Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent

We are approaching Christmas a little differently this year. Some of it is forced - I'm 6 months pregnant and still running 3 kids around every day. We all have limited energy and resources, but mine feel especially scarce right now. Some of it has been a choice - I've spent too many Decembers running around malls and stores, too many weekends packing in parties and get togethers, too many mornings sleeping as late as possible because I'm strung. out. From whatever I was up late doing after the kids went to bed - decorating, baking, wrapping...

This year I decided to let go of some of it. Less presents. Less "fluff" - decorations and seasonal baked goods and something always simmering on the stove making the house smell good. Less running around in busy stores (and more online ordering, thank goodness for that!). Less scheduling ourselves up to our eyeballs in activities. Just less all around.

And not less for the sake of less - that's not the point.

Less so that we could make more room for Christ. Less so that I could keep getting up before the kids (as I am reasonably able) to quietly read and pray and think about Who we are celebrating. Less of us, more of Him. I hope and pray that I am learning to live this way all year long, but this month it seemed especially important to push back at the way our culture says we should 'do December' and do it the way Jesus might hope we would.

I finished Liz Curtis Higgs' new book "The Women Of Christmas" and am in the middle of Ann Voskamp's "The Greatest Gift" - both amazing reads. They are changing my heart as I approach December 25th, which was what I had hoped would happen.

Old Christmas hymns and songs that used to be somewhat annoying to me in their repetitiveness are suddenly new again. Mary isn't just Jesus' mother... she's the young woman who said "yes" to God's miraculous plan to come to us in the flesh, tiny and weak and dependent. She let Him break her open and break her apart (socially, emotionally) as she carried the Son of God, gave birth to Him, raised Him, and then watched Him die. I can't comprehend what kind of woman Mary must have been, but I know I want to spend a very long time getting to know her on the other side of heaven. Can you imagine the parts of her story that we don't even know about!?

All of this backing away from busy-ness and over the top celebrating for the sake of a party, and moving towards what is lowly and humble and even needy... it's exposing my own poverty. I need Him. OH, I need Him.

I find myself up late the other night, and tired the next morning, skipping my quiet time in favor of another hour or so of sleep... and I start my day off-kilter. The kids wake me up, it's all about me from that minute forward, and I snap at them. Lose my patience. Bark orders at them and coldly usher them into the car, threatening consequences for their yelling and hitting. And I buckle little bodies into car seats and sit down in the driver's seat, exhausted at 8:20am... and I've been in this driver's seat before, having had similar mornings as this one in the past, but this time it's different - and I start to sob.

My sin has never been uglier than it is to me now. My children never more innocent, precious and pure gifts of love. My husband never more loving and serving even when I'm hard to love and serve. God's grace has never meant to me what it does today. All because of this Advent season, and the way I sought for it to break me apart and help me see everything new again. It breaks me apart at unexpected times, for a whole host of reasons. On the good days He shows Himself to me before I have any makeup on (ha), because this love that shows up... it overwhelms me. It reduces me to tears and thanksgiving and worship. I want so much more of Him than I have. I NEED so much more of Him.

My Holy God, coming to earth as a babe... coming to me, repeatedly, everyday in other ways. It's so hard to understand and comprehend, and sometimes I can hardly believe that it's true only because it's so far fetched that HE would come to ME... at all.

I was making dinner tonight and this song came on my Christmas Playlist. And there I was, suddenly crying again as I really listened to the words. And thought about my life in that time period I would call 'the night before Christmas'... when it was all dark, and I was more lost than I realized. But He broke through, and He would break through when He was born, and I pray He is breaking through all over the place in each of your lives, too.

Redemption so sweet and so strong...





"The Night Before Christmas"
Brandon Heath

Empty manger, perfect stranger
about to be born
Into darkness, sadness, desperate madness
creation so torn

We were so lost on earth, no peace, no worth
no way to escape
In fear, no faith, no hope no grace
and no light…

But that was the night before Christmas

Warm hay, cold sweat, a mother, not yet.
Praying godspeed the dawn
She looks to her man, holding her hand.
They wonder how long.

And the shepherds, wise men come to find them
and bow to a king.

One star above shining on love, so bright it lit up
the night before Christmas.

And the world didn't know, mercy meek and so mild.
And the world didn't know that truth was as pure as a child.

                                The night before Christmas.
                                The night before Christmas.

