Remain

pink rose with words

I’m going to make a confession.  I despise working in the yard.  Gardening, planting, grass, dirt.  All of it.  Can.not.stand.it.at.all.  I know some people love it.  For some, it’s therapeutic and relaxing.  For me it is the worst kind of torture possible.  I’d rather do ANY household job than that one.  Seriously.

So, today, I read John 15 as part of my daily devotions.  Great, vines in a garden.  Not an image I like to deal with.  BUT, as I read, I realize it could be titled “How to achieve Intimacy with God”.  I have read the passage many times before, but this time, I kept my One Word in mind: Intimacy.  Read with me.

John 15:1-17 (NIV)

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

So much in this short passage.  I’m no Bible teacher or theologian, but I’d like to share how this passage relates to intimacy with God for me.

We’ll start with the obvious.  I might not know much about gardening, but I know that when a branch is cut away from the plant, it can’t live for long.  Even when in water and given sunlight.  Why?  It has no roots.  There is nothing to pull the nutrients into the plant to keep it living.  So, it dies.  But, not immediately.  The cut rose still looks beautiful and its petals stay soft for a day or two.  You can’t even tell it’s been cut.  But, slowly, over a few days, it begins to lose its softness and color.  It begins to dry out.  After a few more days, its dead.  Dry, brittle, and its color has faded and turned gray.

So it is with us spiritually.  For a short while, maybe, you can’t tell we aren’t connected in an intimate way with God.  It was true with me.  I could still love and even minister to others.  For a while.  But then, the rough edges of my flesh began to show up.  I wasn’t as patient, or loving, or happy.  I certainly couldn’t minister to someone else.  And soon, there was nothing left.  I was dry, miserable, and empty spiritually.  It didn’t happen overnight.  It happened over time.  When I was walking in intimacy with Christ, His Word was alive and spoke to me.  The few times I tried to read scriptures when I was disconnected, it was dry, boring and felt distant.  What changed?  Not His Word!  Me!

This is why daily time in God’s Word is so critical.  Sunday morning church services are wonderful and God doesn’t want us to forsake that corporate worship time.  But it alone is NOT enough to sustain us spiritually.  Can you feed your body one meal a week?  Your pets?  Obviously not.  Then your spirit needs daily nourishment too.  Our spiritual nourishment comes from reading God’s Word AND spending time with Him.  Sometimes it’s easy to read a few scriptures and check it off my to-do list.  But, intimacy doesn’t come that way.

Verse 5 above says “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” REMAIN.  Not flit in and out.  Remain.  Set up camp.  Maintain open lines of communication at all times.  I have spent times in my life where I remained, and then other times when I’ve flitted in and out.  Let me tell you something.  There is a BIG difference in terms of how my life operated.  When I am remaining, I have more peace, more joy, and see more opportunities to minister.  When I am flitting in and out, I am unsettled, prone to frustration and even anger, and I miss opportunities to minister because my focus is on myself.

This affects me, but also those around me.  It is much harder to maintain a deep relationship with my husband, my son, my friends and family when I do not remain in an intimate relationship with Jesus.  Everything in my life flows out of me remaining in Christ.

So, no gardening on my to-do list today.  Sorry.  I’m sure my yard would appreciate some attention, but it’s not going to happen.  Scripture reading isn’t even on my to-do list.  Nope.  What I do have in my daily plans is TIME with Jesus.  In fact, I’m going to do that right now.

Blessings in Christ.

Pink roses Image courtesy of samuiblue / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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One Word

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I know, it’s weeks past the new year.

Although we celebrated the new year with a very fun kid’s party, I mostly ignore the new year.  I pretty much always have.  I’m not one for resolutions.  They always seem to me to be a list of things I’m going to fail at.  I’m optimistic like that.

But, this year, God began to speak to me about a focus for the year.  What one thing or verse or word or thought could I spend the entire year focused on?  Where do I even begin?

First, I knew I wanted something that was NOT.ABOUT.ME! My sinful flesh always wants to make everything about me.  And, I’m all for taking care of myself and having time that’s just for me, but all of life IS NOT about me.  I also wanted something that would apply to several areas of my life.  I wanted something I could apply to my walk with Christ, my marriage, parenting 3, my friendships, etc.

