Monthly Archives: December 2013
There comes a time when truth hits the road. How do you love like Jesus every day after Christmas?
Fill yourself with joy – for someone else.
Recognize the miracle each human being is.
Offer a helping hand.
Be happy for others.
Capture the moment.
Be there, no matter what.
Know that a miracle is always possible.
Stand in for the Heavenly Father.
Quietly rest your hand on another’s shoulder in time of need.
Believe He makes all things new.
Love like a grandma, even when you’re not the grandma.
Reserve all judgement. You might find yourself in someone else’s shoes someday.
Remember, we’re all really the same.
Give thoughtfully, generously, creatively.
Think of others who love from a distance.
See through the eyes of a child.
Forget what’s already happened. Smile, for today’s a new day.
Love, even if nobody notices.
Then rest in peace, knowing they’re in their Father’s hands.
On Saturday afternoon, I found my 8-year-old playing with my iPhone. I got a little irritated when I discovered she was fooling around with the alarms. She’d set one to ON, so I turned it OFF. I scrolled through the alarms and when I thought they were all turned off, I took the phone and put it back in my purse.
I woke up at 3:15 a.m. Sunday morning to the alarm going off on my phone.
I literally jumped out of bed. My heart was beating fast and hard. I couldn’t tell where the ring was coming from, so I stumbled in a racing sort of way around the room searching for the phone.
You see, in that moment waking from deep sleep, I didn’t remember my daughter had been fooling around with the alarms. I thought the phone was ringing, and I thought it was my sister calling to say she was in labor.
I finally found my phone and realized it wasn’t my sister calling, but one of those pesty alarms that got by me somehow.
And then I got to thinking, perhaps it was God that woke me this night.
In the middle of the night, woken by an alarm, the one thing that sat in my subconscious sleep-state was my sister. Her life has been the backdrop, the dramatic and always unfolding sub-plot to my life for the past 9 1/2 years. She’s pregnant with her second, due to deliver in five days. And I can’t help but think the story’s still being written.
In the pitch black room, in the dark of the night, in my barely awake state, my heart still racing, the reason I’d been woken was as clear as day.
It’s time to write, Amy. It’s time to write.
I’ve been thinking about those words I wrote about my sister’s journey in 2004-2010. 201 pages, single spaced. 94,271 words. 402,099 characters. And that’s not all. There’s more content in a separate document, more content I’ve published on this blog, a whole host of things that have gone undocumented since I last wrote in October 2010.
Looking back, it seems miraculous I was able to write all that. Surely a coping mechanism, surely the best way for me to process the traumatic events, surely therapeutic. Surely and only written by the grace of God.
I always knew those words were book worthy. But the “book” didn’t have an ending. And to be honest, the thought of reliving those events and getting them in any sort of manuscript form has been overwhelming on all fronts.
But God says….
It’s time to write. The story is still being written.
So I need to write. This week, whether I have time or not, whether it’s convenient or not, I need to open up the document and begin again, on page 202.
Because things have happened, because things are going to happen, because the end of the story has yet to be written.
The scary, the ugly, the completely unknown, the beautiful parts in-between are still unfolding. I’ve recently realized – what if this chapter is the turning point? Do I really want to miss His hand? Would I really want to let the details be forgotten, go untold? My answer has been a reluctant no – the writing of the story is a double living it out. It’s lived in real life, and then it’s lived again on the screen. Sometimes that’s painful and not so pretty. And let’s be real – it’s also a lot of work – and might ultimately serve no purpose except my own release.
But He woke me to say…
It’s time to write. The story is still being written.
Sometimes beautiful, definitely mysterious, and at times utterly confusing, this is just a tidbit of the chapter immediately prior to second baby’s arrival.
I sat at the table in TGI Friday’s, waiting. Tiffany and Stewart were about to arrive. We’d watched my niece, Raegan, for the past day so she’d have experienced sleeping away from her mom when the baby arrives. I looked out the window and there they were. I’d never met Stewart before. They just started dating and I knew very little about this man that came into the life of my 7 1/2-months-pregnant sister. But in an instant, my heart knew everything it needed to know when I looked out the window and caught a glimpse of him opening the door for her.
As the night progressed, my instincts told me – this man is good at his core. He has the potential to be an incredible Godly husband someday. And I felt a possible laying of God’s hands all over this set of circumstances. Because it was SO untimely, SO unlikely, SO seemingly impossible on all levels.
You see, Stewart has a significant history of his own.* His story, much like my sister’s. Stewart has overcome. He’s found healing, grace and forgiveness, yet still finds himself “failing forward” in battle with the enemy. But in my heart of hearts, I’m choosing to believe Stewart is fundamentally a good man who CAN overcome once and for all through the power and strength of Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
I’m choosing to let God lead. Because He’s writing the story. He’s writing every word.
