An evening of OCC, Adoption, Sponsoring & Hosting

I didn’t want to pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child. There. I said it.  I didn’t mind doing it, if we were going to, but I was overwhelmed with shipping care packages to Melody and also to Molly whom we sponsor and I thought we just wouldn’t this year. I mean, tomorrow is the deadline at church so it’s not like I’d run out this evening to pack a couple of shoeboxes. That’s not how giving is done, it’s careful, planned out, exact.

Right.

The pastor just couldn’t comprehend why I would have any problem with this last minute mission. It took everything within me to not sabotage his mission and derail the entire family by riling up the kids about what a crazy idea it was to do this so LAST MINUTE.

So we went.

And we had fun, the boys into getting things the boy would like and we changed our age range for the girl box since the 4 year old was so intent on getting things for “the girl” that she herself would also like. Her dad had showed her the OCC promo video before we dashed off to the store, so undeterred by this waiting until the eleventh hour was he. She’d seen the video, she was on a mission. It seemed letting it be personal was a good plan so I went with it. See. I can be spontaneous.

While we were there, I also picked up some of the Christmas items for the girls in China and butter. We’ve been out of butter.

The thing is. It was all so painless and fun. The check out lady said to me: “Are you gathering boxes of things to donate or something?”  I just smiled and said yes. I didn’t dare take credit for this noble expedition and no, I didn’t share the mission or the gospel either. I just smiled and nodded.

We brought the boxes home, filled them up; put them by the door. I was looking in our boxes of pictures because that’s what you’re supposed to do, add a picture and I found a plain white envelope with the words “To Mama, In Taiwan” written on it. Oh, my sweet Jay and his letter to his foster mom that he worked so hard to write. I have kept that letter safe and sound sealed up in my box. It just feels so sacred, I can’t mail it (I don’t know where it goes!), I can’t throw it away and I just can’t bring myself to open it and have someone translate it. So, I keep it safe.

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It was a funny feeling, holding that letter and thinking of my boy whom God said I cannot have as a son, but will forever love and pray for. It was a night spent with my beautiful family, full of blessed ones. There was Timothy, Katie Ann, Josiah, Nathan, Maury and Hosanna gathering gifts for Melody and Molly and two unknown children somewhere out in the world and there were prayers and memories of Jay. So many children. I always wanted a large family, but I never dreamed that God would give me so many children of the heart, how can one woman be so blessed and how can one heart contain such love?

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I didn’t want to fill an Operation Christmas Child box, but I’m glad I did. 🙂

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When the Rooster Crowed

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“And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” Luke 22:61

The Lord looks at Peter as he denies him for the third time. The intent look, the knowing eye contact.

What was in that look?

Was it remorse? Like the remorse a father feels when his child chooses to do wrong? An I told you so look? Knowing he had said it would happen, to drive in the point?

Hurt. Did the betrayal hurt, knowing his sinful nature, knowing it would happen – did it still sting? Betrayal stings. It cuts. It makes all relationship before feel like a fraud. Knowing the future restoration, Jesus still wept over Job, did this betrayal still hurt?

Disappointment? Rebuke, pity, anger, hurt – Love?

What was in that look?

What an intimate place to partake in meaningful eye contact with Jesus. What a dreadful place to have it be in such awful circumstances! When Jesus looks intently at you, even knowing his love and compassion, you don’t want it to be when you’ve just sinned against him!

What an awesome, passionate savior we have who looks intently at the individual, even in their sin.

Such Love! Such Forgiveness! What a wonder You are!

Loved You from the Start

I’ve not written a word here since that first time I saw your lovely face.

The days since you captured my heart, since we began this maddening journey to you, they’ve been bittersweet. Sweet in discovering the wonder of you, coming to realize love at first sight is real and when God has a plan – no amount of paperwork or miles can take away that love. We truly have loved you from the very start little one.

So we wait.

The bitter taste of the wait makes us cringe and we ache for you.

Your siblings all gathered around to see you this morning. They commented how much you looked like your brother, how you ate bananas and drank juice. They laughed at the cake all over your face. They celebrated your birthday, celebrated that you will be coming home to play with them. Your grandparents too, looked through the pictures of your day and rejoiced over you. Your grandma cried when she saw you with your cake, surrounded by smiling, caring people.

Your sisters are preparing your room, making plans, saving clothes, waiting, waiting for you to join them. Your big sister made sure that your pictures were nicely framed by your birthday cake, made sure to have pictures taken. She lovingly anticipates the day when she can show you how you were celebrated and loved for so long. She’s secretly been working on a painting for us, a painting that reminds us just how much we’ve loved you – right from the start. Only God can do that.

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You are never far from our thoughts, always weaved into our conversations. Often, when we sit at dinner, we will look around to see who is missing… it’s always you. At every dinner your little sister, who happily calls herself mèimei, prays for you. For you to be safe.

Your Daddy is in love with you. From that first day, you captured his heart and he longs for you, longs for you to be home. He started looking for a car that would have room for you, even on the first day he saw you. He’s been preparing and making everything ready for when you come home. He wants you home.