Then, when looking for a new devotional for 2014, I discovered Revealing Jesus by Darlene Zschech (can be found here).  Each day has a scripture and a short reading.  But these readings are profound and speak to me every day.  You can also find a 15 day sample plan on the You Version Bible app, if you would like to start there.

Through this devotional and my prayer time, God began to speak to me one word.  That word is intimacy.

I want an intimacy with God that I have not been walking in the past few years.  I will make no excuses.  I got lazy.  There.  I said it.  I still served God, prayed, and attended church but didn’t actively pursue a relationship with God.  I just didn’t make it a priority.

This year, it is my singular focus.  I will be intentional about building an intimate relationship with Jesus.  This requires time and a plan.  I will be sharing what my plan is in future posts.  I will also be sharing about how to increase and add depth to my relationships using this one word as well.

Have you used one word or thought as a focus for the year?  If you have one for this year, what is it?

What do we do with Santa??

santa with text used 12.2.13

I grew up believing in Santa, but my husband did not.  He was always told that the Santa that flew on a sleigh pulled by magical reindeer was not real.  And that his dad was Santa.  I, however, believed in Santa until I started Kindergarten, where I learned the truth.  I don’t remember being upset about learning the truth.  I actually don’t remember believing at all, but I know that I did.

Most kids believe in Santa until they start school, much like me.  But, with 3, we have always said, “Santa is a game we play at Christmas.”  This was enough to appease him.  He is a very literal kid.  In fact, when he was 4 years old, people at stores, doctor’s offices, and even church would ask if Santa was coming to his house.  He always said, “Um, no!”  People never knew what to say to that, so I just said, “We don’t really do Santa at our house.”  They then looked at me like I had 2 heads, but accepted that explanation.

This year, he has been a part of a Friday morning only Kindergarten class for homeschoolers.  One of his friends, a pretty girl :-), told him Santa is real and brings good kids presents.  He told me he believes her, instead of me.  I know he knows the truth, but WANTS to believe.  So, how do we handle this?

The most important thing to us is that 3 knows and understands the REAL meaning of Christmas.  I want his focus (and ours) to stay on Christ during this time.  Not gifts, or stuff, or Santa, or anything else.  I also want him to be a kid and enjoy the fun parts of Christmas.  We think Santa can be a part of the fun stuff, and Christ remain the focus.  I just didn’t know HOW to go about it.  Until I read this wonderful blog post.  Go ahead and hop over and read it.  I will wait!!

Yes, this is the perfect answer.  We will tell him that Santa is not real, but that it is fun to PRETEND that he is.  We can do all the fun things, but know the truth.  And keep our focus on the truth.

I wanted some tools to help me keep our focus as a family on Christ and, at the same time, added some fun!!  Is that too much to ask?  I love the fun the Elf of the Shelf adds to the season, but it puts the focus back on Santa, not Christ.  So, I searched to see if there were any Christian alternatives.  What I found is The Christmas Angel.

This year, they have a girl angel and a boy angel.  We bought the boy angel and 3 named him “Wings.”  He appeared this morning with his book, a letter and a mission for today.  Here is a picture of what we found this morning!

day one Christmas angel

The letter reads:

Hello!

I am the Christmas Angel.  I will be visiting your family this Christmas.  Each morning, you will have to find me and see what fun activities I have planned for you and your family!!

Today, I need you to give me a name!  Please read the book all about me.

Then, read the book Too Many Toys by David Shannon with your mom.  Then, use this bag to collect some toys to give to some kiddos that don’t have many toys for Christmas.  Jesus will be so pleased with your giving!

See you tomorrow!!

I checked out the book mentioned from the library in advance.  Tonight, we will choose toys to donate and tomorrow we will donate them.  This is the first of many giving activities we will be doing leading up to Christmas.

The other tool I found is The Truth in the Tinsel (this is my affiliate link).  Starting tomorrow, our angel will deliver the supplies and instructions from this wonderful advent program.  There are scriptures to read, an ornament to make and ideas to discuss.  The ebook is only $7.99 and is used year after year!  It’s a wonderful deal and the perfect way to keep our eyes on Christ.

This is how we have decided to handle the “Santa issue” at our house.  What do you do with Santa?

Image courtesy of [stockimages] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Accidential Homeschooler

Children Playing

I am supposed to be the “Intentional Mommy” but I came to be a homeschooler quite by accident.

