Monday, December 31, 2012

Get Real...

I am not a big fan of New Year's Resolutions...but have always been a fan of making a life growth plan, an idea I stole from my friend Bill Allsion years ago.  So in the spirit of looking forward to new life growth in 2013, I am excited to share with you a challenge for this year.

I want to invite you to join me in just being real this coming year.  By "being real," I mean authentic, and by "authentic," I mean imperfect.  I have had the privilege of getting a sneak peek at Jill Savage's newest book, No More Perfect Mom, and have been reminded of how often we compare our insides to everyone else's outsides.  So often in life, we go about pretending to be okay when really our hearts are weighed down with sorrows, or we allow fear to keep us silent rather than asking for help.  The truth is there is so much freedom that comes from just being real with people, and not just freedom for you.  There is freedom for those around you also, because when you are real, it allows them to be be real.  So, I am going to spend this year blogging about real life, the trials as well as the triumphs.

Here is a quote from the introduction of Jill's book, "Have you ever wondered what is wrong with you, with your family, with your kids? Nothing is wrong with you or your family. You are normal. Your frustrations are normal. Your disappointments are normal. Your struggles are normal. In fact, that’s what this book is all about: the reassurance that you are normal."

I hope to share in this "Get Real" journey with you in 2013, here are a few ways you can get started...

1. Sign up for Jill Savage's "No More Perfect Moms" 31-Day Email Challenge. I'm sure it'll be a fantastic way to start the new year. You don't have to have the book {which doesn't release until February anyway} to be part of this. Click here to sign up so you can start receiving real-life encouragement in your inbox on Jan. 1.

2. Don't buy the book yet, but get ready to do so Feb. 4-9. Along with the release of "No More Perfect Moms," Hearts at Home and Moody Publishers will offer additional bonus resources worth more than $100 if you order/buy the book anytime Feb. 4-9. Click here to learn more about this and sign up to be reminded of the release date.

3. Visit "No More Perfect Moms" websiteThis is where you can share stories, learn more about the book, and view motherhood resources.

4. Choose one friend to get real with. Look through your facebook friends list, think about the other people in your circles, and chose one person to start being real with.  Someone who you can invite over, even if your house is a mess.  Someone you can talk to when your kids are behaving less than perfectly, or you are fighting with your spouse.  Someone you can share your struggles with.  And most importantly, someone you can encourage to also be real with you.  Romans 1:12 tells us to that we can "be mutually encouraged by each other's faith."   

 Let me know if you want to join me in this challenge, I look forward to hearing from you soon!  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A few quick lessons from the little ones

Being an adult is often so humbling...I learn so much from my children and wanted to take a minute to share a few insights they have taught me lately.  Hope you enjoy them!

Yesterday my two year old was trying to get the headphones off of the computer desk.  He had gotten ahold of one end and was pulling with all his might.  No matter how hard he pulled, he could not get the headphones down.  From where I sat, I could see that there was a knot in the wire part and the harder he pulled, the tighter the knot became, and the tighter the knot got, the less likely the headphones were to be obtained.  I tried to get him to let go so I could undo the knot, but he wouldn't release his hold on them.  I couldn't help but think of how often I had been in the same predicament.  Can you relate?  Way too many times I can remember wanting something, catching a glance of it, reaching out and grabbing ahold of it and then pulling with all my might.  But no matter how hard I pulled I could not seem to obtain the object.  I wonder if God was looking from above the scene, trying to pry my fingers off of the cords so that He could free the object for me, but I refused to let go and trust God to know more than me. Hmm?  and Ouch!

My 11 month old is at that wonderful stage where he loves to play peek-a-boo.  We were enjoying some giggles while playing this game just last week.  Of course, I am a teacher at heart so I understand that play is really a secret way of learning new things.  For example, peek-a-boo, and it's older brother, hide and go seek, helps to teach the concept of "object permanence."  This concept helps babies to learn that just because they can't see something doesn't mean it is not there.  As my little guy and I were playing, it struck me that, though God never hides from us, we do need to learn the lesson of object permanence....just because we cannot see God, doesn't mean He isn't there.  Sometimes a situation is so desperate, (the Sandy Hook shootings, for example) that I struggle to see God in all the details.  Hebrews 13:5 reminds us, "“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  And yet still, when the flood waters start rising, it sometimes feels like God is nowhere to be found. I hope the next time I feel this way, I will remember that though it feels like God is playing hide and seek with me, God is not hiding, which can only mean that I have not been seeking...
Thoughts? Comments?  I always love feedback!  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happily Ever After

Oh I love a happy ending, don't you?  After all, every fairy tale I have ever read ends with, "and they lived happily ever after."  But, I suppose the key word there is "fairy" in not real life, because if I have learned anything in these 40 plus years I have walked here on earth, it is that life does not always have a "happily ever after" ending.  oh there may be a chapter or two, even more for some of us, but not every chapter ends that way.  I was reminded of this once again last February when my dad turned the last page of his book and passed away.

As a little girl, my daddy had always been my hero, and though he wasn't perfect, you wouldn't have been able to convince me that he was anything but wonderful.  When my nephew was killed back in 1998, I began to see a different person take over where my dad had been.  We still had a decent relationship, but my dad began to change, and then in July of 2007 our relationship took a terrible turn.  That is when my niece came to live with us and things between dad and I got pretty choppy.  My dad blamed me for the things that were happening with my brother, and eventually he stopped talking to me all together.

