Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Am All Messed Up

Most days I feel like I am raising snot-nosed piglets in a double wide of a pig-pen. And I, the sagged out sow sitting in a farrowing crate. I cried the other night while I swept the kitchen floor for what felt like the 15th time that day, only to spin around and face a mountain of dishes I swore I just conquered. But lo, that was the lunch dishes and now and I was facing the dinner dishes, while the piglets oinked all about.

I was running down the evening check list, "Have you finished your homework? Taken a shower? Brushed your teeth? Did you go potty?  AR completed? And  hey, let's all help pick up the living room!" To which a piggy replied, "but I didn't make the mess in the living room!" I froze. Held my breath, hoping I could hold it long enough to pass out and escape the animal farm for just a split second. I failed, my lung capacity weakened from the 160 weeks of child wearing and bearing, I continued breathing, and said in a very controlled, yet escalating mother voice from the pit, "do. you. want. to. know. (each word punctuated with a dramatic pause) how many messes I clean up everyday that I did not make?!!" My child heard it in my voice, the "don't mess with Mama" moment fell upon her. She filled her arms with toys from the living room and exited stage right.

Oh the messes parents bend their knees to every day, that they did not make; using your thumb nail to scrap the bowl with caked on oatmeal, crawling behind the toilet to lap up the urine of the potty training toddler, changing those darn crib sheets in the middle of the night because baby had a blow out, spending hours spraying, rinsing, and double checking the laundry so that every carrot stain, spaghetti stain, berry stain, and grass stain is removed. Stepping in grape jelly with bare feet, or the darn lego piece that pierced the arch of your foot. Breathing on DVDs in order to help remove all the gummy fingerprints along it's edges. Dry heaving as you wear a face mask and clean out the mini van after someone puked on a road trip-----in a five point harnessed car seat, OF COURSE! Or when you find the soured milk sippy cup in a toy box you forgot existed (for the record, pitch the cup and spare yourself the horror!) Night after night hanging up someone's bath towel that inevitably gets your socks wet, re-straightening the shower curtain, capping the tooth paste, wiping down the sink, and finally turning off the bathroom light. The washing, the folding, the redoing, the picking up, the sorting, the signing, the reviewing, the checking, the cleaning, the making, the cooking, the putting away, the taking out... Lord, have mercy..... it never ends.

The business of cleaning up someone else's messes is a hard, gruesome, humiliating, lonely, gut wrenching, soul searching, every day draining, business.

For ME, He who knew NO messiness became the very definition of messy, so that IN HIM I might have no record of being a mess (Isaiah 53:9, NISV~ The New International Sara Version)

Reality. Check.

Oh the mess He cleaned up on my behalf! A mess He did not make. A mess that was mine, and mine only to own. 

Oh the mess He continues to clean up on my behalf. This messed up follower, He calls daughter.

Those who have no messes are not in need of someone to clean up their messes, but those who are MESSED UP do! I did not come for the those who are without messes, but I came for snot-nosed piglets who are in the pig-pen. (Mark 2:17, NISV)

This is the climax of the gospel, our "terrible awful" has been exposed. Our helpless state of sickness acknowledged, known, and reoccurring. He sees our self induced messes in their entirety, and yet He says, "I'm coming for you. I will run after you and pursue you until you are only mine. I'm will not be detoured, derailed, or denied. My child, you are the apple of My eye! You are the mess I am making new. You are the mess I am refining. You are the mess I cannot do without!"

We are all a mess.

When our hearts truly begin to understand that our messes are the mortar in the brick laying of God's glory, it is only then that we have the ability to enter into other people's brokenness and humbly and graciously say, "I did not make this mess, but I am here to sojourn with you, because I am a mess too. I am here to walk with you and point you to the One whose full time business it is to clean up messes He did not make, because He has cleaned up my mess!"

This is Church, this is the precious Body of the Lamb, this is sweet fellowship people cannot help but be drawn too.

