Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dear Lyla, {A Birthday Post}

I sit huddled beside you on the stairwell in the dark. 

Your last day of being eight has ended with tears and big emotions that leave the both of us surprised.

And that's okay some days, I think. Not all days will end with smiles and laughter...some nights will come and leave you aching for a do-over. Some nights will leave you broken and wanting to somehow be better, leave you wanting to run away and leave all the mess around you behind.

I get it. 



But I want you to know, I love you. I love you and each hard moment you face.

I love you for crumbling and letting the hurt you felt out. 

I love you for being brave and for the way you apologized though your tears.

I love you for wanting to hide and for all the almost-9-year-old emotions you are feeling.

I love you as you stand on the edge of leaving the little girl years behind. 

I love you as you wrestle through these days and yet still long to be held as though you were still small.

Sweet girl, I love you.

This past week, I read of Joshua sending out the spies and how they came to the door of a woman named Rahab.  She made a lot of mistakes too, Lyla. Many of them by her own choosing.  I can relate. And as you keep getting older, you will too. Yeah...it won't get any easier.

But this woman who was once an almost-9-year-old like you, she grew up to be a woman who heard about God. The same One you hear about too. And this Rahab, full of mistakes and regret and probably a lot of embarrassment too...do you know what she did?  

She believed. 

She didn't just believe, Lyla, she risked being vulnerable with her faith. 



Faith does that to us, it makes us vulnerable. This in itself is a risk. She had heard about God, and she didn't know if she would be accepted by Him, but she held out her faith in sin-stained hands and the rope that she used to lower the spies out of the window became her very banner of salvation. God knew all the wrong she had done, sweetheart, but it was her heart that He drew near to. Her vulnerable faith moved His heart and Lyla, He saved her. 

She wasn't courageous because she was brave. Rahab was courageous because she depended on the Only One Who could rescue her.

Tomorrow you turn 9 and there are moments I feel like I can't breathe. So many moments that I want to live over, to fix...to have a bit longer to linger over. You are such a joy and these years that started with your heartbeat unknown within me have completely undone me in such good and hard ways. As you get older, as your heart grows more tender...as you whisper prayers alongside me...I am learning that strength of being vulnerable. Of holding out my faith in sin-stained hands  and trusting that Jesus will take what I offer and somehow make it beautiful. 

Tomorrow you turn 9 and we are at the halfway mark before adulthood dawns and a season of motherhood will quietly change. 9 more years to live life together daily and hold out the beauty of the gospel in imperfect ways as our faith stretches and grows.

You cried today and maybe there will be tears again tomorrow, and that's okay. But don't get stuck there, Lyla Mae. Like Rahab who took the rope, her faith, and used that to save the lives of others, let your life become a bridge of sorts, a line that points others to the beauty of Christ. Don't get lost in the longing of regret...use your failures to press you in closer to Jesus. Lean on Him, precious daughter and find that in doing so, you'll be strengthened to risk your life for Him.

Tomorrow, you'll wake up and your breakfast birthday cake will be on the table and I'll try and smile brave as the baby who first filled my arms now is the girl whose face whispers of the woman you'll be. Tomorrow morning we'll sing over you as this mama prays over her daughter - that you'll be courageous like Rahab and lost in love with your Savior.



Happy birthday, my sweet Lyla. *You* are the gift of this day.

I love you always.

Mama

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Naming of the Fifth

Babylon is all around me - clamoring loud and reeling me in. The many voices speaking their many thoughts and all those thoughts pointing out different views that sound right and good and true...

And it is so easy to get sucked in and stuck there - from Chailles to Voskamp to Bessey to Held - they all speak. They all have platform - they all read from the same Word I do, but all have come away with such different thoughts, beliefs, convictions. Empires are built and divisions crack wider and it is all. so. overwhelming.

What happened to just hearing and speaking the truth of the gospel? Of seeing my life, my moments not as separate and individual, but as a part of a daily offering, lifted up to the One Who created me - being shaped by the transforming truth of the gospel, not the political climate around me?

