Kindergarten Math and the COVID-19 Factor

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At my first defense, no one stood by me, but everyone deserted me. 2 Timothy 4:16

Sheltering in place has allowed for a whole lot of extra around the house. Yes, I’d say the percent of increase has gone through the roof in certain areas. But also, so has the percent of decrease. And I can only attribute the ups and the downs to something I call the COVID-19 factor…

Which in its simplist form, is staying at home.

No doubt, the COVID-19 factor is directly related to all the recent additions and subtractions to my life. As to exact percentages, I can’t say for certain but I can assuredly name the changes…

First, there’s stress, the rate of increase directly proportional to the increased time my children spend in the house. And I know how this can sound… selfish. Ungrateful. But for today, it’s truth. My stress level has gone through the roof and it has to do with the increased level of noise coming from their direction.

If Annabelle shrieks one more time, “I’m serious, stop, stop, stop, I can’t breathe,” I may lose it. And frankly, I’m proud of myself for not having done so already. Which brings to mind another through the roof increase…

The loudness of my voice. Oh, I’ve shrieked myself once or twice but overall, I feel a real sense of accomplishment. See, I’m keeping it level more than I used to. Even when it appears my daughter can’t breathe again because of the kids’ newest game, “Scarers.”

Other shenanigans having the propensity to send my voice into the back reaches of my neighbor’s yard, and into the outer atmosphere, are “Pushers,” “Shovers,” and “King,” all of which involve physicality and knocking each other about.

If my calculations are accurate, the extra noise from the extra time my kids are in the house attributes to at least 32% of the increase in my stress (and my loudness).

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The COVID-19 factor (staying at home) means extra. More food consumption, more laundry, more needs only I can address, and more talking. Sometimes both kids talk at the same time, one right over top of the other, which decreases my ability to hear.

And there are other decreases like personal time and space. Yes, Annabelle’s supplies replaced the easel I recently topped the yellow table with in my office and Levi’s work moved my writing binders right off my desk and onto the book shelf.

And though it sounds like I’m complaining (yes, I think I am), I can’t help but contemplate the whole lot of good that’s accompanied this COVID-19 factor. Other increases and decreases…

Coffee dates and occasional lunches are 100% decreased. And though the initial workload for my at-home job skyrocketed, the steady subsequent decline, coupled with additional time at home, has allowed for noticeable progress on the house.

My work productivity has increased exponentially. I washed my car inside and out, cleaned two years of grime off of my windows, and dusted six years of dirt out of those hard to reach areas. And I finally planted a flower garden. I’ve never done that before.

I put an entire downstairs together after our basement finishing project and now, everything in my home has a place. There are no spare heaps or piles. All items are where they need to be, and my home is in order for the first time since we moved in nine years ago.

And the truth is, had we not been forced to sit still, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to accomplish all that I have. I attribute every bit of the increased work productivity to staying at home.

It was because of the COVID-19 factor.

Yes, the COVID-19 factor (staying at home), has changed everything. There’s been additons and deletions. And with all outside distractions cut off, including people, everything that needed to be tended to on the inside has been tended to. And I’m not just talking about work and house-hold projects.

I’m also talking about my heart. Because although there’s someone here with me all the time, an isolated and lonely feeling appeared anyway. It happened as March closed out and April made her entrance.

Without fail, a sense of rejection and abandonment assails my soul with a regularity I can count on. Spring ushers in this low period and because it coincided with the shut-in, home projects and homeschool, I experienced something new that soothed me more than anything ever had.

Or ever will.

It was the discovery of the COVID-19 equation, which I’ll get to later. And because of it, I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. Ever.

At least I hope not.

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I tell you, I don’t know who’s learned more through Kindergarten math, me or Annabelle. Because though she’s been learning simple addition and subtraction, the titles of her worksheets have been speaking to my heart. Especially this one here…

Take away stories.

If I were to put a name to my story, perhaps there wouldn’t be a better title. Because if I had to put a name to my wound, the one that never healed, this would be it. Take-away.  Because once upone a time when I was young, something was taken away from me. It happened when I was left behind.

More than once, those who should have loved me the most decided to take someone else the the party of the year. Someone else was deemed more fun, and I was left at home, alone, at sixteen and again at seventeen. And though this sounds petty in light of the plight of the land, this is what happened to me. It’s what damaged my heart in an irreversible way and I swear, it damaged me all the way up. Till April.

A mere month ago.

It was the second time that really did it for it was a double whammy. The details aren’t important, but suffice it to say, I felt utterly forsaken. Left behind and left alone because the one I depended on left me hanging. She didn’t stand by me when I needed her to and it broke my heart.

For Annabelle’s math purposes, the take away story is simple. Two take away one is one. But my heart tells another story. It says when one leaves another behind, you have one left… A left over.

That was my incurable wound. Because of it, any little bit of confidence and security I might have possessed was stripped away. This is what Annabelle’s math homework brought to mind when I saw particular words highlighted at the top of the pages.

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I’m thankful to God because the past few weeks of homeschooling have allowed me to put a name to my hurt. God helped me dissect it in such a manner that I can name it, define it, and see it for what it really was and is.

And more, He healed my heart through the very wound itself. Honestly, I don’t know if I can find the words to describe just how God used the very thing that hurt me to heal me…

It was the COVID-19 factor. Staying at home. The only reason I found healing is because I stayed home

But see, for so long it was the place I avoided. I’ll tell you why. If I was home, it meant I was unwanted. Home meant I was left behind because there was someone better to go out with. Being home implied I was not “fun” like those my beloveds chose. Yes, staying at home meant I was not loveable.