For it was the joy of obeying His Father and captivating our souls, that He endured the past, present, and future Messes (with a capital M) despising the shame. And now, today, He sits at the right hand of the Father. He sits, because "it is finished!" He sits, because the messes for all eternity have already been redeemed. (Hebrews 12:2, NISV)

This was the ultimate act of a parent bending His knee for His children. For YOU. For the broken, for the really, really, messed up!!

Be encouraged my fellow piglets!


Friday, February 21, 2014

The Pain of Captivity

For eight months, Lucy has been terrified of storms. It all started this past summer when she happened to be outside after a huge storm passed, and a lingering bolt of lightening struck very close to her. It rattled her to the core. There have been moments when the fear has paralyzed her. Literally, her tiny little body shaking and immovable because of fear. One day she ran home from school because it was over cast. Multiple times she sat in the van sobbing, refusing to come out because she heard the weather man forecast the potential for rain. She has obsessively checked the weather every day on my phone to see if there was a chance of storms. It's been an incredibly tiring few months.

However, it was not that many years ago that I walked though my own paralyzing valley of fear. Alternating my schedule and my routine because I was in bondage. I was no longer able to function in a healthy and sane manner.  Many days, I felt like I was chained to my fear, it followed me wherever I went, I couldn't shake it, I couldn't overcome it, I couldn't get passed it. Oh, I tried. I tried every possible method I knew to climb that mountain. But it wasn't until I was able to confess with my mouth that my fear was rooted in unbelief, that my fear was a repeating and revealing statement of what my heart truly believed, "I do not trust God! I do not believe who He says He is."

It wasn't that my fear was insignificant, my fear was valid. The circumstance that caused me fear repeatedly happened, and there is still potential for it to happen again. My heart was unable to soothe my anxiety by saying, "this will never happen again" but rather I wrestled with the stark reality that it would happen again.

For so much of my time in the valley, I repeatedly begged the Lord to just remove my fear. I wanted Him to wave His magical wand and make it end.  But God, in His sweet mercy refused to be my genie in a bottle, He is far too in love with me to not go after my heart. He was not going to waste my pain nor my fear. He was going to use my fear as a means to unearth my unbelief, walk me through the storm, change me, redeem me, restore me, and SET ME FREE! Had He answered my plea to magically make my pain disappear, I would still be without the tools or the knowledge to break free from the bondage of my fear, and all other bondage in my life. Through my fear, the Lord taught me how to break free.

Consequently, I take very seriously the struggle against fear. No fear is too benign to not address, especially, in the young heart of a child. As adults, we have a tendency to belittle and ignore the fears and concerns of our children. The problem with this is those little hearts are never trained along the way to deal properly with the small battles that plagued them. Therefore, as they mature into adults, simultaneously their fears, concerns, anxieties and struggles also mature into a life of captivity.

When Lucy began to struggle and shut down because of her fear, there was a sense of urgency to use this opportunity in her six year old heart to equip her to fight against bondage. The physical thunderstorms would definitely return, and if her daddy and I did not take seriously the red flags of her pain, the spiritual thunderstorm of captivity would ALSO return.

As gently as we possibly could, (and trust me sometimes we weren't so gentle) we attempted to combat the lie of fear with truth. We used our own personal experiences to walk with Lu, we did not leave her alone to figure it out.

First, we validated her fear. That lightening bolt WAS scary, and without a doubt it was ok for her to feel that way, but it was not ok for her to let that fear make decisions for her. Her fear began to boss her around. THAT was the real problem. Lucy wasn't the problem, the bossy, flossy fear was the problem.

Second, we gave her time. More often than not, if she didn't want to be outside because of the weather we never forced her. Some exceptions came up along the way, where she HAD to stay outside (i.e. a football game, walking into Walmart while gray clouds hungover, and going to school and not running away because she was fearful).

Third, we prayed and fed her truth, and the truth of God's promises as much as we could. We never promised her that she wouldn't be in another storm. We never promised her that a lightening bolt wouldn't strike next to her again, but we DID give her the tools, the words, the prayers, the foundation to deal with it IF it happened again. This is hard as parents, because it's easier to say things like, "oh, we'll never be in a tornado, Mama and Daddy will never die young, you won't ever be hurt, etc.." But in my experience, this is extremely harmful to the heart of a child. And it is not the truth. None of us know for sure what will and will not happen, so it's unfair to teach our children to function in a fantasy world.

