Portion Control

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My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

Delay comes in many forms. It can be small like scratching the paint on one of your projects and having to reapply. It happens when your ink cartridge runs dry and you’re in the midst of a mountain of paperwork. There’s the tire pressure light causing you to pull over. The doctor’s phone number that provides you with a weird busy signal multiple times when you’re trying to schedule a follow-up appointment.

And this morning, I nearly cried when I was typing up an email to the school. It just got hung up and wouldn’t allow me to close. There was no going forward and no going back so I kept hitting the little x again and again. When technology finally caught up to what I was doing, it appears to have “x’d” out more than I wanted for it cleared out my inbox. Emails that have been sitting there for weeks for a particular reason were gone. They were my reminders… things I’d planned to get to after the busyness of the holidays.

I spent nearly twenty minutes trying to find where they went. Not a hint of them… not even in my trash bin. And that’s when tears threatened. I was just so frustrated. But in contemplation of my high emotional state, I think my angst goes deeper than Outlook. I think it has more to do with the recent delays in my life that far outweigh minor annoyances.

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Then she saddled a donkey, and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 2 Kings 4:24

I like to go fast. And forward. And I don’t like it when something slows me down. No, when I have a plan, I expect execution to be swift and efficient. Like the plans I had a couple of months ago, number one being my health.

And I began well. After Labor Day, I lessened my portions and added exercise. I’d drop my kids at school and walk a couple of miles afterward, at least several times a week. And I felt good. Energy was returning, pounds were dropping, and pants were loosening.

However, I’ve somewhat plateaued. Progress has been stalled and it seems I’ve not moved forward for weeks. For it was October 20th when all my plans, especially this health kick, hit a speed bump. Or more aptly, a road block.

And when my husband recently joked, “I’m glad we got you that Fitbit,” my face showed him just what I thought of that remark. Oh, I was mad. He quickly came to my side, though, and told me he didn’t mean to imply I’d been slacking.

But you know, perhaps in some ways I have slacked. For my pace has significantly lessened in more way than one. And certainly, numerous circumstances have been out of my control. More than I can count.

Oh, most assuredly, things have come my way that have slowed me down…

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Snow days slow me. I cringe as I type that. Because who doesn’t love a day off? Time off with the kids. Games in the house and cocoa by the tree (at least during this season). But me? I just feel delay. Another day I don’t get to execute my plan, whatever my plan may be.

We had a snow day last Monday followed up by a two-hour delay on Tuesday. And I had to laugh at that because my daughter had just finished treatment for Kawasaki disease. She was returning to school for the first time after weeks away. And the wintry mix? Well, it served to delay her return.

At that, I thought God had a sense of humor…

Two days later, though, when I picked up my son early from school due to severe abdominal pain, I wasn’t really laughing. Because that turned into an overnight stay at the hospital. Appendicitis followed up by surgery this past Friday.

In truth, it felt surreal. We’d just spent so much time in the hospital. It was like that movie Groundhog Day and I woke up to the same thing. Life repeating. A do-over. And in truth, It felt like an attack from the devil himself.

That’s what last week felt like.

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“Behold, I will cause bread to rain from heaven for you; the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day…” Exodus 16:4

Yep, here recently, I’ve felt totally delayed. Run right off my course. Most significantly because of what’s taken place with both my children. Sickness that’s led to hospital stays. And when it comes to stuff like this, there’s a couple of schools of thought in the Christian realm…

Is one being stilled or stalled? Tested or tried? Is God the One slowing you, or is it the devil himself preventing you? Which one is it?

Honestly, I’m not discerning enough to know. Because the truth is, I don’t know who is preventing my forward movement. But after much meditation, I realize it doesn’t really matter who or what because both hindrances, if you will, necessitate the same course of action.

Basically, our delays have to do with our daily bread. At least mine do. It all comes down to what I ingest. And in the feeding, it’s what I’m enabled to serve up.

And so, life teaches me that whether I’m stilled or stalled, the best thing I can do is make sure I get the portion that’s allotted to me for healthy living. And I’m not talking about the food I buy at the grocery store.

IMG_0869 And I will bring a piece of bread to refresh and sustain you. Genesis 18:5

I’ll tell you what happens when your kids get sick. You sleep with them. Or near them. When Annabelle had a high fever in October, I slept in her bed for two nights. And when she couldn’t lay down due to neck pain and slept in the recliner, I stayed on the love seat. At the hospital, I slept in the bed with her for six nights and when we got home, I stayed near till I knew she was okay.

As for Levi, I stayed in the hospital with him and slept on the not so comfortable couch. When we came home, I stayed on the love seat and he had the couch (his bed being too high). Two nights we did this. And last night, even though he decided he could climb his ladder and return to his own sleeping abode, I stayed on the couch yet again. I wanted to hear him if he called out….

This is what moms do. And in the middle of the night, when our kids need assistance with peeing or turning over or pain medicine, we accommodate. It’s just what we do. And it’s what I’ve done for much of the past couple of months.

I have to tell you, though…

I’m really tired. In keeping up with my kids’ sicknesses and needs, my sleep has been interrupted for close to two months now. And when my sleep gets interrupted, getting up first thing in the morning gets delayed.

