Such a Time As This

“On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…” Women of Faith, 2011…a stadium full of broken women yet somehow we became more than the sum of our parts. We became whole, woven together by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are meant to live in community. I got a powerful reminder of that truth this week.

“My parents make bad decisions.”

“My daddy touches my pee pee.”

“Is it bad if my dad lets my baby brother drink beer?”

“Daddy takes pictures of my privates.”

“If I tell he says I’m going to the devil.”

“Tell the court I don’t want to be his mother/father anymore.”

“Don’t leave me alone with him.”

“I’m scared.”

“Help me.”

There is unfathomable pain in this world. All the aforementioned quotes are only a fraction of the words I have personally heard over the years from tiny faces of innocent children and hopeless mothers and fathers. My reaction to these realities is such a dizzying feeling of complete helplessness. Emotionally I imagine myself trudging through a blizzard, frozen shards of snow whipping past my face, cutting my cheeks as I attempt to walk in snow up to my thighs, the wind pressing against me, impeding my progress and tempting me to sit down, give in and succumb to the counterfeit warmth of hypothermia. 

When I think back to the amount of time and energy wasted on worrying it makes me sick. And crazy. Lately I have let my foolish need for control unravel me like a string inside a ball of yarn until all that is left of me is a haphazard pile of Summer Strands…frazzled, tangled and emotionally unstable. Information about things I wish I didn’t know bombards my heart almost daily and for some reason I take off the armor of God and attempt to handle the enormity of the brokenness alone in a pompous display of stupidity until I break and the people who love me are left to pick up the pieces, shaking their heads wondering why I tried to handle this alone when I’m a child of God surrounded by people who love me.

His hands are big enough to hold all of us – all the children whose lives are being negatively affected because of the decisions of the adults in their lives, all the adults who are hurting and making bad choices as a result, all the helpers, all the perpetrators, all of everyone. He is enough. So why do I fall for the lie that my strength is sufficient when it CLEARLY is not? In my need to protect the people I love I sometimes inadvertently cause more harm. It’s not up to me to fix the problems outside; it’s up to me to fix the problems from within, but I even need help with that. I was reminded today that needing help is not a weakness. In fact, knowing when to reach out is a sign of strength and maturity. We begin life dependent on others for everything. We do not then transition to independence, even though that makes sense logically. Instead we progress to interdependence. Who knew my brain science research for work would provide the exact light bulb moment I needed.

It’s not scary that I can’t fix everything. In fact, it would be scary if I could. It isn’t up to me. It never has been. It has always been up to Him. Every now and then I need a reminder. Eventually my brain will develop to the point where I can avoid a mental breakdown. But this is who I am, and God meets us where we are. I’m so glad that I don’t have to worry, and even better is the truth that when I find myself tangled up in a giant ball of my own absurdity He is right there to pluck me out, dry my tears and wind up my string.

I want nothing more than to be exactly where I am…this is where I belong. I was created for such a time as this. 

Made Pure

I used to be the girl who would do things she didn’t actually want to do just to be liked. Sometimes I would lay in the arms of a guy I was lukewarm about, or even barely knew, just for that split second of feeling like I mattered. I was also the girl who did things she wanted to do but knew she shouldn’t, and after years of ignoring that little voice, I became deaf to it and went about my merry way down a path of sin and self-indulgence that lead me to nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. I hated myself. My only value came in the way I looked, which I obsessed about to an unhealthy degree, eating only enough food to keep me alive and exercising like an actual athlete. And then one day before I could do the wise thing and walk away, I was pregnant with my first child. I had a choice, and for the first time since I was a sweet little girl, I chose someone other than myself. 

That was my first step toward God and I didn’t even know it yet. Through all the babies, all the ways out He gave me and all the times I stepped back in when I should have run screaming, He remained, and that little voice I had once ignored gained volume and called me home. Little by little I stepped off my path and on to the one He laid out for me. The steps were so small they seemed insignificant at the time. I was invited to go to church, so I went. It wasn’t the church God wanted for me, but it started a thinking process challenging me to consider how I wanted my children to be raised and spurred me on to find a church in which to raise my family. At the time that was the only consideration. It was purely a parental decision. But it was another step.

Suddenly my relationship with Christ, that I’d had since I accepted Him into my heart at age 7, became an actual relationship instead of a vague notion or a Sunday ritual. The people at this church didn’t judge me, or care about my past at all. They simply loved me. They took care of us, spiritually and physically.  In less than a year, my heart was so drastically different that my life would never be the same. Each day I surrendered to God’s will was another step toward all that He had for me. 