Just this week, after eight long months, Lucy told Mark and I, "Mom, Dad, I think I have conquered my fear! I wasn't scared at all today when there were clouds outside, I just told my brain that God was in control and He was going to be with me, even if there was a storm!"

Y'all, I am just weeping on her behalf. As a former captive to such poisoning fear, I rejoice that my little Lu, through Christ alone, was able to use the tools from my own valley to climb out of hers.

Please hear your kids.
Please do not ignore their pain and fear.
Please get down and dirty with them in their valley, and equip them to face their bossy, flossy fears, or any other chains that bind them.
By far, it is my life's greatest work to equip these four immeasurably precious hearts to face down their giants and share in the victory of sweet, sweet, freedom!

Praying for the hearts of all my readers who lay in bondage today.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Dear Cupid

I know everybody is a little bit hungover on the Valentine's Day love fest, but I didn't get to do my show and tell. So move over blogger, it's my turn.

Recently, the girls have been incredibly curious about "romantic"  stories between Mark and I. I use the word loosely because our girls are 10, 8, and 6 and still are trying to identify true romance. I guess we are not satisfying their appetites for "romance" when we lounge around; me with my glasses and mouth piece, and Mark in his hot tamale boxers and mouth piece. I guess we aren't exactly oozing anti-premarital sex tension, at 8pm on a Friday night any more. Hence, the need for some stories of more "romantic" times.

The other day I realized I had never told the girls about our first Valentine's Day as a couple. To use an overused, annoying word from today's dictionary, it was EPIC! Valentine's Day was on a Friday (just like this past Valentine's Day) I was a senior in highschool, and Mark was in training at United Airlines. The night before Valentine's Day, Mark had told me that his first training flight for United was going to be a round trip flight to Kansas City from Chicago. Literally, just that. Take off from Chicago, touch down in Kansas City, re-board, and head back out on a different flight back to Chicago. Unfortunately there was no down time for me to see him, and even if there were I would be in school. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't get to see Mark on our first Valentine's Day. I really was ok with it, I would see him the following weekend, and at this point in our relationship I knew we were going to spend the rest of our Valentine's Days together, and that was enough for me.

Friday morning, (Valentine's Day) a group of my friends would always meet with our favorite bible teacher at the local bagel shop for breakfast and fellowship before school. When I arrived and told them about Mark flying into KC and the slim chances of me seeing him. They resisted my fake 'non-disappointment' and INSISTED I leave immediately, drive the 30 minutes to the airport, if only to get a glance of him and give him my gift. I will tell you, the charge was primarily lead by our fearless leader who immediately excused my tardiness and absence from school. They wouldn't let me say no, they didn't accept my excuses and forced me out the door in a hurry and told me this would make the greatest story one day!

Little did they know what was coming...

I arrived close to 7am. I wasn't exactly sure which flight Mark was on, I knew he was to land sometime in the morning. This was before the days where everyone had a phone and could text, call, and search the web for flight times, etc.. So I drove to the airport not knowing if his flight had already landed and my trip would be in vain. I got to the airport, parked the car, and sprinted for the United terminal. I glanced all over for the information board to only find out there were a million flights coming in from Chicago, like two an hour. Thankfully, none had landed yet, and they all happened be arriving at the same gate. Process of elimination; I knew he was coming and I knew where he would land, I just wasn't exactly sure when.

This was pre 9-11, so I could sit in the airport just outside of the gate and wait until my love arrived. I positioned myself against a wall where when the staff opened the door I could see all the way down the breezeway. Kansas City airport is so fantastic because of all the windows. You can see the planes coming and going, and so I waited.

The 8am flight landed, I stood up and eagerly watched each passenger de-board. I was grinning from ear to ear. I knew the flight crew de-boarded at the end, so I waited. Finally,  I saw the crew deboard, but no Mark. My heart sank. Maybe his scheduled training flight was delayed or postponed, but there would be no way for me to know.