Of course, I hoped and prayed for reconciliation.  I offered to meet with him and the pastor of his choosing more times than I can even count, but always he refused.  He had a heart attack in 2008 and I thought that this may be our chance for the "happily ever after," but it only deepened the ever growing canyon between us.  Many nights I spent restless and broken at the distance that had come between us, and as I lay awake I began to paint a "happily ever after" picture in my head.  I knew that God desires reconciliation, I knew that I was willing, and that my dad was a professing Christian, so I was convinced that it would happen.  (See 2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

In February of this year, I received news that my dad had been rushed to the hospital.  Once again the hope of reconciliation rose up in me.  Jerry and I went to the hospital, and spent the next week traveling back and forth there.  I sat beside my dad's bed and held his hand, closer than I had been to him in 5 years.  As I sat there I prayed that he would wake up and we could talk through all of the things that had driven a wedge between us.  I played out the conversations in my head, what I would say, what he would say...I was well on my way to that "happily ever after" ending.

As I went to the hospital each day I was faced with many reminders of how unsettled things had become between Dad and I.  Several of my dad's family members treated me unkindly, and one of my dad's friends from his church spoke very unkind words to me, making an already painful situation even more difficult.  (For the full story you can read my March 2012 blog,"I Can't Find My Big Girl Panties..."

Sadly, my dad never did wake up, we never had our chance to talk through the trouble that had grown up between us, and I never got to hear the words I so desperately wanted to hear, "I love you Marla."  The happily ever after never came, and even as I type this almost one year later, my heart is still heavy with the reality of it all.  The visitation and funeral only served as reminders of just how permanent the distance between my dad and I would remain.  I was filled with conflicting emotions of love, anger, and regret.  This was not the way the story was suppose to end!  What happened to "happily ever after?"

As the story unfolded I couldn't help but question, is God a God of "happily ever after" endings or isn't He?  I mean He is in the business of reconciliation, right?  It is why He sent His son to die on the cross for us, so that we could be reconciled to Him.  (Again See 2 Corinthians 5:18-19)  Well, in truth, God is all for "happily ever after" I have read the end of His book, and for those who choose to believe and become followers of Him, the story does indeed end well.  The key is, that God is a gentleman, and He allows us to choose for ourselves.  We will all have to live with the choices we make, and for those of us who choose well, the ending is very happy. The ending to my dad and I's story, may not have been the ending I had hoped for, but the choices we each made resulted in the story being written as it was.

Though I am sad at how the last chapter of our story together ended, I am reminded again of the truth of God's word in Isaiah 40:31, "But those who hope in the Lord, will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles: they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."  I am reminded that what I can hope and count on is the Lord.  So often I want to hope in other people, I want to be able to count on this person or that person to fulfill a need I have, but the truth is that people will disappoint us. But God, now that is a different story!  He will NEVER disappoint us, NEVER leave us, NEVER forsake us!

He wants to be the author of our everyday story, and I promise, if we trust in Him, we will indeed live happily ever after!

Comments or Questions?  I would love to hear them!

Friday, November 30, 2012

I've Got This!

It's probably just me, but does anyone else out there spend time worrying and fretting about all sorts of things?  Just last night I was tossing and turning in bed trying to turn my brain off and get some rest.  This is a problem I have wrestled with for as long as I can remember.  I know.  I are all getting ready to quote the verses from Matthew 6 about worrying to me.  Well, at least that is what my husband usually does, so I know the verses, but in case you don't this is what they say:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I have jokingly told my husband that I think the punctuation in verse 27 is incorrect and should read more like a challenge than a question. “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life!?”  And I am answering, “Well, I’m sure trying!”  

The truth is that worry just robs you of peace and accomplishes nothing.  You cannot change anything simply by worrying, but prayer…well that is a different story!  Prayer can change EVERYTHING!  Philippians 4:6 has the better answer, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” 

Awhile back I was busy doing about 10 things at once when my 5 year old asked me to make her a sandwich.  I told her that I would make lunch as soon as I finished up the task I was working on.  As I was finishing up, the phone rang and I got distracted with the phone call.  I looked up to see my little girl making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her brother and her.  I hung up the phone and apologized to her for being distracted.  She looked up at me and smiled giving me a thumbs up she said, “Don’t worry mom, I’ve got this!” 

I wonder how many times God says that to me?  After I have tossed and turned for hours fretting over the latest dilemma, when I finally cry out to God in prayer, does he look down at me, smile and give me a thumbs up…”Don’t worry daughter, I’ve got this.” 

So the next time you are robbed of peace because of the anxiety pounding on your front door, I hope you will remember not to be anxious about ANYTHING but in EVERY situation, cry out to God, because He’s got this!  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Urgent News

Have you ever gotten news that was so awesome you couldn't wait to tell everyone?  Maybe you got a job promotion?  Or your son or daughter made the varsity team?  Maybe you are going to be a parent or grandparent for the first time?  Or something you have been praying about for a long time was answered?  These are incredible things, each of them, and if I had experienced any of these I wouldn't hesitate to tell the world.  I would tweet it, update my Facebook status and probably work it into my next the way my sophomore daughter made the varsity cheer team this week!  (I know, I am shameless!)

So why is it that I do not have this same sense of urgency to share the greatest news of all time?  I have been thinking about this ever since I received a phone call from my sister this morning,  She called to tell me that our cousin is very sick and that he was being life flighted for treatment.  I was never really close to him, but we grew up next door to each other and he was always kind.  In truth, we only ever had a handful of conversations but as I sit here awaiting news, it is weighing on my heart that I never, not one time, ever shared with him about the love of Christ.  The most important thing in my whole life, the thing that gives my life meaning, and I never even talked with him about it.  Actually, the sad truth is, I never even thought about telling him about Jesus' death and resurrection, about the hope of a life redeemed.  And I think that bothers me the most.  Why wouldn't I think about it? What is wrong with me?  