In my “pre-mommy” days, I was a teacher.  In a classroom.  At a school.  I grew up in public schools, attended a state university and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education.  Not exactly the expected path for a homeschooling mom, though much more common these days.

When we adopted 3, we began to talk about how we would handle his education.  We knew we wanted me to stay home, especially while he was young and at least until our youngest child was in school full time.  Since we have planned (and still plan) to adopt again, I didn’t know how long that would be.  Because of my teaching experience in a Christian school, and my research on the trends of public schools, we agreed the IDEAL education would be in a Christian school from preschool through graduation, then Christian based college.  However, that was a very difficult financial proposition.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average private school tuition is $6600 per year.  It is less for elementary and more for secondary.  In our area, I have researched how much a year of Kindergarten would be in a private Christian school.  I found several ranging from $3000 to over $10,000 per year.  For kindergarten!!  As a one income family, this was not a viable option!

When we began to hear about the newest public school initiative (Common Core Standards – to learn more read this and anything from this site), we knew public school wasn’t for us.  (I am not saying it’s not for EVERYONE, just not for us!)

So, no public school, can’t afford Christian school…. that leaves homeschooling.  But, I was one who always said I would NEVER homeschool!  I always admired those who did and would fight for their right to do so, but it.is.not.for.me.

So, we did the easy thing and didn’t make a decision! 3 ended up making the decision for us!  When he was 2, he wanted to learn things.  He would ask question after question after question.  What letter is that?  What color is that? and on and on.  Things most 3 or 4 year olds start asking, he was asking as a 2 year old.  So I began to play educational games and use coloring pages, walks in the neighborhood, and so on to teach him things.  I am a teacher, after all, so it was all very natural and organic.  No curriculum, no plans, just day in and day out learning.

By the time he was 3, he started asking to learn how to read.  I know how to teach children to read and had lots of experience with it in my 1st grade classroom, but those students were 6-7 years old and the curriculum was handed to me.  He was only THREE for crying out loud!  Then, we got a diagnosis that changed everything.

Our son was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder.  I will write more about this in a later post, but as a child that seeks as much physical input as possible, we knew we could not enroll him in a preschool.  He jumped up and down all.the.time.  He would play cars on the floor and every 30 seconds or so he would stand up, jump up and down repeatedly, then sit back down and play.  Then, 30 seconds later, repeat this again and again.  He also had NO sense of personal space.  So he would hug or kiss other children, whether they wanted him to or not, or hit (but not in anger) or push (while playing) or talk to them with his nose 3 centimeters from theirs.  Knowing the way schools work, he would be labeled and seen as THAT child.  You know the one. The one who runs around like a crazy child while everyone else is sitting down and coloring.  The one who sits on top of another child in the reading corner instead of next to them.  The one who always makes noise no.matter.what because he truly couldn’t help it.  This would not be a good situation.

No, no preschool for my boy.  So I began to read and research and, well, overthink everything.  I didn’t even notice all that he’d learned from such a laid back, easy approach when he was 2.  Nope.  I NEEDED a lesson plan and a curriculum and goals.  Or, at least I thought did.  Then I found Raising Rockstars Preschool by http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com.  It was set up in a structured, weekly plan with everything I needed to feel prepared, but was very age appropriate and FUN.  I used her workbox type system and it worked perfectly for us.  Best of all, it is FREE!  I taught, he learned, and it was a perfect fit.

The I-can-never-homeschool feeling I’d always had was gone.  I WAS homeschooling, though unofficially.  I began to pray and talk to my husband and we agreed that THIS was the ideal situation.  Homeschooling. And I LOVE it.  So does 3. It’s a perfect fit for our family.  Even if you never thought you would or could homeschool, I challenge you to think about all the homework you’ve assisted with, things you’ve taught your toddler and realize that you are already, at least partially, homeschooling. No, it isn’t for every family.  But, you might be like me, and not realize that it really is.

Let God Lead

Let God lead.

Sounds so simple.  Three little  words. So easy to type. So very difficult to walk out.

In Christian homeschooling circles, letting God decide the size of your family is a hot topic.  It’s debated from both sides about how to afford lots of children and care for them as individuals.  But I look it from the other side.  What if God leads your family to be small?  Or grow it in an unconventional way, like ours, via adoption?

