Birthing Babies

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He was born in the summer of his 27th year

Coming home to a place he’d never been before.

He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again

You might say he found a key for every door… John Denver

Up till a couple of years ago, the above lyrics wouldn’t have meant much to me. But now, I identify with John Denver’s song. My heart echoes his refrain… a Rocky Mountain High, Colorado. However, the song of my heart sounds a little different. “She was born in the winter of her 41st year, coming home to a place she’d been before. She left her yesterday behind her, you might say she was born again. She found a key for every door… a Blue Ridge Mountain High, Virginia.”

John Denver used the term born again. That’s an expression I would have avoided up till a couple of years ago. Because despite my claiming to be a born-again Christian, I don’t think I had any understanding of that title. Not till recent years. Not till recent revelations. Recent mountain high experiences. And this past August, the birth of my baby girl gave a vivid picture of being born-again. New birth. But not just hers… mine.

At first, Annabelle was just a thought. A whisper of God. Hidden and formed in the dark. Quiet and still. And as my body provided what she needed, she grew. She flourished inside me. And the miracle is, no one could really see what was happening. All this went unnoticed. Aside from my growing belly, Annabelle’s progress was unseen to the naked eye. A real person grew inside me. It’s truly awe-inspiring. A miracle.

As the time of her delivery drew near, there were contractions. Small and irregular at first, but with more frequency towards the end. And then the big day arrived… it was time. When my water broke, it was more significant to me than my own baptism which occurred seventeen years earlier. No, this was a picture of cleansing. Of healing. For as I was pierced, water and blood escaped. A dramatic picture of what took place upon a cross some two thousand years ago…

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. John 19:34

And then came labor. Before long, a little discomfort morphed to full scale pain. It hurt. For hours. It was work. See, making babies comes easy… but birthing babies is a different story. It’s not an easy process. It took hours. My husband and mother-in-law were with me the whole time. And there was a screen we could watch… it monitored Annabelle’s progress. Every contraction was recorded. Every twinge I felt was reflected on that screen…

Susan, my in-law, took great interest in that screen. Because we could see other readouts, too. She’d study them… “Oh, there’s one… she’s getting ready to deliver.” And sure enough, we’d hear a baby cry. Then again, “Oh, this one will be soon…” And again, another baby cry. All around me, babies birthed left and right.

Me and Annabelle? We took a bit more time. Though we arrived early in the morning, and my water broke at lunchtime, delivery didn’t come till later in the evening. And even then, they had to take her out of me. She wasn’t budging. Such a picture of my own spiritual journey.

Funny thing about those screens, though. I looked at one yesterday and what I saw about floored me. Those labor pains, well, they look like a mountain range. Up and down. Once more, the act of having a baby imitating one’s spiritual trek. Up and down. Ascending the mountain and descending the mountain…

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If you look at the mountain of a labor pain, you’ll notice the baby’s heartbeat slows with each contraction. And the higher the contraction reads, the more pain is involved. As delivery progresses, the contractions are more frequent. Longer. I find this to be true in my journey today. Well, with life in general.

See, we’re busy creatures. It’s our default. We hit the ground running. And our spiritual heartbeat becomes more frantic and erratic with our hectic pace. Before we know it, we feel some pain. Something may slow us down. A forced sit-still, if you will. That’s the contraction. It squeezes us and as we stand still, our spiritual heartbeat slows. But before long, something beautiful occurs. Our heart begins to beat alongside His… slow and unrushed. A holy hush. And this happens at the peak of the contraction. At the tip of the mountain. And it’s there lasting change happens. It’s there, the internal is reached. When you’re quiet. And still.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:13-15

You’re regenerated. You’re refreshed. Made new by the Creator Himself. But eventually, life sets in once more. You have to descend the mountain and reenter reality. And before you know it, your pace picks up. You become busy yet again. And life rushes by until… you have a contraction. A forced sit. But again, something beautiful happens inside. Unnoticed by those on the outside. Unseen to the naked eye… you’re changed. You develop. As you grow up spiritually, the contractions may come with increased frequency. But as you progress, your heart begins to recognize more quickly when it’s not beating in sync with His. That’s when you stop. You listen. And when your heartbeat aligns with His, you’re ready to move on. Once more.

See, she was born in the winter of her 41st year. At first, she was just a thought. A whisper of God. Hidden and formed in the dark. Quiet and still. And as He gave her what she needed, she grew. She flourished with Him inside her. And the miracle is, no one could really see what was happening. All this went unnoticed. Her progress was unseen to the naked eye. But she was made over.. a new creation. It’s truly awe-inspiring. A miracle. For she who was born was born again. On a Blue Ridge mountain high… Virginia. That’s my song.