Now, I am not saying he isn't a believer.  I am saying I don't know where he stands, we never talked about it.  Never.  And he isn't the only person that comes to mind that I know and have not shared Christ with.  Time is drawing near, really none of us have a guarantee of our next moment.  Makes me think of a conversation I had with my Jennah when she was just a little girl.

We were snuggling down for the night and she asked me when Jesus was going to be coming back.  I told her that the Bible says that no man knows the day or the hour. (Matthew 24:36) I went on to tell her that this was the reason we always needed to be ready to meet Jesus.  She grew quiet for a few minutes as she thought over what I had said to her, and then she asked, "Why don't we just ask some women then?"

Gotta love my Jennah girl!  Truth is, none of us know when someone we love is going to be taken from this earth.  None of us know when we are going to be called home, and none of us know when Jesus is going to come back, not even any women!  We need to stay focused on the task we have before us, the great commission was the last command Jesus gave, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you..." (Matthew 28:19-20)  This was a message near and dear to His heart.  If it was important enough to be His last words, then I think we better pay attention!  I love the way Peter puts it, "...always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have..." (1 Peter 3:15)

So my challenge today, to myself and to you, is this:  who do you know that needs to hear about the hope that lives within you?  Think of one person, maybe someone sitting across from you at the Thanksgiving table, and begin praying now that God would give you the opportunity and wisdom to share the best news ever with them.  There is no guarantee they will be sitting there at Christmas.  Let us make the most of the time God has given us, let Ps 90:12 be your prayer, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." While your at it, maybe you could tweet about it, set it as your Facebook status, or work it into your next blog.  I just did :)

If you have questions, or aren't sure what I mean when I talk about this hope that lives within me, PLEASE feel free to contact me!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Moses Babies

At different points in my life, I have been able to relate to different people in the Bible.  There are times I can relate to Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, as he mourns over his fellow countrymen turning their backs on God.  Other times when I can relate to David, crying out for protection from his enemies.  And still other times when I can cry out like Paul "What a wretched man I am!" (Romans 7:24).  But never, have I related more to a person from the Bible than I do with Jochebed, Moses' mother.  Jochebed lived during a time when the Israelites were under the rule of a cruel Egyptian pharaoh.  The Pharaoh was concerned about the strength and number of Israelites and so after trying  some other scheme, he orders that every Hebrew baby boy that is born must be thrown into the Nile River, and that is where Jochebed comes in.  Let's peek in at the story from Exodus chapter 2:1-4

"Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman,(Jochebed) and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch.  Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.  His sister (Miriam) stood at a distance to see what would happen to him." Italics mine 

This is the first part of the story, and what I see is a woman who loved her baby boy and valued life.  She took great risks to protect him.  She hid a baby for 3 months, not an easy task if you consider all the crying a newborn baby does, and then when she could hide him in her home no longer, she made a basket and placed him in the Nile River, in a sense obeying the decree of the Pharaoh, yet with her own added protection.  The struggle that must have been taking place within her, a mother's heart to protect at all costs and yet knowing the only thing she could do was let go and trust that God had it under control.  Let's look at the rest of the story, picking it up in verses 5-8

"Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her  attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.”  So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

Ultimately, Jochebed's prayers were answered, Moses' life was spared and she even got to love on him, nurse him and just as an added bonus, she got paid to do it!  Now isn't that just like God to see Jochebed's heart and sprinkle in his favor.  Of course, as each day passed, Jochebed knew that their time together was more and more limited.  She knew that eventually she would have to surrender her baby again when it was time for him to go live with Pharaoh's daughter.  What she didn't know at that point, is that God was going to use Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage.  He was putting the pieces together even as Jochebed rocked her sweet baby boy and with tears streaming down her cheeks, she sang him lullabies.  She just didn't know it.  No one did, except of course, God.

In the last four and a half years, I have come to understand Jochebed's plight at a deep level.  God has delievered 3 Moses babies to our home.  Many of you know that I have the privilege of raising my niece and 2 nephews, and in some ways their journey is much like Moses, and my heart feels much like Jochebed's.  You see, legally, these babies aren't mine, I have been chosen to care for them, to love on them and in every sense, to be their momma.  But...legally, well legally, that is a different story.  In fact, the birth parents still, after almost 5 years, have more rights than I do to these babies.  And each day that goes by, may be a day closer to them being part of our forever family, or may be a day closer to them returning to the birth family.  I want to hold tightly to them, to hide them away in hopes of not being discovered, but the truth is, I cannot.  So, like Jochebed, I am forced to make a basket, to line it with tar, and to place them in it, hoping they will be rescued and returned to me, but unaware of the long term plan.  Only God knows that.

It was only a year ago, when I literally had to release one of these babies.  My, then 11 month old nephew was ordered to "return home."  It was with great weeping and a deep sorrow, sorrow unlike any I had known before, that I packed up his belongings and placed him into that basket in the Nile.  I was terrified, "The crocodiles may consume him," I argued with God.  I begged God to intervene, I believed God was going to step in before I had to let him go, but the day came and I was forced, against everything in me, to put this sweet baby in the care of people I knew would not love or protect him, and walk away.  Actually, more accurately, to be drug away.  I wonder if Jochebed had to be drug away as she turned Moses over?

God provided a Miriam though, for this sweet baby boy.  You see, the court for my niece, had not agreed that she should be returned "home" so instead she began unsupervised visits and then would return here to our care.  While she was on a visit, she could watch out for her brother and report back to us on how he was doing.  Then, one night she returned home with the saddest of all tales, not for her brother but for her.  As I was bathing her and getting her ready for bed, I saw that she had been injured.  I cannot go into detail about the injury except to say that it was significant. The realm of emotions I felt in that moment are indescribable.  As I tenderly washed her and questioned her, I could see that this wound went straight to her sweet, little heart.  She was frightened at what she had experienced, and afraid for her brother who had remained in the Nile, while she had gotten to come home.  Even now as I write this, fresh tears spring to my eyes, and fresh questions.  I do not understand why she had to go through this, and why God didn't work this out in a different way.  I wonder if Miriam was afraid as she sat and watched over Moses?  Was she full of fear as she approached the Pharaoh's daughter?