I sit tucked into the corner of the coffee shop, unnoticed by the couple beside me. They are strangers and she all but pleads with him to notice her - to pursue her. He can't help but notice the offering and he teases - offers hope. Until his phone rings and his head ducks. He turns his face towards me, head and voice low so she can't hear. But I can't help but overhear him promise the one on the other end that he'll be home soon. That he loves her. 

And my heart aches for all 3 - a trio of hurt sitting to my right.




For a month I take myself off of Facebook - I need some quiet from all the noise. 

It's amazing how loud a white screen can be.

I thought I would feel caged, trapped - lost without knowing what was going on in the lives around me.


I didn't realize I would feel freedom.

That my interactions with those around me would become intentionally personal because I wouldn't be assuming anymore that I knew what was going on - and I had missed that.

I slipped back on last night and it felt hard to breathe as so many opinions and articles slipped noiselessly beneath my thumb - as though I was swiping a millstone around my neck.

I didn't sleep well.

And I wonder, what would happen if instead of being tossed about by a never ending wave of FB news feeds, my hope was actually grounded in the beauty of Jesus Christ Himself. 

The truth of the matter is, I can say all I want to that my hope is found in Him alone, but when I find myself storm tossed and overwhelmed by all the chaos on a screen held in my hand, I prove that my words hold no weight. Christ is not my anchor or my harbor and I am adrift on a churning, ugly tide of opinions clamoring and fighting to be right.



The startling truth though, is that 


There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
Psalm 46:4-5

This river isn't a passing one, full of changing, tossing thoughts rushing past and knocking my feet out from underneath me - this is the Living Water of Christ - completely satisfying, bringing joy and peace.

Despite the mess of me, the sinfulness of me, I have incredibly become the dwelling place of the Most High. In the midst of me is His very Presence and my life, my very soul is upheld and strengthened.

It is here with the firm foundation of this truth that the many voices can be heard, but not absorbed. I am not shaken when God's truth is what cups and weighs all else.

They call to us, luring us with the false promises of other gods and saviors...and in their very midst, we remember Jesus, the firstborn of the new creation and delare that we live for another King and another kingdom. - Rhythms of Grace

When His hesed has been experienced deeply and when His love surrounds a year faithfully (all years actually, but so deeply known in this one) I move forward unafraid to have my soul strengthened because joined to Him Who is utterly steadfast, I cannot fall even though I may fail.

If all my life is worship, a living sacrifice - if my soul is set aflame but not consumed - the year spread out in front of me blazes with His grace as the surety of Him becomes that very Hope to set my anchor on.



I've lived numb I think, to protect myself from feeling vulnerable, from feeling overwhelmed and unsure. So many days have had just get to bedtime as the goal. 

I have forgotten Whose I am - I have forgotten how to enter into the mundane parts of my life fully.

This year marks 5 years since the first time God named my year ahead of me - before naming the years became popular and books were written on it - Jesus prepared my heart days before my world was completely ripped apart by suicide and brokenness through just one small word, Abide.

And every year, around summertime, I begin to look expectantly and He never fails to give me another word that ushers in a deeper knowing of Him.



This year, a phrase - a trio of words.

His Hesed, in shocking and beautiful ways became my sure foundation this past year and so it only seems natural that resting on that would be the very name of this blog and the verse that it stands on;
this is the year of In the Midst. Because God is in the midst of me - I will not fall. He will help me when morning comes.



And until He calls me home, morning always comes. 

He's faithful like that.




Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jericho

It's while I'm sitting across from a friend that I look out the front window and see Tony on the sidewalk across the street walking slow with one of the kids from the mission. He's one of the first kids I ever met in those early days - one of the first to welcome this family so obviously not from this area.



We've entered into our third year here and three years deepen voices and grows up inches and three years hardens tender hearts who witness so much pain.

We've watched it happen to him - this kid who stands on the edges of being a man - who feels lost on these edges and hides his hurt with anger.

I get it.

I've done it too.


So while my friend sips her coffee, I watch Tony walk the permiter of the field outside our window - this wide open space in the middle of the ghetto and I think of Jericho and those walls...high and strong walls and the slow and patient walk of those many feet.