Stewart brought a smile to my sister’s face that I don’t remember seeing since 1998.
And He smiled. Well done, good and faithful servant.
Stewart got my sister laughing in a way I hadn’t heard for years. I didn’t even remember she could laugh like that until I heard it.
And He laughed. Well done, good and faithful servant.
There’s no making up smiles, and there’s no making up laughter either. It’s genuine, or it’s not. When you’ve come from the depths of hell on earth, you recognize real joy when you see it, real joy when you hear it.
There’s no guarantee for any of us except the promise of heaven. It’s the living between now and then that’s packed-full of possibility.
Stewart’s come on the scene at the most unlikely of times. It doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to believe there could be anything good to come of this relationship. And truth be told, pain has already popped its ugly head.
But I’m believing that there’s something to this, there’s a reason and purpose for these developments. Because anyone who’s able to make my sister smile in a way I haven’t seen in years, and laugh in a way I didn’t even remember was possible – has done something very special in my book. They’ve given me a glimpse of hope.
Even if for one day. One day of hoping, one day of believing, one day of seeing the possible.
For ALL things are possible – in Him.
So I believe.
I believe God is working in my sister.
And I believe God’s working in Stewart as well.
As far as human hearts can tell, their lives lie in the unknown. But a God who’s bigger, greater, stronger – a God who sent his Son to save us from ourselves – is in control.
My planful, controlled, always analyzing spirit wants to know why. Why complicate an already complicated situation, God? Why bring them together when they clearly need to focus on themselves right now, God? Why not later, God, when they’re both healed and whole and wholly yours?
And He says in the quiet…
Don’t ask. You don’t need to know now. The story will unfold. It will take its course. I AM working. Lean not on your own understanding, but Mine. Keep your visions, your dreams, your hopes alive. Tuck them away for safe keeping. And trust in Me.
But in the meantime…
It’s time to write. The story is still being written.
*Stewart granted me permission to share his story in hopes that it will help even one, but for the protection of my sister and because I’d like to leave room for Stewart to share his testimony on this blog someday, I choose to keep the details private for now.
If you’d like to read more about my sister’s story, click here.
In the quiet of a Saturday morning, before the rest of the family was downstairs, I opened my email. Compassion International was at the top of the inbox. The message had just arrived. I might as well have struck gold. They were looking for volunteers to help obtain child sponsorships at the Michael W. Smith and Third Day concert in St. Paul the following Saturday – six to work the table and 30 to work the concert aisles.
In the quiet, I sent an email to my son’s basketball coach. Within the hour, I received notice that his tournament was miraculously moved from Saturday to Sunday, which freed me to attend as long as I had my husband’s blessing.
In the quiet, my husband said yes.
In the quiet, as concert goers arrived, volunteers took sponsorship packets out of boxes and placed them neatly on a table.
In the quiet, four of us stood next to the Compassion International banner, listening to comedian and Compassion child advocate share about his trips to visit his sponsored children in El Salvador and Africa. During his trip to El Salvador, he asked his sponsored child’s mother what her hopes and dreams were for her child. She didn’t have any hopes and dreams for her child other than having food to eat every day.
In the quiet, Zac, a young boy, 14, maybe 16, approached the table. His eyes were sparkling, his smile contagious. He held a sponsorship packet in his hand and wanted to know how he should proceed. Mom stood close behind, her eyes welling with tears. He came back later and handed me a completed sponsorship packet, his smile, big as ever.
In the quiet, a woman asked if we had a child whose birthdate was March 15th. I grabbed a stack of sponsorship packets and started down the pile. March 15th was 5th from the top. Of 365 possible dates, March 15th was 5th.
In the quiet, an older couple shared their sponsorship of 12 children. They’ve visited many of their sponsored children and refer to them as sons and daughters.
In the quiet, a gentleman approached the end of the table and handed me three completed sponsorship packets.
In the quiet, I couldn’t help but notice Blair. He spent an unusual amount of time looking through packets, and missed the first 15 minutes of Michael W. Smith’s performance because he was determined to find children from Ecuador. After a long search, he found two. He apologized out loud for not being able to sponsor additional children as he placed their packets back on the table.
In the quiet, a pregnant woman and her husband searched diligently for a child the same age as their own. They were inquisitive and had never done this sponsorship thing before, but they were excited, all in, together. When they found that special someone, mama-to-be glowed like she’d just birthed her own.
In the quiet, as he scanned the table of sponsorship packets, I uttered “let me know if there’s anything special you’re looking for.” He looked again, with astonishment and humility, at all of the children. “How incredible it is that every single one of these children are in need,” he noted.
And it was true.
