Monday, February 23, 2015

Taking Joy in Our Love

This afternoon, as our car winded over back roads and sliced through the dirty slush that was beautiful white snow just yesterday, I found that the road conditions were but a reflection of my mood.

I woke up in a funk; the kind that's hard to shake despite all the prayer, positive thoughts, and sheer self-will I could muster.  I can't stand being in this state of mind.  And I find that when it comes on, just the thought of being in it frustrates me even more.

Perhaps I should've stayed home.  I thought maybe some fresh air would be good to lift my spirits, but I regretted it right away when I realized how nasty of a mess things were outside.  I glared at the puddles and frowned at the blackened snow along the sides of the road.

Scott held my hand and squeezed it every now and then.  He'd asked me over and over if I was ok, and each time I answered him flatly that I would be.  I hadn't let on, but I was so grateful for the hand-holding.  His strong but gentle grasp seemed to almost anchor me in reality and prevent me from spiraling too far down into my own misery.

He was upbeat.  Relentlessly upbeat.  It filled in the gaps of what I was able to be for the kids today, but it also agitated me at times, I'm ashamed to admit.  In his determination to remain cheerful, he refused to restrain himself from swerving into every puddle we encountered.  It sent the girls into fits of giggles and even inspired an impressed "WHOA!  That was awesome!" when the splashes were significant enough.

I, in my determination to remain very un-cheerful, looked over at him and stared at him blankly, sure that he knew full-well what my stare meant.  Unlike our girls, I was unimpressed.

Unwavering in his demeanor, he grinned at me wide, obviously pleased with himself.  "What?!" he said.  "I just sincerely find joy in that!"

I turned away and resumed my icy stare out the window.  He's taken joy in splashing through the puddles in our car for as long as I've known him.  Often he will engage in this activity even during warm weather when my window is wide open, and I've gotten the brunt of his follies on many an occasion.  I think he finds satisfaction in my shooting him the stink-eye when he does this, but he always claims he does it to 'do his part to help prevent flooding.'

I wished I could find joy today.  In anything.  I wished I wasn't uncomfortably pregnant with hormones raging, unchecked, throughout my body.  I wished I could force myself to remember how badly I wished to be pregnant just months ago.  I wished I could just crawl into a hole and not come back out until this mood had passed.

Scott took his hand away to adjust the volume on the radio.  He then adjusted his position and started using that hand to steer with.   

And I so wished he would reach over and take my hand again.

He did moments later and gave it another squeeze, but I realized in that window of time that although I was unable to outwardly appear playful or bubbly, I did take joy in something.  The quiet, peaceful joy you experience within a love like ours.  I take joy in our love.

A love that isn't loud or exuberant most days, but unassuming and humble.  The kind of love that doesn't have to apologize for or explain the misery.  The kind of love that's just willing to see you through it.  One so deep that he could love me when I'm unlovable.  One that's grown to understand that love is a choice to act, and not a feeling.  I marvel that I am on the receiving end of something so sacred, and am eager to return it.

I take joy in a love that is patient enough to let the storm clouds roll by and get us through the valleys.  I take joy in our love because it's one that's been slowly morphing us into better versions of ourselves over the past decade; versions of ourselves that better resemble our Creator.

I take joy in a love where so much can be expressed with the squeeze of a hand.

As I sit here trying to sort out my feelings, I hear splashing and shrieks and giggles coming from the bathroom upstairs.  He's ordered me to sit a while and relax while he bathes our youngest.  I realize I'm completely undeserving of a love like this one.  Undeserving, yes.  But very, very, thankful.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mothering By Faith

Jochabed used her forearm to push the hair off her forehead.  Her heart pounded and a sick feeling settled deep into her stomach.  Her nimble fingers moved fast and silent, though her palms were slick with sweat.  Every little sound outside made her stop and listen.

It wasn't the first time she'd weaved a basket like this one--she knew what she was doing.  But this one was different; this one held precious cargo.  And if you'd have told her as a young girl being taught this skill by her own mother that one day she'd be using it as a desperate grab at saving her own child, she'd have said you were crazy.  Yet here she was.

She glanced nervously over at her sleeping baby boy.  She felt that lump begin to rise again, and even though she thought there were no tears left, a few more escaped and ran down her cheek as she tried to focus on her work and not the inevitable.

This was it.  This was the boy's only hope.  Her only hope.

And though the doubts seeped in like a foul smell on a hot day, she reminded herself that it was either this...or that.

And that would be the end of her.  That was just not an option.  Not for her and her son.  But she'd watched it happen over and over again in her village; baby boys being ripped from their mother's arms.  She'd heard the cries of the babies.  And the screams of the mothers.  She'd hugged the mothers close as they sobbed and sobbed.  There was a good chance she'd never be able to forget those sounds, though she wished she could.  She knew it would be her soon if she didn't act fast.