I sat back down on the cold concrete and waited for the 845 flight. With great anticipation, I watched the next of hundred people de-board and my heart sank, no Mark.

I knew I couldn't sit at the airport ALL day. I had school to attend and a basketball game to play in. I told myself I'd wait only for one more the flight, the 930 flight, and if he wasn't on that plane, it would make a great sad story to tell.

The plane landed, I stood up, my back sore from two and a half hours of sitting on hard floors and leaning against concrete. I refused to let my heart get excited, I'd been disappointed twice before. "Hello, hundred random people I'm NOT looking for. Everyone dressed to the nines because you are in first class. Second class. More my people. I could be friends with all you normal people. And yep here comes the crew... And yes, yes, YES! That's him! That's my man. But wait, why are they running full speed down the breezeway, and down the terminal, and straight at me?! Oh my gosh, is he just that excited to see me? Holy cow! I hope some film crews are filming this!  This is like Valentine's Day on crack! Oh my word! He's here! He's here! And I get to deliver my valentine TO MY Valentine!

Mark was running straight toward me and I was like any 18 year old girl in love, I was illuminating.

"He's getting closer, getting closer. Calmly walk towards him Sara, open your arms, flash that brilliant smile, waiting waiting,"

Mark ran straight at me, then passed me, and down the United terminal for another gate. I am pretty sure I thought it was joke.

"I swore he just made eye contact with me. But yet, he's running AWAY from me."

And like any desperate person in love, I started sprinting after him screaming his name, "MARK! MARK! MARK!" Nothing. Full speed ahead for my aloof Romeo.

Finally, my mad sprinting skills caught up to him, I grabbed his back and spun him around!


Mark dropped his entire training manual and everything else he was rolling and holding and said,
(This might have been the first time I had ever heard Mark cuss.)

Looking back, out of all the curse words I could have chosen for him to say, this one fits the absolute best into our relationship story.

He hugged me, he kissed me, I shoved my gift in his arms and he said frantically, "I have to go right now, we're late!"

We kissed again. He told me he loved me, and off he went sprinting passed me.......again.

I stood just there, watching him run down the concourse collecting for my heart all the precious things I felt for him in that moment.

And I just thought that was the best part of the story.

As Mark boarded the plane, an older gentleman stopped him and said, "Was that your wife you just saw in the airport?" Mark replied, "No Sir, that was my girlfriend." And while I do not remember the exact words the man said to him, the general idea was... "Well, let me just tell you son, I sat and watched her all morning, as she sat, watched and waited for you. That's the most romantic thing I've seen in a long. Better than any movie. She's a keeper!"

The girls were puddy in my hands when I finished our "romantic" tale. They squealed and clapped like any naive, innocent, unbroken, hearts would do. And I was grinning brilliantly as I recalled what I felt for him in that moment. But the best part of retelling our romance was the way I felt right then passing down to my babies a story that has lived on between their father and I. A romantic story that didn't end just because things became less movie like and more real life like. A story that, through Christ's grace alone, still lives on. A story, with much brokenness and difficulty written on the pages, fully hopes and fully relies on a greater Love to sustain our feeble ways. A story, that I beg before the throne room, my children will be able to tell their children in regards to their OWN marriage story.

So while the waiting, sprinting and anticipation was dramatic and romantically thrilling for our listeners; I in my glasses and mouth piece, will take my hot tamaled boxered-mouth pieced man, any day of the week!

Take that Cupid!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Once Upon One Time

I am a fan of meaty questions. For 31 years, I studied the ways of my mom and her meaty questions. Mom was not a "beat around the bush-er" she asked questions that mattered. Growing up, I remember some of her questions to me and to others making me highly uncomfortable, but I quickly learned the value of a well placed question as I watched walls fall and vulnerability increase, all because of a question.

