Be Still and Know

We have this awesome new wheelchair van that gave us freedom. After being cooped up in our home since October (I won’t even mention the two weeks before that in the ICU at the hospital), February seemed like a new lease on life. We enjoyed going to church as a family and jumping into a homeschool co-op. We slowly started to get to know the community we find ourselves in for this season.

Then, Covid-19 hit, and we are homebound again. Quarantine life feels eerily familiar – except this time Hubby is stuck at home with us! A friend sent me a text asking how we were and joking that I should write a book on how to survive being stuck at home. I laughed but realized that I have had a good deal of practice over the course of the past 7 months.

A road trip for a scholarship competition at my Alma Mater with my eldest was a much needed reprieve during my stuck at home season this fall/winter. A dear friend from my college days, who still lives in the area, opened her home to me for the weekend. I played the role of supportive mom through the campus tours and waited outside the interview rooms during the day, but at night I sat on her couch with my feet curled up under me. There is nothing like picking up – face to face – with a true friend. We laughed, shared our hearts, and I felt the deep sigh of contentment that comes from somewhere inside me when a soul need is being met. “This is the true gift of community,” I thought as I fell asleep that first night in her home.

The next day, walking the grounds of the university, I felt this strange sense of coming home and yet being a stranger as I looked at everything through my son’s eyes. He was making new friends even in the few short hours that he had been staying in the dorm — while I was bumping into friends from days past who now like myself had grown up. They now held positions on campus, and I had a man-child by my side.

One very brief conversation brought the idea of community to mind again. A fellow mom, who shares my blessing of parenting a child that the world might label special needs, saw me. Really saw me. As we spent a moment getting to know each other again, words of encouragement flowed. There is nothing like finding someone who understands my life and will call it blessed rather than hard.

I want that type of community for my son. I joked with him that I would go back in time and do it all again. He was skeptical – thinking of the high tuition and all the papers that would need to be written. But I was thinking of the late night pizza in the dorm, weekend ministry trips, prayer partners, and the pranks that we pulled through the CPO. I loved the cafeteria and studying with my closest friends in the classrooms.

I was giving Asbury a lot of credit – and I do believe that space was a sacred gift in my life, but in the days since our visit, I have been thinking through the seasons of life when I have had community and the seasons when I have felt utter isolation. It might have more to do with me than with my choice of university or the season of life I find myself in.

This year, I have experienced both deep loneliness and immense fellowship to the extent of which both leave me in wonder. I don’t have the wisdom to write a book on how to survive such swings. For sure, I have learned some survival tricks that aid me in the desert times. I probably could write you a bullet list which may or may not be similar to the ones flying around the internet these days. In times of struggle, I have tried hard to follow lists of well meaning experts hoping to keep my faith and sanity in the midst of lonely times. I tried so hard and hold on tight waiting and hoping for the next long weekend with a friend.

In a particularly difficult season a few years back, I found myself in a new short-term home after some significant losses in my personal life. I was lonely, grieving, and fighting for my faith. I finally came to a point that I thought I was loosing the battle and I had to stop. This is where I thought I would loose all touch with God. I couldn’t hold on. Funny how my expectations can be so very wrong.

“Be Still and Know that I am God” Was the verse that flooded my bruised and lonely heart. That was the game changer for me.

In times that are hard and isolating, I am learning to lean into that truth. Be still. I pray that I can be still and hear his voice, have deeper community with him, and know him in new ways during each season. Just know Him. Call on His name and see what happens.

For me, that is when a new list seemed to appear. I am not sure I can explain it….but it seems the more I lean into knowing God, embracing stillness, and letting my heart cry out for survival in a hard season….that is when breakthrough happens. I can see the gift of nature around me that helps me to breath deeper and survive one moment. He helps me to weep harder to release emotion which helps me survive another. God brings the name of a friend to mind that I text. I can suddenly appreciate a card that came in a mail. I enjoy playing a game with my kiddo. I have energy to exercise, or I suddenly am introduced to a new worship song that makes my soul sing. By being still and simply knowing God, I can appreciate the gifts he has just for me to help me make it through today – one moment at a time. I am taking note of each of these. That is my true list.

