Tuesday, August 16, 2016

As the Phase Turns

Just the other day I was sitting with my oldest snuggled up with me watching the Olympics. As I felt his weight against me, I began to recall a story to him about a time not so long ago that I sat in a little upstairs apartment, the streetlights flooding through the window, eating yogurt covered raisins and pretzels - a craving I must have had - and watching the summer Olympic games. I was six months pregnant with him.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was an exciting time in our ministry. It was an exciting time in our marriage. We'd finally 'come back home' officially from being off the road. This little boy that was growing inside me had been moving and growing and rolling around. You could finally actually see my stomach move. At the risk of sounding romantic, it was magical.

And I can remember thinking to myself one of those nights, "The next time I watch the summer Olympics, he will be almost four." I'm sure I cried.

You see, I've always known the time would fly. Maybe it is a blessing, I've tried to soak up every moment. Maybe it's a curse, I'm always distinctly aware time is fleeting. But when that sweet little boy, who is now 'almost 8', was curled up against me and concluded my story with, "The next time we watch the summer Olympics, I will be almost 12," my heart swelled into my throat, and I had to fight back the tears.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
James 4:14

There have been a lot of tears lately, if I'm honest. My youngest is about to be off to kindergarten, my oldest is going into second grade, and I have never been a mom who has counted down the days until school starting. Quite the contrary... I'll need a box of Kleenex and a quiet place to sob when the first day comes around. In the last few years, the honest me would say that I miss the ages of my children several years ago. Four and two... I loved everything about that time in our lives. 

I loved playdates and homemade projects. I loved blowing bubbles and park visits. I loved afternoon naptime when I could finally 'get something done'. Then I loved realizing that my favorite thing to get done was just being 'mom.' I loved the sweet little way they mis-spoke words and holding them close when words or things hurt. 

And though I've never been a 'wish it away' type mom, it's taken these recent tears for me to realize what I have become. I've become a "wish for what was" mother. 

Lord forbid I miss today because I'm digging in my heels to slow it down. What highs will I hurt through allowing the shadow of things that once were to steal today's sunshine? In five years, if I realize how sweet this phase was, but I missed it because I was dwelling on the one that came before, I'm no better off than having wished it away to begin with. 

Will I cry on the first day of school? You betcha I will. It's a new milestone. Every moment of the last eight years was based on my being home with our babies until they both started school. Change is hard sometimes. Sometimes it's a good hard, but hard still hurts. 

Do I miss my babies being babies? Of course I do, but how thankful I am for all of the sweet memories I have and for healthy growing kiddos. 

What I will not do, however, is get so caught up in yesterday that I miss today. I will love this phase. I will love the little cackle laugh from A as you tickle her armpits. I will love B's perseverance and will to try, try, and try again. I will love the fact that they are still small enough (barely) for me to pick up and hold in my arms. I will love that Ans still tells me I look beautiful and that she loves me, for no reason at all. I will love that B still wants to have family time. I will love this place in life, our here and now, in all of what seems imperfect, that I've learned well enough to know I will at some point miss desperately. 

Sure - my heart hurts. The page turns. Life continues. But there are good pages to come... sweet pages. It's time to stop rereading the beginning of the story and continue on with the rest of the book.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Story of Us

Your eyes saw me before I was born. 
Every day of my life was recorded in Your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:16

This is the story of us. You and me. Where we began. Where we have been. 

I have learned not to project where we are going. 

Boy met girl when I was 16. We won't comment on your age, but it was all innocent enough. It was a brief encounter in the skating rink for a sweet friend of mine to set up a tennis game with you. You were wearing a visor with a Jesus fish on it, but you didn't know of Him yet. We were in and out, and she and I were gone. 

We both went on living. 

Somehow, we'd gone seven years with you working a mile from my house, and I had never noticed you before. I hadn't even heard your name in my little small town where my dad knew everyone. Yet, after that initial meeting your name kept popping up. 