And the world didn't know, redemption was sweet and so strong.
And the world didn't know salvation was writing a song.

The night before Christmas.
The night before Christmas.
The night before Christmas.

Empty manger, perfect stranger about to be born.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Over halfway {to becoming a family of 6}

Hey there, fourth baby! We love you, and even though life has been full and busy and at times, complicated, we are excited to meet you. We've been happily watching you grow for the last 5 months and can't believe we only have 4 more to go until your arrival. Here's what 'you' have looked like, where you've gone, and what's been going on around you outside of my belly. 


Today... 24 weeks.
You are a squirmy little gal. I feel you moving all day long, and you prefer when I sleep on my right side. I can't wait for your kicks to get stronger so that your dad and siblings can feel your movements, too!






22 weeks.
The belly is getting big. I'm finally feeling good most days. My skin is a disaster, and it seems like small meals from here on out are all I can handle.




The kids all love to love on their baby sister. They talk to her, snuggle her through my belly, and discuss their roles once she arrives. This is the first baby I've had that any of my other children are old enough to really understand and anticipate, and it's awesome.



21 weeks.
Gender ultrasound and growth check showed a beautiful, healthy baby girl! 




20 weeks.
Eating all the things.




17 weeks.
Baby and I travel to London! I've never felt better, more energetic, and happier. I felt the first flutters while with my bestie, Kacey, and would lay still  at night in her guest room, concentrating on trying to feel the baby move. Sweet memories. 







16 weeks.
Hello, bump.





14 weeks.
First maternity shirt for this babe and it feels sooooo good. (I am not ashamed to admit that I had been wearing maternity pants sooner than this. I am not a skinny preggo and there's no use pretending.)



13 weeks.
First glimpse of our human baby. :) Strong heartbeat, healthy growth.



12 weeks.
Have had a pretty bad cough that would not go away for weeks. Went to the doctor, then convenient care a few days later when symptoms worsened. Discovered I had pneumonia, a sinus infection and possibly strep.



12 weeks.
Maddie was sick and had to stay home from church. I find myself beginning to soak up any and all moments with just my little gal, who will no longer be the baby of the family.




10 weeks.
Cannot sleep enough. Super anti-social and couldn't care less.




9 weeks.
Robbie's first day of Kindergarten. I kept my crazy hormones and emotions in check for the most part, until he started to cry just before entering his classroom. And then I was a mess. :)




8 weeks.
First OB appointment with my new Dr.
We get a first peek at our little jalapeno-pepper-baby. It was too soon to detect a heartbeat but everything else looked great.





8 weeks.
Exhausted and nauseous. The kids learn to love hanging out in my bed watching a show while I rest.




7 weeks.
Robbie's teeth start falling out and the pregnancy-gag-reflex is in full swing.




5 weeks. 
(taken after receiving Zofran and fluids)
Sudden, constant vomiting for 12 hours landed me in the ER. We were concerned that something might be wrong with the pregnancy. Turned out to be food poisoning, thankfully. 




  

Last thing I ate before getting sick. Leftover birthday cake from the party a few days ago. What a shame.





Just happy.




5 weeks.
Celebrating my 33rd birthday at The Ivy in downtown Wheaton. 
(no one knew our secret)





4 weeks.
Last trip to the lake house for the summer. Snuck this first-bump-pic in the bathroom, days after finding out we were pregnant. Memorable moment: riding the tube with the kids since Rob wasn't with us. And even though the rides were pretty tame, thinking "my dr. would not be happy with me". 


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Family Snapshot


What it's like to be us, right now. November 2013.