I can be tempted to wish back for my college days when I lived in the dorm with my close friends. I think Soccer Dude was right to be skeptical about my desire to go back. Wishing for what I had never meets my needs for today. Stilling my mind, my wishes and expectations to focus on just knowing God….that is where the true gift of community thrives.

In this season we find our schedules open. There ins’t a soccer season, homeschool co-op, band concerts, or music lessons. Meetings at church are canceled, and we are not in the midst of planning a huge gathering for Easter. We can be still. What luxury. Will we lean into this time of being home? Can we be still and know God in new ways? With some tears of frustration, contemplation, and honesty with my own heart, I am trusting Jesus to show me how.

My baby turns 18

18 years ago, Hubby and I were completely in awe over the new life that God entrusted into our care. I joke that Soccer Dude was perfect from the beginning – making his appearance on a Thursday night after I watched “Friends” and before the new episode of “ER” aired. His tiny perfection all of a sudden made me realize all that I lacked.

As we prepared to leave the hospital, I dug through my carefully packed suitcase looking for the long-sleeved undershirt I was sure had been on the list. I couldn’t find it. 18 years later and I can still feel my panic, thinking that I had failed to bring the layers he might need to keep him warm on the journey home.

Have I bundled him up warm enough? Should I hold his hand or let go? Have I taught him right from wrong? Should I push him harder or be more compassionate? I have asked myself endless questions on this journey of parenting over the years wondering if I am enough. Honestly, knowing that I am not enough.

I forgot to pack that onesie to bring him home from the hospital. I found out he could now roll over when he rolled off the bed and landed on his head on a concrete floor. I lost him at church once, and I almost let him drown when I wasn’t holding his hand next to the pool’s edge. I was sure he was going to die when he ate a huge, Peruvian bug. I think that was the same week that I left him on the floor with a stack of board books to rush the trash to the curb only to have the door slam and lock behind me. I was locked out. He was inside. I can laugh about that one now, but there have been so many more mistakes over the years that make me cry rather than laugh. Many I am too embarrassed to confess to you.

But grace and God.

If I could tell myself one thing 18 years ago as I bundled up my newborn for the car ride home, I would tell myself….”you aren’t God.” Break the news to my young self at the beginning. Maybe then, I would have done my best, and then put my efforts into trusting God with the outcomes.

I am not saying that I didn’t trust God at all. From an early age I put my trust in Jesus – but there are some areas of my life that are harder to leave in His capable hands. I like to give a good shot at being in control myself. I instinctively want to protect, teach, shape and guide my babies – as all parents should. My problems come when I feel the weight of each of those tasks solely on my shoulders. I forget to do what I am called to do, then let go, and trust God with the outcomes.

How? How, for the love of God, did Abraham climb Mount Moriah and offer his son, Isaac, on the altar? How did he saddle the donkey in preparation for the trip? How did he trust that God would provide the sacrifice just as he told Isaac that God would do? Abraham knelt his will and heart to God. That is a good parent. That is who I am striving to be. Daily I have to remind myself that Jesus is the one who has the final say and will provide everything that my son needs.

The absolute beauty of my baby turning 18 – I see how he is turning out. Now, I confess to being a very devoted and biased mother, but I think even others would testify to the fact that God has done a work in Soccer Dude’s heart. He is delightful, smart, compassionate, and doing his best to learn wisdom. He has a heart for the world and the desire to make it better. None of this is solely because of me. Dropping him on his head as an infant didn’t make him mean. Homeschooling him didn’t leave gaps in his knowledge, and carting him all over the globe hasn’t made him an awkward third culture kid. The missing long-sleeved onesie on that first car ride home did not scar him for life.

I don’t know if Soccer Dude will be with us for his next birthday. He is making plans to head off to university and live on campus. We are so proud of him as he dreams of his future, but sad to see him go. So this birthday, I bought his icecream cake with tears wondering how he will get cake next year, yet knowing that it really is time to let go.