One of my favorite mom questions, and one of my most meaningful moments with her, occurred early one morning (no surprise it was 'early one morning'). It was January of 2001. I was nineteen and sound a sleep at 5am on a Saturday morning like any sane teenager would be. She tiptoed into my room, slipped under the covers with me, brushed my the hair away from my eyes and whispered through a glowing grin and tears falling down her cheeks, "Why do you think Mark is taking your Dad to breakfast all alone, early on this Saturday morning?" We both knew why. We both cried with tears of joy.

A good question reveals that you care. A thoughtful question reveals just that, thoughtfulness. A well placed question communicates intentionality.

When our babies go on from the sweet communion of our home, I want them to look back over their growing up years and recall, somehow through the fog of our mistakes, that we were intentional parents.

I blink back tears as I think about sending our oldest to junior high in 18 short months. Like, WOW! How did we get here? I blink back tears as I think about my littlest man turning five next month. My littlest... turning FIVE?!! Every recognizable sign of pregnancy (besides my war wounds of stretch marks that I hold with great pride and honor) infancy, toodlerhood and the preschool years, coming to a close. Their rooms and lives reflect the crossing over:

less pink more red
less dolls more earrings
training pants to training bras
Books "1,2,3," exchanged for Magic Tree
Pacifiers for metal wires
Sesame for Duck Dynasty

And the catch? No one asked me. No one asked me if they could grow up! No one asked me if I was ready. Apparently, I'm a little resistant :)

Recently, I've tried to be tuned in to intentional questions. And I have been SO blessed by the insight I have gained simply by the asking an intentional question.

Me: Julia, tell me the high point of your day and the low point of your day!
Julia: Hmmm. The new seating arrangement at school is awesome, and my tummy hurt after PE.

Me: Katie, what are you afraid of most today?
Katie: Not understanding the difference between a object pronoun and a subject pronoun.
I literally jumped on her and made her laugh so hard she peed her pants after she gave me this answer.

Me: Anderson, who makes you feel special?
Anderson: Angelie!

Me: Lucy, what were your highs and lows today?
Lucy: High? (she spells) M-Y-T-E-A-C-H-E-R-S
         Low? (she spells) C-O-L-D

And this morning, out of the blue, I got this text from my husband
"What's the most romantic thing I've ever done for you?"

Really, probably, sending me that text :)

That text communicated to me that he wanted to deepen our marriage by asking ME, and only ME, an intentional question. I swooned.

Here are a few other intentional questions I've been using.
Where is your heart this week?
If the people you are doing life this week could use one word to describe you, what would it be?
Use one word to describe the people you are doing life with this week?
What do you want?
What does that stir up inside of you?
How did you experience that interaction?
How did you blow it in the little moments this week?
How did you own it in the little moments this week?

We are a people constantly trying to make meaning out of our circumstances, our relationships, our every day encounters. We desire at our core 'to mean'. Sometimes we quickly forget that the people we are doing life with are searching for the same thing; my husband, my kids, my parents, my siblings, my friends are all searching for moments of meaning. And a meaty question is just the gateway to begin to explore meaningful moments.

We only get to do this life journey, one time.
We only get to do this day, one time.
We only get to love this man or this woman, one time.
We only get to raise these kids, one time.
We only get to love our Mamas, one time.
We only get to exchange these words, one time.
We only get to enjoy these friendships, one time.

Once upon one time, we get to make meaningful moments!
Once upon one time.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sorcery or Sovereignty

There is always a moment when I can sense it coming on. It is like the spot light is switched on and VOILA; clarity. Most of the time I can see it in their eyes. For most of them, they say what they feel and they cannot hide it from us. The mask of the "everything is fine camp" has not been put on, and their meltdowns speak loud and clear, especially, when we are in tune with them. Our children, in their core, desperately want someone to be in charge. Our children, in their core, desperately want to know someone else is orchestrating all the fine details together. The majority of the time, Mark and I are consistently inconsistent parents, but these meltdowns even reset our "consistent parenting" button and we regroup.

*Ready, break*

I've been ruminating, researching, regurgitating, the sovereignty of God for some time now. Most recently, I've been walking through the sovereignty of God in regards to my sin and my sorrow. Not.Easy. Way easier to study a God who, as I have always believed, was just sovereign over all the "good" things. But the not so good things? OUCH!