As time would continue, you and I became acquaintances. You knew so and so and so did I. Our circles started to overlap, and I got to know you more. I was privileged to consider you a friend when you wrestled with the Lord over your salvation. It is so precious to me, your love for the Lord. The way you loved Jesus in the months and years that followed would radically challenge me in my own walk with Christ. Your desire was that everyone know the love and forgiveness you knew in Him. His love oozed out of you. You were either getting my peers out of football practice to take them to church or offering a homeless man a warm meal. Selfless. Real. 

Our friendship grew. Eventually, you would become my boss. I still don't know what you were thinking hiring this person who hadn't stepped in a skating rink for that many years, but you did. Then, you would become my youth pastor. My heart, tattered during much of this time and broken in life and in my walk with Christ, needed the Jesus that oozed from you. 

I can remember the first time I uttered the words to a friend. We were on a walk. It was October. I heard myself say it out-loud. "I don't know who I'll marry, but I want it to be someone like him." And it was innocent. I never thought I'd be lucky enough for it to be you. 

In the months to follow, I'd found myself in love... in love with your love for the Lord. In love with your love for people. In love with you. My mind flooded with the 'what ifs' and the 'no, it can't bes', and I'd pray at night that God would take any feelings I had for you away. You. My employer. My youth pastor. My friend. This could never be. I pled, and I cried, and the feelings remained.

Finally, one night, I changed my prayer, "Lord, if you aren't going to take these feelings away, show me how this is going to work." And little by little, it all worked out. 

We did it all 'right', and waited it out. I didn't think World Changers would ever be over, but we made it. We finally got to start this journey of 'us'. 

The next year and a half were filled with Steak n Shake and movies, trips to Sams, Tiger Woods golf on the playstation and Pizza Hut pizza. I looked forward to Monday nights all week long. 7th Heaven and Everwood on the WB, thin crust hamburger pizza and breadsticks. Best. Nights. Ever. Who would have known years later we'd have our own "Bryt" in the house?!

We knew early on we wanted to marry. I kept guessing on when the proposal would come. In the summer of 2004 I left you for seven long weeks to work summer camps. Myself (and a large handful of others) felt for sure I'd be engaged before summer was out. In fact, the Wild Week family all had non-monetary bets that Glorietta was going to be the time. Shoot... even my real family thought that! At one point you told me you were sending me a 'package', and I felt for sure you were going to show up on that mountain somewhere. A couple days later I received some of your sweatshirts in the mail. Thankful for the warmth (and the fact that they smelled like you), I was only a little mad at you ;)

When I got home, we hit the ground running again. I was in school and working and Christmas was rounding the corner. I remember you asking me what I wanted. My list looked something like this:

- you
- a wedding
- you
- a honeymoon
- you

Well... you get the drift. And as I was always trying to deflate my hopes about Christmas, my birthday rolled along. You were fighting one terrible case of kidney stones. You'd just taken hydrocodone for the pain but were insisting that we go to Alongi's to eat. I'm pretty sure I raised my voice and refused to go and told you that you were crazy. Birthday or not, you were pitiful. 
But somehow you got me there... and my parents... and your parents... and some time before our food came I looked over and you were on one knee. And the place erupted in clapter. Or something like that. Our story was being written. Hydrocodone and all. (Bet you wish you would have considered that Glorietta thing on the mountain, huh? :) )

Eight months later I had the privilege of watching you watch me walk down the aisle. It's one of those moments that I'm so very thankful that God included in our story. After all, it's what makes it 'our' story. I don't know that I've ever smiled so much in my life. I smile now just thinking about it... our little life in our little house on Park Street. Our newlywed home. 

Since then... we've had quite the journey. 10 months after our wedding day we were packing our life away to go on the road. Countless salvations, miles and hotel rooms, lots of learning to be married in a confined space with only your spouse, and many, many, many awesome experiences and adventures later, we were ready to 'settle' back down. Somehow, we still haven't done much of that settling... 15 months on the road then gave way to 8 years, 9 addresses, 2 children, who knows how many car exchanges and a countless number of highs and lows. 