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Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”  John 3:3-4

An Average Woman

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So, yesterday was Martin Luther King day. And honestly, other than noticing how busy it was in town and that my son was out of school, I didn’t give it much thought. In truth, it’s just another day on the calendar for me. A holiday that’s observed, and by observed I mean Federal agencies and various offices are closed. In the fullness of yesterday, that’s the only thought that came to my mind regarding the holiday… busyness and closings.

See, I’m a busy woman. And yesterday, my son was home. So I hit the ground running. I had places to go, people to see, groceries to get, work emails to answer, dinner to cook, and aerobics to attend. And after all that, I had a baby to tend to. She was a bit fussy yesterday evening and her sleep was not sound. So, I slept on the sofa with her by my side in her bouncy chair. I wanted to be close…

That brings me to this morning. And that’s when revelation struck… Yesterday was Martin Luther King day. But what does that mean? Or more specifically, what should it mean to someone like me… your average woman. Overloaded and overwhelmed by duty and tasks. See, at the basest, I know what the day represents. I’ve heard all about this significant man. And he had a dream. And he had a purpose. And he gave his life, literally, for that dream.

But you know, there’s a song that sheds light on something more about Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s called Up to the Mountain (MLK song). And from a video, I learned that Dr. King’s last speech was the inspiration for the song. And I believe anyone who hears the lyrics will be moved. Moved to go up to the mountain… just like he did.

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This morning, God reminded me of another man who went up to the mountain. Just like Dr. King. His name was Moses. And in Exodus 34, Moses’ instructions were clear. They were simple. Be prepared, come up, and stand before Me on the mountaintop. But God also said, “No one may go up with you.” And that stirs me this cold day. See, there are just some places you have to go alone. For some journeys are meant for only two… God and the individual. At least that’s what I gleaned from my reading this morning.

Moses, indeed, trekked up that mountain. Alone. And you know what happened? The LORD came down. God stood there with him. And God proclaimed His name to Moses. Moses received revelation, for He glimpsed God’s glory. And there he stayed for forty days and forty nights. In the presence of God… basking in His glory. Just God and him.

And so, I ponder Martin Luther King, Jr. And the MLK song. See, he went up to the mountain because God asked him to. I’m sure he prepared. And he stood before God. And most assuredly, I think he went alone. At least that first time. See, some journeys are meant for only two… And you know what I think happened? God came down. Dr. King received revelation. And a dream. And most assuredly, He glimpsed God’s glory. Just God and him.

But what does that mean to me? An average woman. Because going up to the mountain seems so lofty. See, I’m no Moses and I’m certainly no Martin Luther King. But does that mean God’s invitation went forth to only men like them? Or is it for me, too? A tired, harried, disheveled 41 year old woman. What in the world would that look like… going up to the mountain?

You know what? I can tell you. Because this morning, it happened. Amidst the chaos of my home, I heard God’s call. He told me to come up, and I did. But that meant I had to leave some things behind…

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Look at my house. Anyone who knows me knows how unhinged I can be when clutter abounds. But you know, I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t ascend the mountain dragging my stuff with me. So I left my duties and chores behind. The dust on my surfaces and the laundry in the basket and the emails in my inbox? They remained at the base of the mountain. And so, I prepared for my ascent in that I didn’t prepare my face. Or my hair…

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And I went up and stood before the LORD in my Spirit. All by myself. Face and soul bared. And the most remarkable thing happened…for He came down. He met with me. And I received revelation. A received a fresh glimpse of God’s glory. And there I basked in His presence. Just me… a tired, middle-aged, average woman. And God. A journey for two. And this… this is what going up the mountain looks like in my home.

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You know, this stained glass piece has been hanging in my window. But today, it means so much more to me than a simple decoration. It seems significant. For it’s a reminder of God’s invitation. But see, I can’t have it all. I can’t do it all. And so, every day hereafter, I’ll have a choice. I can stay at the foot of the mountain dusting and decluttering and accomplishing my lengthy to do list. Or, I can leave all that behind seeking something greater. Something more. Seeking God. The choice is mine. And today, I’m so glad I made the right choice. Because had I not, I would have missed God.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

So yesterday was Martin Luther King day. And it’s true he was a great man. He stood for what he believed in. He fought and gave his life for what mattered. See, he had a dream. And you know what… so do I. This average woman has a dream, too. It’s from God. It’s His purpose for me. It’s what I’m to stand and fight for. But you know… I could have so easily missed it. If I was too busy to hear His call, I would have missed His revelation. It’s so easy to do. We’re so incredibly busy… the average woman has such a full plate.

But hush now… quiet your busy mind. Can you hear Him? He speaks softly and His invitation is for you, “Come up to the mountain,” He says. Because there He’ll meet with you. But you must go alone. See, some journeys are meant for only two. God and you. Because He has a dream. And a purpose. Just for you. An average woman.

