeatedly opens it to play peek-a-boo. I am most often covered in someone else's bodily fluids. It's not exactly a glamorous life. But it is my life. And man, these girls really do fill my heart. The reward that you get from putting so much into a person is simply incomprehensible. There isn't a way to measure the joy of hearing them make up their own songs, learn something new, laugh uncontrollably, or pronounce things all wrong. I think I'll probably shed some tears the day that napkin is no longer pronounced pakin in our house.

I'll be honest and tell you there are days, or moments, when I stare off the back porch and think about the freedom I once had to do...well, anything. And there are times that I still feel nostalgic for the days when it seemed so much easier with one. There are moments in my day when my 1-year-old has been following me around for an hour, crying as I make dinner, grabbing at my leg with tiny nails that should have been cut 3 days ago, and I have that same overwhelming feeling I did at the beginning of all this...I love her, but I don't want to do this anymore. But I can also honestly tell you that I know there is nothing else in this whole world I would rather spend my life doing. I don't just feel like I have kids and am waiting for them to grow up and sort of get out of the way so I can get my life back. I feel compelled to spend my life loving and caring for them. Whether that means putting a band aid on a boo boo that doesn't really exist, getting out of bed at 2AM to fix a blanket that there seemed to be nothing wrong with in the first place, or playing dinosaurs or lions or any other number of pretend games for the umpteenth time...this is my calling. To raise these babies in truth and in love and to send them off to change the world. A holy calling indeed. An often overwhelming responsibility, but a blessed one.

With that, I am happy to announce that we are expecting our fourth baby in July 2015. I already have fears about how I will manage another little one. How will I give any more of myself? But I know that God is the creator of life, and he creates with purpose. And so it is with purpose that I will carry this baby. And with purpose that I will love and care for her (or him!).