Extravagant Grace. READ IT!
I've only plugged this book like 5 others times, but if you are still resistant to read it, STOP IT! I have already screwed up explaining this book and what it's really about SEVERAL times. I'm pretty sure my sweet in-laws think I've derailed in my faith, based on the poor explanation I gave them.

Our paraphrased conversation.
ME: "We are never going to get better. We are just screwed up sinners, sinning to sin. The Holy Spirit is a failure and we are doomed to keep sinning!"

Mark, out of the corner of my eye, shaking his head in desperation.
*false advertising at its' finest, Matt!*

My ever so gentle and patient father in law,
"Sara, I am afraid I am just not following you!"

Regardless of the horrible job I have done explaining this RICH, RICH, RICH, book PLEASE READ IT!

A penny for your thoughts?

We are prone to cherry pick all the characteristics about our God that suits us best and cling to them.

Loving; everybody wants a loving God.
Forgiving, we are all royally screwed up and need forgiveness.
Faithful; everything we are not.
True; polar opposite of our deceitful hearts.
Adoring; what we all long for.

Just to name a few.

But the rubber has met the road in my own walk as I work through His sovereignty over my sin and sorrow.

I do not want to get on a plane where the pilot is just a little bit in control of the plane. Or is only in control of the parts of the aircraft I have relinquished to his command.
I do not want to drive behind a steering wheel that only controls part of the car, under the banner of satisfying my control issues, puffing up my spiritual accomplishments, and claiming "free will".
I do not want to serve a God who is just a little bit sovereign.
I do not want to serve a God who is looking through a magic eight ball of uncertainty, and holds His breath as we humans screw up His plans for us, which causes Him to have go plan B, C, and D of our lives, and "make lemonade out of our lemons!"
Really! Who wants to serve such an out of touch weakling?
God is either 100% sovereign, or not sovereign at all.

Are you kicking and screaming yet?
Are you drafting your comments for the comment box?
Are you googling verses to prove me wrong?

Before you do any of the above, please let these thoughts marinate in the private chambers of your soul.

If He is in fact sovereign, then He makes a deliberate choice to allow sin and sorrow into my life. He does not tempt me to sin, but allows it, just like He did in Job's case. It is in His very DNA to only move me forward toward His likeness, therefore using sin and sorrow as He sees fit to refine and reform me. He refuses to let me continue in the status quo and believe the lie that I am spiritually adequate. Because of His LOVE, He gently and graciously wants me to know apart from Him I can do NOTHING! NOTHING! Even conqueror sin and walk through sorrow. And so sometimes sin and sorrow remain. Remember, His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts.  He is a jealous God who will not share His glory with my human attempts to master the impossible, or heal my own brokenness. And so sometimes I struggle, in order that more and more of me is put to death, so that Christ might live. THAT is the Christian life, less of ME....MORE of HIM.

Remember all those cherry picked characteristics we cling to? We have to continue to cling to them as we merge these two concepts. Oh I can testify, that in His sovereignty to let us struggle against sin and walk through sorrow, it only amplifies His love, forgiveness, faithfulness, truth, and adoration. Far more then you will ever experience on the road of, "God is just sovereign over the good stuff."

I can see it people's eyes. I can see it in my reflection. It is like a spot light has been switched on in my life and VOILA, I can see clearly. The mask of the "everything is fine camp" has been pulled from my cold, dead, hands and thrown to the ground. I am, at my core, desperate for someone to be in control. I am, at my core, longing for someone to be orchestrating on my behalf, with MY growth and goodness in mind, all the details. I serve a God who is consistently consistent, He can be nothing else. He is sovereign over ALL the things taking place; joy, sorrow, sanctification, sin struggle, laughter, tears, health, sickness, wealth, want, prosperity, and yes, life and even death!

I mean, that makes me want to fall on my face and worship!

Humbled, oh so humbled, that He would pursue me so faithfully, so purely, that He would use sin struggle and sorrow to bring me to Himself.

Who does that?

THAT is the God I serve and adore!