Yep, in hitting the snooze button three or four times, quiet time with the Lord gets pushed back. It gets lessened. And the portion of Himself God allots for me, well, I don’t always get it. Not all of it.

Not when my children are sick. Not when I’m so tired I have to sleep in.

Which brings me back to the still or the stall. The test or the trial. I am reminded, through Christmas and my very own decorations, what God prompts me to do. The nativity scene reminds me how I can once more move forward.

And it has to do with being still at the stall.

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And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Luke 2:16

There are so many thoughts as to why Jesus came as He did. Why He was delivered to us in the form of a newborn baby. And more, why He was placed in a manger. And why shepherds were the first visitors. And I’m sure God’s reasoning and purposes go way beyond anything we can fathom.

However, I can’t get away from a particular thought these past few weeks. Maybe the thought is so pressing because my consumption of Jesus has been lessened due to the circumstances out of my control…

My portion of Him less than what it once was. And not nearly what it should be.

See, I just can’t help but think that Jesus was laid in a manger because He’s our food. He is our daily bread. And the word for manger paints the picture for it means not just manger or stall, but also, a crib (for fodder). And could this be the reason the newborn Savior was laid in this type of crib? Not only because God planned for Him to come to us in the most humble of circumstances, but also, because we are the sheep and He is our food.

And the shepherds? How fitting they were the first to feast their eyes upon the Messiah. Because they feed their own flocks. And God fed first the keepers of the fold with the first serving of Jesus. This being the pattern for our own lives…

Because as moms, we each have a fold of our own to tend to and care for. Little ones, and not so little, we feed and nourish and protect. But in order to feed them properly, we first must be fed. Fully.

And so, just like the shepherds, we must hurry to the manger and feast on Him.

Just like at Christmas.

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The LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me]. I shall not want. Psalm 23:1 

Oh, there’s so much I want to share on this subject. All these bread thoughts. How Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread. And in the 6th chapter of John, after feeding the multitude with bread and fish, He called Himself the Bread of Life. He said the forefathers ate manna but He was (and is) the true bread out of heaven who gives life to the world.

Further, and much to the crowds displeasure, He said one must eat His flesh, for His flesh is true (spiritual) food. More, the one who feeds on Him (believes in Him), would live because of Him. That’s what Jesus said.

The baby, born in a stall and laid in a manger – a crib used for fodder – later in life called Himself the Bread of Life.

But today, how do we do this? How does one feed on Jesus? I ask myself this…

And life teaches me, I feed on Him by feasting on His Word. For He is the Word become flesh. I devour His word, letting it fill me, so I can in turn feed others. It’s just as we read in Ezekiel, “eat what you find (in this book); eat this scroll, then go, speak…” We eat His word and inevitably, it comes back out. Regurgitated. Like a mama bird feeding her babies…

So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. And He said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.” So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness. Ezekiel 3:2-3

Yes, the shepherds were the first to eat. They hurried to His side and were served a heaping helping of Jesus. Then, they went and told. This becomes my pattern.

But you know, life happens. All too often, my way to Jesus is hindered. Like recently. A still or a stall, a test or a temptation, I cannot say. All I know is I’ve not spent enough time at His stall. At the crib of Jesus. And it’s shown the past day or so.

Because I’ve been trying to care for my flock on an empty stomach. I’ve been trying to serve up what I don’t have in me. And today’s the day I know I can’t go another step until I still at the stall of Jesus.

This is where I hurry on the cusp of Christmas…

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“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of My people Israel,” Matthew 2:6

Why the shepherds? Perhaps because they feed the sheep. But also, maybe there was an awareness about them. A consciousness of God’s creation due to an unhurried gait, keeping the pace of the sheep they cared for. One born of quiet and stillness…

Yes, surely there was an awareness of the needs of those around them. And so, once again, the shepherds are my pattern. They and Jesus. For not only was He the Bread of Life but also, He was the Good Shepherd.

He is the Good Shepherd.

And what I know about Him is He lays down His life for the flock. He gives Himself totally for His people. He serves up Himself so that we can feed on Him, God’s own sacrificial lamb.

And when I hurry to the manger, and feast on the Word become flesh, I find I am filled by Him once more. My allotted portion. He is the Living Bread I need.

Every, single day.

And only in the feeding am I able to feed those entrusted to my care. At least properly. Because in the end, you serve up what you’re full of.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup. Psalm 16:5

The Good Shepherd appeared to Peter after His resurrection. Know what He said? “Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep.” Because Peter had a big job to fill. He was to shepherd the flock.

But you know what? I have a big job, too, for I have a flock of my own. Jason and Levi and Annabelle. And I just have to be honest. The past month, I’ve not served them as well as I could have. Oh, I have a good excuse. Circumstances out of my control.

But the fact is I have slacked a bit here and there. Mostly, I’ve slackened my pace in getting to Him. That’s reality.

Despite ER visits and hospital stays and sleep interruptions, there has been some time. But, I opted for other things. A small bag of chips here and there led to a full (big) bag last night. And feeling completely depleted leaves one desirous of mindless TV at night to unwind. At least that’s what happens with me.