 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 1 Kings 19:11-12

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A Natural Mother

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This is my baby girl at 7:00 this morning. And me, clad in bathrobe, slippers and bare-ankled, had just driven my son up to the bus stop in 23 degree weather. Afterward, I immediately grabbed my camera so as to catch her expression for posterity. So I’ll remember. See how intently she stares at me? Cute, huh? Or is it something else? Look closer…

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You know what I see? Accusing eyes. That’s because I’m awash with guilt this morning. It clings to me and it’s hard to shake. Guilt. It’s because of how I acted last night. God help me. Let me explain.

I’m not what one would call a natural mother. It just doesn’t come easy to me. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my children dearly… it just means I’m not as flowy as some women appear to be. I don’t always feel 100% about what I’m doing. For instance, the first week I had Annabelle at home, I panicked around 2:00 a.m. one morning. This after a two hour feeding session and her constant cries. She was a cluster-feeder (if anyone knows that term ). So, because my baby girl continued to cry after a couple of hours, she was obviously still hungry, right? So I kept pressing her into my bosom. But for some odd reason, she kept arching and pulling away. Then I remembered… skin on skin. That’s what she needed! I frantically stripped us down to our waists and tried again. Drink, baby girl! I know you’re hungry! But the arching continued. That’s when I knew. Most assuredly, Annabelle had forgotten how to suck! So I woke my husband. Lo and behold, she quieted in his arms. And 18 pounds later, it turns out she hadn’t forgotten how to suck after all.

Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with Me one hour? Matthew 26:40

And there are other instances. Too many to name, really. And then there’s last night. God help me! Eight years ago, I went through this with my son. And I handled it badly. VERY BADLY. But this time around, I was going to excel. I was going to not let it get to me. I was going to be flowy… like the other mothers. See, I planned to overcome sleepless nights. I was going to be happy about it. And gentle. Because I’m a mom! It’s my job. And boy, do I want to be a gentle and nurturing creature for my babies.

At first, Annabelle did great. At around 2 months in, we had one week of bliss as she pretty much slept through the night… not waking till 3 or 4 for her first feeding. Oh, happy day! And I did what any mother would do… I bragged about my child to all who would listen. My baby is so good, she sleeps all night! But that’s when things began to change. As time progressed, she began to wake more frequently. Back to two times. And most recently… three, four, five… Who knows anymore. I lose count. Two nights ago, I voiced it to Jason… “Last night was the worst night ever!” That’s because she started waking up at before Midnight! But I was wrong. Because last night was truly the worst night ever! She showed me… she got up at 11:00. She stirred before I even had time to close my eyes.

“Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Job 7:11

This is where the guilt sets in. I let it fly. There was a volcanic eruption from the deep pit of my soul… the most obscene word burst forth. And honestly, it was satisfying. It was the most accurate word for how I felt. And then they came more easily… as the night progressed, more and more obscene words spewed from my mouth leaving a sulfuric stench in the air. I cursed. I lamented. And worse? I felt angry at God. “You could make her sleep!” But the fact is, she didn’t sleep. Not soundly. She awoke so many times… and I handled it terribly.

Last night, I felt justified in my bitter words. I was angry. And weak. And because I was so tired, I felt I deserved to let off a little (a lot) of steam. But now, in the light of day, I simply feel guilt. I don’t want to be like this. I am a mother. I’m Annabelle’s mother. And so, when I peered into her little nut brown eyes this morning, I saw only accusation.

In the light of day, I see things more clearly. And what I see is something amiss…

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Notice anything wrong with this picture? That’s my laundry basket and it’s placed on top of my Bible. And it’s symbolic of what’s taken place in the last four and 1/2 months. See, I had a baby. And busyness set in. And there’s so much to do. And because my schedule is crammed full, some things have taken a back seat. Namely, time with God. I’ve put other stuff first. Like laundry. And so, I suffer. And not only I, but my whole family. For I’m sure my husband felt the abrupt wind of the covers being flung off of me. I’m sure he heard the ugliness I carelessly flung forth as I stomped to the nursery… and deep down, perhaps I wanted him to. Misery loves company, so they say.

But as I said, in the light of day… I see. And I don’t like what I see. For I don’t want to be that woman. I want to be flowy. A natural mother. And in order to do that, I have to make time for God. I have to put Him first again. And when I do, He will sustain me. He will help me. Because He has the power to help me soothe my baby girl on a sleepless night when I have no clue as to why she’s waking ten times. Because truth is, His grace is sufficient for me…

Funny thing about this blog. I started it because I wanted to encourage people. I wanted to help others stand. But today, it appears I’m the one who needs help in standing. This tired mama needs a bit of encouragement – and prayers – and not just for my sake, but for my family’s sake. Lord help me… if I can’t have rest, the act of sleeping, may I at least have rest in Thee. For Your grace is sufficient for me.