44 days after placing our baby boy in the Nile, he came home.  He was removed from the birth home and welcomed back into our house.  It was with great celebration, as you can imagine, but also with heartache at knowing what his sister had had to endure, and not knowing what all he had endured.  And now, a year later, and a new baby added to the mix, we are still uncertain of if or when someone will tell us we have to send any of these three babies home.  It is still very much a reality, one that often robs me of sleep.  Oh I understand the heart of Jochebed!  How many nights did she walk the floor, checking and double checking on her baby, uncertain of their future together.  How many tears did she shed at the uncertainty of all that lie ahead of them.  And I wonder if she again had tears streaming down her cheeks as she sang him lullabies?

This side of heaven, we will not know exactly what Jochebed was feeling, but we do know that she must have spent her days filling Moses' head with the knowledge of God, of who He was and what He could do.  We know this because as Moses  grew, He walked with God.  When God appeared to him in the burning bush, he knew it was the great "I AM."    So I am taking notes from Jochebed, really none of us know what tomorrow holds, we only have the promise of this moment right now.  Let's use the time we have wisely, let's train up our babies to know and love the Lord.  Let's hold each moment precious, and try not to waste this moment being anxious about what the next moment may bring.  Oh trust me, I know that is easier said than done, but really it is all we can do because though we don't know the long term plan, God does. And I trust that He loves me, that He loves these babies even more than I do, and that He's "got this." So sing those lullabies, even if tears are streaming down your face as you do! 

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Who Am I?

Here I am again, knee deep in laundry, diapers, and chaos.  It is days like this that make me miss teaching.  Sure, I am still working with kids, but there is a beginning to each day, and an ending.  Not like here.

Here my day starts with a loud "Mom!" alarming over the baby monitor and end??  It never really ends.  Oh I fall into bed sometime between 10:30 and midnight.  I am always exhausted by the time I hit the pillow but my brain doesn't shut off as easily as my body wishes it would!  I mull over the day, the things I have accomplished, the things I was suppose to accomplish. I think about tomorrow, what will need to be done and make a mental checklist.  This is usually the time I beat myself up for all my shortcomings as well.  If only I had....  But eventually slumber finds me and long before I am ready, the day begins again.

I really don't mind it most days, I truly cherish the opportunity I have to stay at home with my kids.  But, if I am honest, there are times I feel a bit lost in it all.  I have been doing this parenting thing a long time, in fact my oldest is 18.  But, I also have a long way to go, as my youngest isn't quite 9 months old yet!  Maybe lost isn't the right word...forgotten?  Maybe that is a better way to put it.  What I mean is, I am not sure who I am...oh I am a momma and pastor's wife, a daughter and sister, but beyond that.  I use to say that I was a teacher, and I guess I still am, but the pay (at least monetarily speaking) is significantly less than it use to be!  No, maybe lost was the right word.  It seems that I have somehow lost my purpose.  I had big dreams, I was going to be somebody....someday, but here I am in my 40's already and I am still not sure who I am. 

When I was young, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.  By the time I graduated high school, I had a plan.  I worked 40 hours a week in college, plus took a full class load, to pay my way through.  After 5 years, a little behind schedule, I did it!  I graduated from WIU with a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education.  I even managed to graduate "Cum laude," which was no small feat considering I was 9 months pregnant with Jeremiah!  I was off and running, full steam ahead toward my goal!  I landed the first job I interviewed for and Jerry and I settled down in Galesburg, Illinois to start the life I had planned. 

There was just one problem kept getting in the way of my plan.  I only taught two years before my plan was unraveling and I had more questions than I had answers about what lie ahead for us.  As I look back now, I can clearly see the hand of God moving in all of the circumstances that went against what I thought should be happening.  Funny thing I realize now is that I never once, not one time, stopped to ask God what His plan was for me.  Oh I asked Him to bless my plan, to move the obstacles that popped up obstructing me from what I had in mind, but I never even paused to seek His face. Time marched on, my older four children grew, and I once again entered the working world.  It seemed to finally all be making sense and and my plan was back on track.

Then four years ago this past July, my plan began to crumble again.  Long story short, I became a momma again to a 9 month old baby girl, and then 2 years ago, to a brand new baby boy, and then 8 months ago, another baby boy blessed our home.  These precious babies, were not a part of Jerry and I's plan.  Thankfully we were a little smarter by now though and able to realize that they were a part of what God had planned for us.  The words of Proverbs 16:9 resonate deep within my heart, "In his heart, a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his step."

Still, from time to time when the diapers threatened to overtake me, I again find myself struggling with the question, who am I?  A master diaperer? Chef? Laundry specialist? "Just" a stay at home mom?  I forget to ask God what His plan in all of this is.  I know He has a plan for me, Jeremiah 29:11 promises me that. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." I know I am His child, a daughter of the King of Kings, but somehow in the day to day chaos that doesn't feel like enough.  Then yesterday I was at the park with my 5 year old.  It was her birthday and we were enjoying a few minutes of play. She began to chatter, all about how Jesus loves her and died on the cross for her sins.  How Jesus is God's son, and on and on about true Scriptural things.  My friend, Julie, was with me and had been listening to me wrestle through the who am I question.  She repeated back some of the things my sweet girl had just said, and then reminded me that being her mommy, was exactly enough.  Exactly what God had planned for me at this time and suddenly I knew the answer.   Who am I??  I am the momma to 7 sweet blessing that God will use to change the world, after all they will take after their momma (and Dad!)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Having a Martha Heart in a Mary (Merry) Household...