It's been eleven years now. 11. Sometimes, when I don't think about the journey between, it feels like only yesterday we were dating. I can still remember the smell of your apartment, the view of your profile from the passenger seat of the Matrix, and I can hear the sound of your voice on the phone before I went to bed at night. 

If only I knew then how much I'd love you now... 

To see you love our kids... 

To see you love your friends... 

To see your love for His church... 

To see your love for strangers... 

All has deepened this love for you that began when I was just a teenager. This love for the Lord that you have maintained all of these years, continues to draw my heart to you all these years later... deeper, more intimately.

We've been through it... some of the most exciting times, some of the most excruciating times, but that's the glory of life lived together... WE live it. Side by side. For the glory of God. 

And you know what, after all of these years, all of these experiences... all of the exciting and the excruciating, I choose you more. I choose you more than I chose you 11 years ago. I say "I DO" more affectionately and more absolutely than I did in the white dress on the pink alter on that hot day in August. I am so thankful that when the Lord was orchestrating our pages, long before either of us were born, He was writing our pages together... this story that He is writing is my favorite. 

Here's to many, many, many more. I'm excited to see how our story continues...

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Here and Now

I do not dare to convey that we've walked through the worst of times. We have not. In fact, most of my days have been easy. I was twenty-six when I lost the first person I was close to, a grandparent. Granted, I would lose two more over the course of a couple years, but that isn't the intention of this story.

You see, I wasn't naive. You can only be a Christian so long - well - you can only be a human being, really, to know that life isn't always easy. We are all on this ride together and inevitably pain, hardship, and unfavorable circumstances will greet us all, often unexpectedly. I was keenly aware of this fact. I often had lie awake at night wondering if this would be the last 'normal' night of our lives.

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." - 1 Peter 4:12

Maybe I am a pessimist and a worrier, and maybe I am just a realist, but when our current trial came I was in no way expecting it to look, feel, or effect us as it did. By the grace of God, my family is intact, we have our health, and we have seen true friends that have stood alongside us, but the level of surprise, hurt and anger felt over the past many months have been exhausting. Literally, a good portion of our days, most waking moments, are lived in some way dealing with the aftermath of it all. I understand now when people say an experience is 'all consuming'. It is not only in thought, but in deed. 

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." - Matthew 11:28

I have not blogged much in the last four years. I haven't neglected the blog due to lack of desire... rather, lack of inspiration. The Lord has been so good and so faithful in our lives over the last four years. In many ways, these have been some of the sweetest moments of our lives. The husband had been more satisfied in work and ministry than ever, our sweet babies were growing through what I believe may always be the most precious moments of life (not that they don't have many more to come), and we have made incredible friends, many whom feel like family. My relationship with the Lord was real and vibrant, and the Lord showed me things about Himself each and every day, but the desperate need that I'd once felt for Him was not as prevalent amongst  the roses. 

"If you want God's grace, all you need is need..." - Timothy Keller

"When the righteous call out for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all of their troubles.  The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:17-18

And then the bottom fell out. The storm rolled in. The rock gave way. The fire came. And so did pain. And so did anger. And so did doubt. And so did Jesus. Jesus came. 

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." - John 10:10

Abundance. It doesn't always look how we expect it to appear. Abundance for me right now has come in many ways. It has come in the music and talk radio to and from school each day. It has come in the church service we choose to visit each week. It has come through the words of friends and family. It has come through scripture posted, well, just about everywhere. It has come in the devotional books of my children, and it has come through the most unexpected sources... and though we have great need... we have an abundance with Jesus. 