ROB

Likes: spending time together as a family, quiet weekends, regular exercise, paring down his diet to include as much raw and unprocessed food as possible, then trying to get the kids and I to try it! 
Dislikes: Hmm, you'd have to ask him... but I know a big one is that this time of year, it's dark out when he leaves for work and it's dark out when he comes home. Not seeing the sun all day must be really awful. 
Can be found: reading the Bible to our kids at dinnertime, The Chronicles of Narnia series to Robbie at bedtime, hitting the pavement around town or making good use of the Prairie Path, working hard at the office, up first with the kids on Saturday and Sunday mornings so that I can catch an extra hour or two of sleep, volunteering in Ellie's Cubbies room at Awana at Church on Wednesday nights, next to me on the couch at the end of exhausting days.
Is heard saying: "Let me do it." (Usually in reference to a chore or task I loathe.) "Thanks for dinner!" (Usually after a sub-par showing of my culinary skills.) "Hang in there." (In reference to all my little grumblings about whatever, spoken sincerely.) "Do you feel up for it?" (Never pushing me, always considerate.) 
Defining physical attributes: super skinny and fit, thanks to nearly a year of marathon training and healthy eating! 30 is the new 20. ;)
Something I don't want to forget about this period of time: how attentively supportive he is to me as I carry our fourth child. The vast number of times he's cleaned up dinner and loaded the dishwasher for me. The many times he's forgiven my (sometimes hormonally-induced) offenses. The way he overlooks my shortcomings on a very daily basis - not holding things over my head... (not that I have many examples. But for instance, two weeks ago when I backed out of the garage and nailed the side mirror of a rental van and shattered the mirror and cracked the frame... or the way the kitchen is perpetually cluttered, mainly with pastries (me) and crafts (kids) right now... or my sheer inability to complete the week's laundry in a single day and it becomes a permanent fixture, just hanging out on the side of the family room like a guest who won't leave and begs for attention.) The way he is constant and even. His texts early in the morning encouraging me or pointing out lovely things about me. His leadership in our family and all the time and effort he spends on loving each of us well, the way we need him to. His discipline in nearly every area of life. His strength.




ASHLEY

Likes: my morning cup of espresso {christmas blend} coffee alongside the dark and quiet first hour of the day as I try to spend time with the Lord each morning. Blogging my thoughts and hopefully encouraging other women in their spiritual journeys. Taking the kids to school and picking them up, then talking about what they're learning and experiencing. Helping them learn to see God in everything, teaching them how to pray, teaching them how to serve and love others well. I also like a good hot ham and cheese sandwich. I still like my makeup but I'm not insecure anymore without it, and I use a lot less of it. I love a good hot bath at the end of hard days, bath bomb included. I like getting involved in new ministry opportunities and the way it expands my heart and perspective. I really like any amount of time I get with friends to talk about the good, important stuff of life. I like the occasional Starbucks, and the relationships that are slowly forming with the kids who work there (seriously, sometimes they call me ma'am, so referring to them as kids is no longer a stretch). I love giving things away right now. I also love the idea of turning Christmas on it's head and really living out what we believe at this important time of year, but that's another post for another day. I love the way God is showing me new things about myself, both beautiful and ugly, and is lovingly pruning me. I really love the time I get to spend with Rob and the kids, and cherish it... and I also love the time I have alone during the day or week. 
Dislikes: how far away my best friend Kacey is. How sassy the kids seem to be this week. The way I have rapidly put on weight with this pregnancy (eek)! How infrequently we are able to see family members who live far away. Being out of breath after exerting any amount of physical energy - the stairs wind me! ha. The occasional nightmare about one of the kids getting the stomach flu, and the pathways I continue to fight to close in this area that causes me anxiety - thankfully, so much less than it used to. Laundry, crumbs that seem to perpetually live under the table, tasks that add up to more than my energy level. The way I often feel relationally exhausted. Also, I really, really dislike what has been going on in Congo and what continues to play out to this day. I had no idea until recently. 
Can be found: reading as much as possible (mainly early in the mornings and late at night), driving kids to and from various schools and activities, taking pictures to capture all the sweet and sassy of the moment, and generally attempting to convince little people to put on clothes, stay in buckles, eat their well balanced meals, stop fighting and use kind words, wipe and flush and wash. Once a week I can be found at church leading Bible study (although that recently ended); periodically you'll find me spending time with a sweet young woman from Congo and her little boy; in the mornings you can see me through our front windows at my 'Bible study table'; in the late afternoon and evening I'm anchored in the kitchen. Once a week I'm spending time mentoring the greatest college student you've ever met. In between all that, I can usually be found at playdates with friends, popping into our favorite resale shop downtown to visit my sweet friend who owns it, and enjoying the occasional one-on-one time with each of my kids.
Is heard saying: "That is NOT what a Livingston does/says." and "I love watching you ___ ." and "Please stop sassing me." and "You're so beautiful in the morning! I missed you while you slept!" - on repeat, ever day. Generally going on and on about the Refugee Resettlement Ministry our church has that I am dipping my toes in. Because it's amazing and God is changing so many hearts and lives through it, on both ends.
Defining physical attributes: Ever-growing belly. Ever-blond hair that was recently heavily low-lighted and quickly bleached back out. Problem skin and tired eyes but hopefully the happiness I have in my heart right now outshines these things!
Something I don't want to forget about this period of time: How miraculous it is to have life growing inside of your belly. The sweetness of my very little children, trying as they may be. How blessed I am to be married to my husband. The awareness I have of how powerful God can be in my life if I so choose and allow Him to be. How much I am growing as I learn more about myself and the Lord every day. The way it feels to be poured completely out every single day, and then miraculously filled to overflowing again and again.