I know the edges of my man - I recognize the way his head bends as he listens, the steady rythym of his steps as he stands strong beside the boy lost who is grasping for something sure. Hands in his pockets, I know he is praying and I know that as they walk that perimeter, God is doing something unseen.

Last night, we lit the second candle and spoke of Peace - of the Prince of Peace. We read of Abraham and Isaac and a father's love and the hints of the coming Messiah. We listen and sing of Emmanuel and our hearts long for His coming as we circle the perimeter of this life we are given day after day, step by step.



Faith - it propels us forward...it keeps us circling the Jericho in front of us. Whether it's an angry kid or an unsteady future or a restlessness that won't go away.  Faith propels, but trust in the goodness of the God who has called us keeps us in motion. It's a knowing that it isn't my footsteps that will bring down these walls, but the very hand of God. It isn't my will that keeps me walking, but it is the presence of Jesus - the very One Who is Peace that keeps my heart steady.

So these days grow darker, but these candles, one by one, grow brighter, and like the slow and steady walk of those praying down walls we keeping moving forward, keep pressing into the One Who is with us in all the broken mess.




Friday, November 28, 2014

When Thanksgiving Doesn't Look the Same.

The sun is setting so much earlier now - the dark settles in long before the little ones are ready for it to. We light candles and flip switches, forgetting how powerful the pull of light can be.



I witnessed the truth of it last night in the aftermath of turkey and stuffing, in the reminding myself that dinner would happen and there was no time frame and family was here and friends were here and hearts were more important than perfection.

His face appeared at the door, oddly misshapen and hamburger-like, as though someone had pounded it raw.

They had.

Three sheets to the wind and terrified, he saw the light on and an open door and he walked in. He knew he would find safety here.



And Tony, he came near, stood near to the overwhelming stench of alcohol and terror and he turned and grabbed a plate and began to heap it high of warm food, good food and his gaze finds mine. I know it now, deep in my soul, I know exactly what this is - and I fumble for more, desperate to give because this man is more that what he appears. He bears the very image of the One I love and if serving him means I am really serving Jesus than let me give him pumpkin pie - let me heap it high with ice cream. Let me love in the small ways that I can.

The ground underneath an intoxicated ex-gang member becomes holy - the air in the hallway is sacred, I want him to see Jesus somehow through his haze.

He leaves before I can give more.

In his wake though, come three small ones. Shy smiles and sweet dark eyes. They come in and play quietly in the hall - content it seems to play in the corners until ice cream is mentioned. The one little boy, he holds out his plate for seconds and I see this for what it is, another opportunity to love Jesus, another way to serve Him, another way to brush up against the Holy. So when this little one asks for maybe a pickle too, I want to give him the whole jar. I want to give him everything on the loaded counter. If the breaking of my heart means I can see more of Jesus, then shatter it completely - I want to give Him my all.



We slip on coats in the dark of the night and this little one, he races ahead of us - thin cotton covering even thinner arms. We walk behind him and I reach for Tony's hand. This boy, he is so small, how can no one be out looking for him? But I remember, there is One Who see him too and maybe he came to us so we could be the safety he needed - we could be the ones making sure he got home. 

There is a rythym here that I am learning - a weight that leans heavy on my soul. Gun shots are fired in the night and I wait for more but am met with only silence. The clouds are dark in the west.

I read this morning of the ugly-made-beautiful and I nod along with the author's words. I've witnessed it and I don't want to lose the wonder of watching God move. I didn't know that I could love a broken area in this way that I do, but maybe now that my own broken places have been exposed, that they have seen the Light and are finally finding healing, my eyes search out evidences of Him more -  and He meets me here. He shows me His beauty and glory and His image transforms the faces around me.



I wrote it on the chalkboard above my sink, hours before the guests arrived and Olivia began to heave, I placed it as a lockscreen on my phone because I need the reminder as the days grow dark and I could forget His truth and fall back on fear and I need it infront of my eyes because I want His Light to blaze here in this home, in my life, 

I will give thanks to the Lord
with my whole heart;
I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.
Psalm 9:1

This Thanksgiving was marked by the beauty of His presence, transformed by the beauty of His grace. He extended our family and let us love Him through the loving of others. How could we ever stay the same?