It is a new season of parenting. I am sure I will struggle with worry. I’ll wonder if he is ok, if he is bundled up enough, and if he has all that he needs. But during this season I am going to try to remember that I am not God. He doesn’t need me. Ultimately, Jesus is the one that he needs.

Hopefully, I can remember the same with our youngest. It is a bit crazy to have a new kindergartner at the same time our oldest is headed to college. For me that is one of God’s gifts of grace. Poor soccer dude has had to teach me all the hard lessons on parenting. Maybe with Moe I can put them into practice and not be so hard on myself.

I lack the ability to shape my children into the awesome adults I hope they will become, but God can. He won’t drop them on their heads, won’t let them drown, or leave them out in the cold. Good stuff, right?! So I am letting go. Giving it over to the one who lacks nothing. I will worry less and pray more. I will try to slow down and enjoy the moments. I will lean into Jesus and learn the lessons that he has for my heart and trust that my relationship with Him will spill over as blessings onto my children.

I will let you know how I did with that task when Moe turns 18.

Chasing a dirty sock during Advent

This season we are blessed to live in this amazing parsonage that has a full basement with a laundry room. There is this thing that I do. I never want to make more than one trip downstairs to the laundry room. I try to gather ALL of the dirty laundry from eight people out of both hampers and carry it down. In theory this saves myself another trip down the stairs. I am sure you can picture what happens. It is a mound, and as I try to wrestle the overloaded basket through the house I drop a sock here, undies there, and maybe even a shirt or two. Our sweet dog, Ace, also knows that this happens. He loves him a dirty sock.

Today, as I was chasing him around and behind the couch to save the dirty sock before a hole was chewed through its center, I had to laugh. Why? Why do I try to overload myself thinking that this is the best way to get more done and save myself time and energy. It never does!

Thinking about how my life often resembles that overloaded basket of dirty laundry. I really try to stuff too much in, do too much, and then get frustrated when the inevitable happens. I drop the ball (or should I say sock?) and my efforts come to a lot less then my intentions.

It has been about 7 years since we have been in the States for Christmas. I have loved seeing all of the decorations, hearing the Christmas music in the stores as I shop, shopping for my kids, and having fun ingredients readily available to whip up some holiday treats. It has been so much fun – but as I get close to the 25th, I see how I am trying to load that laundry basket full of stuff and a few important things are getting dropped along the way. In Asia, I was so intentional about creating an atmosphere in our home to feel, contemplate, and experience advent. I am afraid it has been harder to do here in my beautiful comfortable parsonage.

I am hoping it is not too late. I want to do less. Simplify. Make these last important days of Advent stand on their own and do a work in our hearts. My prayers is that our family will remember the Advent readings, the candles, the space to be together and reflect on the true gift of Christmas. Surely, they won’t remember that I missed getting the perfect gift or that the meal wasn’t elaborate. I might disappoint some people around me, but I think my soul may be better for it. For a self-aware perfectionist and people pleaser this is hard work.

I want to take this one step further….I think that slowing down and making this season one of peace and contemplation is a gift I can give not just family but my neighbors as well. I imagine the hussle and bustle of the season is leaving many feeling empty – searching for more meaning. Let’s be the peaceful light to the culture around us that demands for more. Is it possible that by not keeping up with the Joneses I might be offering a different picture of Christmas?

I am still trying to decide how to do this. For now, every time I am considering making three types of cookies rather than one I am going to take a deep breath and whisper the name of Jesus. As I call on the name of Jesus for myself and for you, dear friends, I am praying….may our Christmas season be one of peace, hope, and quiet moments to reflect on the goodness of our Savior so that we make Him known.

What God has done.

Six weeks ago I slept next to my son’s bed in the hospital listening to the machines that were helping him breathe. B has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) – a cousin disease to Muscular Dystrophy – that causes his muscles to slowly weaken. Scoliosis is an inevitable companion to SMA as the muscles in his back weaken and no longer can support the body. The surgeons placed a rod in B’s back to be the reinforcement and protection that his organs need. We are so thankful for this life-giving surgery (thankful for every minute of the six or so hours of surgery) that was able to enhance B’s quality of life.