ROBBIE

Likes: Legos, Kindergarten, playing with friends, rediscovering his trains in a box in the basement, keeping track of time, backseat driving, generally monitoring all things and keeping a frighteningly accurate and long memory. Morning hugs, routine, learning about anything new, wrestling.
Dislikes: disorder, running late, white milk, when things happen differently than he was expecting, being 'tested' in any way (so much anxiety), when a sharp tongue lashes out at his sensitive heart, being drug along on grocery shopping trips, getting vaccinated (you'd think we were cutting his arms off).
Can be found: independently moving through the routines of the day, playing in the playroom, being with his sisters, working intently on homework, reading EVERYTHING.
Is heard saying: "Mom, did you know..." and "Remember when..." and "SHE WON'T STOP BUGGING ME!". When asked what he's going to do for the baby when she comes: "Tummy time!"
Defining physical attributes: No meat on his bones. Growing so fast right now, face thinning out and looking so much older every day. Bruises up and down his shins. Sweet puffy eyes in the morning. The way his waist is a size 5 but his long legs require a size 6 (nearly 7!) in pants. How much he resembles his daddy, in pretty much every way. How I love his skinny-limbed hugs and loving gazes. The kisses are becoming few and far between but the love is certainly there. 
Something I don't want to forget about this period of time: How strong and tender he is at the same time. He loves being with other kids his age, especially other boys. His incredible ability to memorize and learn quickly. The way nothing escapes him. The way he and Ellie discuss orphans, and their honest conversations (without me) about whether we should adopt one someday into our family. How sincere his faith in God is. His imaginative play and love of superheroes. How he can still seem so very little and young, and yet very old and mature all at once. The way he reads to his sisters - and really well. How incredibly proud I am of who he is and how deep my love for my son is. How much he teaches me.




ELLIE

Likes: nurturing her little sister. playing with her brother, whom she adores. being read to, held, fussed over, physically loved on. any and all animals. praying at dinnertime. going to preschool. putting bandaids on everything. talking about all the things she's going to do with me for the new baby when she arrives (so far her role is clearly defined as bottle feeding the baby and kiss her).
Dislikes: being on time. getting dressed. going to bed easily. submitting to my authority. being challenged. having tangles brushed out of her hair. having to stop to use the bathroom. being alone in any situation. not sitting by mom at the dinner table. showering. cleaning up her toys.
Can be found: dashing urgently to the bathroom. coloring incessantly. playing babies with maddie. singing sweetly in the car. saying the lines to whatever movies she's watching. crafting. potty training maddie (ironic).
Is heard saying: "But Mommmmmm...!" and "I love you SO much." and "Don't worry...".
Defining physical attributes: Thinning out - we might be able to wear the same pants for a whole year straight! Her long wavy hair continues to be the envy of every woman who meets her. She's taken up with picking at her nails and often needs bandaids for little ouchies she creates. 
Something I don't want to forget about this period of time: how she moves so quickly between emotions. her ability to apologize and forgive quickly and completely. her love for praying - ask to pray at dinnertime and she will pitch a fit because SHE is our prayer warrior. :) how she is nurturing towards maddie, especially at ballet class when maddie needs corralling or comforting. the ways she is honestly trying to learn to restrain her negative reactions and emotions. the hundreds of times a day that she walks up to me and kisses my belly, talks to the baby, tells me I'm the most beautiful mom in the whole world, or that she loves me. 




