Monday, December 30, 2013

In the Midst of Darkness

Have you ever been in absolute darkness?  The kind that is so thick that you are afraid to take a step in any direction?  Where, no matter how hard you try, your eyes will not adjust?  That is where I seem to be standing these days.

I think that it is fear that has brought this darkness.  Fear of what lies ahead, fear of the what if's and the how's.  For almost six years now, my family and I have been on a journey.  The road has been long, and often times treacherous, but never has it seemed as dark as it has in these last 2 months.  In November  of this year, we were suppose to be celebrating the end of this journey, or at the very least a significant marker toward the end.  Instead, our entire world was flipped upside down and everything we thought we saw God doing seem to have slipped away. I am afraid that God is not writing the story the way I wanted it written.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of this disorienting darkness, God reminded me that it is faith and not fear that should govern my days.  I was at church with my family teaching Wednesday night Bible study.  I had just started the DVD when my 6 year old asked for a drink.  Not wanting to disturb everyone else, I grabbed her hand and led her out of the sanctuary and into the next room.  I did not want to turn on the light as I was afraid it would be a distraction.  So we walked hand and hand through the darkness toward the kitchen.  In her sweet gentle voice my daughter spoke, "Mommy I am scared."

I responded, "Honey, there is nothing to worry about.  I have your hand and I have walked this path a million times.  I do not need a light to find my way."

"But Mommy, I don't know how to get to there in the dark."

"Sweetheart, I do.  You just need to trust me.  I know where we are going and I would never let you go somewhere that isn't safe."

She squeezed my hand and skipped along beside me as we continued our journey toward the kitchen, with complete faith that I would get her safely where she needed to go.

And then it hit me...God and I had been having this exact conversation,

"God, I am scared."

"Beloved, there is nothing to worry about.  I have your hand and I have walked this path a million times. I am the light in the midst of this darkness."

"But God, I don't know how to get to there in the dark."

"Sweet daughter of mine, I do.  You just need to trust me.  I know where we are going and I would never let you go somewhere that isn't safe."

And now the choice was up to me.  Would I respond with child like faith or would I continue to drag my feet along the path, lost and confused in my fear? Really this is a daily choice we all must make.  Life is full of uncertainties and unfamiliar, dark paths.  As I think back on some of my heroes in the Bible, I am certain they were faced with this very same choice.  Would Abraham stay in his homeland for fear of what lie ahead in the unknown?  Would Joseph, kick and scream and demand justice in the midst of uncertainty and the darkness of family betrayal?  Would Mary hide in fear when the angel came to tell her she had been chosen for this unimaginable miracle?  Well, each of these people stepped forward in faith rather than allowing themselves to be ruled by fear.

Makes me think of the Scripture I memorized as a little girl from Psalm 23 verses 4-6, "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!"

So today, at least right now for this moment, I am choosing to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), because I know that, even though it is dark, God will not let go of my hand and He has walked this road before.  If you, like me, find yourself in the midst of darkness I hope you will join me.

Praying with you, Marla

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Knock It Off!...Oh Wait, You're talking to Me?

It happened again, it always happens.  I guess I can't blame people.  I guess I should be use to it.  But, I'm not.  Sometimes I can laugh about it, actually most of the time.  I can handle the stares, and smile back in response.  But, the comments...well I am not as graceful about those.

I have a big family, (8 children, 2 parents, sum total=10).  When we all go out in public together it is quite a sight.  It is no wonder people stare. Some of the bolder population will even ask me, "Are they all yours?" 

I can handle those questions with grace, because I realize we are a bit of a spectacle and that big families are not that common these days.  Recently, however, I was at a restaurant with 5 of my children, 1 teen and my 4 little ones.  Immediately upon being seated, I felt the stares and saw the pointing finger whispering.  I smiled, passed out sippie cups and french fries and went about my own business.  My precious, "I don't like restaurants, high chairs, or sitting" 20 month old began to tap the table with his cup.  It truly wasn't loud and I decided that it wasn't worth the battle and continued eating.  Unfortunately the whispering diner just down from our table, the one who needed to work on her whispering skills, yeah, well she thought it was a big deal.  She smiled at her family, nodded at her sleeping infant in the carseat next to her and stated in a fake whisper, "I'm glad my kids aren't like that."