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

I close with Annabelle’s picture. Check out that face. Oh, it’s true I was covered with guilt this morning. And it may be I saw only accusation in her eyes first thing. However, just moments after I perceived condemnation, she graced me with a smile. It reaches her eyes. And you know… it’s a reflection of His eyes… Him smiling down on me. Grace for me.

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Behold! Annabelle’s lamb!

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“Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” Luke 1:45

A year ago, I was in a completely different place. Spiritually, that is. See, December 2, 2013 was a bad night for it was the night I decorated the tree. And what should have been blissful proved to be stressful instead. However, that fateful night pointed me in a new direction. The right direction. For it was at that point, I decided to seek a true Christmas heart. And so for weeks, I paused at the Christmas story. I pondered it all… Joseph, Mary, the stable, the angels, the shepherds, the Christ child and more. So much more. The end result? I found a true Christmas heart. And then a miracle took place. For the day after Christmas, I discovered I was with child.

Mary had a little lamb…

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And so here I am one year later. And the one thing I decided I would do, I haven’t. See, I  realized the importance of Christmas cards last year. Of the myriad things we do, how wonderful it is to the take the time to send forth His message. And so, at the end of last season, I bought beautiful cards. I fully intended to mail them out to loved ones this year. But here I am at December 19, and only one card has gone forth. And chances of the rest of them being mailed out are slim. For it’s 10:09 and my aunt is coming at 11:00. And then, my son is out of school for the holidays beginning at 12:30 today. So it appears I have run out of time.

And so, rather than pick up my completely cluttered house which is what I’d normally do when I know I have company coming, I choose to do this instead. It’s my Christmas card, and I send it to whosoever chooses to read these words…

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The card says “Behold…” That means to perceive through sight or apprehension. It means to gaze upon… to observe. And in keeping with the way God speaks to me, He gave me a vivid picture of myself and Christ through my baby girl. See, she has this little lamb. And oh, she loves it so. She grabs it. She nuzzles it. She shoves it in her mouth. She turns to it. And most recently, I noticed she struggles with it. I was in another room and heard her grunting and exerting herself. When I looked in and gazed upon her, I observed that lamb had completely covered her face. She couldn’t see. And no matter how much she flailed about, the lamb stayed put. The covering remained.

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Hark the herald angels sing…

Last year, it was a Christmas clock that inspired a lot of my musings… see, I paused so I could observe the words of the carols we sing. And today, it’s Hark the herald angels sing that falls on my ear. And that word hark… it means to pay close attention. To listen. And so, I do today…

See, a week or so back a wise woman spoke words of truth. She said, “A journey in the wrong direction for an extended stay.” And those words settled in my ear. And then they burrowed deep in my heart. And I realize… I’ve done exactly that. A year ago, I sought a Christmas heart. And I found it! Then, there was a promise of new life. And not only within my womb, but within me. Spiritually… new life. And after January, I was ready to move forward. But you know, I ended up going backward instead. I began to struggle with God yet one more time. But why? Why should I struggle?

See, it’s true. Mary had a little lamb and His fleece was white as snow. And just like Annabelle has a lamb, I realize Mary’s Lamb is mine. Annabelle has her lovey, and I have one, too. And through my walk, I grab onto Him. I nuzzle Him. I shove Him in my mouth by feasting on His word. I turn to Him. And most recently, I realized I struggle with Him. But it’s an old struggle. And it’s one I should have released a year ago.

But behold! God gave me a picture. See, Annabelle struggled with her lamb. But the thing is, it didn’t go anywhere. And that’s the same thing for me. No matter how much I struggle, the covering of the Lamb won’t budge. It covers me from head to toe. Annabelle tried to get that lamb off, but she couldn’t. And how comforting that it’s the same with me… My Lovey is going nowhere. Try as I might, the Lamb stays put.

And so, this Christmas, I exclaim… Behold! Annabelle’s lamb! For it’s a picture of our own Lamb. It’s the reason for Christmas. He came as a baby… the Lamb of God… for us. God and sinners reconciled. Born to give us second birth. Hark, for that’s what the angels sing…

And so today, this Christmas, we have a gift. We have that covering. See, the Lamb of God is spotless… fleece as white as snow. And because of Him, we can be, too. Cleansed… as white as snow. And so, I echo Peter’s words this morning… I say, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well! (John 13:9) I say, cover me, Lord! And He does. It’s His gift. To us. And not just as Christmas, but every day thereafter. And the miracle is… it stays put. His covering doesn’t budge. Even if we struggle…

…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers,  but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