It feels funny to say that I am thankful for something so gruesome. The surgery caused B immeasurable amounts of pain. His body was opened up and stretched out. That was just the beginning. Then he started the fight of recovery. He had to work at breathing on his own, emptying his body from the liquid that accumulated where it shouldn’t. He had to push hard to sit, to eat and regain daily functions. As two weeks in the hospital came to a close and we were putting things in place to bring him home, I was so frustrated to feel that we were in a worse position than before the surgery. Frustrated but thankful for the fight.

There are things that are worth fighting for, but that doesn’t make the fight easy. Somehow In my growing up years I missed that lesson in Sunday School. I had the misconception that if I was in the middle of God’s will then life should go….well, easy or smooth. I am not sure which word to use, but I am sure that this idea was in my heart. God has been slowly stripping me of that falsehood. I wish I were a fast learner. Might have saved me some pain or at least saved me from some painful wrestling with God over the years. Anyone know what I am talking about?

God calls us to a hard fight and equips us for the task – if we are willing.

When I meet a new nurse or group of physicians there is a comment that I often hear. “He is so lucky to have you.” Want to see me get angry fast – tell me that I am a saint for walking this journey of SMA. I did not choose this. In all honesty, if we had known B’s diagnosis before we felt led to adopt this amazing kid, I am sure I would not have had the guts to do what God was asking us to do.

I often remind myself that God was in all of this. How I fell in love with this child slowly over the years. How we got the phone call asking us to consider adding this child to our family, the one I said I would not leave behind if God made a way. How we had the paperwork for adoption all in place because we had just completed an adoption the year before. How God provided all of the money needed to complete the adoption. How mistakes in paperwork were fixed during a Chinese National Holiday. How the adoption was completed just days before the deadline that would have made our son unadoptable. Then, this teen entered our family and embraced us, our family ways and love. He has become a perfect part of us whom we love deeply. It truly all is a miracle of huge preportions. This story is a marker in my heart. I remember and it gives me courage for my fight today.

This month since surgery we are working at learning a new normal. I have learned how to set up the machine that helps B breathe through the night. We have learned how to use a lift to transfer our boy without hurting his back and we are seeking ways to help him gain weight and strength. We are hoping to find ways to help him get around more easily, are adjusting our expectations for the near future, and trusting in God’s provision. None of these steps have been easy for me. But is easy what I really want?

Don’t get me wrong, I would do the dance of hallelujah if B was healed today. I would love for him to have a “normal” life. To move freely and live without SMA. But through the hard I am learning things that I can not learn any other way – I am learning to lean.

I have never had to lean into Jesus like I am in this season. Feels funny to say that I am thankful for something that is so hard. I am. Let’s embrace difficult seasons, hard stuff and grief in a way that makes us more like Jesus. Don’t listen to the lies of despair, hopelessness, and doubt. Fight and remember what God has done.

On how God answers my prayers

I lost my keys. The only set of van keys that we have. They are in this house somewhere and for a week I have been tearing things apart knowing that they SHOULD turn up somewhere. But, they haven’t. So do you know what that means? I have to pay to have our van towed from my own garage to the dealer. Then, I will have the pleasure of paying another (painful to me amount) to have a new key made. ARGH!

I have really been hoping to not add to my blonde story folder – “The time I lost my own keys in my own house.” I try hard not to play the role of absent minded mother of many children. But let’s face it, I have times when I am busy with six children, a puppy and getting in the door to make lunch. So, the fact is one minute my keys are in my hand — and the next minute I have laid them down somewhere.

One child, to remain nameless (our youngest), told me he found the keys in a hidden treasure spot and reburried them for me at the top of a ladder. I haven’t found that treasure yet, but I have been praying I would find it.

Lord, help me find my keys.

You can’t imagine how many times I have prayed that prayer this week. So many times it can feel like God isn’t listening. Why can’t he help a frazzled mother out? I just need him to point me in the direction of the keys.

All joking aside, I have at times wondered if my prayers go unanswered, not just about keys, but about larger things too – results of medical tests, guidance for how to parent, a glimpse into the future so that we know what decision to make, and last but not least a mended relationship.