In the quiet, after everyone returned to the concert, I stacked the childrens’ photographs in neat little piles. And as I did that, I couldn’t help but realize these were real live human beings, real children, God-breathed individuals with hearts and souls, a million times more precious than a photograph and sponsorship packet could ever convey.
In the quiet, I slipped open the black curtains and walked through to the concert.
In the quiet of a blue light, Michael W. Smith told the simplest and most beautiful story of Jesus’ life I’d ever heard.
In the quiet, as people exited in hoards and some trickled in to sponsor, I witnessed volunteers search through hundreds of sponsorship packets in search of one special child. One with the name of Jessica, one from Ecuador, one from El Salvador, one from the Philippines, one with a birth date of April 19th, one teenager.
In the quiet, I imagined. What if there weren’t sponsorship packets neatly organized and stacked all over this table, but instead real live children in the thousands. Wouldn’t we sponsor them then? Wouldn’t we find them endearing, in need, heart-warming, breathtaking, undeniably beautiful and more than worthy of $38 a month?
In the quiet, hours later in the dark of the middle of the night, I woke at 3:03 a.m. after dreaming about Compassion. It was my own whispering out loud that woke me from a deep sleep – “These people are interested.”
In the quiet, I realized – maybe it never was about the hundreds or thousands or even the ten thousands of children living in extreme poverty – maybe it’s always been about one. One child in need. One beautiful heart who’s waiting. One child, chosen.
It was a productive day, but truth be told, it was too much.
I sent the baby to daycare so I could get work done for the private practice. Work was piling up – reports, insurance billing, patient billing, finances, a license to renew, paper and envelopes to buy, and data forms to print. I got a lot done while she was away, and my work plate feels a lot lighter than it did this morning.
But tonight was a little frantic.
The kids were loud. 11-year-old was hyper, baby was whiny, and 8-year-old kept singing a song over and over and over again until it became annoying to not only me, but everyone in the household.
I barely whipped together a dinner of grilled cheese and tomato soup. Kids were asking for seconds of milk and sandwiches before I even got baby served. And baby ripped her sandwich into pieces, stacking them on top of the tipped over bowl of tomato soup, then put her sippy cup on top and started laughing. There wasn’t a moment, nor enough for me to eat, so I ate later in peace.
Daddy came home. He gave me the look, not once, but twice. This house was loud, and the kids were jazzed. It’s been negative degrees for days, and there’s no getting out. We’re all a little stir crazy to say the least.
I accidentally left a bag of stocking stuffers on the counter, and of course, the kids found it. I quizzed them about what they saw an hour later, and between the two of them, they saw everything except one item. So tonight, after delivering the 8-year-old to gymnastics, I drove to Target, returned everything and started all over again.
I thought the boys planned to bake the Christmas cookies while we were gone at gymnastics, but came home to discover they’d worked out and lounged instead. Let’s just say my grace was lacking when it was 8:20 p.m. on a school night and dad was just starting to bake cookies with the two oldest. I made it clear – “go ahead, but I’ve got to get moving along with all the other stuff I have to get done tonight.”
I got some laundry in the basket and started a load for the girls – they’re both almost out. Picked up clothes strewn on the floor from this morning, semi-nagged my husband to sign up to work concessions at the basketball tournament this weekend, prepared files for tomorrow’s day full of patients, canceled the babysitter for Thursday and found a neighbor to watch instead, responded to my mom’s voice message via text, cleaned the disgusting toilet because the nanny will be here early in the morning, addressed the overdue thank you notes from my son’s birthday party October 19th, and took a shower. All in 40 minutes.
After a cookie or two, the kids were in bed by 9:00. I managed to get in both of their rooms for apologies for a chaotic night, I love yous, and good-night hugs.
Hubs went to bed by 9:50. He’s not happy about turning 40 this week.
And now, it’s just me – alone, in the quiet.
Dishes are piled high in the sink. The counter is greasy and full of crumbles from cookies. I’m feeling not-so-full-of-grace for messes left everywhere. And the wheels are spinning.
This is my life.
This was my life, today.
Where’s Jesus in this?
Where’s Jesus in the mess?
Where’s Jesus in the chaos and confusion?
Where’s Jesus in the mail piled up high?
Where’s Jesus in a world that goes way too fast?
I can’t even think. I can’t keep up.
Is there a way to escape this rat race?
Am I doing it all wrong?
Is there an in-between place of quiet and rush, where I can live not bored, not isolated, but in peace?
Must I move to a deserted island, Lord, to find quiet?
And these dishes, Lord, they’ll still be here in the morning, and it’ll all start all over again. I’ll be going from dawn till dusk and beyond. And then the next day, it’ll all be the same.
My heart races a bit. Tears well in my eyes with the rapid typing of my fingers. Anxiety’s risen to the top from my too-full-day.