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

For When it Feels like I Can't.

It was before the tempature dipped below freezing that I took the scissors in hand and snipped the branches all fiery red from the leaves still hanging on. I had meant to have it all ready by the time the first of November came, but the death of one of our Madison House kids came first and everything else was pushed aside for a time.

The leaves have begun to let go, drifting lazily onto the table.



Two of the chickens have died - fluffs of feathers and one cracked egg are the only evidence of their existence. A dear friend gives me two of hers - the golden colored one hides in the coop, afraid to come out; displaced and disoriented she calls out for the familiar.

I get it.


We hang the paper leaves on the branches letting go of the last of the season and Lyla, she holds hers in her hands and her voice reads the words above the noise of her brother and sisters, each one, even the baby, wanting a turn to find a place for Life to grace the empty places. 

Tony gets ready to leave for work today, holds me in the doorway and prays strength over my head. The sky is heavy with clouds and he walks out into the grey and I touch his face just a bit longer, trying to hold on to the warmth of him - the fear of how brief life is taking over, pushing out any peace and making my thoughts anxious.

It's while the baby naps and the older three are tucked in to watch a movie that I find a moment to sit and breathe. That I open the pages of His Word and my fingers fumble to 1 Thessalonians 5 and the words of verse 16 grab hold:

Rejoice always.



Rejoice, even in the quiet and obscure - in the mundane and where the only eyes who see me are the four sets who are just children that I too often push too hard to act older than they are.

Rejoice always when I see myself mirrored in the Word of God and my brokenness is displayed and I know - truly know - only He can fix my soul.

Rejoice always, in the uncertainty of what I am called to do, in the questioning and even in the temptation to "bury" the gifts He has placed in me; because the risk of investing them is too frightening.

Rejoice always in the in-between spaces - in the knowing that there is more, but clueless as to what that is.

Rejoice always, turning my whirring, screaming thoughts to prayer. Lifting up these gasping offerings and trusting He will turn them into a sweet and pleasant aroma rising to Him.

Rejoice always, in the middle of daughter/mother wars; when my eyes are opened to the broken places in them and His answer is grace, always grace first, to the heated situation.

Rejoice always, when all I want to do is weep for all the years lost, the memories of this coming season, neglected and hurting children and the never ending temptation to gloss something pretty over it all.

Rejoice always, for God is still in control, His eyes never turn away - and that like Paul, I can say, "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6).

He isn't through with me, so my soul can rejoice. He has plans for my children, so I can rejoice. He will use my broken family for HIs glory - so rejoice. He is far greater than hard memories...so rejoice.



Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks - this is His will for me...for us.

So I will rejoice and boldly give God glory.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Because I Want to Know

I read it to him in the quiet tonight after our four had been tucked in and prayed over. After a long day with a lot of things weighing heavily on our hearts, I opened up the notebook and spoke out the words I had scribbled down.

Because it was a question posed and I had wanted to answer it - how as an individual who loves Jesus and part of a church whose goal is to make and send out mature believers, how do we all go about respecting and preserving life at every level?

There has to be more than just holding up a poster stating everything you don't believe.

There has to be more.


We are all created in the Image of God, whether we recognize it or claim it or even believe it. It's true. Right there, in the core of who we are, a shadow of the Almighty rests on our very souls.

What would happen if we began to view each other as such?

It's not a rhetoric question.

I want to know what would happen if the believers who claim to love the Jesus Who left all the comfort and glory of heaven to slip on dust and walk among sinners - what would happen if we walked in His way?

If we were desperate for those around us to know.

What would happen if instead of fear, we trusted the One Who goes before us. The Psalmist, he saw himself as hemmed in behind and before - surrounded by the presence of the God he adored. He saw himself as safe in unsafe  situations.

We who sing out in worship on Sunday mornings, could we not have the Poet's bravery on a Wednesday too?