Your mama loves you, I’m so glad you had a happy time, I can’t wait until we can laugh and play together. Tonight, I go to sleep knowing you smiled and enjoyed your birthday. I smiled too. Smiled at the images of you enjoying your special birthday cake. Tonight, I go to sleep, reminding myself this is the last birthday you’ll spend far away from your family. Tonight I’ll rest, knowing you were happy; I’ll rest better when you’re here beside me.  I pray you understand that we are coming for you. We are working so hard to get to you. To be with you.

We’ve loved you from the start baby girl. I can’t explain it, but it’s true.

Happy 10th Birthday sweet Melody Joy.

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The Peaceful & Undivided Heart

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I’ve just finished chapters 7 & 8 in The Church Planting Wife and have recorded some of my thoughts of them below:

Chapter 7: The Peaceful Heart – Battling Stress

A battle I’m all too familiar with, one that included panic attacks and a call to 911. I have had to willfully fight several times during this church plant to keep my heart beat steady; my breathing calm. I’ve learned how to purposefully relax, gathered techniques from trusted friends on how to steady my body and mind. God has been faithful.

In chapter 7, Christine Hoover shares how she went on a personal retreat to rest and as she returned home, all the stress also returned, and she wasn’t even home yet! She listed 6 different stressors that church planting wives face in varying degrees.

She goes on to discuss various examples in scripture on how to be “Busy but Balanced.” Speaking of Jesus:

“Although He experienced fatigue, He never grew frazzled.”

A part of a quote by Paul Miller that I particularly identified with and wanted to gather up and put in my pocket was this one:

“If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy….In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet.”

An inner quiet. A peace and contentment in God, no matter what is going on in life, this trust in God sustains. That’s what I’m working towards. That’s why I get up again, keep pressing forward, keep trying and not giving up. Ms. Hoover talks about Jesus stealing small windows to be with God; I’m trying to incorporate these appointments of devotion into my daily life. As a means of sustenance. As a means of survival. As a means to obtain this inner quiet.

We’ve settled into a happy routine around here. Our nights are busy, but our days are mostly our own. There’s a lot of laughter and joy in our household as my family has learned to enjoy being with one another. Those days set apart were not in vain, God had a plan He was working out, He always does! I identified with this quote:

“A well-arranged soul and a kingdom impact for that matter – comes from a well-arranged life.”

There’s a juggling act here, being open to the Spirit moving and allowing schedules and routines to be changed, but also living an ordered life that has predictable encounters with the Lord. I’m learning how to live in both worlds. Meaning, my husband’s fast paced, ever moving world, combined with my ordered, structured and predictable life. I’m learning to have inner quiet in the midst of this.

Other notable quotes:

“…people are priority over tasks.”

“… an integral aspect of ministry is silence, rest and reflection.”

In the section that interviews pastor’s wives, Amanda Jones speaks of the spiritual warfare that comes with church planting. It was good to read that others have experienced the presence of darkness trying to infiltrate, the dreams, the spiritual battle that has emerged with church planting.

Chapter 8: The Undivided Heart – Choosing to Please God Alone

I read this chapter on an airplane with a 3 year old so the impact may have been thwarted, but I did draw some truths out.

She starts by talking about a silent conversation in her head, her thoughts leading her down a path of lies in an imaginary conversation that concludes with someone not liking her, thinking ill of her, etc. Yeah, I’ve had that conversation. She goes on to talk about the lies that the enemy speaks to us and how easily we grab them and run with them. People pleasing, comparison and jealousy are all discussed here.

I’ll have to come back and update this section when I read it again with our pastor’s wives, I suspect that much of the stresses in chapter 7 are in some ways rooted in the issues brought up in chapter 8.

Still enjoying this book, just 2 chapters to go! I’m also enjoying reading it again with other pastor’s wives and drawing new insights from it, as I’m in a different stage of church planting this second time around.

Thanks for reading!

Seen & Heard – Fighting For, Not In, Fellowship

THE BATTLE FOR PEACE:
I jumped on this roller-coaster of a life and I’m learning how to trust God in the sudden twists and turns. I like peace, order, structure and I find myself having to hold on tight and trust God in moment by moment living. This wears me out, though I know it’s for my good. He holds me and keeps me, He knows what’s best for me. So, I found myself alone, leaning on my car bumper for an hour, waiting for my keys to be freed from the inside. There was no one there but God. I wanted to relax and waste time at my computer, I had told God just that morning that I was going to run this errand and then RELAX. I planned to be cozy on my couch, but He wanted me. I thought my plan was to seek peace, but as I stood there all alone I knew I had only wanted to run away. I sought escape, He knew better.  Ann Voskamp said it today:

“When you are giving everything you have and you can only take so much — Christ kneels close with arms stretched open wide: ‘Let Me take the rest.'”