            Okay, I don’t know about you but every time I hear the story of Mary and Martha I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Martha.  Now I know that isn’t the “proper” response, certainly we see from Scripture that Mary “chose the better thing.”  I am just saying that if Martha hadn’t been there then there would have been a houseful of hungry men.  Seriously, think about it.  Martha was busy preparing a meal and doing “all the work to be done.”  It’s not like she was doing unnecessary things for Pete sake.  I mean somebody had to do the work that needed to be done while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. 
            So am I the only one who has thought of this?  Is there anyone else out there who can relate way more to Martha than to Mary?  (I hope so!) It seems it is the same way in my own house, I suppose I could be seen as a “fun vacuum” if you ask my kids or husband, Jerry.  However, if everyone is having fun then who is going to fold the socks?  And I like flash light tag as much as the next gal but if no one cleans a path through the house then someone is going to wind up wounded when the lights are out.  So is there a way to balance a Martha heart with a Merry household?  Well, maybe…
            First let’s look at what Mary was doing.  The Scripture says she was “sitting at the feet of Jesus.”  Now this simply means that she was receiving instruction from him, she was learning from His teaching.  I will, sheepishly, admit that when I am preparing supper and Jerry is sitting on the couch I am quite easily angered, even if he is reading his Bible.  Sure, He is doing the better thing but won’t our children starve if one of us doesn’t cook for them.  Okay, back to Mary, it is safe to assume she was not playing a game of Chutes and Ladders or watching the newest video.  She was soaking up wisdom from the King of Kings, her Savior. 
Maybe that is the key, what the person is doing, so is it okay to ask your kids to do a chore (or two or three) when they would rather be playing?  I think even Jesus would agree that it is okay.  Playing and sitting at Jesus’ feet are two different things!  The trick is to find a balance.  The Scripture is filled with verses that talk about the value of hard work and not being lazy.  In fact Proverbs 19:15 states, “Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer hunger.”  My dad always said it like this, “You don’t work, you don’t eat!”  Verse 26 in chapter 10 of Proverbs says, “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who send him. 
I think it is safe to say then that Mary was not being lazy when she chose to sit at Jesus feet, but Martha was not being lazy either so why does she get a rebuke from the Lord?  Well, let’s take a look at what she was doing.  She was busy doing the housework, type A personality for sure, but I can just imagine how things were playing out for her.  After all I have found myself, once or twice, in her shoes. 
She wakes up knowing that there is a lot to accomplish this day before her guests arrive.  My guess is that she rushed through breakfast, handing out orders and shared her expectations all the way through.  Or maybe she didn’t even communicate those expectations; after all, Mary should know what needs to be done without being told.  Next, Martha whipped out her “to do list” and began checking things off.  “Build a fire in the stove, check, put on water, check, chop vegetables for a salad, check, knead the bread dough, check….  All the while Mary is nowhere to be seen and Martha slowly begins to boil inwardly.  With each passing task Martha gets a little madder until she finally “blows.”  She looks in and here is Jesus and the disciples with…what…what is she doing in there….  So Martha marches in and declares, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work?  Tell her to help me.”    Now Martha is expecting the Lord to side with her; she is hoping He will chastise Mary and set things right.  Imagine her surprise and hurt when He answers instead, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.  Only one thing is important.  Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”  I don’t suppose that made Martha feel an ounce better, and I have to admit it leaves me a bit puzzled also.  Here is Martha working her tail off trying to get things ready for Jesus and His disciples and Jesus tells her, “Mary has chosen the better thing.”  I imagine that Martha was expecting more along the lines of a word of thanks not a rebuke from the Lord. 
So why did Jesus respond to her this way?  Well 2 Samuel tells us that, “Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart” and I imagine that is where the answer lies.  Jesus knew Martha’s heart.  Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above all else guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”  Martha’s morning work had more to do with her than with being a servant.  I know this because as I have already confessed, I am a Martha.  I clean the house and run around like a mad woman when we are having people over because I want them to think well of me.  I am not doing it as a service to them or to my family.  Does that make sense?  It really is more about me than about serving company.  In trying to explain the frenzy that sets in upon the mere mention of company I have often said, “No one is going to leave this house and say, ‘That Jerry Graham is a terrible housekeeper.’ If we were honest most of us would probably admit that we think a messy house is a reflection on the lady of the house, right?  Martha, being the oldest sister was seen as the one in charge and so this may explain why she was worried about all the house work.  Oh, but there is a difference between being hospitable and being welcoming.
Or maybe it was something else.  Maybe she wanted to be recognized for all her hard work.  Look at me, look what I am doing for you, Jesus.  Have any of us ever felt that way?  Modern psychology would call it the “martyr syndrome.” Again I admit, I have often worked long into the night feeling sorry for myself and thinking about how lucky my family is to have me.  Pretty arrogant, huh?  Or I have worked long and hard on something, more for the praise than because I wanted to serve whoever it was for.  Paul reminds us though, in Ephesians (2:8-9) that we are saved by grace and not by the work we do so that we will not get caught up in boasting.  Well I haven’t got all the answers, that is for sure but I am pretty sure it is okay to have a little bit of Martha in you…just be sure to balance that with a Mary (merry) heart.  “A heart at peace gives life to the body…” Proverbs 14:30
Would love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Heart Overflow