Take it slow, He says.
Lean on me.
You’re doing too much.
It’s not up to you.
Your world will never be perfect. Mine will. Mine is.
Step back. Take a breath.
Let yourself cry.
Lean not on your own understanding, lean on Me.
Trust not in your ways, trust Mine.
Believe not in what the world says, Believe Me.
I came to save – you. That you might have life.
So live. Breathe. Dance. For me. Because you are free. In Me.
I’m the one that manages Christmas cards in our house. My standard operating procedure for 15 years has been as follows:
1. Open the card.
2. Look at the pictures.
3. Read the card and/or letter.
4. Show the kids.
5. Put the card in back in today’s mail pile on the counter, or if I’m feeling really efficient, put it in the Christmas card box.
Sounds a little routine, right? But it’s enjoyable, and I truly love receiving Christmas cards from family and friends. It’s a tradition I’d hate to see go by the wayside.
Since my husband’s usually not home when we open the mail, we have an agreement that he can find all the cards in the mail pile or look in the Christmas box at his leisure. I strive to be his wife, not his mom, so I figure he’ll take initiative to look at the cards as he’s led.
After all the Christmas cards have come in, I bring the full box down to the basement where it’s stored until the following Thanksgiving when we take the seasonal decor out again.
Just this week, I took out the Christmas card box. I opened the box and began going through last year’s cards one last time, something I do at the beginning of every season. I admired each card, verified addresses, added new babies to the master list, removed individuals who passed away, and ripped address labels off to shred (yes, I’m a little OCD like that).
But as I reviewed last year’s cards, I was particularly struck by how some seemed so novel, as if I’d barely seen them, as if I was looking at them for the first time. Beautiful families in the prime of life, retired couples at golf courses and on the beach with grandkids, newlyweds who hand wrote each card, and wise folks who placed focus on the the real meaning of Christmas. Cards from old friends, new friends, colleagues, bosses, immediate family, extended family, and neighbors – an assortment of people we see every day and people we haven’t seen in years.
I pulled some favorites for later viewing – stunning photography, faces exuding joy, beautiful designs, letters that captured my attention with their authenticity and depth, cards brimming with personality, and pictures of dear ones I hadn’t seen for way too long.
But mid-way through the pile, I came across a stack of four or five Christmas cards that had never been opened.
And then I remembered.
I was in such a rush.
I was way too busy.
(And clearly, my husband was too busy, too.)
In my haste, I’d thrown these unopened cards in the Christmas card box to get them out of the mail pile. I can’t stand clutter and excess visual stimuli, so I just wanted to get them “where they belonged.” I assumed I’d sit down to enjoy them after the hustle and bustle of Christmas settled down.
But I never did.
So I found myself sitting in front of the Christmas card box, a full year later, with the cold realization that I never did open those cards. I never took time to sit down and enjoy them like I thought I would.
I sat in silence, ashamed, embarrassed.
I couldn’t help but wonder…
What does this say about me?
Who do I say I am?
Who am I, really?
Do I really love and care for people like I claim? Or am I just filled up with a bunch of words and good intentions?
And why am I so busy? Why have I allowed my life to get so big, so filled up?
What makes me so special to have left peoples’ Christmas cards unopened for a whole year?
There was nothing unusual or unlovable about those four or five unopened Christmas cards that made me throw them in the box and forget about them for a whole year. In fact, they were just like the others – families with littles, marriages thriving in a culture that values otherwise, blended families, and families impacted by disabilities. But that’s what embarrassed me most. I wouldn’t ever want ANYONE to feel as if they’ve been discarded, no matter how busy I am, no matter how preoccupied I am.
I opened each unopened card carefully, examined them respectfully and as lovingly as possible, and then I sat in the quiet, in embarrassment and shame, again. For I had not been who I say I am.
Jesus says clearly, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) And just a few verses later, “This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17)
In our rushing, in our hustling and bustling, in our worrying about what’s in front of us and all that needs to be done, we forget to still ourselves and really LOVE the ones in front of us. Let’s be realistic, sometimes we don’t even have TIME for the ones right in front of us.
When I threw those unopened cards in the Christmas card box and forgot about them for a whole year, I wasn’t remembering that those cards represented human beings, created in the image of God. I wasn’t remembering that those cards represented OTHERS, worthy of love and care, respect, dignity, a moment of my attention, EVEN IF I was “too crazed, too busy” with life.
So this year, regardless of my mood, regardless of my circumstances, I’m going to still myself longer, sit in the quiet a little more. Because I want to open every card and ponder the significance of each life that’s blessed mine. I want to love as He loves.
And maybe next Christmas, the cards will look a lot more familiar than they did this year.
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