Fast-forward 20 years. I wish I could say it’s been easy; that I’ve never gone backwards or made mistakes. But once you enter into a relationship with Jesus, you really never are the same person. That’s a good thing, by the way. He allows us to be people it wouldn’t be possible to be without Him. So now, if people know me and think I’m good in any way, I give all the glory to God. When I am able to think beyond my immediate wants and sacrifice my desires for the benefit of others, it’s because of God. I’m nowhere near complete, but I’m certainly transformed beyond that WVU party girl in ways I would never have dreamed possible – every path I’ve taken, as misguided as some were, has led me directly to this moment. And let me tell you, it was worth. every. step.

There’s a lie out there that says you have to have it all together before you can come to God. The whole premise of that lie negates the very thesis of Christianity. Come now. Come in your mess. Come in your sin. Come angry. Come broken. Come skeptical. It’s ok. Because guess what? You won’t leave that way. It’s not my promise, it’s His. 

P.S. Babies are NEVER accidents. Never. No matter the circumstances. Someone needed to hear that. Every person is here because God created them for a purpose. 

My Avery

Foreword: Given the current circumstances of our town and the heart-wrenching sadness as a result, I wanted to take a moment to honor the love we have for our children from before birth, how that love grows every day, and to encourage all of us to cry out to our Father in Heaven for the peace that surpasses all understanding to encapsulate the hearts of the families grieving loss, experiencing uncertainty and coping with unimaginable pain.

January 2014

I just wrote a thank you card to the greatest pediatric surgeon my world has ever known. It has been 12 years yesterday since I gave birth to my precious son, and 3 weeks shy of 12 years since his life-saving operation at WVU, correcting a congenital defect and making Avery’s life possible.

Avery came along during a tumultuous time. He was my 3rdchild in 37 months. I remember sitting in my hospital bed a few hours after he was born contemplating, or maybe panicking, about how I would ever be able to successfully raise 3 such tiny people. My thoughts raced as the gravity of a preschooler and 2 babies sank in. I wasn’t ready. Our circumstances were less than ideal. I hadn’t even been able to fully freak out when the pediatrician on call came into my room. What he told me made everything I was fretting about seem so petty; I was instantly ashamed.

Avery’s belly had been incrementally distending since his birth. It was the doctor’s opinion that he may have cystic fibrosis, and needed to be flown to WVU immediately. I can’t accurately tell you what happened in those next few hours. I remember a nurse coming in and making my calls because I was sobbing. I remember being escorted into the nursery and handed a gown to put on as they placed Avery in my arms and instructed me to say goodbye in case he didn’t make it to the hospital alive. I can still feel the numbness – the inability to grasp what was happening.

Somehow we made it to the hospital. The NICU cleared as they admitted my baby boy. His tiny body endured needles and tubes as they made a way for him to get nourishment. The next 9 days would prove to be harder yet as we faced the uncertainty of his diagnosis. It wasn’t cystic fibrosis, but it would be 9 days of tests until the diagnosis of Hirschsprung’s Disease was made and then another week until he was strong enough for surgery.

Surgery came with risks. The surgeon told me to be prepared to homeschool Avery because there was a good chance he would not be fully potty trained by age 5. This specific surgery was usually part 1 of 2 and included an extended period of in-between time with an ostomy. There were permission forms to sign outlining the inherent risks of surgery on such a small person. And then after all the meetings with doctors, after all the signing, and after I once again kissed my baby for what could be the last time, all that was left to do was wait. And pray. 

To think that just weeks before I sat in a hospital overcome with worry about how I would care for 3 small children. How this had changed my whole perspective! I simply wanted my Avery to live. And live he did. He came through the first surgery without an ostomy or a need for a second surgery. He was potty trained before age 3 and has been thriving ever since. I will never forget holding him for the first time free of tubes and needles. I can still smell his baby head and feel his baby breath on my chest… What began as a question of MY ability ended with a declaration by God that with Him ALL things are possible as well as the peace that even if this story had ended differently, Avery’s life pointed to the sovereignty of my Father. But that’s easy for me to say. May the love of Christ surround all those whose story didn’t have a happy ending, and may I live my life as though tomorrow is not promised. Come home safely, sweet Riley…rest in peace, precious Lexus.

Plastic

Alyssa and I have a horribly inappropriate line of Barbie and Ken dolls based on some very politically incorrect stereotypes. We began creating them about 10 years ago but decided not to market them because God wouldn’t think it was very nice. We have one called “Perfect Christian Barbie”. Her name is Joy-Ellen: she wears her hair in a bun with slacks, a button down shirt with puffed sleeves and sensible shoes. She doesn’t allow her children to say the word “fart”. Then there’s Donnell. He’s a skinny white guy who wears his pants below his butt and a flat brimmed hat that’s always sideways. He drives a pimped out 1999 Honda Civic with awesome rims and a kick-butt stereo but the hatch has to be closed with a bungee cord. The Civic is sold separately. 