            Have you ever looked in the mirror and been surprised by what you see?  Well you may not like what you saw but you probably weren’t surprised.  Proverbs 27:19 says, “As in water face reflects face, So the heart of man reflects man.”  Now I am guessing that in Biblical days they didn’t have mirrors so they could only see their reflection in the water.  But what about that second part of the verse, “the heart of man reflects man,”  what does that mean?  And how can we know what is in our heart?” 
A few years ago my school students were studying this verse and they wondered how they could tell if someone had a “good” heart or a “bad” heart.  So we looked at the passage in Matthew 12:34 that says, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”  Then we discussed how putting garbage in our lives-in our hearts- begins to poison it.  Take a glass of clean drinking water for example, pure and undefiled, quite refreshing on a hot summer day.  But what happens if we put just a little mud into the glass? Do you think many people would be interested in drinking it?  Probably not, because even a little dirt contaminates the water.  Now isn’t the same true of our hearts, even a little sin contaminates them? When we allow bitterness or frustration to come into our hearts, or when we harbor anger we are poisoning our hearts.  Eventually that poison will come out our mouth and stain our witness for Christ. 
So how do we clean our hearts?  Well the truth is, we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). Somewhere in the journey of life each of us have committed at least one sin, which means our hearts have been defiled!  So how do we fix that?  It starts with a prayer like the one David model for us in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Next we need to be proactive and guard our hearts against being contaminated again.  Paul tells us to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”  (2 Cor.10:5b)    When I am angry about a situation I need to take it to the Lord, to examine the truth of the situation and then take action.  Maybe that action is realizing I have some responsibility in what happen, or that I need to make some changes, or maybe even that I need to forgive someone.  Whatever it is, we are responsible to keep our hearts clean and when we blow it (as we often do...well at least I do) then we need to a cry out to God to, "create in me a clean heart..."
Walking the journey with you!  Would love to hear your thoughts!  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


            As I glance out the window, the trees with all their brilliant colors catch my eye.  It reminds me of God's faithfulness, how every Autumn, without fail the leaves begin their change.  How every morning when I wake up the sun will be there to greet me and when night falls around me the moonlight is there to lull me to sleep.  God, You are faithful and consistent, never failing. 
            As I think more on the leaves I am reminded about the cycle of life and it strikes me how it is actually the “old” leaves that are filled with color.  The leaves that are dying are dressed in the greatest splendor, how the closer to death they are- the closer to death we are-  the more beautiful they-we-  become.  The closer we draw to death the more we let go- allowing the splendor of our King to shine through in us, in radiant colors.

Or maybe it is death to our old sinful nature, the more we allow it to die the more Christ-like we become. 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us that, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.  The old has gone, the new is here!" Maybe my old nature is like the green of the leaves, full of life...but life that seems to be self reliant.  The tree itself seems to be providing all that the leaves need to sustain themselves.  But the more I realize that it is Christ who must be my life giver, the more I surrender to His will, and the more He shines through me, like the beauty of the Autumn leaves.  

I would love to hear your thoughts, feel free to "leaf" them here or leave a comment on my facebook page! 

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Heart of God

This is an "old" writing but I am reposting today in honor of my Myrah's 17th birthday (on the 9th!)  It was my first published article, enjoy! 

The heart, what an incredible and complex part of our body!  It doesn’t take a doctor or scientist to realize that this muscle is phenomenal.  It pumps every ounce of blood that our body needs throughout our entire system.  Somehow just the right amounts go to all the right places. What an awesome creator we have!  But, sometimes we have heart troubles.  Now, I am speaking of the physical heart right now.  We hear almost daily of someone having a heart attack or a bypass.  Today I would like to share the story of a little four month old baby girl.
            The baby girl I am referring to is my own.  Her name is Myrah and her life has changed mine forever.  She was born seemingly perfect.  7 lbs. 11 oz.  19 inches long, dark skin and tons of jet black hair.  A beautiful baby girl!  Now she is my second child and so my husband and I were some what versed at this parenting thing.  Her older brother was born only 15 months prior and we had struggled through that pregnancy.  Jeremiah was a twin but because of my sickness and inability to keep anything down, I lost one of the babies.  I tell you this so you can understand how relieved we were that Myrah was born so healthy.  My pregnancy with her was still filled with much sickness and we, as probably all parents, were anxious for her arrival to be assured that she was healthy. 
            There were subtle signs as we began our lives together that things were not okay.  Myrah slept a lot and it was difficult to wake her for feedings.  When she was awake she would nurse only a few minutes and would fall back asleep.  She didn’t roll over or hold her head up as quickly as her brother seemed to.  But, we are taught not to compare our children and so my husband and I attributed it to a difference in personality.  When she was three months old I took her to the emergency room because she seemed to have a bluish tint to her.  The doctor shrugged it off and diagnosed it as a cold.  He prescribed some cold medicine and sent us home.  It wasn’t until a month later when our pediatrician was examining her at a well baby check up that we knew for sure something was wrong.  He told my husband that Myrah had a heart murmur.  Now, although we did not know it until then, heart murmurs are fairly common among children.  He tried to
reassure my husband of this and sent us to the hospital for an EKG.  To make a long story short, we ended up in a cardiologist’s office and we were scared to death.  After a few tests we were told that our baby had a hole in her heart.  I think that is the scariest statement I have ever heard in my whole life.  Myrah had what they call patent ductus arteriosus (P.D.A.) and required surgery as soon as possible.  Now the way God designed the heart is that before a baby is born there are two openings in the heart.  One is between the right and left sides and one is at the top between the pulmonary artery and the aorta.  These are designed to close at birth.  The reason for these holes prior to birth is that they allow blood to flow to the lungs and sort of “exercise” them since there is no air to prepare them for the “big day.” Myrah’s hole was the one located between the pulmonary valve and the aorta.  Instead of needing open heart surgery, the surgeon was going to be able to go in through her back between her ribs and fix the problem.
At the time though, it made no difference, our baby was going to be cut open and they were going to be working on her heart.  Even as I write this the butterflies start up in my stomach.  It was and is an incredibly scary thought. 
            Our God is so powerful though and he had reminded of this all the way through.
Remember the emergency room trip when Myrah was three months old?  Well the doctor had prescribed too high of a dosage of cold medicine for a 3 month old.  He had measured out the first dose at one teaspoon.  Fortunately, having an 18 month old already who only took a half teaspoon, I knew this dose was wrong.  I refused to give it to Myrah and in my stubbornness gave her none of the medication at all.  Two months later as we met with the cardiologist one of the first things he warned us about was cold medicine.  He told us that Myrah’s heart was already working so hard to get the blood throughout her body, (because most of it was falling back into the lungs) that ANY cold medicine would cause her heart to slow down and could kill her.  Isn’t it incredible how God can protect us?
            Myrah is almost three years old as I sit writing this.  She has been completely healed by the surgery and the grace of God.  Her heart is still bigger on one side than the other but eventually that will even out.  We just tell everyone she has a big heart!  Now she does have the energy she lacked in her first few months, in fact we joke that because her heart is bigger that she has twice as much energy as most toddlers!   Although, to some degree I am sure that this is true!!  She is a beautiful and very healthy little girl.
            So why do I tell you all of this?  Well at the beginning of all of this I mentioned that we hear of heart trouble often and I was speaking of the physical type.  I would like to just turn that a bit and focus on the heart of God.  In the years since Myrah’s surgery I have really come to think about the heart of God.  Remembering how scary it was to sit in that doctor’s office and hear that my baby had a hole in her heart still brings chills to my spine.  However, when I think about the hole that must be in God’s heart because of my sins, the ache he must feel to know that he paid the cost of his one and only son for us and yet we still turn away from him.  It is fairly obvious if you read the papers or listen to the news at all to see that the world is falling apart around us.  Satan is running rampant in our schools and in our towns.  Oh, how God’s heart must ache as he sees guns
and drugs in the hands of innocent children.  As he sees his children turning from what they know is right, He must cry a river of tears.  As those we set up in leadership turn their hearts toward the things of this world instead of the eternal things of heaven, there must be a gaping hole in the heart of our creator.  There is an old WhiteHeart song that says, “We are His hands, We are His feet...”   I think to, we are His heart and I wonder what we can do to make a difference in the world, in our world today??