The hair stood up on the back of my neck and my eye began to twitch.  I thought to myself two things. 1- I'm glad your kid isn't like this because clearly you wouldn't have the patience to deal with it and 2- Your kid isn't like this YET....but just you wait.

Now neither of those responses are very Godly.  Neither would display the command of Jesus from Matthew 5:43, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." But I justified my thoughts by saying to myself, "Well I am not as bad as her.  At least I didn't say out loud what I was thinking."  I was still steaming about this lady's comments as I drove home from our outing.  I was discussing it with my teen, when I realized that my thoughts and attitudes toward this woman who had "judged" me, were every bit as mean and ugly as her words.  I began to think about all the Scriptures in the New Testament where it was recorded that, "Jesus knew their thoughts."

Geesh!  Next thing you know, I was convicted.  I realized that I am responsible for my attitudes and actions, not the whispering diner's.  I realized that it has to start somewhere...the no more judging, no more comparing, no more criticizing.  It has to stop!

Well God has a funny way of working and the next thing you know I get an email in my inbox from Hearts at Home's founder, Jill Savage.  Want to guess what it was about?  Well, it was all about this very thing.  It was an invitation to take the Knock It Off Commitment.  This commitment included the following pledges:
  • Giving myself grace when I make mistakes.
  • Extending grace to other moms when they make mistakes.
  • Offering other moms the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to judgmental conclusions.
  • Recognizing that I cannot be and will never be a perfect mom.
  • Refusing the temptation to judge when other moms make different choices than I make.
  • Embracing differences instead of criticizing them.
  • Resisting the urge to compare my insides to other women’s outsides.
  • Making strides in honesty with other moms and living an authentic life.
  • Doing my part to stop the mommy wars, one “Knock It Off” decision at a time.
So how about it?  Is this an area you struggle with also?  If so, are you willing to take the pledge with me?  Maybe we could start a whole new revolution.  I wonder what the world would be like if we all stopped criticizing and comparing and started helping each other out instead?  What if we truly loved our neighbor as our self?   What if we saw ourselves and others through the eyes of our gracious and loving Savior?  Will you join me?  Just head on over to the page Hearts at Home and sign up! 

Questions or thoughts?  You know I love to hear them!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Other Side of Welfare

I am 42 years old and I can still feel the judgement in their eyes...

I grew up on welfare...I was a child, but I knew I was different, I knew people didn't like me. I knew the disdain the teachers and students felt toward me because I was a "free lunch kid."

I felt less than when we got our government cheese and butter.  I knew people were judging us as we cashed in our food stamps for the much needed groceries.

I was a child, I didn't have a choice.  But I promised myself that when I grew up, my kids were not ever going to know the judgement I felt by being a free lunch kid.  I promised that I wouldn't allow my kids to be on the medical card, and have to feel unwelcomed because of it. I was going to get out there and work as hard as I could so that I would never have to be in that situation again.

And work I did, I paid my way through college, working 40 hours or more a week as a CNA, and taking a full load of classes, all the while whistling Travis Tritt's, "I'm gonna be somebody, one of these days I'm gonna break these chains..."  I was on track to graduate with honors from college and I then I would be set, well on my way of breaking out of the welfare cycle.

But then, life happened.  I was newly married, student teaching and working hard on my anti-welfare plan when I found out I was pregnant.  Jerry and I had no insurance and though I went kicking and screaming, I had to get the medical card in order to get proper care for the baby.  I was humbled, but still proud.  I refused food stamps and cash assistance, though we easily qualified for both.  I kept working hard and by the time Jeremiah was born, I had my first teaching job all lined up and we were finally on our way...

I could keep on typing here, sharing with you the adventures and misadventures of our life, all the events that have landed us where we are today, but I will spare you the gory details...and just bring the story to the present.

Last year, after being laid off, I had to apply for free lunches for my kids.  It was humiliating and painful.  I even had to get the medical card.  I sat outside their office for more than a half and hour sobbing before I could bring myself to go in and apply for the needed help.  It was my momma's heart that finally mustered up enough courage to go inside, and I ended up having to leave before I finished filling out all the paperwork, because I was sick to my stomach.  The judgmental eyes from my youth were haunting me.