Thus, I’ve been feeding on junk food and junk TV which leads to late nights and late mornings. And when I hit the ground running first thing, I am left me with precious little to offer my flock.

It’s a viscous cycle that leads to further depletion.

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The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. Psalm 23:1-2

In closing, I teared up tonight with Jason. I told him how I was feeling. Tired and weary. Empty with nothing left to give.

And the result of that is I feed my flock what I have. Yes, my little ones feed on my tears and impatience and gruff demeanor when it shows. Because I am their shepherd… they feed on what I serve.

They feed on me.

Thus, I must be filled. No matter how hard life gets. Because reality is, things will always come my way. Hindrances and delays. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a still or a stall, a test or a trial.

It matters naught if the pause was designed by God or if its a fiery dart from the devil himself…

Simply, when life gets tough, the tough get going. And fortunately, we tough ones know where to go. Yes, I know where I need to go.

God bids me to the crib that contains the Bread of Life. And I understand it’s all about portion control. Healthy living is in making sure I get my daily allotment. Because Jesus is my fodder. He is the grain that makes me whole.

Thus, I still at the stall.

And in feeding on Him, I am able to feed my people.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:24

 

Heart Warrior

My heart is stirred by a beautiful song for the King… Psalm 45:1

I’ve been wanting to write something for days now. And it’s just as the verse above says… my heart is stirred. Different versions of the Bible use moved, overflows and gushing. And that’s exactly how I feel today. Stirred up.

Another definition of “stirred” is “to keep moving.” And I find that ironic because the message springing up within has nothing to do with moving. Quite the opposite, actually, for it has to do with sitting still. Yes, if God has impressed anything upon my heart over the past several years it is this…

The act of standing still. Which is really hard, by the way. In truth, it take great effort to do nothing at all.

“What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20

I was moved (there’s that word again) by reading part of the Christmas story this morning. The angel told Joseph not to worry because what was conceived in Mary was of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus’ earthly father took those words to heart for he moved forward in his plans. He took Mary to be his wife and stepped into the role of father. But this must have seemed crazy to everyone who knew and loved Joseph best. Not the best course of action, many must have opined.

As for me, this speaks volumes today. Because it was the Spring of 2013 when I clearly felt as if God were leading me to “sit on the porch.” It was a call to inactivity. Stillness and quiet. But you know, we live in a fast paced world. And busyness means productivity. More, it equals “credit.” Thus, I resisted the message that was planted and conceived in my heart.

Oh, it sounded good. I wanted to do it. But I just could not. Today, I know the reason but back then, I simply couldn’t bring myself to say no. To anything. If asked, I did it. I was a “yes” girl and in my eyes, “yes” girls counted. They mattered most in the world.

“Believing that doing less can somehow produce more requires a resilient faith. It takes an unshakable concrete trust in God.” Priscilla Shirer

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Yes, there’s been a message rolling around in my heart and mind for days and days. It began on November 30th, the day I put up our Christmas tree. For that’s when I was reminded of five years ago. Of the time I purposed to know Christ more fully at Christmastime. It was a season I decided to make Christmas real in my heart.

You know what I’ve come to realize? This seeking of a Christmas heart came nine months after that call to “sit on the porch”. No doubt, a message was conceived deep within – a call to stillness – and in the time it takes for a baby to develop in the womb, the message was “delivered” in my life. At least for a time.

Because the most wonderful thing happened. Nine months after understanding God wanted me to sit, I discovered I was pregnant. It was the day after Christmas. And that’s the day I decided to heed God’s call and stop all the extra. At least a little bit…

I slowed myself in that I gave up a volunteer position that required lifting. Because I was pregnant. I was protective of my baby and didn’t want to do anything that could harm her…

And so, from December 2013 till a couple of months after Annabelle was born, I slowed down. And in contemplating that time, I uncovered one of the greatest revelations of this season. It’s that the conception of my daughter coincided with my desire for a Christmas heart.

Honestly, I stand in awe of that. Because it feels as if she were the answer to my heart’s longing. Which leads me to comprehend that if I want a Christmas heart such as I purposed long ago, then I need to look at what transpired immediately afterward…

It was a time of stillness. And development.

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You know, God has a way of leading someone. He drops breadcrumbs everywhere. And that’s been happening a lot here lately.

See, I wanted to write something in particular. As I said, my heart was moved by a beautiful song. Other versions use good theme, a good matter or good news. And I had such a good title!

But everything is pointing me to the heart. And I mean everything. From the stethoscope sent home to my daughter this past Thursday after her heart electrocardiogram, to the Facebook post I saw the next day of a precious little girl who has VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect) and now has a pacemaker. Then there’s the elder who shared his testimony at church on Sunday. He’s on his own heart journey and now has a defibrillator.

Then there’s today. My boss mentioned a television program he saw about Kawasaki Disease which leads me to my daughter. Yes, my little Christmas heart had her own journey beginning October 20th. And it appears her heart journey ties in with mine. Hers being physical…

and mine, spiritual.

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Be still and know I am God. Psalm 46:10

I wanted to title this post “a different Mary… the slacker.” It was the above verse that so inspired. See, a definition of still is: to show oneself slack. And in the past year, I’ve come to understand this has been one of my deepest issues. Or hangups.