For two weeks I've felt the Lord impressing on me that at this moment He may be less concerned with our upcoming destination and more concerned with our journey getting there. Maybe God's intention with this season in our lives is not to see us in a particular place, but to see us grow in a particular way. For we are not there yet... we are here, and it is in this present moment that He desires to meet with us, to grow us, to firmly foot us deep into the foundation of this faith He has birthed within us. Today, today I was led into this scripture at church:

"But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.  Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.”  And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness.  And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people." - Exodus 13:18-22

It is the culmination of the Lord's whisperings in a big, loud yell. He isn't only walking with us through this wilderness, He is orchestrating it. Every nook, every cranny, every extra step and restep. Sure, it'd be shorter to go from here to there, but the long way leads us nearer to Jesus. The wilderness may be the most uncomfortable, but Jesus is near to the broken-hearted. He is near and He is protecting us. 

Lauren Chandler says, "sometimes He wrings the worship from our hearts." 

I believe this is such a time. The unbridled, unkempt, raw worship being wrung from within us to the very throne of God. It isn't fancied up. It isn't rehearsed or planned out... it's brought forth in tears and praise in the same raspy breath, "Jesus." 

So though I would have never chosen this path for our family, though I would have never wanted these trials, I am so very thankful for Jesus... the one with us in the roses and the trenches, the one with us on the mountain and in the valley, the one with us even in the wilderness. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

He Works Together All Things

Approximately 25 years ago I sat in a church pew most Sundays with my grandma Peggy. I was a little girl who liked twirly skirts and shoes that tapped when I walked. (Surprising now, I know.) Sundays were the perfect time to feel cute and to sit with grandma doing something I knew made her happy.

One Sunday I heard the Pastor preach from Matthew. His message was on being a sheep or a goat. The sermon was simple, sheep go to be with Jesus, goats do not. I wanted to be a sheep. That was my first real encounter with the gospel, and I've carried those verses as part of my testimony ever since. 


In 2004 - when I was 19 - I worked as staff for a Christian summer camp for students. I was introduced to a young evangelist who was in charge of all of the evangelism efforts at the camp. I was his right hand 'woman'. I watched him and sat beside him on countless nights, at countless camps, with countless students as he introduced them to Jesus and led them through scripture as their eyes were opened and their hearts became receptive. 


In August of 2005 Aaron and I married. We lived in our old hometown. God moved us around here and there. Then we went back 'home', had a couple of kids, and ultimately felt God was moving us onward. The year was 2011, and the next thing we knew, God had brought us to a church being pastored by that same evangelist I'd worked alongside 7 years ago. 


Last night, as we were going through our normal bedtime routine, I sat down with the kids to read the Bible. The topic of the night was sheep and the Shepherd. I explained the sheep were people - us - and that the Shepherd was Jesus - that those of us who are sheep hear Jesus' voice, recognize it and follow Him. Memories of my grandma Peggy and my sitting in that pew really hearing the gospel for the first time flooded back, and, in passing, I mentioned to B that God saved me with scripture much like this, about being a sheep or a goat. 

Last night, God led my baby boy to Himself using similar scripture that He called me with. He used the faithfulness of my ( now deceased ) grandmother who faithfully took her grandbaby to church. (I can't imagine the party that ensued...) Lesson 1: The legacy you leave reaches much further than what you can see, and chances are, if you're a Christian, God had been preparing a way for you to get to Him LONG before you were even born.

And today - today I sat in the Pastor's office, hearing him talk to MY little boy just as he had those students 11 years ago. Had I known then... I could not have fathomed. So many times in life we wonder 'why' and 'what was that all about' and 'how does this fit in with God's plan' -- and that brings me to Lesson 2: God always has a plan. He's always working it together for good for those who love Him. Sometimes we can't see it, sometimes we can't understand it, and sometimes we'll never see it, but sometimes, yes, sometimes we get to see a small piece of years worth of God's orchestrating out our lives come to a hard, beautiful collision, and it's awesome and overwhelming and an incredible blessing. 

His love for us is beyond anything I can understand. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God9not a result of works, so that no one may boast10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:8-10

God is so good. We are so blessed.