Yesterday, we got an envelope that included a very encouraging letter and three checks. We were blown away by the care and generosity of a tiny church that gives big and calls us theirs. As I marveled at the gift I had in my hand, I realized that it covered a couple of expenses we were facing — including a new van key.

So many times it can feel like God isn’t listening, but really He is just answering my prayers in a way that I never expected — and even in a way that I don’t want.

I don’t want to have the humbling experience of towing my van and getting a new key made. I want the easy way out. But I can tell you one thing, God has provided again. He has made sure that we have what we need.

Today, I am thanking God for answering my prayers — for hearing me and providing. I also am digging deep in my soul with the reminder that God doesn’t always do what I want him to do. He is sovereign; I am not. He knows what I need. He gives good gifts, even if at first I feel disappointed because my desires (and dare I say my expectations) are not in line with HIS heart. I so want my heart to line up with his. Sigh.

Lord, help my unbelief. Remind me that you are always faithful and you answer prayer…..even prayers about lost keys. Thank you that you are good, and help me to see your good answers even when it is hard.

Worth it?

The Great Wall. If you have never been there, I am not sure you can imagine the steep terrain and the amount of steps. So many steps. Oddly spaced crumbling rock steps. Each step is worth the effort when you take in the view of the wall winding through the hills as far as you can see.

Visiting the Great Wall was the way our family decided to say goodbye to this season in Asia. After saying good-bye to the city that we had called home for more than 10 years, it seemed fitting that we would say goodbye to China at the Great Wall, one of our favorite spots.

B had never been there before. He was so very excited by our plans. It was a bit intimidating to envision the steep wall and yet to make a plan for our son, B, who is in a wheelchair. We called a travel agent for help, booked tickets to the most accessible part of the wall, and had two sweet friends helping. But still. Wowzers. It took a lot of effort to get our 100 pound teenager who isn’t able to walk on top of that wall.

Oh, the spectacle we created – huffing and puffing as we pushed a wheelchair up the cobblestone street that winds up and around towards the wall. We took turns carrying B on our back. We threw the wheelchair into a cable car while panicking at the thought of throwing our son into a cable car. He bumped up steps. We hung on for dear life as we rolled his chair down one steep incline to face an upward slant moments later. It was exhausting and hard.

I do this thing with our family when I am trying to convince myself that something is going well or is fun – I clench my jaw and smile and say stupid things in a sing song voice like – “peace, joy, and happiness.” The kids love it! (Which really means they think I am crazy as I talk to myself!) If I am being brutally honest, this game I play is really about the cost benefit in my mind.

Our trip to the Great Wall – totally worth all of the effort. You should have seen B’s face as he sat on that wall taking in the history of his heritage. Priceless. It is the kind of moment you look at and think – I would have paid anything for this. I would have put in even more effort to see the look on his face again. When my back was killing me for three days after the trip, I smiled. Worth it. When we handed over the fee to the tour guide, we shrugged and probably would have paid three times the amount. When the benefit is big, hard things seem so much….well, easier.

But there are moments in life when my cost benefit analysis falls short. I am sure you have had those seasons of life too. So much hard for little benefit. And we might add, from a human perspective some hard seasons seem to have no benefit. What do you do when you are climbing up all of those stairs hoping to see the Great Wall, but you never get to the top? You know what I am talking about? You invest in the relationship never to see it renewed. You pray for the wayward child – for years – and they haven’t come home. You fight the disease never to hear the word remission. A loved one dies. A job is lost. It all feels too hard. You are struggling to keep moving forward and your heart is sick with hope.

We personally are in a season that feels really hard. We hit the pause button on our lives in Asia to return to the states so that we could seek better medical treatment for B. We miss our work and home in Asia, we are fighting insurance and not getting clear answers from doctors….I feel like I am pushing a wheelchair up a steep mountain. There are days that I am tempted to give up and say that this isn’t worth it….and if I do my cost analysis half way through the journey, I probably would be right. All of this hard isn’t worth going half way.