1 Peter 1:18-19

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The Prodigal Daughter

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10846156_10205084650657371_1107540708525779365_nAnd in those moments when it seems I have nothing, there’s always a light to lead me home. Lauren Eline, Facebook

I know what He wants for Christmas. I’ve discovered the perfect gift for the One who already gave perfection. And it’s so simple. It was something on Facebook that clued me in. See, He leaves breadcrumbs for His children all the time. Little drops of light to lead us to where He desires us to go. And that’s how I know what He wants for I followed His breadcrumbs. I’ve been leaping from one ray of light to the next and so now, I see. They’ve been leading me home. To my Father’s house. And that’s it. All He wants for Christmas is me, and all His children, to come home. That’s what He’s been trying to tell me. And isn’t this what every parent desires? To have their kids home for the holidays?

Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. James 1:17

I am slow. So slow. Because it appears God has to show me something again and again before I get it (and again). Because we just went through something a year ago. It’s this fear thing. But His word is clear… perfect love casts out fear because fear involves punishment. And so, if I believe God loves me as His word says, should I fear? Should I expect punishment from God? And yet, I find myself going back there again and again. Just waiting for God to drop the ax. Like an errant child, I await my punishment. Most recently, the birth of my new baby set me down this path. It goes back to guilt I hold. I feel guilty for being discontent. And because I don’t think I fully appreciate what God has given, I agonize. Namely, over my children. Because if I can’t appreciate them as much as I should, then perhaps God will decide to just take them away. This irrational thought came to me a few years back…

For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. Mark 4:25 

For a long time I thought that verse referred to things we have. Possessions. Like my kids. All that God has given. And it caused me to fear the worst. And isn’t that a crazy thought? Why should I think God wants to take away what He’s given. Why would the One who gave everything desire to take away? But thankfully, I finally realized what the writer is talking about for the passage of Scripture refers to using your light. And my life gives evidence as to how one can lose her light. See, I’m a worrier. And the more I worry, the dimmer the light becomes. And the more anxious I am, the more that light ebbs away. And when I fear, the light is nearly extinguished. Before I know it, I live in the shadow lands. I dwell in darkness because I can barely see the light. But then, I find a breadcrumb. There’s a beam of light and it beckons. Like the one I saw on Facebook last night.

The people who live in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those living in the shadowland of death,
light has dawned. Matthew 4:16

This morning I realized I am just like the prodigal son I read about in Luke 15. He asked his father for his share of the estate and his father gave it. Me? I ask my Father for His love and He gives it. And like the son who went off and spent all his father gave him, I do the same. God assures me He loves me (again and again), but I squander away His precious words. For some reason, I remain insecure despite His very clear words to me. Oh, so clear. In fact, in early November God couldn’t have spoken more directly. He was personal and intimate. And He used someone who barely knows me to convey His message. It was quite remarkable. But rather than rest in those words, I remain the prodigal daughter. I still roam blindly in the dark.

But thankfully, I have the prodigal son to look to. Oh, how surprised he must have been for He lost everything. He had nothing and dwelled with the pigs he fed. He was starving.  But finally, he came to his senses. Finally. He thought he’d return to his father and confess. He decided he’d ask to be made a hired hand… he would work for his father in order to live. But when he came to his home country, his father saw him from afar and came running. Running with open arms to greet his lost son. Dad fell upon his neck and kissed him again and again. All his son could get out was, “I’m not worthy to be called your son.” He didn’t even get out the part about working before a robe and a ring and sandals were placed upon him. He was warmly welcomed into his father’s house with a great feast… music and dancing. His father was just so happy. For his lost son had been found. His son who was dead was now alive.

And then there’s me. The prodigal daughter. I’ve been living in the shadow land of death. That’s what fear will do to you. But God, my Father, my Daddy… He told me most clearly and tenderly in November that He loves me. He said He loves my children so much more than I ever could. And He chose me to raise them. He said to not fear His will. He said I’ve been distracted by the noise around me – noise from fears compounded onto fears – worries of a 1,000 what if’s. He said I should learn to quiet myself and focus on His voice… the voice of my Daddy. The God of all creation said that’s what He is to me… a Daddy. He said when I love my children, I am most like Him. When Annabelle and Levi cry for me, in pain or in joy, I should multiply that feeling by 1,000 and I’ll begin to see how He feels for me. This is what my Daddy said. Clearly. So then, why should I fear? Because the way I felt yesterday when I kissed my daughter a thousand times is exactly what He feels for me. When I exclaimed over her little smiling face, I love you, I love you, I love you, I am most like Him. So why do I squander away His precious words of assurance? And so today, I choose not to. It’s as if I have finally come to my senses. Finally. Because Daddy told me He loves me. And today, He tells me to come home for Christmas.

 Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

He leaves breadcrumbs. Drops of light. On that first Christmas long ago, He sent His Son as a light to the world. And He’s the One who knows the way to our Father’s house. We can follow Him. And we don’t have to fear if we lose sight of our big Brother. For those times we lag behind, we have another light to follow. Because God also gave us His Spirit. Just as it hovered over the watery depths at the beginning of creation, it hovers over our fickle hearts. For those times we wander… when worry draws us down a darkened path or when anxiety leads us astray or when fear blinds our eyes… there is a flame. It’s a candle that never goes out and it sits in the window of our darkened soul. It beckons us home. And as we draw near and peer inside, we see the house is fully lit. Warm light draws us to open the door and when we do, Daddy throws His arms open wide. He pulls us close and kisses our face a thousand times. He says, I love you, I love you, I love you! He’s so happy because the daughter who was lost is now found. The daughter who was dead, who trod the valley of the shadow of death, is now alive. She finally made it. And when she does, He says welcome home…. that He’d been waiting for her.

This is what God, our Father of lights, wants for Christmas. And His call is not just for me. Because He wants all his sons and daughters of light to come home. He’s placed a candle in the windows of our soul. It’s there to light our way. We just need to look for it…

Jesus answered, “The light will be with you only a little longer. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. The one who walks in darkness doesn’t know where he’s going. While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become sons of light.”  John 12:35-36

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Unto her…

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For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given… Isaiah 9:6

“You have to decide… do you think God is a giver or a taker?” That was a question posed to thousands of women on September 15, 2012. And on that day, if I were to have answered honestly, I would have said taker. Despite all I had ever read about God, and all I had experienced of God, in the darkest recesses of my heart I believed the worst. I believed He was a taker. I just didn’t realize that’s what I believed. And in truth, it’s what I continue to process even now. Two and a half years later. That deep down irrational thought that God, the creator of all life, could be a taker of life. And that thought brings me directly to the heart of Christmas today. I’m brought to the inner chambers of God’s heart by the above verse I’ve heard at least a hundred times before. It’s the verse that adorns Christmas cards every year. But today, it’s new to me. Because I read it as if it’s written directly to me. For unto me, a child is born. Unto me, a son is given. By God. The ultimate Christmas gift. And today I see truth… I see He’s a giver after all.

It’s December 4th and Christmas is a mere three weeks away. And for the first time I feel utterly unprepared. And furthermore, I feel uninspired. In fact, I feel downright cynical. I even told my husband this week… my heart is as black as night. See, over packed stores turn my stomach and I find holiday ads to be revolting. Especially the one that shows a gadget you can attach to your sink called a sponge bath. A $40.00 contraption adorns shelves nationwide for the one who has everything under the sun. This would be the ultimate gift, no? A device one can use to bathe their kitchen sponge. Translation… we have so much and everyone else has so much, new devices must be thought up. New gift ideas created yearly so that the uninspired shopper may be so inspired. Yes… this is what I can give. Surely my mother doesn’t have one of these! To me, this is a gift that says I have no earthly clue what to give you so I just picked up this thing. And in truth, I’d rather give nothing at all. Like I said, I feel cynical. Nasty. And surely, I’ve insulted someone by this. To the one who likes the idea of a sponge bath (for it does kill bacteria), I really am sorry. I am. Me? I’m just feeling ugly.

And why should that be? It’s Christmas time. Why do I have the blues? And why do they call them the blues anyway? Because if you were to gauge by my feelings, I’d say they should be called the blacks. For that’s how I feel. As I said… my heart is black as night. And so, I evaluate. And you know what I come up with? Guilt. I am consumed with guilt because I have no earthly right to feel the way I do. Anyone will tell me I have it made. For I have so much. I am truly blessed. In fact, I’m hesitant to write this. Because I’ve been taken down a notch or two at least once before. In addressing my darkness (I am a moody girl, it’s true), I have been exhorted by others. Or reprimanded. Oh, I’ve been chastened by the well-meaning soul. Basically, open your eyes. See what you have. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. And that’s why the guilt. Oh, that God would help me to see truth. Oh that God help me to overcome the darkness. Because I know… I know I have so very much.

And so today, I write. See, despite today’s dark demeanor, I have to say this year has been one of the most wonderful yet. Just about a year ago, I found out I was pregnant. Unto me, a child was given. She lived inside me for forty weeks. Finally, she made her way into my arms.

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And God help me, despite this sweet, precious gift… I still get the blues. Or the blacks. And I know why. Oh that I could just move forward. See, it happened when I had my son eight years ago. I became homebound. Isolated. Lonely. And depression descended like a shroud. And I find myself here again. This time, I have a daughter. And so, I find myself homebound once more. Isolated. Lonely. And at those times, I’m most vulnerable. When I have too much alone time, it’s not healthy.