                                                                                                                        Marla Graham
                                                Published December 2003 in Hearts at Home Devotional

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Parenting in my 20 vs. Parenting in my 40's

Most of you know that I have a wide range of ages between my kids, my oldest is 18 and my youngest is 7 months.  I know this is not the norm, but seriously if one more person calls me "Grandma" when I am out with the younger ones, I am not certain I will be able to contain myself.  I am not saying there is anything wrong with being a grandma, just that I am not quite ready for that journey yet.  I cannot even count the times I have been called, "Grandma" by some well meaning, but clearly clueless person!  I wish I could tell them what I am thinking  "Listen, it is only because I love Jesus that they are not looking for your body!"  but I am trying to be a good example to these kids that are ALWAYS watching me, so I refrain!  I don't make this stuff up, when I went to bring the last little bundle of joy home from the hospital my friend Tori went with my because my husband could not.  As we were leaving, Tori was loaded down with all the bags and such and I was carrying the baby and the receptionist said, "Oh Grandma is going to carry the baby out."  My friend, Tori, burst out laughing and I just shook my head and exited the building before I could commit a crime.  So all of that has gotten me to thinking about the obvious differences in parenting from when I was in my 20's to now when I am in my EARLY 40's (not nearly old enough to be a grandma)!  Here is a list I compiled of some of the differences:

*At 20, you pretend not to hear the baby over the monitor in hopes that your husband will get the baby,
  At 40, you seriously don't hear the baby over the monitor

*At 20, when you take them to the bathroom you put a seat cover down and wait for them to go,
  At 40, you say, "Honey, Mommy has to go first and then it can be your turn ok?"

*At 20, you boil every bottle part and pacifier anytime it comes into contact with anything other than the       baby,
At 40, you dip it in your coffee and hope it is still hot enough to kill any germs.

*At 20, you play run and catch games and you let them win
  At 40, they actually win, even when you don't want them to.

*At 20, you play ball with the kids and run all the bases
  At 40, you are all time pitcher.

*At 20, when you child brings you a broken toy, you take it apart and examine it to fix whatever might be    wrong
 At 40, you bring your broken electronics to  your kids for them to examine and fix whatever might be wrong

*At 20, you sweat the small stuff, worry over every little detail and possible dilemma

  At 40, you just sweat...seriously I totally get the whole hot flash thing now!

and the one thing that has stayed the same...

*At 20, you love your kids and would do anything for them
  At 40, you love your kids and would do anything for them!

Dealing with Disappointment?