During our years of infertility, I searched the scriptures for verses to stand on. And cling to. And cry over.  I would go through phases where I would literally post them around our home.  On the bathroom mirror, beside the bed, in my car.  Everywhere!  Some verses speak specifically to children from the “womb.”  One example is Psalm 127:3. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,  The fruit of the womb is a reward.” (NKJV)  Do I understand why I wasn’t granted this reward from my own womb?  No.  I doubt I will this side of Heaven.

Other verses don’t address the womb directly.  Another verse I stood on was Psalm 113:9. “He maketh the barren woman to keep house, And to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye Jehovah.” (ASV)  I would pray these verses every.single.day.  When I would discover that I was not pregnant, yet again, I would cry over these verses.  “But, God…. I don’t understand…. Your Word says….”  Then I would pray, “God, I trust You.  I trust Your timing.  Your ways are not my ways.  I trust You.”  Then I would start this same cycle of prayer again.  Over and over and over.

Sometimes, depending on my stage of grief, I would question more, or be angry, or cry for days.  Or, I would be able to accept and move forward on my better months.  But it was never easy.  So, over time, I began to wane in my diligence of praying these verses.  I would still pray for a baby.  Still hope.  Still trust.  But, I stopped the monthly prayer cycle.  Not intentionally, it just sort of happened over time.

Then, one week before my surgery in church, God reminded me of these verses, specifically Psalm 113:9.  It was during Praise and Worship time and it was as if He whispered the verse in my heart.  I remembered it, pondered it, thinking it was strange it would come to me at that time, with nothing to prompt it.  But it wouldn’t leave my spirit.

So, I sat down and looked up the verse right then.  It was as if I’d never read it before.  I jumped as if jolted by an electrical shock, it was that shocking to me.  I had always read the verse and ASSUMED it meant “joyful mother of [biological] children.”  I didn’t even realize that I read it with this assumption.  But I did.  I was SHOCKED that this wasn’t what the verse actually said!  I know that probably sounds ridiculous.  But I had prayed this verse for years.  I was CERTAIN I knew what it said.  But, I was WRONG.  It doesn’t say that.  It doesn’t imply that.  Not at all.  This rocked me to my core.

Here I was, struggling so greatly over this surgery, facing the end of such a very long battle that was physical, emotional and spiritual in nature, and I didn’t even know the verse I’d used for years to stand on.  The one I’d read literally hundreds of times, and I didn’t know it at all.   But, God, by His wonderful and merciful grace, didn’t leave me there.  Then He said, “Have surgery, THEN, I can make you the JOYFUL mother of CHILDREN.”  Wow.  What an amazing God I serve.

Sometimes the things of God do not make sense to our human minds.  In my case, I had to have a hysterectomy to have more children.  I can STILL stand on this same promise I stood on for years.  God never changes.  His word never changes.  He can and will make MANY and MOST the joyful mother of biological children, but not all!

3 is a reward to me and his dad and to T, his birthmother, and family.  He is not from my womb, but he is most definitely a reward to our family.  God blessed our family when T chose us to adopt him.

Over these last few weeks since my surgery, I have been pondering all of these things.  I know one thing, God is still in control.

So, yes. I can let God lead.  I can let His timing be in control. And, even when it doesn’t make sense to me, I CAN be a joyful mother of children, even after a hysterectomy.

 

Image courtesy of [arztsamui] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Final Stage of Grief – Acceptace

What does Acceptance look like? It doesn’t look like the pain never happened. It certainly doesn’t pretend it never did.

Maybe you have noticed all of the music I have posted lately. Music ministers to me in a very direct and special way. It always has. God has spoken to me through music and song many times. So, it’s no surprise that I am going to use not one, but two songs as examples of what acceptance looks like to me.

Both songs are actually by the same group; MercyMe. I’ve seen them in concert several times and highly recommend them and their music. The opening of their song Bring The Rain:

I can count a million times
People asking me how I
Can praise You with all that I’ve gone through
The question just amazes me
Can circumstances possibly
Change who I forever am in You
Maybe since my life was changed
Long before these rainy days
It’s never really ever crossed my mind
To turn my back on you, oh Lord
My only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times
So I pray

Although I doubt my number is anywhere near a million, I have been asked this question numerous times. And, as I mentioned in a previous post, circumstances do not change who we are in Christ. And, they do NOT have to determine our walk with Him.