Because God called me to sit still in March of 2013 and I flat out refused. No, not one shred of my being wanted to show myself to be slack. Because I wasn’t a slacker! To be fair, though, I didn’t realize I was refusing. I honestly didn’t know I was disobeying a command of God’s.

But that message, stillness, it was brought to me again and again…

It started in November of 2012 when we joined a church with a two-year rule. The scope of what I was allowed to do was limited. A few months later, I heard, “sit on the porch.” Nine months later, I was pregnant. A forced sit still, if you will.

But you know what? Once Annabelle was born, I moved on as if I hadn’t even had her. I reverted to a hurried and hectic pace within months. And from then on, it was on. Plans and projects and volunteering.

But then, there’s God and His breadcrumbs. At a writing conference when Annabelle was 11 months old, I heard, “Come away by yourself to a remote spot and rest.” And in October of 2016 after a particularly busy season, I heard Psalm 46:10 no less than eight times in a matter of days.

I still didn’t get it, though. Not inside my heart. Because I said yes to every single thing that came my way. I even said yes to things I came up with on my own. I added so much extra to my life and was the exact opposite of what God called me to. And this all served to add stress and angst to my life.

But then, there is God. Oh, He nearly hammered me over the head with His message of stillness in the late Summer of 2017. And that time, I finally heard Him. I understood I was to stop every, single thing. All of it.

And so I did. But it was so hard…

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For Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:42

The title for this message has changed from day to day. Last Thursday, at Annabelle’s echo, I thought it would be “Heart Healthy.” This came about because the doctor asked about my own…

“How’s your heart? Any issues?”

Wow. There sure have been. But nothing physical. No, all mine have been inward. And because I’d already been stewing on a different Mary (of Martha and Mary), I could not help but to contemplate the condition of her heart. How was she?

Because she’s known for sitting at the feet of Jesus. She was the picture of Psalm 46:10. In truth, she allowed herself to be shown as slack. But Jesus tells us that she chose the good part. The good part being Him and His words.

See, Mary placed herself near the Lord. And that word for “feet” means: of disciples listening to their teacher’s instruction are said to be at his feet. So, I don’t know that Mary was literally sitting at His feet. However, what’s clear is she was off her feet, for she sat. And in Jesus’ eyes… that was enough.

In pondering this heart of Mary’s, I also wonder about Martha’s hurried, distracted one. She was serving many dishes. Ultra-busy. And she even voiced complaint to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care? Make her do her part!”

And this is such a lesson for me today. Because this is what so inspired the initial writing of this. How brave Mary, the slacker, was. For she went against the norm. Custom would have had her on her feet, busy, serving.

Sitting and listening? Well, that just goes against the grain. In fact, it may seem crazy to some. And it may even bring about pointed fingers and criticism. Because if one is still, one is not active. One is not moving. And most assuredly, being still means you’re not doing your part, right?

A slacker to the core?

Yes, this has been one of my deepest issues. A hangup. For God told me to stop all the activity long, long ago. But I resisted. I wanted to keep up with the pace of the world. I wanted to do whatever was asked. Because I was a team player. I wanted to do my part… even if He said no.

But the fact is, I was choosing the wrong part. Parts that weren’t mine. Parts that covered up and hid all He wanted me to see. God knew, though, that when I stilled long enough, I’d discover the issues of my heart. And if I sat even longer, perhaps my heart beat would return to it’s native rhythm…

One that beat in step with His.

And eventually, it did. Because in the sitting and reflecting, an inner work happened. A heart transplant, if you will, for a transplant took place in the sitting and reflecting.  Yes, that’s when the healing began.

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The Lord has sought out for Himself a man (David) after His own heart… 1 Samuel 13:14

Here’s what I’ve come to learn. The heart can be stirred. Indeed, there can be flowing and gushing. However, the busier life gets, the slower the stirring. A stagnation of sorts. And when activities outweigh time with the Lord altogether, movement of the heart comes to a complete standstill.

I know this because I’ve lived it.

And the heart that’s moved? Well, it’s a Christmas heart. It’s like King David’s, a man “after God’s own.” And I’d say David went after that heart. And if we want it, it’s one we have to go after, too. It just takes some digging.

See, the definition of heart is: inner man, mind, will, soul. It’s not only the organ that circulates blood, but also, it denotes the center of all physical and spiritual life… the soul or mind as it is the fountain and seat of thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, purposes, etc. It’s the inner part…

It’s the good part. The one Mary chose, I think. You know, the slacker. I can’t help but feel that she was after a heart like His just as David was. And stillness paved the way.

But you know, when the time was right, her heart was moved by a good theme. For she was the woman who anointed Jesus before His burial.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, had her song – the Magnificat – at the conception of Jesus. And this Mary, the one called to stillness, displayed an act of devotion as His crucifixion loomed near.

Mary inspired me for she was still when she needed to be. She was a woman who dared to show herself slack in the face of criticism. And when the proper occasion arose, she rose to the occasion.