MADDIE

Likes: being with her siblings, playing independently, apple juice, dancing, playing on the iPad, reading her books (especially the ones with the bubbles you can pop on each page), running ahead of her siblings to press the automatic button for the handicapped door or elevator. her paci and lovies (specifically the one with the birds on it).
Dislikes: finishing any meal or cup of milk, being put down for her afternoon nap, when someone tries to buckle her into her car seat (she can do it by herself thankyouverymuch).
Can be found: wherever her siblings are. sneaking into Ellie's room and rifling through her toys and desk drawers. flashing her best smile when I'm giving her a stern look for disobedience. 
Is heard saying: "No, I DO IT by myself!" and "Gimmie dat, Ellie" and "Where'd Bobby go?" every day of the week while he's at kindergarten. "The Bay-bee" with a funny southern-like accent.
Defining physical attributes: still my skinny little minnie. tiny waist, skinny arms and legs, the smoothest delicate skin, still-strawberry hair that has just enough curl, blond eyelashes, and as if that weren't enough to make you want to eat her up, she cannot pronounce her "S"'s correctly. All "s" sounds come out "th", with that cute little tongue poking out between her teeth. Perfection, if you ask me. "Thankth!"
Something I don't want to forget about this period of time: How dependable, adaptable and flexible she is. Her love of routine. The way she puts herself to sleep, but always asks for "huggie-kissie?!" before being tucked in. Those sweet paci-kisses and hugs, complete with gentle pats or rubs on my back. Her occasional request of "you rock me?". I scoop her little body up, drape her long legs on either side of my baby belly, she gently and sweetly lays her head on my shoulder and I sway back and forth, stroking her hair and telling her how much I love her. The way I have begun to feel that old familiar panicky feeling that soon my youngest will no longer be my baby. And will I have room in my heart for ANOTHER child? (yes, always) The way she proves to me every day that she has been gifted with a spirit of independence. She is the child that showed me that no matter how badly I feel like I am failing as a mother, I don't have to fear that I am ruining my kids because God's plan and love for them is bigger than me. Maddie is quite possibly my happiest child, and she is the one who stared up into my sad eyes for months as a little babe, her own cheeks catching my tears at times. I worried that she would carry my sadness somehow as she grew up, and the opposite has been true. She brings me so much joy.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Exposure.

I've been thinking a lot lately about Exposure.

I protect my children from being exposed to certain things. I try to protect myself from being exposed to too much as well, if I'm honest. This isn't something we tend to readily admit. But I'm kind of in this place of processing out loud, of being very honest with myself about who I am and how I live, and my friend Kacey has a beautiful, brave heart that makes you want to be brave and bold, too.

So here we are.

I hide. I run from things I don't feel like I can affect or help with or contribute positively to in any way. I shut myself off and self-protect because sometimes it hurts so much. I feel like I cannot bear to witness suffering without dying a little inside myself. That feeling is pretty uncomfortable, to put it mildly. And when that is coupled with the feeling or belief that you're paralyzed to do anything about a given situation?

Self-sequestered.

I loved the way Kacey admitted that she uses numbing mechanisms. Girlfriend, so do I. Some of them, I wasn't even aware of. Some of them I've been fighting for years. Some of them are obvious and common to many of you, or common among women or mothers or Americans, etc.

But some of them are surprising.

Here are the ones that God has unexpectedly shown me:

- I run my kids to the doctor when I doubt myself, which is altogether too often.
- I use 'schedule/time management' as a reason I don't get more involved in ministry opportunities.
- I try to create this hedge of protection around myself and my family by always having 'enough' on hand. Our pantry, linen closet, and clothing closets are proof that this is an issue for me.
- I give things, gifts, money when my heart longs to show love or care. It's so easy to just give STUFF. But it actually keeps me from having to give sacrificially. This one hit me right between the eyes, because I always saw myself as having a generous heart. And while I do think this is a mostly good characteristic that God did create me with, it's become a handicap for truly loving others well, creatively, or in a life-giving way. It keeps my gaze on the tangible and material, which is not good.
- I back away from situations when they hit too close to home, or when they start to cost me something I wasn't prepared to give. I call it protection, or sometimes (falsely) wisdom. It's faithlessness, most of the time.
- When I want to tune out any stress or heartache I feel, I tend to turn towards the beloved pastry. I put something sweet in my mouth, something warm and soft on my body, and I tend to sleep more. Want to know how Kacey is doing? Look at her cuticles (so she says). Want to know how I'm doing? Look at my countertops. In the last 3 weeks we have amassed cookies, donuts, and flavored breads in such quantity that it's shameful and impossible to ignore. I'm trying to cope with deep spiritual issues by consuming (or self-comforting with) sugar and flour.