So, I think when you boil down all of the questions, all of the grief down to one thought, I am left with one word: why? Why me? Why THIS? Why NEVER? Why NOT? Why???? And, guess what? I don’t have the answer! This side of heaven I will most likely not have the answer. BUT, the difference now is, that IT IS OK.

I still have the questions. I still do not have the answers. But I am ok with that. I can live with that. My surgery is tomorrow. I am having a total hysterectomy. I will never experience pregnancy and labor and delivery. I will never breast feed. I will never have a biological bond with a child. Never. And that is ok. It is. It is hard and sad, but it is ok.

In fact, I know that I will go through the stages of grief again after my surgery. Maybe more than once. Maybe more deeply than ever. Maybe not. But, I will survive and I will thrive and I will be a good wife and a good mother and servant of God. Not only that, but BECAUSE I am having this surgery, I can be a mother AGAIN. We want to adopt again, however the Lord leads.

I leave you with the lyrics and video to The Hurt and The Healer by MercyMe. It describes much more eloquently exactly how I feel right now.

Be blessed in Christ!

The Hurt and The Healer by MercyMe

Why?
The question that is never far away
The healing doesn’t come from the explained
Jesus please don’t let this go in vain
You’re all I have
All that remains

So here I am
What’s left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ve fallen into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

Breathe
Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through

So here I am
What’s left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ve fallen into your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

It’s the moment when humanity
Is overcome by majesty
When grace is ushered in for good
And all the scars are understood
When mercy takes its rightful place
And all these questions fade away
When out of the weakness we must bow
And hear You say “It’s over now”

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ve fallen into your arms open wide
When The hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here
When the hurt and the healer collide [x2]

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here.

Stages 5 & 6 – Reorganization

These stages are sometimes called “The Upward Turn” or “Working Through.”  I started to crawl slowly into this phase, and then jumped in with both feet when we received one phone call on an April morning in 2008.

I had resolved to take much of my infertility walk in stride, which is clearly easier said than done.  We didn’t know what was going to happen. But we were going to move forward together.  Come what may. My joy had returned for the most part, as had my perspective.  My walk with Christ began to deepen and I began to focus on Him.

Yes, it still hurt when I saw pregnant women. Especially, young, unmarried girls who had not planned for this. But, I chose to trust God. I began to focus on what was right.

We had a great marriage.  Perfect? Um, no. But, very strong.  We’d been through so much together. So very much. We began to look into and pray about adoption.  My research habits kicked in again and I learned about The Dave Thomas Foundation http://www.davethomasfoundation.org/.  I learned that there are approximately 100,000 children in the US alone legally available for adoption.

We attended a meeting for our county’s Department of Family Services to learn about adopting.  We hoped to adopt a child or a sibling group from the foster care system. Less than 2 weeks after attending this meeting we got a call that changed our lives forever.

We got a call from a dear friend about a woman at our church, T, whom we knew was expecting. T knew we desperately wanted children, but didn’t have any yet. She also knew she could not parent at this time in her life.  The whole story is a post for another time, but in six short weeks from this phone call, we were holding our son in our arms.

Many people (including me) would think this would be the END of our grief.  We had a son.  We were parents! But, it actually started a whole new cycle of grief I was completely unprepared for. But God is gracious and although I had to go through the stages all over again, they were shorter, though more complicated in their layers.

I think that’s what is somewhat unique with infertility grief.  It’s never really fully resolved. Another blog I found called “Childless Me” described it this way, “Infertility grief is one of the rarer and more complicated griefs, in that it features both of these sub-types: ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief. Ambiguous grief is the kind that doesn’t want to resolve. I suppose in a way no grief totally resolves, as if the loss never happened, there is healing and there’s a scar. If you think hard about the loss of a loved one even over a decade ago you might start sobbing like it was yesterday. That’s my experience anyway. But that grief process itself is done, I am not breaking down into tears whenever reminded of her. The loss of my grandmother (in 2001) is not effecting my ability to live and thrive. Even the loss of my other grandmother in recent months has markedly healed by each week’s end. It’s like these losses have their defined place inside and timing, but infertility doesn’t have these.” http://childless.me/2013/05/infertility-grief-ambiguous-loss-disenfranchised-grief/

The song below really shows my walk through these stages.  Read the lyrics as you listen.  I pray it ministers to you as it has me.