THE BATTLE OF FELLOWSHIP:
I wrote a post hinting at this ache and difficulty of friendship and women, they came out of the shadows, in private messages and in amens, whispers of: “I feel it too.” As I listened to their pain, their loneliness, their heart-ache, I knew I had struck a cord. As I myself balance these issues, this wild need for isolation counter-balanced with a deep need for genuineness. Wisdom to know how to be genuine, but not open in an unwise way. I know well enough how quickly the people scatter when the pleasing of them stops. When you stand alone, it’s hard to re-learn how to grab hold tightly to the hand next to you.  There’s the reaching out and retreating back, reaching out a little more, then retreating.  All this wrapped up in a quiet hope and confidence that God holds us all and His desire is for unity. So, we fight on, continuing to pursue this fellowship displayed in the godhead, lived out in resemblance of Him.

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SWEET FELLOWSHIP, SIMPLY BLESSED:
It was with great joy and much laughter that we spent time with our cousins this week. It was loud, crazy and tiring, but it was all worth it. Sisters, cousins, grandparents, they’re your first friends and in the sleepovers, the swimming, Chuck E Cheese and the chaos, there’s a peace of heart living side by side with those that love you genuinely, know you well and love you still. Blessed this week, even in the juggling, even in the swirling in my head, simply blessed.

The Call to Love

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This last month, I’ve been reading through the book The Church Planting Wife, Help and Hope for Her Heart. Two chapters in and I’m looking in a mirror of my experiences and struggles. It’s refreshing to hear that those who have gone before have had similar feelings.

Chapter 1 speaks of the the difficulty and the rewards of church planting. I identified with the mental games and spiritual warfare that can be brutal and I’ve often asked myself; If I’m called, why the deep valleys of depression? I’m reminded: He knows. He cares.

In chapter 2, the author talks about finding place and purpose as a church planters wife. The need to KNOW what to do, what the roles are for a pastor’s wife, can take over all sanity and clear thinking. My book is all marked up in this section, here are some of the notes I’ve written in the margins:

“The search for purpose and practical is never ending. Doing replaces trusting. Being sure of the call is one thing, micro-managing God is another.”

“You cannot live or give what you don’t have. There is no faking it. Eventually, you’ll need substance. When our lives are genuine, then we have all we need.”

On the topic of letting Christ define my priorities:

“I have standards and goals I want to live up to, I also have opportunities I don’t want to pass up. Knowing the balance in these, knowing just what God has for me to do is hard to navigate.”

And finally:

“Choosing to live in ravenous conditions when there is a feast at our reach is foolish and prideful.”

The valleys of discouragement, the emotional and spiritual exhaustion were all topics I identified with well. This past year has been a whirlwind of trial and heart wrenching decision making and difficulty. These weren’t all brought on by church planting, but they were all in the hand and direction of God. I know He’s taught me much this last 9 months and while I haven’t birthed a baby in that season, He’s birthed a new perspective; a different view of life.  I’ve seen deep things and been through difficult experiences that I know will be used all my days. This season has been hard, but for my good.

The one, overarching theme I pulled from these two chapters was the call to love. To love my God, my family, and the church body. This has been a prayer of mine and reading it here has cemented the idea in my heart. My goal, my desire and my top pursuit in the church has to be loving the body. I wish I could say this comes naturally to me, but it doesn’t and so it will continue to be my focus before the Lord.

Have You Stopped Fighting?

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The days here have been a whirlwind of activity. Highs to the heights of the heavens and lows to the depths of darkness. The in-between times have been numbing, robotic, joyous and free.  There have been baptisms with proclamations of faith and tears from the three year old who didn’t want to move from the Claremont house. I hear you sister.

The kids learned how to swim recently and treading water has become the norm in the pool and out.

There are times when you can’t catch a break or a breath and you don’t have the will to fight.

Even in the whirlwind, God sustains and carries. Ministry can be the most fulfilling experience and the most isolating.  It was this way for Jesus, it can be this way for us too.

But we can’t give up this fight.

For us as parents we are living out some of the best days of our lives. Just out of toddlerhood and just inching into teenhood. Still, the battle for these kids rages intensely and we are humbly crying out on their behalf more than ever.

Just as the lights turn out, a child, not so small anymore, calls out in need. Asking for prayer.

Why?

Because sin so easily entangles and the battle is hard.

Another comes in tears with deep desires unmet and the battle with selfishness and overwhelming emotion is fierce.

Across the land, another reaches out for help and comfort as his heart yearns for home.

These kids that have taken hold of our hearts, these kids have come forth from our very bodies, break our hearts, shake us to our core and bring us to our knees.

We sacrifice.  We give. We make changes. We pray like crazy.

Why?

Because sin so easily entangles and the battle is hard.  Because we all struggle with overwhelming emotion and our souls ache for our home yet to come.

My child, I would have kept this weight from you, but we carry this load with you. My child, you are trying to navigate this life and your mind and body war against you, but we are here to help you along.

This place we’re in is difficult and the giving is hard. There is no “fair” in this life, there is only great difficulty covered with great grace. There is great joy strengthened with great Love. Though we be ragged and beaten down, though we falter and fail – we battle on.

With eyes on the eternal prize, we continue to battle and shine His light in this world. We laugh in the light and we cry in the dark, but through it all we rejoice at the faithful love and care of our Father who carries us through.

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.(1 Timothy 6:11-12, ESV)