None of these things is inherently wrong. Some of these things are actually good, for the most part, in moderation or at the right time (I suppose you could argue against the pastries, but I wouldn't advise it. I AM pregnant, you know.) Here's what I'm learning - when I do these things repeatedly? When I am always doing them, buying them, engaging with them - at times when I am hurting or at a loss... they become numbing mechanisms. Especially when they are the first things that I turn to. They are dangerously close to becoming idols, and when they take the place of God in my life? Or when they're my first stop when I need help, comfort, hope, guidance, or reassurance? They've been elevated to a dangerous level in my life.

Today I was forced to come face to face with the possible damage of something that we all protect, and rightly so. I have spent a lot of time trying to preserve and protect this 'something', and it was threatened today. It is currently being threatened.

I have felt ALL THE FEELINGS.

Fear. Anger. Confusion. Guilt. A sense of responsibility. Doubt. Urgency. Instinct to protect. A desire to recoil.

I gathered myself, and started to process things as objectively and unemotionally as I could.

What did I know to be true? What did I need to do as an immediate next step? What information do I need? Where can I get it? What can I control? What can I not control? Whose guidance do I need to seek? What decisions need to be made, and when?

Friends. God is so faithful. I will say this every day that I live, a thousand times if you'll let me. He is good and He is true. He is ever-present and all-knowing. He loves us so much more than we can even comprehend.

He has walked with me, leading me with tenderness and love. Into spaces that are unfamiliar, disturbingly so at times. I have never felt an absence of His presence. I reminded myself of this over and over today. He is with me. He sees all of this. He is never surprised. He has led me here for a reason. This is no accident or oversight.

As I thought more about what my response should be, what I WANT it to be, I realized that I needed to be careful to set my mind on things above. To consider what Jesus' response was in similar situations, what His response might look like today if He were me. What would he value? What would he fight for? What would he do and say, how would he lead this family through something unexpected? How would he show the love of the Father in all ways, every time?

I thought about the way that Jesus never ran or hid. He came to look right into the face of pain, suffering, poverty, abandonment, brokenness, sickness, death, and sin. He never shrank back from it. He never put on gloves. He was never content to just scrape the surface.

You guys. He dove into the mess. He touched lepers. He walked into rooms and tombs where the dead lay and brought them back to life. He commanded demons out of sons. He ate with outcasts. He defended vulnerable women. He pulled children onto his lap. He washed dirty feet. He stayed in the homes of others.

I am so broken over the thought that I have often made choices so contrary to Jesus' choices, never realizing it. I prefer to stay in places that are clean and sanitary. Since we're being honest, I also prefer an aesthetically pleasing environment. I like it when people smell good, when they bathe regularly before I am in close quarters with them. I'm all for giving to causes but rarely do I build relationships with the people who are suffering or struggling. I keep my distance in so many ways. I hate to say it but I dread funerals. The stench of death and the idea of coming face to face with mortality and loss - it overwhelms me sometimes, makes my heart pound just to think about it. I don't wash many feet, and if/when I do, I am certainly not running towards the ones who threaten to betray me. No, I am content to wash feet that are already clean.

Loving and serving others, in Jesus' name... it's not natural. Not if we're going to do it the way He asks us to. Today I find myself faced with a choice that's complicated on one hand, but also very simple on the other. Will I continue to follow Him where He leads me? Will I continue to love in His name? When it's hard, messy, scary, and totally countercultural? Who will I listen to - those around me who might encourage me to 'be careful' with good intentions, implying that I ought to back away? Or will I listen to Jesus, who asks me to consider His ways, His example, and love the way He loved and still loves? Will I continue to dive in, or will I self-protect?

The rub is this: Jesus' love cost him everything. Social status, friends, followers, and favor. Relaxing days, a carefree attitude, ignorance... none of these were afforded to Him with the path God had laid out for him on earth. His ministry, the purpose of his life, it landed him nailed to a cross, blood pouring out. And that was the plan all along.

Why do we think we can love without it costing us something? Why do I assume that I'm the exception to the rule - that I can love someone else well, in the name of Jesus, and not have it be costly or painful?

Here I am again, examining my stingy little heart. Happy to have it busted apart, yet again, as I learn what it means to really love. To really care for those Jesus asked us to care for. To give in ways that I didn't realize I could - beyond means and resources and stuff. To start giving of myself in ways that are meaningful.