I am only able now to share this story because I am once again working, and we no longer need free lunch or medical assistance.  I am sharing this story not just for me, but for all of the people out there who are on "welfare."  As I have shared in my blogs from the past, I am raising my niece and three of my nephews, because they are wards of the state, they automatically qualified for the medical card.  I cannot tell you how many times I have received dirty looks or even been the recipient of unkind words because of this, especially because I have 8 kids.  People assume we are just living off the system.  Those comments are hurtful to me, but even worse, they hurt my children.  So I am taking this opportunity to speak on behalf of them and ask all of you to please remember:

1.  A family's income is never the responsibility or fault of any child. 

2.  Not everyone is "taking advantage of the system." Some people are just going through a rough patch.  Sure some people are, there is no doubt of that, but not everyone is. 

3.  Don't judge a book by its cover, just because someone has 8 kids and has the medical card doesn't mean they are living irresponsibly.

4. Smile at the next person you see using their food stamps (link card), you may be the only kind face they see all day.

5.Treat everyone with the kindness and respect you would want extended to your children or family members.

Really all of this can be summed up simply by following the Golden Rule given to us by Jesus himself in Luke 6:31, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Questions or comments?  As always I would love to hear them!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Dash

Marla Graham
Other than the fact that, if you do the math, now you know how old I am, what is significant about the above words and dates? Well, I hope a lot!

You see someday those words are going to be chiseled into a piece of granite marking the place where my body will be lain. Now I am hoping that day is a long way off, but even more I am hoping the time represented between 1971 and 20?? will be worthy. I am hoping that I can keep from getting so caught up in the day to day that I forget to keep my “eye on the prize” (Philippians 3:14) It is so easy to get distracted by today’s troubles or responsibilities but if we could keep an eternal perspective I think when it is all said and done our Savior meets us at those pearly gates we will hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” 
A few months ago my friend, Julie sent me the following poem that sums up exactly what I am trying to say.

The Dash
By Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end

He noted that first came her date of birth 
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time 
That she spend alive on earth.
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little time was worth.

For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard.
Are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time if left,
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what's true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we've never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy's being read
With your life's actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

So how about it? How are you spending your dash? Especially as we enter this busy back to school season I want to challenge you to “just slow down enough To consider what's true and real, And always try to understand The way other people feel. And be less quick to anger, And show appreciation more And love the people in our lives Like we've never loved before.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hissy Fit

If I had my way right now I would throw the biggest hissy fit ever witnessed by mankind.  Oh come on, you know what I am talking about.  A full fledged, throw yourself on the floor, kick, scream, cry and holler kind of tantrum.  The kind that makes the neighbors stare and place their house on the market!

Most of you know that I have had the privilege to be a part of a new radio program entitled, Growing StrongerTogether and just this past week our program on waiting aired.  (No, this is not why I want to throw a hissy fit). On this week's program I shared that we were headed to the long awaited trial for termination on two of the children who have blessed our home through foster care.   I joyfully shared that we would be heading into the courtroom on August 21, after waiting 5 and a half years for this day to come.  I encouraged our listeners to see what God has to teach you while you wait for Him to move in situations while you wait.  It was, and is all sound advice.

However, (and yes this is where the hissy fit comes in) once again, God had a different plan.  Oh, I had clearly explained to God what I felt was best here, and submitted my plan in triplicate to Him for approval. And, I was certain it was the perfect plan...but then ONCE AGAIN, court was postponed.
I am sure you can imagine our disappointment.  We have been waiting so long.  We want, no we NEED closure.  I am so ready to be done with the ins and outs of the foster care system.  I am weary from the ups and downs of the everyday as things constantly shift and change.  And I am just mad!  Termination was initially set for December 2012, yet here we are almost a full year later and we are waiting again.

This time the delay is because the judge is retiring.  So now we wait.  It is a process, first they have to find a new judge.  Next they will swear him/her in.  Then the new judge will have to spend time reading through the case file (literally boxes of pages).  Once all of those things happen we can move forward.  What that means is that there is no end in sight.  As of right now, there is no new date set. Again we wait.

I wanted to throw a big hissy fit, like the one I described earlier, but the truth is that it would be of no benefit, and it would scare the children!  So instead I went to the archive of our radio program and I listened to the program on waiting again.  It is humbling to have to listen to your own advice!  