Boy has disappointment smacked me in the face lately.  Disappointment in my fellow man, disappointment with the court systems, disappointment with life, and even disappointment with God.  Have you ever been there?
I was just reading about Moses as he led the Israelites out of Egypt and then spent the next disappointing 40 years in the dessert.  As if all of that was not enough, he receives some more news...lets pick up the story in Deuteronomy 34:16-18,
"The Lord said to Moses, "You are about to die an join your ancestors.  After you are gone, these people will begin to worship foreign gods, the gods of the lands where they are going.  They will abandon me and break my covenant that I have made with them.  Then my anger will blaze forth against them.  I will abandon them, hiding my face from them, and they will be devoured.  Terrible trouble will come down on them, and they will be devoured..."  Wow, talk about watching your life work go up in smoke. Moses, had given these people the last of his years.  He had faithfully served them, instructed them, protected them, guided them, and now, on his death bed, he hears that they are going to walk away from all he has worked for.  I guess this is a good reminder of a few things:

1- You can only change you, you have influence over others but ultimately they have to make their own choices.  This means you can do everything right and your "children will" still have the freedom to make the wrong choices (Not that Moses did EVERYthing right, or that you or I do for that matter :)

2- We work for God and not man.  I imagine Jeremiah could relate to Moses, as he preached repentance day after day only to watch his fellow country men walk in disobedience.  Sometimes, we do not see the results of our work this side of Heaven.  That should not keep us from moving ahead in obedience to God's call.  Ephesians 6:7 reminds us, "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men."

So what ever disappointment you are facing today, I hope you will be encouraged to keep your eyes on Jesus, who never disappoints us, never leaves us, never forsakes us, and work as if you are serving Him and not the people around you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ten years from now?

I had a job interview this morning and things were clipping along rather well, and happen!  She asked me a question I couldn't answer.  I took the question in stride and fiddled up some half hearted answer but it has been bothering me ever since.  The question was quite typical, "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" and yet I really truly didn't and still, hours later, don't know the answer.  I guess I should, it is a typical interview question, it's just that ten years ago, I didn't see myself here.

Ten years ago, I was Momma to 4: Jeremiah was 8, Myrah 6, Jennah 5, and Mikaylah 2.  I had just ended our homeschooling journey and was sending my oldest three off to public school for the first time.  My heart was heavy at the thought of days gone by and I was just starting to contemplate reentering the working world.  My husband was working a construction job and ministry was only a glimmer of hope on the distant horizon.

Fast forward ten years.  My husband is a full time pastor, and I am now Momma to 7, ages 18, 16, 15, 12, 4, 2, and 7 months.  I have just taken my oldest to college  (How did that even happen?)  and today my 3 older girls had there first day of school.  My heart is heavy at the thought of days gone by and once again I am thinking about reentering the working world! Funny how life changes and stays the same all at the same time!

Proverbs 29:18 tells us. "Where there is no vision, the people will perish."  So it would seem that making a plan, having a vision for where we think we are headed, is a good, life sustaining  thing. In fact, ten years ago I had a plan!  Of course my reality looks nothing like the plan I had mapped out!  But then if we look back at Proverbs 16:9 we can read, "The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps." Now this more accurately describes my journey!  This verse reminds me that, though it is good to have a goal, or a vision in sight, it is more important to be open to what God's purpose, or plan for you is. 

A lot of things have happened in the last ten years that I could not have foreseen ten years ago, some of them good, some of them bad, all of them God ordained! And I guess that is the only thing we can be certain of ten years from now!  So where do I see myself in ten years?  I guess the best answer I can give is, "In God's hands!"

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Never Enough

I don't know, maybe it is just a mom thing?  Almost every night when I crawl into to bed, I look back at my day and think things like, "I should have read that book with Skyler." or "Oh, I promised Kz a bike ride." or, "I should have made a healthier supper, should have swam with the kids, should have asked my husband about his meeting, should have called that friend who is struggling...." The list goes on and on and I go to bed with hopes of doing better the next day.  Some how I always feel as if the things I have done quite simply, aren't enough.

I guess if I was honest, this is something I have struggled with most of my days, long before I became a mom.  "I could have gotten a better grade on that."  "I should have have helped my mom with the dishes."  "I should have prayed more, spoken kinder, helped more..."  So maybe it is just a girl thing?  Or is it just a human kind thing?

I was having one of those nights a few days ago.  I was climbing into bed and had to clear off a coloring book and crayons when I remembered that Sky had asked me to color a picture with her while I was making supper.  Instantly my heart was saddened to think I had missed this opportunity.  I know how quickly childhood flows by.  I am reminded everyday as August approaches and my oldest "baby" is planning on heading off to college.  I should know better... Well halfway through my usual self repulsive rant, this song by Tenth Avenue North came on the radio.  The title is, "You Are More," and here are some of the lyrics:

There's a girl in the cornerWith tear stains on her eyesFrom the places she's wanderedAnd the shame she can't hide

She says, "How did I get here?I'm not who I once was.And I'm crippled by the fearThat I've fallen too far to love"

But don't you know who you are,What's been done for you?Yeah don't you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you've made,You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,You are more than the problems you create,You've been remade.

Well she tries to believe itThat she's been given new lifeBut she can't shake the feelingThat it's not true tonight

She knows all the answersAnd she's rehearsed all the linesAnd so she'll try to do betterBut then she's too weak to try

But don't you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you've made,You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,You are more than the problems you create,You've been remade...

'Cause this is not about what you've done,But what's been done for you.This is not about where you've been,But where your brokenness brings you to

This is not about what you feel,But what He felt to forgive you,And what He felt to make you loved.

You are more than the choices that you've made,You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,You are more than the problems you create,You've been remade...

It was as if Jesus Himself came and sat on my bed to sing me this song!  I realized that it isn't about all that I have or haven't done. It IS about what Jesus has done FOR me, not BECAUSE of my actions...I am enough because I could never be enough.  Does that make sense to anyone but me?!  It is true that I have shortcomings, but then that was the whole reason God sent HIS son in the first place, to redeem an unredeemable people, me included! After all 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, "...My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness."  and Paul, the writer of Corinthians, goes on to say, "Therefore I will boast all the more glady about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."  
So the next time the "Never Enoughs" come looking for me at bedtime, I am going to boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me.....well I am going to try anyway!  
If you want to hear the song by Tenth Avenue North, here is a link,