And so in evaluation of my black heart, I ask… “Why write?” It’s Christmas. Why write about darkness at all? And I do so because I know the truth. If I were to pose the question I heard over two years ago, Do you think God is a giver or a taker, there would be someone else. I am not the only one. So I write for her… an isolated and lonely soul. My words are for the one who deep down believes God is a taker. She’s out there and she may not even realize she thinks that way. She’s bitter and resentful and fearful. Oh, amidst the hustle and bustle of this season, may she pause and ponder. If she did, perhaps she’d realize what lie in the deep, dark chambers of her heart. Oh that she’d take just a moment to analyze her guilt. Maybe she’d find truth. Maybe she’d come to understand guilt is not from God at all.

And so my hope this year, at Christmas time, is for the woman who needs to know. May she figure it out… that fear and guilt is rooted in a lie. May she comprehend darkness does not have to be her truth for God gives light. And He gives life. He gave the ultimate Christmas gift over two thousand years ago when He gave His one and only Son. May the woman who walks in darkness realize that most amazing truth… for unto her, a child is born. Unto her, a Son is given. Unto her! God gave it all. May she grasp the gift that was given on her behalf and finally, finally, get it. No, God is not a taker. He is a giver. And because He gives, she can, too. May that woman get it. And because I write for myself, may I get it, too. Finally.

Yes, I’m hesitant to write because I feel guilty. I know in my heart of hearts I shouldn’t feel dark. Not now. Not ever. For God has given so much. And my cynicism of the season in no way reflects the truth of the season. A sponge bath cannot convey in the least what lie at the heart of Christmas… or what lie at the center of God’s heart. In truth, there’s nothing I can buy off a shelf that compares to God’s gift. Because Christmas is all about His gift. No present measures up to that. For unto us, a Son was given… and when the light of that truth sinks into a cold, dark heart, life is given. So instead of all the other pretty packages, maybe this year we can unwrap His gift. It’s the One wrapped in light.

This Christmas, may we overcome the darkness that sometimes pervades the season. May we push those blues (or blacks) right out the door. Oh, that we would overlook all the trappings and recover the heart of Christmas. May we all really get it. For God is a giver. He gives and gives… may that inspire us more than anything this Christmas. And may that be the reason we give.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness, a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

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What if?

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Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

See that guy? That’s my husband. I followed him home about eighteen years ago and for a while, I split my time between his hometown and mine. But whenever I drove away, I cried. That’s because I hated to leave him and didn’t want us to be separated. But more than that, fear of what next consumed my heart and mind. What if we grew apart while I was away? Suppose circumstances changed and I wasn’t able to come back to him? I was so scared of what the future held, I tried holding him tighter (notice the grip I have on his t-shirt). In fact, because I was so clingy and hugged him so tightly ALL THE TIME, it became a bit of a joke between the family.

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See what I mean? That’s my mother-in-law and they were laughing because she was imitating me. And I laughed, too. Because how could they possibly know the real reason for my clinginess. And in truth, I didn’t even know myself. I simply believed in the power of my arms… that if I clung to Jason tight enough, there was less chance he’d slip away from me. I thought if I kept my hands on him all the time, I wouldn’t lose him. One day, I gave voice to my anxiety. I told Jason my worries. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember his reply. Because he was angry. He said, “What if, Pam? What if?” He fussed about me being upset over something that hadn’t even happened. I was worked up over what might be. Anxious. And fretful. I was dark and moody over a what if that never came to pass.

And so, our story began. First came love. The picture below was taken seventeen years ago just before he proposed to me.

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Then came marriage…

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And here we are eighteen years later… needing another baby carriage!

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And so today, I understand I expended a lot of useless energy fretting over things that never happened. Today, I’m right where I’m supposed to be with the family I’m supposed to have. My cup runneth over. And yet, I find myself doing the same thing all over again. I’ve been anxious. I’ve been worrying. And I have a whole new set of what if’s that set up shop in my brain. Jason recently remarked on what a scary place my mind must actually be. That in reply to something irrational I either said or did. It could have been any of the following…

I lock the basement door at night because it’s beside our bedroom door. Reason being I fear my son will stumble through the house at night and open the basement door instead of walking through our door, which would obviously cause him to tumble to the concrete floor below. And for three months now, I’ve been driving my car to the end of the driveway when it’s time for the bus. And there I sit there with my baby in my arms, tensing up with each passing car. As they whir by, I wonder if this is the one that will lose control and plow right into us. If my son runs down the paved driveway, I cry out, “Slow down or you’ll fall!” If he touches my little girl’s mouth, I cringe and cry out, “Did you wash your hands?” Germs, you know. Of course, I wash my hands about twenty times a day. And let me not go into the details of the time I was convinced – CONVINCED – that my son and I had worms! We didn’t, by the way. And I could go on and on. The list is endless.