So instead of whining, I am going to:

1.  Get some rest, often times a stressful situation or waiting period seems worse only because we are tired.

2.  Pray about it!  Life is hard, we get discouraged but we need to remember that nothing is impossible with Christ. (Luke 1:37)

3.  Get some friends to hold my arms up.

Exodus 17:10-13 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

4.  Examine the situation. 
                  Is it really all that bad? Am I where God wants me to be?

5.  Remain hopeful
I am reminded of the words from a sermon I heard recently, "Often it is not the battle, but the length of the battle.

Isaiah 57:10  You were tired out by the length of your road, Yet you did not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewed strength, Therefore you did not faint.

·         Often we grow tired, waiting for the end but we cannot lose hope! This is where faith comes in, we have to trust that we are where God intends us to be.
I imagine Joseph grew tired as he waited in that cistern, and then in jail, and even as he prepared for Egypts drought…but he was able to say, “What you have meant for evil, the Lord has used for good.”
(Genesis 45)

6.  Don't hurry God

The answer to waiting lies in the following verses: 

Matthew 16: 28-30 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Rather than throwing a hissy fit, I think I am going to go spend some time with my Abba Father. Will you join me? 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Kick Off Your Flip Flops!

It's that time of year boots have been put away and I have exchanged them for my favorite flip flops!  Bring on the warm weather, swimming and campfires!  I am ready! Seems that we have had an especially long winter more ways than one! And over here in Graham land, we are all back and unpacking from our vacation...wish you could all see the magic of packing and unpacking for this many people! back to flip flops, thanks to my friend, Traci Mason, I can never look at a pair of flip flops the same.  Just a few months ago I had the opportunity to hear her speak and it set me to thinking!

What I have realized is that I am a flip flopper.  When things in my life are going smooth, I find it rather easy to trust the Lord.  As a pastor's wife and women's ministry leader, I often have the opportunity to encourage people who are struggling and I am always quick to share with them how God can and should be trusted in ALL circumstances. Even if you take a look back at these blogs and I hope you will find this to be true. And, I believe with all of my heart that the things I tell others are absolutely true.

The trouble comes in when I am facing frightening situations in my own life.  Even as I type this the verses, "Perfect love casts out all fear." (1 John 4:18) and Isaiah 41:10, "Do not fear for I am with you..."  pop into my head.  So the battle is between my head and my heart.  In my head, I can reason and stand rock solid in my running shoes on these truths, but my heart is not always convinced, and often wants to choose the flip flops.

When I think about it, flip flops are almost like wearing no shoes at all...natural you know?  Just as my natural response is to waiver, or to doubt, rather than to rise to the challenge. Why must it be so easy to sin?  :( and so challenging to walk in faith?!

Maybe you struggle with these same things?  Not just knowing that God is in control, but living that out in the day to day.  Or maybe I should say, living that out in the middle of your anxious nights?  If so, my challenge for both of us is to throw away our flip flops and trade them in for a brand new pair of running shoes!

Because I often struggle with this, I have found a few things that help when I catch myself grabbing my flip flops, maybe they will help you also:

-Don't focus on the problem, focus on the solution... (Think Peter walking on water)

-Don't wallow in your misery. (Pity Party, Party of One)

-Remember that there was no promise that this life would be easy once we signed up to follow Christ.  (John 16:33)

-Joy is a CHOICE...In the words of Cheir Keaggy's song Restored, "I'm practicing joy, choosing it daily, putting it on like a favorite cologne and when life breaks me down, it won't even phase me some call me crazy, but I'm just in love with the Lord!"

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts or answer any questions you have, until then I hope to see you on the race track in your running shoes!

"...let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us"
Hebrews 12:1

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Walking Wounded

Man, these past few weeks have been filled with excruciating struggles and crushing hardships.  I would not even know where to begin in retelling the battles we have been facing.  The best analogy I can give is one of someone standing in the midst of a literal battlefield.  Bullets flying from every direction, no time to rest, weary and hungry.  Surrounded by destruction on all sides.  Seeking some sort of shelter from the crushing blows all around, and struggling to help those on our side to stay safe.
The trouble is, those we are trying to keep safe are little ones, and the bullets are coming from people who are suppose to be protecting them.  My momma heart is really struggling as I honestly feel like I am standing on the battlefield with 8 children that need to be protected, some of them have already been wounded.  Some by mean words, some by physical blows, others by poor care, and all by a system that is suppose to protect them.