The act of Mary pouring out perfume upon Jesus’ head is a visual display of her heart’s outpouring. It was an offering of pure adoration and devotion. And Jesus said she did a beautiful thing to Him.

This was her song.

And more, Jesus proclaimed that wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she did would be told, in memory of her. And this is the testimony of a slacker named Mary…

She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Mark 14:8

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It’s a Christmas heart I’ve been seeking. I think I’ve found mine. And though it’s not perfect, it’s so much better than it was. See, I was sick. I just couldn’t say no. Addicted to busyness. But now, I know. I cared too much about what others thought. I disobeyed God’s command to stop because I worried people would think badly of me.

A slacker, they’d say. A woman who doesn’t pull her fair share or do her part. But now, in putting up my feet and sitting at His, I don’t worry so much about that anymore. In the light of His glory, all that fades.

And in realizing what He did for me, how He lovingly called me to stillness over and over, I cannot help but open my mouth. Just as Mary, mother of Jesus, opened hers through the Magnificat, I have this writing. It’s my attempt at song. And this is how I extol Him this Season. For God so loved the world, He gave Jesus, this being the essential message of Christmas.

Today, though, I realize He gave me another child. For He loves me so much, He gave Annabelle. And through her, I’ve been slowed down. Oh, not always and not perfectly. But mostly, slowed.

And in the slowing, I was able to gaze upon His beauty. Because I wasn’t distracted by busyness. Thus, I was able to seize that heart I’ve been seeking. It’s a healthy heart. Unhurried. Joyful and giving. This is what a heart like His looks like.

It looks like the one I find inside me now. A heart moved by a good theme. Similar to that of a child’s…

A Christmas heart full of adoration and devotion.

For Him. My Savior.

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Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise… Facebook quote

Not so long ago, I told a woman, “I’m tired all the time. I’m tired because I’m 45 years old and I have a 4 year old.” But today, I realize that’s just not true. Because in reality, I’m tired because I have a 4 year old AND…

Dot, dot, dot.

It’s all the dots I add to my life. This is what wears me out. And this has been my biggest struggle. I’ve wrestled with being just mom. Only mom. That’s been my fight. Because deep down, I’ve never felt like it was enough.

So I added in lots of extra. Volunteering and saying yes all the time. Because all the extra made me feel productive. Full of importance. But then, I started hearing God’s whisper. It sounded like stillness.

And the verse that resonated the most? Be still and know. The CSB version uses, “Stop your fighting,” which makes it all clear. Simply, God wanted me to stop fighting Him. And my position in life. He wanted me to realize that if the only thing I ever did was raise my children, that’s more than enough. Because that’s the main thing He has for me to do.

And for a solid year, I tried to do this. I did my best to remain activity-less. Aside from a few slip ups, I did pretty well. But then, my little girl began full-time preschool. Know what I thought?

My time had come… time to get busy again. And oh, I had so many plans. For clarification and direction, I entered into a 40-day fast which ended on October 14. And for those 40 days, I was diligent in my stillness. The very day it ended, though, I signed up for something extra. True to form, I wanted to pull my weight and do my part. Inconceivably, I was ready to say yes all over again.

But then, Annabelle began a heart journey. Six days after signing up for extra, my little girl developed something called Kawasaki disease. It’s an illness which causes inflammation throughout the body and can cause aneurysms and heart disease if not treated properly.

Needless to say, I was overwrought. And overcome. And, it was a total redirect. You can bet her being at home slowed me significantly. But through this very sickness, and stillness, God pointed me back to Christmas of 2013. To the time I desired a Christmas heart…

And so her heart journey, which began in October, became a picture to me. A call to remembrance of all that God said. And I remembered His voice whispering…

“Sit on the porch. Be still. You don’t have to do another thing.”

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As I’ve said, my heart is moved by a theme. It’s one of less is more. It’s one of being mom, and only mom. This stirs me because it’s been my biggest struggle. Letting go of all the extra in order to take hold of that which the Lord would have me grab with both hands.

Like my little girl…

The above picture is from this morning. Annabelle went back to school for the first time since 10/19. Oh my gosh, she was excited. She was raising her arms without my prompting. Just like a victor finishing a race.

Know what I see? A girl full of heart. A girl who overcame an obstacle. For she is a warrior. I’m not just talking about her, though. See, I include myself in that description…

Because a battle was fought over my heart. And through God’s strength, I prevailed. That makes me a warrior, too. Which is one of the reasons I changed the title of this post to Heart Warrior…

Because of the battles fought over hearts everywhere. Annabelle’s and mine. But also, and particularly, because of a little girl named Delaney. Her mom gave me permission to use her picture and share part of her story.

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My first thought of open-heart surgery in a young one took place while we were in the hospital with Annabelle. And though what we walked through was scary, it pales in comparison to some others. Like the little one my husband noticed in the elevator who’d already endured such a procedure.

Upon returning home, I was surprised to receive a private message from a friend who asked me to pray for a little one named Delaney. I was told she was undergoing open-heart surgery. So I prayed.

Lo and behold, I saw the loveliest post of her mother’s the day after Annabelle’s final heart echo. And though I don’t even know this woman, I was blessed to read her entry through a mutual friend. She graciously allowed me to post this picture.