Stuff like that shouldn’t enter my mind, probably, and here I am broadcasting it for the world (or 10 people) to see. I do have a reason, though, and it isn’t solely entertainment. Sometimes my lenses get fuzzy. While I should be loving people right where they are I’m busy inventing imaginary dolls based on what I think of them, or a composite of similar personalities. So to be fair, I thought I’d invent a Barbie based on myself. 

“Stressed Out Summer” comes dressed in jeans she’s worn for 4 days, boots she wears so often they may as well be part of her uniform and we don’t know if she even has a shirt on because her coat never comes off. If her shirt did come off it would reveal stretch marks covering her entire abdominal area. She has a realistic callous on her left hand from logging 3,000 miles per month driving to and from work and taking the children to activities. She only eats one full meal a day and comes with a bag full of Goldfish crackers, a 2-liter of Pepsi Max and an orange. Her crazed, glazed over eyes are bloodshot and her hair is frizzy. She used to have a van from a previous decade but now drives a 2002 Chevy Suburban that she no longer needs since most of her children drive.

“Stressed Out Summer” lives in a cute little farmhouse that is never fully clean for more than 10 minutes. The dining room table doubles as storage for folded clothes her children (all sold separately) seem to believe will put themselves away magically. The sink comes complete with dirty dishes, which have decreased in number since she started buying paper products (because it was either the environment or her sanity, people). Tiny dog can be purchased separately and is programmed never to die, even after she eats Silica gel, Brillo pads and chocolate. 

You get the idea. If I was a doll, no one would buy me. So it’s easy to assume that if people really knew me, they wouldn’t like me. Authenticity is difficult. It’s risky. I struggle with it every day. How do I become the person I’m called to be without offending someone? Guess what? I don’t. Does that mean I sit in judgment of others? Absolutely not – but that does mean I speak the truth in love. It is quite an impossible task without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who resides in those of us who have invited Him. I encourage you to let God, not status, body image, wealth, poverty, race, home life, life stage or anything else define you. Let us all put down our defenses and just be real. You aren’t alone. We are all imperfect. Even Barbie, who, if she was an actual person, would be 5’9”, have a 39” bust, an 18” waist, 33” hips, a size 3 shoe and weigh 110 pounds, putting her BMI at 16.24, which fits the weight criteria for anorexia. I’m not judging you, Barbie, but for the love of all that is holy, eat a cheeseburger, girl. 

Whale of a Life

I’m recycling some of my older blogs because when I read them I notice that I have made progress and that gives me so much hope – hope I want to share with you, because that’s what I’m called to do. If ever there was an overarching theme to my purpose it is to encourage, and also to give a voice to things about which many of us struggle.

2013: “I want to watch Christmas Vacation” said my 8-year-old daughter. She is teaching her “class” of invisible yet apparently very ill-behaved students suspiciously named after her siblings. During their school day she allows them to watch a movie. Best teacher EVER! So I put in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and let Chevy Chase educate them. For good measure I threw in a few beers and some pretzels to complete the experience. I’m joking, of course, but when I realize how accessible our kids are now that every device has Wi-Fi, it feels like that’s exactly what I’m doing. Add that reality to my already chaotic brain and you’ve got a perfect storm inside my soul.

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I just want to put my children in a bubble and keep them from experiencing the harshness of this world. (And then we have 18 snow days and I completely change my mind. “ILOVEYOUGETOUT” I chirp as I spot the approaching blessed yellow bus and then dance around gleefully in my house that used to have visible floors. And food.) The control freak in me has made lists, as if somehow writing down what I think needs to happen to create order will solve the problem. I’d love to show you some of my lists, which include items like “Aubrey goes to bed at 8:45, big kids at 9:30” and “Mom will have dinner ready by 6pm”. I wish I was kidding. The urge to control is overwhelming at times. And exhausting. 

One day recently while I was obsessing over painting our new house that I can’t even enjoy because I’m too busy writing to-do lists, this peace washed over me. It was like God was telling me to breathe. I’ve been living small because when I’m in control that’s the only size life can be. I want to live HUGE and FREE. God wants me to live abundantly. That doesn’t mean material wealth necessarily, but that we see each day as an opportunity to have an adventure with God. He creates order from our chaos. The more I try to create order, the crazier I become. I’m dangling by thread as it is, and the more I try to be the captain, the surer I am that we will sink. 