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 

So here’s the thing. I just went through this two years ago with my son. I confronted my fears and thought I’d overcome them. And I lay them down anew this past summer. But here I am again facing the same demons. I have to ask myself what’s happened? What’s changed? And it’s so obvious. I had a baby. And she’s fragile. She’s new. And you know… I’m just not a natural mother. I’m not like those women who are so good and easy with their kids. Some women are just gifted that way. Motherhood seems almost effortless on their part… they flow. Me? I’m uptight. Nervous. In fact, the only thing I seem to be a natural at is worrying.

When I first brought Annabelle home, she went through something called cluster-feeding. She ate and ate. She was on my chest for hours at a time. I’m not exaggerating. HOURS. One night I became frantic after one of her cluster feeds because she kept pulling back and arching her back. She just wouldn’t stop crying. Then I remembered skin on skin. I stripped us both down and pulled her tightly to me. I encouraged her to eat, but to no avail. Finally, I woke my husband in a panic. “I think she forgot how to suck!” He calmly took her in his arms and stretched her across the bed, and she quieted. Turns out she didn’t forget how to suck after all. She was just through eating.

Not long after bringing Annabelle home, we realized she spits up after every feeding. This just adds to my fears. She could choke. So I try to keep her upright as long as I can. The worst spitting episode came was when my son gave her a bottle. Because he held it in her mouth, the spit up went up her nose and she did choke. Once she was able to, she cried so. And me, too. An hour later, I cried again when I told my husband. Ever the voice of reason, Jason said she seems okay now. Later, though, after hearing some weird noises coming out of Annabelle, I remembered a dry-drowning article I read. So I sat there and peered at her for hours. Again, I woke my husband in the middle of the night. “She’s having trouble breathing and has little bubbles coming out of her mouth!” I actually thought she was going to dry-drown on her own spit up. Alas, we made it through the night and she was okay. My husband was right after all.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7

Reality? After eighteen years, I still cling. I still fret. I’m still anxious. I worry about things that are out of my control. I’m secure in my marriage, so now I fear losing something else. A million new what if’s have taken over my heart and mind. And it’s absolutely exhausting. I’ve been relying on my feeble arms and my human strength in an attempt to control everything. EVERYTHING. And I imagine the worst. And today, it’s as if I can hear the echo of what my husband said eighteen years ago… “What if, Pam? What if?”

So today I must contemplate what feeds the what if’s of my imagination. What compels me to lock basement doors and hold my breath as I sit at the end of the driveway. And it’s not necessarily an accident or sickness I dread, it’s what could be the end result of those things. Fear of losing the one I love. That’s what it was eighteen years ago, and it’s the same thing today. And so, I worry about it. I think up all kinds of crazy scenarios that might happen, and try to stop them before they do. And I think if I hold on to what’s most important to me, I can control what happens to them. But I can’t do that. No one can.

In light of my lack of control, I have to consider another “What if?” See, a while back I read the question, “If God were real, and He is who He says He is, what then?” It was meant to be a challenge because a lot of us say we believe in God, but do we really? I mean deep down in our soul believe. Because if God is real, and if His word really is truth, what then? The right answer… I would not fear. I would not worry about tomorrow because I know that He is in control. But for the life of me, something won’t let me let go of fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18

I love the picture below. It captures all I hold dearest. That’s my family. This is my town. And look at that little angel. For three months now, I’ve been clinging to her. I hold her so tightly in my arms and cover her with kisses. And that’s not a bad thing. But the danger in holding her too tightly is losing my grip on God. And thus, faith is diminished. I’ve not been leaning on those everlasting arms, rather, I’ve been trusting in the human arms that hold my daughter. I’ve been looking to me to keep my family safe, not God. And I know I can’t do that. Deep in my heart I know I can’t control anything. So why do I keep trying?

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Eighteen years ago, Jason said “What if, Pam?” He was the voice of reason. And he was right because the things I feared never came to pass. And in looking at the picture above, I see the worst did not happen. I didn’t lose Jason after all. Instead, God gave me even more than I could have hoped for. The scared young woman I was had no clue what God had in store for me. For us. And so today, I pray I can remember the truth about what if. That most of the time, what if doesn’t even come to pass. That the terrible things I scare myself with are all in my head. And no matter how hard I try, or no matter how hard I cling to someone or something, some circumstances are simply out of my control.

You know, what if could happen. It could. And if it does, I just need to remember the other “what if.” Because what if God is real and He is who He says He is? Well, then… He’ll see me through it. Whatever “if” turns out to be.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

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