Mom offered her own “song” and praised God for Delaney’s progress. And words she used (found online) seemed to be a mantra or a prayer. “I wept, you fought. I wondered, you proved. I prayed, you overcame.”

And for Christmas, I thought it would be truly great if anyone who reads this stills for just a minute and lifts up a prayer for Delaney. And for her parents. Both she and they have overcome so much.

Pray that Delaney, this little heart warrior, will overcome all the more. That she fights and proves. And fully recovers.

In Jesus’ name.

Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:13, 14

In closing, the above passage has stirred me more than once. Stand still. It means: to place, to present oneself, to take one’s stand. In light of this writing, I like that. Because I think I’ve done that. I take my stand in sitting down. In stillness.

But if I want to be true to the Word, and I do, there’s more to it. Because verse 15 exhorts the people to move on. To move forward (toward the sea). So, I know this season of stillness won’t last forever. There will come a time in which God calls me to move onward.

But for now, He bids me to move in only one direction. Toward Him. Toward a Savior. For this day and this Season, this is really all He wants me to see. Which is so appropriate because it’s Christmas.

And this is the message of my Christmas heart. The good theme that moves me. It’s one of stillness. It’s one of laying aside all the trimmings and trappings and busyness so that we can stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.

Provided to us through a boy child named Jesus…

She will give birth to a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus (The LORD is salvation), for He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21

an unexpected pregnancy

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

A friend texted me recently. “How are you my friend?” And I could have lied. I could have said “I’m fine, how are you?” Instead, I chose truth. I told her I’d been in a terrible mood for days. That I just felt nasty.

And that’s exactly how I was on December 2nd. A better description would have been dark for I was oh, so black inside.

What’s worse, this seems to be a pattern of mine. Cyclical. A seasonal migration route that ushers me through a land of gloom. Because somehow darkness envelops me every year about this time. On the cusp of Christmas, no less. And after reading a post of mine from five years ago (a Christmas heart), I realize just how much of a pattern, or rut, this is.

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish… The people who walk in [spiritual darkness] will see a great Light; Those who live in the dark land, The Light will shine on them. For unto us a Child is born, to us a Son shall be given… Isaiah 9:1,2,6

It was the Christmas tree that prompted my post from five years earlier. And not surprisingly, I brought our tree home two days before my friend reached out. And this act, which should be a festive occasion, added to my darkness.

See, I had high expectations. Visions of my children and me smiling and laughing while we hung our favorite decorations. Reminiscing about days gone by. I thought there’d be music and cocoa… that my husband would sit in his chair and adoringly watch us.

But none of that happened. My husband got the tree up and then I stepped in for the rest beginning with lights. They didn’t work, mind you. Not one strand of colored lights were complete. Half lit and half dark. Kind of like my mood. This felt like a delay and so out of necessity, I changed course. White lights instead.

I instructed Jason to give Annabelle a bath while I strung the lights still thinking we’d get to the decorating. However, one lesson learned from five years earlier is that it’s no good to decorate when tired. So I waited. I thought Saturday morning would do.

First thing, I set the scene. Music and ornaments and kids. And we began well. Within twenty minutes, though, my son was finished. Further, he advised I shouldn’t hang any more otherwise it would look like a hodgepodge of stuff. As for Annabelle, she really enjoyed it. But her endurance lasted as long as Levi’s. And she broke a glass ball. And she spilled a cup of water all over the end table soaking the books. And my children decided wrestling and fighting were more fun than decorating…

And that’s when I lost my cool. Or should I say I let what was inside come out. Dark and black all over the place as I began barking orders at the kids and fussing about the noise.

In the end, I finished the tree all by myself. I worked up to the very last minute when I had to force myself to stop in order to shower and get my son to his basketball game on time. And as I drove down the highway, I quietly cried. My heart filled with regret because of how the morning played out. Remorse over my actions… the way I exploded all over my children.

So very sorry that this is the memory my kids will carry. Not one of delight and joy and peace and calm. But one of anger and harsh words and rushing and blackness.

This is the pattern my natural self gravitates toward every, single year. And like that Christmas five years ago, I feel myself being pulled to the very same spot. For then, I desired to cultivate a Christmas heart. And that’s exactly how I feel this the 4th day of December. I desire change on my inside. In my heart…

But this year will be different. For I hope to give my family the best gift I can offer. Yep, this is the year I hope to cultivate a Christmas heart. And my prayer is that my Christmas heart will last beyond the lights and the trimmings and the trappings. For years to come… written 12/5/13

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I can’t tell you how sad I was when I read those words. It was that part about for years to come. Because you know what? There was change. I sought the true meaning of Christmas and I found it. I really did.

Alas, that change seems to come and go. It’s been somewhat intermittent. For I find that with life, and the pressures contained therein, my light grows brighter and dimmer accordingly. The higher the pressures, the lesser the light. And when things get really tight, I find my bulb blows altogether. Just like the colored lights I wasn’t able to use…

Honestly, I’ve been blowing my top quite a bit the past few weeks. I’ve not felt calm and collected. Instead, I’ve felt hurried, stressed and compressed. That happens naturally about this time of year with the holidays. However, something else happened recently that added a little extra to my life. Something unexpected.