I have never really been much of a fighter, especially in the physical sense.  I grew up avoiding any possibility of confrontation or conflict and focused on being a people pleaser.  Then I became a mom and all of that changed.  I learned to stand up for my kids.  I am sitting here thinking of countless times that God gave me opportunities to rise up and become the Tiger Momma I needed to be.  And yet, God has continued to stretch me in this area.  These past 5 years I have spent fighting for the safety and well being of my niece and nephews.  It has been a long, hard battle.  One that actually started back in 1998 when my 3 year old nephew was killed, and one that has no end in sight.

I feel like I am standing in the middle of an open field, looking around for somewhere to hide, and yet there is no where.  I see the bullets flying at us, I try to shield all of them, but I cannot.  I feel overwhelmed at the thought of losing even one and yet, I do not see how I can fight to keep all of them safe.  When one is wounded, I rush to care for him or her, only to see another one take a hit.  There have been times we were close to a safe place, only to be drug back out into the field.  Just this week we were suppose to have a trial to terminate parental rights on two of these babies, so we could move forward toward adoption.  Instead the trial was postponed until August...this is the 3rd time this has happened.

This past year, the battle has heated up to a level of intensity that is suffocating.  I hope this means we are drawing near the end.  When we have expressed our fears and concerns with the agency put in place to help the kids we have been told things like:

"This system is not for the children, it is set up for the parents and it is all about their rights."

"These children have no rights."

"Though this will cause life long harm to this child, similar to ripping off a bandage, it just has to happen."

"We are not a proactive system, we are a reactive system."

Things like this discourage my heart maybe even more than the fact that there is a need for these types of services to begin with.  This past week, the will to fight has been taken away.  I lay on the filthy blood soaked ground, trying with all the energy I could muster, to tuck the little ones underneath me.  I watched the enemy come and start to take them away.  I drifted in and out of consciousness.  It seemed the battle was over.

But then it happened...a breath of life that began to refill me.  It was unexpected.  I was resting at a friends, she had come and peeled me up off the filthy ground.  She cared for my babies and let me rest, she fed us and just gave us love.  She shared her air conditioning!  I was in her bathroom when it happened.  I looked up and there on her wall was a 3x5 card with these words of life printed on it,  "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord;  Be strong and let your heart take courage;  Yes, wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14"  

It was like a ray of light in the midst of the darkness that was threatening to overtake me.  I love that God's word has that kind of power.  Oh, the battle isn't over- sometimes we have to walk through the storm rather than be taken from it- but I have been given new strength, and new hope that, though I cannot see the end, the Lord can.

In fact, He can see the beginning and the end.

In fact, He IS the beginning and the end (Revelations 21:6)

So...I will not despair because I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Instead, I will wait for the Lord;  remain strong and let my heart take courage;  Yes, I will wait for the Lord

But I will pray that He hurries! Pray with me?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Contents May Settle Have Settled...

It was 16 months ago that I wrote, "My Quiver Is Full," and shared that we had a new addition to our family and that our house (and quiver) was full...well God has an amazing sense of humor and on May 21st, He added a new sweet baby boy to our mix!  That brings the total to Parents 2; children 8!

Besides the awe and wonder of new life, I can't stop thinking about that label on cereal boxes and other packages that reads, "Contents may have settled during shipment."  So that is my story...yes my quiver was full 16 months ago, but the contents have settled and made room for one more since then! :)

It also reminds me of one of my favorite Bible truths from Proverbs 19:21, "Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails."  So often we go through our day to day life with our agenda and forget that God is the one truly in control, He is calling the shots, and He is our agenda setter!  So today, I am leaving my agenda aside, and resting in the promise that God knows the plans He has for me, and that they are plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future! (Jeremiah 29:11) Want to ride along with me?  

As always, I love hearing your comments or questions!