It might be obvious, but you can't really give of yourself without being broken apart and having something worth offering, an actual piece of yourself to hand over. When I run from the breaking process, I have very little to offer that is worth giving. And whatever I do give at that point? It has very little to do with me, and very little Jesus in it.

On the other hand, when I splay my life out before The King, and say "it was all yours to begin with, every piece, and it's all still yours today"... when I stop pretending that I have control over any of it, that I can actually protect it in meaningful ways, for good reason... then I am able to take a real, honest step of faith. I can lay my Isaac on the altar (whatever that might be, whether it's dreams for my future, my children, our happiness, our health, our routines and schedule, our relationships, our purpose or our ministry). I can lay it before Him in trust, knowing that He is a good God and He will provide for us in all ways that He sees as best. He will bring Himself the most glory every time, and He will make me more like Himself in the process. Every time.

If that includes being pressed? It's ok. If that means loss? I am desperate to grasp that and say it's ok. If that means the death of something I was trying so hard to breathe life into? Well then God help me, I will step back and let Him have whatever I cling so desperately to, knowing it's futile to fight God's plan.

I will admit that I have no idea how to do this. How do you gather up your courage enough to say "I'm ok with things not turning out the way I had hoped. I am ok with being brokenhearted."?? I do know one thing - I don't have it in me, by myself. I need God to do this work in my heart.

I realize that He is at work every day, trying to help me learn these lessons incrementally. When a lesson feels particularly harsh or abrupt, often it's because I've been lazy or ignoring His nudges. I've been undisciplined to study what He says in His Word, and I haven't been growing the way I should. At the same time, when a lesson feels harsh, I am learning to turn the sting of correction into thanksgiving. Thank you, Lord, for not leaving me in the place that I was. Thank you for loving me enough to change me to be more like you, by your power and strength. No thanks to me, but all glory to You.

The more I am able to see life the way God sees it, the less I hold on so tightly to my idea of how things should be. By God's grace, day by day I am learning to release my grasp of things I never really had control over to begin with. If and when those things are taken from me? I hope I am able to still praise God - because that is my desire. To be so totally caught up in Him, so fully trusting and following Him wherever He leads, that the consequences are worth it. Or not worth comparing to what He has given to me in exchange, and what He has promised to me for eternity.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

God is here. {part 2}

"Your eyes will behold the King in his beauty." - Isaiah 33:17

"The more you know about Christ, the less you will be satisfied with superficial views of Him; and the more deeply you study His transactions in the eternal covenant, His engagements on your behalf as the eternal Security, and the fullness of His grace that shines in all His offices, the more truly will you see the King in His beauty. Learn to look at Him this way. Long increasingly to see Jesus. Meditation and contemplation are often like windows of gold and gates of silver through which we behold the Redeemer. Meditation puts the telescope to the eye and enables us to see Jesus in a better fashion than we could have seen Him if we had lived in the days of His earthly sojourn. Our conversation ought to be more in heaven, and we should be more taken up with the person, the work, the beauty of our incarnate Lord. More meditation, and the beauty of the King would flash upon us with more splendor. Beloved, it is very probable that we will have such a sight of our glorious King as we never had before when we come to die. Many saints in dying have looked up from amidst the stormy waters and have seen Jesus walking on the waves of the sea and heard Him say, "It is I - do not be afraid." Yes, when the building begins to shake, and the mortar falls away, we will see Christ through the studs, and between the rafters the sunlight of heaven will come streaming in. But if we want to see the King face to face in all His beauty, we must go to heaven for the sight or the King must come here in person. If only He would come on the wings of the wind! He is our Husband, and we are widowed by His absence; He is our fair and faithful Brother, and we are lonely without Him. Thick veils and clouds hang between our souls and their true life: When will the day break and the shadows run away? Let the long-expected day begin!"

Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening

**********

I truly wish I were a better, more articulate writer. I wish I could have captured, somehow, all that my eyes have seen in the last few weeks. All the wisdom and sweet words {and even atrocities} that my ears have heard others speak and teach and expose me to. At the end of the day there really isn't a way to put simple words to the intricacies of the heart. The fragile wavering between hope and despair. The way a heart swells to nearly bursting, without any indication to the rest of the world but the steady stream of leaky tears. That sweetness that washes over you when you realize you are smack in the middle of a moment that God has come near and revealed Himself, and you stand in unexpected awe. When a lightbulb goes on and it all starts to make sense as pieces fall into place. I've had what feels like 100 of these moments this month.