And if these past few years have taught me anything, it’s that I don’t handle the unexpected well. I never have. Thus, in the cultivation of the Christmas heart, I find this lies at the heart of it all. How I react to life. It’s my reactions to the pressures and trials and troubles…

Basically, it comes down to what I do with what I don’t expect.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son. And she will call him Immanuel (God with us). Isaiah 7:14

I read a book a few weeks ago. It was a random read but I swear I think God was preparing my heart for today. For this particular Christmas. Because the theme was how unwed pregnant women (or girls) were treated long ago. How they were sent away and shunned by the family.  How the girls were often made to go to a work house and hide away the duration of their pregnancy only to be forced to give their child away. Even if they didn’t want to…

Which brings to mind Mary. Yes, in contemplating Christmastime and the mother of our Lord and Savior, I try to enter into where she found herself. Betrothed but not yet married. And pregnant. And to use a term coined by society to describe women in this situation, she found herself “in trouble.” For she had an unexpected pregnancy.

I find her reaction remarkable. See, Mary had plans. She was to marry Joseph and begin her new life. And yet, when an Angel appeared to her with the shocking revelation, she didn’t falter. She didn’t rail against what would surely cause pressure and tribulation. She didn’t come apart at the seams because her plan wasn’t going to go just as she hoped…

Instead, she said “Let it be unto me…”

Let it happen as you said. Let it be done to me. No matter the consequences, she submitted to what came her way. Even that of an unexpected child. In truth, Mary chose life in that she denied her own life. She put her agenda to the side in submission to the greater plan God had for her.

And fortunately, though Joseph thought about it, he decided not to “put her away quietly.” He dared to take this woman as his bride. A woman the world would say got herself into trouble.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

This week was the first time it came to me that Mary was pro-life. It’s the first time I realized she really did have a choice… even back then. And God help me, I see it always, always comes back to this. Even at Christmas.

For the cultivation of a Christmas heart comes down to what I do with a child. More particularly, it’s what I do with my own children. And how I react to the unexpected scenarios that come along with having a child. The extra that may come my way.

It goes all the way back to August of 2006. That’s when I had my baby boy. And I truly adored him. I still do. However, I’ve not always chosen wisely where he was concerned. I still don’t. See, I began working at home when he was just two months old. And the pressure of balancing motherhood with housework and a job (at home) was really stressful. And I’m sad to say I placed everything else before him most of the time.

Emails and laundry and whatever else came my way. I eked out time for him here and there. And now, he’s 12.  And I swear some of my hugest regrets revolve around him. Not giving him the best of me…

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Even now, pressures rise. For in addition to Christmas and decorating and wrapping and regular home life and work, my son made the basketball team. But it turns out there’s more to it than just taking him to games and practice (daily). One must sign up for concessions and snacks. In itself it’s not a lot. It’s just a little extra I hadn’t thought about, though. Something to add to all the other.

More, the past couple of months have thrown some other “extra” my way. Levi’s been sick and out of school several times and there’s already been snow days and busted pipe days. Days when my regular stuff goes to the back burner because of the extra that comes when your child stays at home. And I can’t forget the appliance that busted in Levi’s mouth necessitating an additional trip to the orthodontist.

Oh, there’s other stuff, too. Like the car that side-swiped me as I drove my daughter to her doctor’s appointment which meant extra – dealing with an insurance company and recorded statement, etc.

And this is where I find the most “extra” that’s been added to my schedule in recent days. It’s my daughter.

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Annabelle’s four and she started preschool in August. It was so exciting. And can I say it? Liberating. Because my days opened right up. Both my children were in school and I had time on my hands. More, I had a plan! I was going to write a book by Thanksgiving. I was going to drop thirty pounds and get healthy by walking every day. Yep, that’s what I was going to do.

However, something just took place with my girl that changed all that. There was a fever on October 20th which led to two ER visits followed up by a six-day stay in the hospital. And though she’s really fine now and is following up with a cardiologist (Kawasaki Disease), we’ve decided to keep her home from preschool out of precaution. For just a bit.

That means extra. And though my mom helps a lot, Annabelle’s home much more and that means my job gets pushed to the side. Things I could easily do two months ago seem to pile up now. Like work and laundry and other to-do’s.

And since Annabelle sickness, she’s somewhat regressed. She’s a bit more needy… more demanding. This adds up to extra time wiping in the potty and spooning soup when she really could do it on her own. And she when she wakes in the middle of the night, she calls for me. Most nights, I’ll sleep with her. Because she was so sick. We coddled her. Kind of hard to break that…

Anyway, all the extra has caused a thinness inside me. The veil between dark and light merging into one. I find I’m interrupted in a hundred ways which causes me to be impatient. The icing on the cake is I’ve been sick. Awaking with an hour long coughing fit nightly causing me to sleep in later than I want. This, of course, edges out my “quiet time” with the Lord.

Yes, I’ve been sleeping till the last minute and work sets in the minute my feet hit the floor. Quiet times snuffed out by the delays and interruptions and stalls of life. In trying to balance mom-hood with the hundred things life calls me to do, I invariably choose wrongly. All too often, I try to do everything else first in an attempt to get ahead eking out only a little bit of time for my children.