Friday, May 10, 2013

When Winter Comes

            Having lived in central Illinois for all but two months of my life, the word winter brings many images to mind.  Words like subzero, insulated underwear, frostbite, and hazardous driving conditions.  So quick I am to point out the negatives but there are also many beautiful images that come to mind.  One of my favorite sights is the limbs of a tree glistening with ice in the first morning light.  Oh, and what would winter be without steaming hot cocoa and crackling fireplaces?!  No matter how you look at it, winter is just a natural part of life in most places.  It is part of the ebb and flow of God’s incredible design for things.  A time of rest and renewal I suppose maybe even a sort of hibernation.  Things seem so dead and cold, even barren in the winters of nature but we understand the necessity for the season and do our best to make the most of it. 
Can the same be true however, when it is winter in our very soul?  Most of you have been there at some point or another, maybe some of you are even there right now.  It is not a place that we desire to be but according to Job 5:7, “Man is born for trouble.”  The disciple John reiterated this truth in chapter 16:33 when he records Jesus’ words, “…in the world you will have tribulation.”  In other words, winter will come.  It is a natural part of God’s design, not just in regards to weather, but also in our lives.  So then the question is what do we do when we feel barren or cold, maybe even dead within?  How do we handle the winters of life?
The Bible has much to say on this as well.  First and foremost we need to remember that God is in control.  He is in control of the delicate spring flowers, the warm summer breezes, the splendor of autumn, and the barren beauty of winter.  Jesus ends the verse in chapter 16 by saying, “…but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  You can be sure winter will come in some way, shape, or form, but there is no need to worry or fear because God has already won the battle.  An awesome picture of this can be found in Acts 12:1-19.  We can read here about how James was put to death by King Herod and when the Jews cheered him on he decided to go ahead and arrest Peter to.  Peter is then guarded day and night by four squads of soldiers until the Passover season would finish and then he would be put to death.  Sounds like winter to me.  If I were Peter I think I would be tempted to feel barren and maybe even bitter about the circumstances.  I mean here is Peter, serving the Lord with everything he has and by some strange set of events he finds himself sitting in a cold, damp jail cell. 
I am amazed though at what I read in Acts.  Peter’s actions show that he has a peace about who has “overcome the world.”  He slept so soundly that the angels had to hit him to wake him even though he was to be killed the next day, sounds like the peace that surpasses all understanding to me!  So step one for Peter was to trust God despite the circumstances.  The popular song by Casting Crowns states it this way, “I will praise you in this storm and I will lift my hands because You are who You are, no matter where I am.”
Next step, get some back up.  Peter has himself knee deep in winter but in the meantime the church is earnestly praying.  They have not given up hope for a brighter tomorrow.  (Reminds me of King David crying out to the Lord for his son’s life (Bathsheba’s child) knowing that God could change the situation with a single word)  They have learned what Peter knows, God is in control.  Not only were the people praying but they were gathered together to pray as a community.  Often when we experience winter we run inside and hide, we try to shut out the bitter cold by closing things up.  Nothing delights satan more than what I call spiritual hibernation.  I once heard a pastor say about these times, “You will probably never desire community less but you will never need it more.”  Peter knew that even though he was in grave danger, he was covered in prayer.
The last step you can follow is to cling tenaciously to hope.  In winter you feel hopeless-dark but you MUST believe that God is at work even in your winter just as under the soil new plants are only preparing to spring forth.  Be patient…rest and prepare for spring!  Peter did not allow his surroundings to affect his hope.  His hope came from inside, from knowing that he was in God’s hands.  If you are familiar with the story of Peter then you know that God did indeed rescue him.  As I mentioned earlier, he is sleeping soundly between two guards when the angel of the Lord comes to wake him.  As he awakens the chains fall off of his wrists and he is escorted out of the prison to freedom.  Spring has come for Peter and God is glorified by the temporary struggle.  Remember the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV emphasis mine)  There is another awesome promise in God’s word.  It comes from Psalm 30 verse 5.  “…crying may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” (New Century Version)  Peter had that joy and so can we, just cling to hope and God will not disappoint!  He may not answer the way we think he should or as quickly as we would like but we must trust that He is a loving father who wants what is best for us. 
I want to end with an incredible story.  This is the story of Horatio Spafford.  He was really a rather common man, the most noteworthy thing about him was that he served as lawyer and professor in Chicago.  Though he was not well known, he was a close friend with the world famous, D.L. Moody and other Christian leaders of the day.  He experienced a huge “winter” in 1870 when he lost his only son.  Winter came again in 1871 when the Great Chicago Fire wiped out all of his real estate holdings.  Things were barren by all earthly standards but Spafford continued to cling to hope.  By the end of 1873, he was preparing to help Moody on a campaign to Great Britain.  He sent his wife and four daughters on ahead of him and planned to join them after a few days.  On November 22, 1873 there was a deadly collision of two boats and though Mrs. Spafford was rescued none of their daughters were.  This was the mother of all blizzards for Mr. Spafford.  He boarded a boat and headed to meet up with his wife and comfort her.  It was while he journeyed on the same waters that had just claimed his daughters lives that he penned the well known hymn, "It IS Well With My Soul"  I will close with the words to that hymn and hope that Mr. Spafford words will be our words as well.