When I saw B at the top of the Great Wall – that is when I was willing to have paid more, pushed harder. That short day trip helps me gain perspective. There will be a day when everything is made right. When everything is made whole and all of my tears will be dry. That will be the top of the mountain with a view of God’s throne that I can’t even imagine. I am positive when I reach glory I will think that it was all worth it and I will have a grin on my face that will say it all.

Until that day? Friend, we all have our own seasons of hard. Let’s encouarge each other to persevere keeping our eyes towards heaven.

Looking backwards

I hope you don’t mind indulging me as I back post. The last couple of months have been crazy with so many decisions, travel, and transitions that I sometimes forget what time zone we are in. That being said, it was hard to keep the blog updated. But, we have had a couple of significant moments in our family that I would love to share with you – albeit late.

Part of our transition from China included several weeks in Thailand for training, debriefing, rest and medical care. It was a much needed time that helped all of us. The reality of a season in the States began to sink in, we grieved leaving our Asian home, we rested and sought soul renewal after making so many large decisions and most importantly had some fun as a family.

A few of our highlights from our time in Thailand included fun, healing and faith.

As an early birthday gift Little Monkey and I spent a day, just the two of us, learning how to cook Thai food. When you have 6 kids, finding fun special things to do with them individually can be a challenge. I was so thankful to have the chance to make memories with my girl.

B learned to swim on his own!! We ditched his normal daily physical therapy for time in the pool everyday. I was amazed to see how the excerise in the water relieved his joint stiffness and increased his mobility, but the most fun part….once he was in the water, he was like all the other kids. He could move where he wanted to go and play the way he wanted to play. ON HIS OWN. Pretty huge deal for a kiddo who always needs to be pushed around in a wheelchair.

Above all, the day I will treasure most from our time in Thailand, was the afternoon Soccer Dude and Roo were baptized. After a season of studying the Old Testament in our homeschooling curriculum they were challenged to publicly declare their faith. (Homeschool win!) They chose to do that with the community of expats that meet up with us yearly in Thailand – their Asian family.

I was overwhelmed as Hubby read the age old litergy for our teenagers. I thought my heart would burst with joy as I thanked God for all that he has done for us in our salvation. What a treasure to share that gift with our children. Our friends gathered around them and prayed blessings over them and called them onward in their faith. It was so very special.

We have had the opportunity to visit Thailand many times during our ministry in Asia. I love, love the ocean. There is something about standing on the edge of the crashing mass of water that speaks to my soul. I am treasureing the memories from Thailand, holding on tight to them during this season of transition.

I ain’t gonna lie. This transition has been a hard one. We hated to leave our home in Asia. I hated to face the medical stuff that I knew was in our future. I hate finding my footing in a new place and season. It is hard work. One way I anchor myself through seasons like this (and we have faced them several times) is to dig deep in areas of faith, health and fun. I think it is so simple that I actually have fought it during past transitions.

So, this morning I am walking down memory lane. Remembering how space to encounter God in new ways, remembering faith decisions like baptism, exercise in a pool, and intentional fun with my kiddos ground me. What can that look like (practically) here and now in Michigan? I have been thinking about that a lot as I unpack suitcases and settle in. Our time in Thailand to unplug and seek God was such a gift that renewed my soul – I need that on a regular basis. There is something about extended time away with family and Jesus – you know? I need more than 30 minutes with my Bible in the mornings. But how? How can I get more when normal busy life is happening and chaos is the word that describes my life?

Thinking and praying a lot about silence, solitude, prayer, retreat, a healthy lifestyle, and good fun. I can let life take me along – or I can be intentional. I am learning that the simple choices make a big difference for our hearts. I wish I had a punch list of my goals toward soul health and how to achieve them. It just isn’t that simple for me.

I am taking it one thing at a time as God brings something to mind. Texted a college friend, who I love and admire deeply, to ask her to join me in a retreat weekend sometime in the near future. I have a couple of books picked out that I am planning on reading. I have carved out a “hiding place” in our new home where I can take time to pray. I am back into my exercise routine and we have re-established our Friday pizza, game and movie nights. Nothing super impressive. I am not going to set the world on fire as a result of these small moves – but I won’t get stuck. That is enough of a goal for now.

What choices do you make to keep your soul healthy?