This unbalanced life inevitably fills me with regret and remorse all serving to darken an already black demeanor.

This is truth. Most of the bad mood I mentioned to my friend in a text has to do with me getting things upended. Priorities messed up. It has to do with choosing unwisely. Leaving what’s most important undone.

And it always has been this. All the way back to Levi’s infancy. And honestly, it goes back to even before.

Listen closely, I have set before you today life and prosperity (good), and death and adversity (evil)… therefore, you shall choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants. Deuteronomy 30:15,19

I blew my top yesterday. A little disagreement I had with my son culminating with me yelling, “Bull crap!” Loudly. Needless to say, the drive to practice was gloomy. Dark as night.

And later, I realized this all took place in front of my little girl. When I left her with her grandma, she didn’t hug me so tightly as I walked away. Instead, she kind of backed into me giving me an odd look.

Now though, in the light of day, I realize it was me. It was the way I reacted to something unplanned. An unexpected conversation with my son and I lost it. But it’s more than that. It has to do with the busyness I must balance in life. It has to do with prioritizing. Putting first things first…

Like my kids.

See, it’s a pattern life throws at me. And perhaps a test? For November and December are busy on their own accord. Throw in a few unexpected extras and it becomes all too easy to blow one’s top. At least it is for me. And that’s the cycle.

However, it’s Christmastime. And God points me to mother Mary. For there, I find hope in the example she provides. It’s how she reacted to the unexpected. Even if the unexpected was a child she didn’t plan for…

And I realize this is exactly where God is leading me this Christmas. Because I have my little girl. And though I didn’t expect her to be home right now, she is. Unplanned with all the extra she brings.

What will I do with her? How will I react to the unexpected in my life from this day forward? Like Mary, will I put my agenda to the side in submission to the greater plan God has for me? The greater plan being my kids…

Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise (the Messiah) from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet [in a straight line] into the way of peace and serenity. Luke 1:78-79

It’s true, some of my greatest regrets revolve around my children. I hate to say I used to feel as if my children and their needs interrupted me from everything I needed to do. Like my job. The housework. My plans.

But the light of God’s word opened my eyes. I’ve found a new perspective. And though I often slip up and get things out of whack, my greatest revelation these past few years is that all those tasks were interrupting me from my greatest role. Mom. Everything else was keeping me from my children. And so, the kids weren’t the interruptions. Instead, the tasks were.

And with all my Christmas heart, I wish I’d known this then. That I’d done things differently with Levi when he was small. Chosen better. More wisely. I can’t help but feel as if God has given me another chance, though. Because I have my little girl here with me. Today. It’s not too late to choose well.

I can choose her and Levi. I can put them first. See, there’ll always be things vying for my attention. Life (and the hundred things to do) verses my children. Therein lies the struggle.

And though I haven’t done it perfectly these past twelve years, and I’ve made some big mistakes already this past Christmas season… the reality is it’s only December 4th. And though my former years paint the picture of a proven pattern, God came to break the mold. And the old. And He did. He broke the cycle by sending a Child.

He sent a newborn. So I can be reborn. Which I am. And therein lies my hope. I find it in the hope of a child. Not just my own, though. Hope lies in His.

I hope in God’s Son.

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It sure seems as if Christmas began with an unexpected pregnancy. Oh, indeed, prophets foretold of this immaculate conception. However, it was unexpected to Mary. And how she reacted to something extra in her life is inspiring. Her demeanor becomes my aim. A pattern to mold to. It’s how I can cultivate a Christmas heart.

Because finally, I see it’s all about the Child.

The interruption of a Child who disrupted the plans of a young couple. That’s what happened on Christmas over two thousand years ago. And a young woman named Mary and a carpenter named Joseph handled it beautifully. Gracefully.

But ultimately, it comes down to me. And how I handle Christmas. The main question being what will I do with this Child? Not just my own children, who provide enough extra in life. But what will I do with this Child and the extra He brings?

The Christ child born on Christmas day.

When He comes my way and disrupts my plan with the unexpected, what then? Will I revert to my old pattern? Will I fuss and fume and blow my top exploding blackness all around me? Will I choose darkness and cursing?

Or like Mary, will I choose life in submitting to God’s plan. Will I choose acceptance and let my agenda go? Will I put first things first? Will I respond as Mary did, the cry of my heart echoing hers?

“Lord, let it be unto me.”

This time, I have a feeling I will. I really do. Because when I went to pick up my little girl from Me-Maw’s, there was a smile on my face. And my to-do list is still quite large. There’s still a hundred things vying for my attention. But see, there’s been progress…

And though I’ve messed up, every day provides a fresh start. And by conforming to the new pattern, the one provided by Mary, I think the Son will rise in my heart. And in my life. And that Light will envelop not just me, but those I love most…

Namely, my husband and children. And this is exactly what I desired five years back. A Christmas heart. One my family can enjoy for years to come.

And next time, when my friend texts to ask how I am… well, I think I’ll have a different answer. Next time, I think my mood will be lighter.

In Him was life [and power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it]. John 1:4-5