Bad people exist. I can’t change that, or even fully protect my children because unless we teleport to 1850 or join the Amish in Pennsylvania, they will have access to the internet. And unless we all actually live inside a bubble, there will be schedules to arrange and things to clean and paint. (Besides, a bubble is a perpetual snow day. Please refer to paragraph 2.) I’ve realized I have to put down the pen and paper (and the paintbrush) and simply pray. Why do I make it so complicated? Because I’m human, and humans are stupid. Well, not you. Me. I’m stupid. But God knows that, so He fills in the gaps. I’m so grateful. Without God, I’m a goldfish in a bowl. With Him, I can live like a blue whale in the Indian Ocean. 

But Why?????

“Dead Like Me” is a TV series I watched several years ago. While I certainly don’t subscribe to its “theology”, watching made me particularly introspective about our time here on this planet. The Bible is clear about not being promised any certain amount of time on the earth. There are times, like Paul, I sincerely want to be with Jesus and just forget all this ridiculous earth drama. And then I realize I’m here for a reason, and so I do my best to be whatever it is I’m supposed to be though I’m not exactly sure what itis. Enter Oswald Chambers: every time I read his devotionals it’s like God gets right in my face and asks, “Now do you get it?”

Today’s devotional was about being not only ok with, but also excited about the inevitable uncertainty of life. I’m a “why???” person. I probably drove my parents insane as I tried to figure out the universe at age 3. I am equally sure God must tire of hearing me ask why and therefore sent me this tangible devotional in black and white. 

I can relate on some level to not being able to know why. When my children ask for something that may harm them, or desire a freedom they aren’t yet equipped to handle, I say no and even when I explain why they are still angry. They don’t understand, but I do. I wish they would hear me out, look at me and say, “Thank you, mother, for your infinite wisdom without which we would surely perish”. But the odds of that are somewhere around my winning the Powerball, as I’ve never purchased a ticket.

Don’t get me wrong; God can take all my questions, all my demands. He is patient as I stomp my feet and pout when the answer isn’t what I want to hear. But living in that state of disappointment, or worse still, entitlement, robs us of the joy of expectation. I don’t know why God allows certain people the privilege of breathing after the horrendous things they’ve done. I don’t know why children die and good things happen to bad people. I exhaust myself trying to attain that which I’m not meant to have. 

We live on the back side of the quilt where we are we see all the loose threads and the seams that look to us like chaos. One day we will see the right side. We will get to see how the chaos wove together to form one large tapestry. One day it will make sense. That is something I have to tell myself daily, because each day absolutely has enough trouble of its own. So, God, thank you for your infinite wisdom without which I would surely die.

E. Coli, Anyone?

Foreword – So much has changed during the 5 years since I wrote this, but one thing has not and never will, and for Him I am grateful beyond measure. 

2014: We are currently living in a home with E. coli in our well water, rendering the concept of running water useless, at least here. There is a chance it can be fixed, but in the meantime, we are using grandma’s water supply. You can imagine how frustrated I am. The kids, however, have not complained once about having to brush their teeth with bottled water or cross the street to shower. But yesterday when we ran out of mustard, life came to a screeching halt.

Avery was in the middle of making a sandwich when the mustard breathed its last. He became angry and declared it inedible by reason of insufficient condiment accumulation. I politely disagreed. “You most certainly ARE eating your sandwich,” I said softly with an eerie calm and a glint of hysteria in my twitching eye.

Maybe as a parent I am doing a good job of sheltering the children from the harsher reality resulting from fecal matter in our water supply that may or may not be resolved. That is the only explanation I can think of to explain Avery’s disdain for my inability to provide an adequate mustard supply in the face of such trying circumstances. And trying they are. I have about 35 loads of laundry left to do and yet the kids still have clothes to wear. Miraculous. Either God is providing clothing for my multitude from a sock and a pair of underwear given in faith, or these people have too many clothes.

This situation has reminded me of some things about God, however. Isn’t it just like God to use trials to teach us things? I wish there was another way, God, truly I do. But here’s what I know that I know that I know. He will provide. We have a place to shower and get clean water right across the street. We still have electricity, and heat, and food. It could be worse. All those times I complained about this house feeling like a big, nicely decorated shed are coming back to bite me. I had no idea how much I appreciated the house He has provided us until this happened. 

My natural tendency is to focus on what I don’t have. In reality, no matter how much we have, there’s always something we don’t have. Here’s another fact I forget about frequently. Even if we have absolutely nothing, if we are saved, we have everything we need. Talk about countercultural. So while we wait for the water situation to resolve, my confidence is in God and His provision, which includes many amazing friends and family that have offered to help carry the load, and that has a value that simply can’t be quantified. And now I’m off to get mustard…