For three months she and her husband had been able to pull off hiding their son.  But they sensed that their time was running out before the king's soldiers would be at their doorstep;  it was getting harder and harder to hide the sounds of the infant, who was getting more vocal everyday. 

The basket was done.  It was waterproof, and hopefully the tar and pitch would hold.  She'd done her best to make it comfortable for her baby boy.  Cozy.  She felt it was the least she could do.

As she lowered him into it and kissed his chubby little cheeks and his perfect little lips what she dreaded would be one last time, she caught the gaze of a curious little pair of eyes from across the room.  Her daughter was awake.

Stay strong, Jochabed.  She can sense your fear, she thought to herself, though a moment earlier she was sure she might collapse from the weakness in her knees.

The young girl--Miriam--rose from her bed and made her way over to where her mother stood.

"What's gonna happen, Mommy?" Miriam asked quietly.

"I don't know, sweetie.  I don't know," she whispered, cupping the girl's cheeks in her hands, wishing with all her heart that she had a better answer.  Wishing she knew what was going to happen.  Wishing that it didn't have to be like this.  "Come.  It's time now," she breathed, picking up the basket containing her one and only son, and headed toward the door.  He slept through it all.  Thank God for small blessings. 

She stopped in the doorway and turned back to Miriam. "You coming?"

The girl raced after her mother and followed her into the dark of the night.

It was both the shortest and the longest walk Jochabed had ever taken to the river.  And as she stood on the bank and looked out over the vast expanse of water, she fought back hard against feelings of panic.  Of hesitation.  Her mind spun wild notions of escape.  They could leave it all behind.  Flee into the desert and live out the rest of their life in hiding.  Yet she squashed that fancy quickly, knowing that it would be no life at all and--worse--if they were ever found by the Egyptians it would be certain death for the entire family.

No, this was it.  It was time to trust.  At least this way, her son had hope.  And before she could lose her nerve, she waded into the water, set the basket down among the thick reeds, released it, and turned and walked away. 

We know the rest of the story.  It turned out alright in the end for Jochabed and her infant son, Moses.  More than alright, when you consider how God later used Moses for His purpose, and the fact that Jochabed was able to have a hand in that. 

But as a mom?  This part of the story cuts straight through me.  We don't learn a whole lot about Jochabed, but what we do learn is that this woman had faith.   The kind of faith it takes to let go of a basket that's holding your infant son inside of it and let it float down the river.

I feel like I have a strong faith...but that's hard for me to wrap my head around.  And yet there's something familiar in it, too.

Day after day, minute after minute, I am reminded of how quickly I come to the end of myself and have to just simply trust.  Lean.  Do what I can and let the rest up to God.  Have faith.

Especially with this mom stuff.  Too many times to count I have fallen into my bed replaying my day, and feelings of discomfort seep into the deepest part of me.  I've done what I could, and I know that, usually.  But still I worry.

What if it wasn't enough?  I could've handled that situation better.  I should've said this, not that.  I missed this opportunity.  What if it's too late?

I pour my everything into every day and when my weary head finally hits the pillow all I can think about is the ways I've fallen short.  I stress and plan for how I'll do better tomorrow. 

And I wonder...perhaps it's not all the doing our best that gets us as moms; perhaps it's the doing our best, then letting go and letting God do the rest that does us in.

I've learned that one of the hardest things for me to do as a mom is to resist the urge to be the do-all, end-all for my children.  Yet I know my faith is strengthened when I am willing to release my children and my efforts into the arms of God.  Tested, yes!  But ultimately made stronger by this act.

I believe that He honors the simple act of me--humbled to my knees--offering up to Him my bloody, tattered, tear-soaked efforts of all that I am as a mother.  Because ultimately, my children belong to Him, and He loves them more than I ever could or will.  At the same time, He knew exactly what they needed in a mom, and He gave it to me!  And I know that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

I have to believe this.  Jochabed did. And He honored that.  And that, my friend, should be so encouraging to us as women!

One of my favorite passages from the Bible can be found in Hebrews.  (Hebrews 11)  There is so much to grab in there about the faith of those who came before us.  Verse after verse starts out with, "By faith so-and-so did this or that."  It even mentions Moses' parents:  "By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king's edict."  (v 23)

But this is the part I love the most; it goes on to explain how all of these people were known for their great faith, and yet none of them received what had been promised, since basically their stories were only part of God's plan..."that only together with us would they be made perfect."

Did you catch that?!  I think that sometimes we can get to believing that all of the fantastic stories we read throughout the Bible are the whole of God's great story.  But it was only just the beginning.

And what this passage ensures me is that these stories, plus my story, plus your story, plus my children's stories and your children's stories are ALL part of it.  His beautiful story.  He's still writing!  We only need to let Him write it.  This often means doing only what we've been equipped to do and then floating our proverbial baskets down the river for Him to take care of.