You may laugh, but I have a hope - a real live hope that the faces behind the color-claimed streets would come to know this truth, that each one would know they were created with intention and marked with the very Image of God and that there is a Savior Who loves them.

I have hope that instead of seeing the color of a shirt, they would see the Imprint on the soul and they would treat the "enemy" as one having great worth.

And it may be bold to type this out, but sometimes hope strengthens weary souls; I am beginning to wonder if we as a church will ever be able to respect and preserve life at every level well until we are completely in love with and in awe of the God in Whose Image we are created. 

I think of my own children who bear Tony's resemblence - Lyla, her lips and her smile are her daddy's. Olivia's humor that takes me by surprise. Elias's eyes. Zee's love to laugh, so much her father and I am drawn to it, I find myself searching it out in them and delighting when I catch glimpses of him in their faces.

It makes me tender towards them.

So much of that is a result of how much I love their daddy.




How much more will we love well when we see our Heavenly Father in the soul of the person next to us?

Is it a stretch? Maybe. But we aren't asked to live a stretch-free life. Elastic and fluid He invites us in to the movement of life with others and promises to surround us all the while.

He is so good.  Let us trust Him.



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When the Air Shifts

Things can happen quickly - much faster then I can process. Give me a pen and paper and some time to process and I can come up with a suitable response fitting for the situation. But in the space of locking my front door and smiling at the strangers walking by, the air can shift and I've placed myself in a dangerous position where a gate is blocked and questions are being asked and I answer automatically because I don't want to appear scared.

But inside I'm terrified.

I'm terrified as they move on and I drive away.

I'm terrified as the barista talks too loudly to the guy at the counter and I try and concentrate on the book in front of me I'm supposed to read.

My hands are still shaking will I type out the message asking for prayer, berating myself in written out text that I have no business living where I do because street smarts are not my strong suit.

Fear can paralyze in the very worst of ways.

All I can imagine is the very worst and it blocks out the very Voice my soul is desperate to hear.



45 minutes and I haven't turned a page and the barista behind me hasn't gotten any quieter and I throw in the towel and walk out to the car,

unlock the door,

get behind the wheel,

and begin to drive

home.

Back towards the inner city where colors claim streets and teenagers patrol them. Where the metallic ring of a gun shot wakes me up at night and my chicken gets eaten by a cat and where I am sure I don't belong. 

I silence the radio at some point and what fills the silence is prayer. Terrified prayer. Prayer I'm sure that moved no mountain, but mountains weren't what needed to be moved. I needed His ear and He tenderly inclined it to the voice of this sin-wrecked, street naive woman.

And as avenues became streets, the sound of the prayers leaving my lips changed somehow - instead of terror at hypothetical what ifs, these words caused a shift in the air around me:

The Lord is my light and my salvation:
whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life:
Of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27:1

And then these:

In God Whose word I praise,
In the Lord whose word I praise,

in God I trust, I will not be afraid;
what can man do to me?
Psalm 56:10-11

The enemy wants to keep my eyes focused on the horrific evils man has the capability of inflicting on one another, but the truth is, no matter how deep the evil, it has the potential of bringing me into the very presence of God. 

If the very worst is death, then I will stand in front of the very One Who created me and I will see Him clearly.

But even if all the hypothetical ifs don't lead to death, I still have the amazing privilege of allowing them to lead me to His feet in worship - He promises that all things work together for the good of those who love Him. All things - good and bad if I just have the eyes to see.

There is wisdom in being careful, of holding back and depending on the Holy Spirit to guide me in the ways here that I still don't understand, but I wouldn't be living in freedom if I hid behind careful

Faith states boldly that the God of the universe is my light, my salvation, my stronghold - why should I be afraid?

Faith purposefully reaches out a flame of hope into the darkness that presses in and sometimes with a voice quiet and small whispers,

"I trust in You and even though I'm terrified, I will not be afraid. The worst that man can do can actually press me closer into You."

Faith believes that this life was given for a purpose and to be lived out to bring God glory and this is a high and holy privilege - not a safe and quiet one.



Let my trust be bigger than my fear, Jesus. Let my life be laid down before You in trust and with hope.