The thing about this life in Christ, of walking with God and following where He leads, is that even when it's hard it's beautiful. Even when there is evidence of death and destruction and sheer evil, we know Truth and Mercy and Grace have already overcome, and will ultimately overcome in the end when Jesus returns and brings resurrection and life to everything that death tried to steal. We have hope. I've never been more thankful for the hope I have in Christ, in His beautiful gospel, than I have been in the last week. Without Jesus' saving work on the cross and His victory over death at His resurrection, there really would be no hope. For any of us.

The gospel He has given to us - His story that we tell over and over - it's so beautiful that I can hardly breathe some days. I'm learning to preach the gospel to myself over and over, to allow God to speak it to my heart repeatedly without tiring of it's familiar but arresting message, to consume it every day and absorb it to the point that it seeps out of my pores. That every time I'm pressed or crushed, it's the gospel that comes pouring out of me. It's the life that flows through me - His blood in my blood.

If the King of Kings is this majestic, this beautiful to me now... how much  more so when I see Him face to face!? How will I ever pick myself up off the floor in holy worship... how does a mouth form any words or sound at all. What is there but "Thank you... I love you... I worship you..." to be spoken?

Something else that I'm realizing is that the farther I walk down the road of ministry to others {namely, currently, to refugees}, and the more poverty, brokenness, abuse, and sin I see in this world that is being opened up wider to me, the more I see God's beauty. The more I am able to rest in His sovereignty and power and wisdom. Sometimes our instinct or gut level reaction to something awful is to try and fix the situation, to get to work changing it all. To start tending to the walking wounded and burying the lifeless and gathering those who are left to safety. And while there is a time and a place for all of those things, I find myself more and more responding with a new kind of stillness. Allowing the Peace of Christ to rule in my heart first, reminding myself of His Truth and His character and His promises, and what He says about this life. And only then stepping forward into the fray.

It helps me to remove myself from the equation. It helps me set my doubts and fears aside, and it silences the questions I don't have answers to. My gaze is on His beauty, and I can take a step forward when He is in my line of sight. Because the truth about all of it is that this life, this ministry, it's all dependent on Him. Every word spoken is able to be spoken because He has loosened the tongue. Any mind that can take Him in and absorb His Truth is ready to receive because the Holy Spirit has enabled it. Any heart that turns to Him has been prepared over time, tendered by His pursuit and relentlessness. Any means of escape - escape of any kind - has been ordained by Him. It's not up to me. It's all dependent upon His plan, His grace, His power, His wisdom, His loving kindness and His ability.

Do you know how much peace that leaves us with? His grace is ENOUGH. Enough to cover me when I make mistakes, when I have good intentions but am misdirected. When I think about how awful life on earth really is for some, and when I think about what I can do in the face of that... one very small, limited person.

I'm not meant to be the hero. I'm meant to be the ambassador, the conduit for His grace and mercy. The empty vessel that is willing to be picked up and used in any small way. The one who looks at Him and then looks out and says, "what do you see? what are you doing? how can I be a small part? how can you use me? what needs to happen?"

The beauty I've seen in the month of November is staggering. The way God comes to us and offers us everything our hearts have ever wanted and needed. The way He says that we are HIS BODY, and then moves us to actually understand this concept and participate in such a holy, spiritual activity as coming together to love and serve others. The life He brings through relationships, the awareness of our condition that brings new dependence on Him, the forgiveness that He never ever withholds, the patience He demonstrates as we are slow to learn and trust and really see... All of it. It makes for staggering beauty that would make any heart burst.

It's true that perfect love casts out fear. I'm running into that love, sitting quietly in it every day. Fear melts away and love boldly takes its place. Thank you, Lord.

Only Jesus Can
Vertical Church Band

Can he breathe into the dust?
Can he make sons out of us?
Life is in his mighty hands
Our life is in almighty hands

He can do it, yes, he can
He will prove it, our God can
No one else can save us, redeem us
Create a new life in us
Only Jesus can

Can he love His enemies?
Can he make them family?
Life is in His mighty hands
Life is in almighty hands

Can He heal the leper's limb?
Can He cleanse us from within?
Can we drink from living streams?
Can we ever be redeemed?
He has healed the leper's limb
He has cleansed us from within
We have drunk from living streams
Surely, we have been redeemed.