So, I can add my name to this long list of faithful characters and interject my children's names as well:  "By faith Amy did her very best to raise up Jyllian and Katelynn and Evan to be godly forces for good because she knew God would honor her efforts."  I like that.  And I love that we serve a God who would want me, you, and other courageous women like Jochabed to be a part of His story.  Don't you?

 I'm praying for you today.  For everything your basket may hold and that you might have the strength to let go of it and let God write His story.

"Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of  faith."  Hebrews 12:1-2

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Christmas Letter to my Daughters 2013

My Sweet Girls,
Merry Christmas!
What a year this has been. In many ways, it's been challenging. We went through some big changes as a family and I know you felt the stress even though Daddy and I tried to protect you from it. But you know how I'm always saying that you can learn something from anything or anyone? This year is no exception. You guys taught me some lessons while I was so busy trying to teach you.
Jyllian, you have had to be brave and strong many times this year. Two trips to the emergency room and a messed up start to your school year could've been enough to really break your spirit. But it didn't. I look at you and you're still that fun-loving girl who can light up a room with just your presence. You've proven that underneath all that smiley wackiness is a strong, steady young woman. I am proud of you. You know, we've had to face many of the same things as girls. We're survivors. But man, I never had your spirit and spunk. Thanks for teaching me that sometimes all you need through the heartache is a good belly laugh.
I'm so totally impressed with your hard work this year in school and at home. You've been a wonderful example to your little sister. She's lucky to have you. So is anyone whose life you are a part of.
One of my favorite memories from this year is when you and I were talking about personalities. I asked you if you would rather if I were more like you and not so serious and laid back all the time. You answered no. You told me that you love me just the way I am and that our family needs a little serious sometimes anyway. Do you know how important it is to be able to love someone just the way they are? We're all different, and that's ok. God made us that way. At eight years old, you get that. Thanks for the reminder. You will make a great leader one day...even more so than you already are.
Katelynn. My little honey. You amaze me every day. You have a passion for learning and for loving that I've never seen before in anyone else. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that it's your passion that gets you in trouble sometimes. When you believe something, you believe it passionately and with all your heart. When you love something or someone you do so passionately and with all your heart. When you feel a certain way about something you feel it so passionately that it's almost overwhelming. But it's not always a bad thing.
In fact, my love, it's what will help you find that 'fire in your belly'. Remember when we talked about that? Find what it is and then throw all that passion into it. God will use you for some big things, no doubt. Thanks for teaching me to stand tall and stand up for what I believe in.
I learned your love language this year. You love quality time with people, don't you? This was hard for me at first. Mommy's so "busy" all the time. But I'm trying. My natural way to show love to people is to do things for them. But you've helped remind me that my children don't need for me to clean as much as they do for me to just stop and be. I'm becoming a better mom because God gave you this need.
And thank goodness I'm learning this lesson. Otherwise I would have missed out on our awesome time together the other night. Remember? You and me by the Christmas tree? Daddy and Sissy were busy. We turned out all the lights and hummed and sang and cuddled. Christmases will come and go, but this memory will be mine forever. Thank you.
In fact, you girls have given me many things to tuck into my heart this year. Now I'd like to give you a few.
We've been talking about the first Christmas. You know much about Jesus' birth and what it means. But did you know that there are lessons we can learn from the Christmas story that are important to our everyday life?
Like Mary. She was scared and confused when she found out that she would be giving birth to Jesus. That would be scary, huh? She couldn't believe that God would use her for such a big job. But she obeyed anyway. And submitted herself to Him. She called herself His servant. She teaches us that when God calls on us to do something big, we should obey and give ourselves to Him. Remember her when you're scared and you think you can't do what you're being asked to do. You can.
Remember the shepherds? They were just a normal group of men, seemingly unimportant, working and minding their own business. When the angel appeared to them, they went to find Jesus and, when they found Him, they dropped to their knees and worshiped Him. They told everyone they met about the miracle they had seen, and they praised God for it. I pray that the miracle of Jesus Christ is always enough to bring you to your knees, and that you never stop praising God and proclaiming the good news to all who will listen. Just like the shepherds.
Even Joseph, who we know very little about, had a lesson to teach about faith and trust. Imagine it--being engaged to a girl, only to find out she's pregnant and you're not the dad!? Disappointed, he had already decided to break it off with Mary when an angel appeared to him and asked him to trust God, even though he didn't understand what was happening. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? I want you to have faith and trust Him in everything, even in the unknown. God is good. And that's all we need to know.
We can even learn from the wise men. I learned that they were very smart. The kind of people who are always learning and finding out about things. (Like you guys!) When they found out about Jesus, they followed a star to find Him and worshiped Him once they did. Girls, it's ok to be smart and to want to figure things out. But sometimes it's best to just believe. Never stop following that star in your heart that says that God most certainly does exist, and He lives in you.
And ladies...remember this:
The rainbow always comes after the storm. And as long as you learn from your struggles and remember that you are being made stronger because of them, that rainbow is going to be all the more beautiful.
Thank you both for who you are and what you do for our family.
I love you always.