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace, like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well (it is well) With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Tho satan should buffet, tho trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul!

Repeat Chorus

My sin-O joy of this glorious thought-
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I wbear it no more:
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!

Repeat Chorus

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
“Even so” – it is well with my soul.
~Horatio Spafford

Isaiah 58-59

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Confessions of a Tiger Momma

I have often prided myself on being pretty genuine.  I am definitely a, "What you see is what you get," kind of girl.  In fact, if you browse through the blog posts here I hope you will see some of that "realness."  However, I realized the other day that, though I am being real, often times I share after I have found some sort of victory, rather than when I am knee deep in the muck and mire of the battle.  So today's post is just that, a peek into this messy tiger momma heart of mine.
First, I want to admit that I am a fairly laid back person.  I have always said it takes a lot to get me mad...BUT once I am mad, you should probably give me a little space to cool off.  There are a few areas that I am particularly "touchy" about, and one of those is my babies.  I can go from being a soft, cuddly kitten to a fiery wildcat in just seconds.  Well the tiger momma in me has been at the surface all week!

If you have been following my blogs, you know that I have the privilege to be called, "Momma," by 7 beautiful children, and you probably know that 3 of them are actually my niece and nephews.  For the past 6 years we have been battling for them in the juvenile court system.  It is a system that is absolutely broken and the process is not for the faint of heart.  We have had some victories and we have had some defeats.  Some major, and some minor, but this week, I feel as if we had a massacre.

I cannot share many details because of confidentiality, but I will share what I can.  This week, court was for my 15 month old.  He has been in our home since birth.  If you know anything about DCFS and the foster care system, then you will know that the focus is on reunifying a child with his/her birth family.  This means that sometimes, actually often times, the decisions made are to benefit the parent, with little or no regard to the child involved.  

We knew going into court that there was a possibility that the judge would decide that a "return home" goal was appropriate.  But, I have been studying and claiming Scripture and I was sure that God was going to do something different.  The passage that I have been reading, and read again as we drove to court this week comes from Matthew 18.  I have been studying verses 1-11.  This passage talks about how valuable children are to God, and tells us that those who cause them harm would be better off having a millstone tied around their neck and being thrown into the depth of the sea.  But my favorite verse is 10 which reads, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven."  

So, as we walked through the court room doors, I was sure that the angels for this sweet baby, had gone before us.  I felt like David must have felt as he stepped up to face Goliath.  I had my five stones in hand, but I was sure I would only need one as I watched God make this giant tumble.  

As you have probably guessed by now, the battle did not go the way I had hoped.  The judge decreed that the goal for our baby boy was to remain return home withing 12 months.  I was not surprised, we have walked this painful journey before, but I was disappointed.  I was just so sure that God was going to give us a miracle.  Hmm...makes me think of the Scripture that says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord." (Isaiah 55:8).  

I left the court house pretty bruised, but not broken.  Honestly?  I was pretty mad at God.  I know He could have given us the miracle we were hoping for, I knew that it was even in line with what His word, and I was just disappointed.  I still know and believe God has a plan, and that there are things happening behind the scenes that I do not see or understand, but the tiger momma in me has spent my week licking my wounds.  Then yesterday while I was whining, I remembered this scripture from Romans 5:2b-5, "rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us."  

What have I learned?  To summarize:
1.  God is God and I am not!

Yep that summarizes it!  Thanks for sharing in this messy journey with me, and for understanding that even a tiger momma has to sometimes (actually always) sit back and let God battle for her!