Thus, at eighteen, I made being the life of the party my aim. I figured if I could be as fun as the chosen ones, I would be, too. The girl who made everyone laugh and knew how to party was the one who received love.

And so, if I could help it, I went out. At nineteen and as a young twenty-something, I never stayed home. Because as long as I was out, I was “chosen.” And as long as I was out, I didn’t feel the hurt.

Only when I stayed home, did the ache return. And only when I was alone. Or lonely…

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I spent a year in Korea when I was in my early twenties. The best part was never being alone. I had a group of ready-made friends through work and my living quarters and oh, how I loved my girlfriends…

And though there were lots of parties (one every night if you wanted), what I loved best was the girl time. Drinking coffee and shopping at the commissary and laying out in the sun on the far reaches of base in the most secluded spot and going to the gym. The list goes on…

I loved being a part of a crew and knowing they loved me and I them. I felt confident and secure as long as we were together. Surrounded by my new friends, I started to feel loveable.

Alas, I found myself pregnant. It was the Spring of 1995. A heartbeat had been added to mine, and yet, I decided no. I didn’t want the child and aborted. Why? Honestly, I didn’t think twice. When asked, I said no to a sonogram. I rushed ahead in my decision and allowed the doctors to take away the little one whose heart beat inside me…

It was a true take away story. Two minus one equals one left alone.

Afterward, a friend told me to go home and lie down. She said I should rest. You know what? I never, ever did. Because there was no way anyone could make me stay home. To me, it was a punishment. Home meant everything it meant at sixteen and seventeen. Unwanted and unloved.

And if I stayed home, alone, while everyone else was out, the ache returned. That lonely rejected feeling I suppressed over and over. So, I kept moving. For years and years and years.

Oh, I made sure to keep myself busy. One, to keep the hurt at bay. And two, I had to be out. Out, out, out. Because only when I was out, could I be loved. Even after I was fully grown, with a family of my own. Those feelings remained…

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The COVID-19 factor (being forced to stay at home), has truly allowed for a whole lot of extra. Like understanding. Yeah, I’d say that’s increased 100%.  And hindsight. It is the year 2020, and hindsight surely is that. Because I can see now.

I was co-dependent. At five and eleven and sixteen and nineteen and twenty-two and all the years after. I needed a friend to love me to make me feel worthy. And if I didn’t have that person, well, I felt so bad about me.

But after reading the story of Martha and Mary at least 20 times, I saw something this past week for the very first time that moved me to the core. It was how Martha spoke to Jesus and the hurt revealed in her words. She said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me all alone to serve…”

I’d always focused on the serving part before. But perhaps the reason she was so busy is found right there in the preceding words. She was left alone. It’s the wound I sustained at an early age and carried into my adult life…

Left meaning to abandon, to have remaining, to forsake, leave behind, to be left. Alone meaning remaining, sole or single, mere, without a companion, forsaken, destitute of help, merely.

My wound spelled out through the definitions of these two words. I was forsaken because I was merely. Not enough. I was left alone without a companion because other companions were deemed more worthy. Thus, I was compelled to act a certain way. In my early twenties, I partied hard. In my early thirties, I served hard. And for years afterward. All in hope of receiving the same reward.

Love.

And I can’t help but wonder if Martha’s obsessive serving was born out of a wound, like mine, that hadn’t healed. Lord, my sister left me alone…

The Lord has promised that he will not leave us or desert us. Hebrews 13:5

Yeah, God spoke to me through Martha’s take away story. But also, He spoke through another woman who was left alone. She’s the adulterous woman mentioned in John 8…

Some religious men brought her into the center of court to put her on display and to demand an answer of Jesus. “The law says we stone her!” They demanded, “What do you say?” Jesus ignored them and simply stooped down, writing in the dust.

When they persisted, Jesus straightened and said the one without sin could throw the first stone. After He stooped again, they all left…

Until Jesus was left alone with the woman.

She standing before Him in the center of court. And that’s when Jesus stood up again. When He was left alone with her. Or when she was left alone with Him. And I’m not surprised to find the very same meanings for the very same words in this woman’s life. Those that were in Martha’s and in mine…

Three women left behind. Remaining, forsaken, abandoned, and caused to be left over. Alone, sole, single, and mere. And who knows. Perhaps this is why the adulterous woman felt compelled to sleep around.

Maybe she’d been wounded, and left to her own devices, she sought the love and warmth in the circle of another man’s arms. And in the end, after her wound and sin was exposed to the world, that’s exactly what she found…

Because left alone with Jesus, Him standing by her side, she encountered love instead of condemnation. He simply said, “Go, and sin no more.”

Oh, how that speaks to me this day. Because this is exactly what He did with me last month. It was April, the time of my season. But also, it’s an anniversary. The month of what I did at twenty-two. I was so very low. Overwhelmed by that cyclical sense of rejection and loneliness. No doubt, exacerbated by being at the house. For I was home, the place that accuses me of being mere and unwanted.

And unloved.

It was here the voice of my accuser found me, when all other sources of comfort and distraction and dependency were taken away. But this turned out to be my salvation. The very best of take away stories…

Because when the devil reminded me of my past and what I had done, I found I was not by myself this time. Though it seemed I was alone, deserted and forsaken, there was another standing by my side. And He answered for me. I didn’t even have to open my mouth.

But see, it had to happen just this way. When every bit of extra was removed. That way, I’d understand. Healing wasn’t from any outside source of comfort. No other person, no other thing, just Jesus. My healing came only through Him.

And had it not been for the COVID-19 factor, staying at home, I wouldn’t have discovered the beauty of the COVID-19 equation, which is adding one. See, His name is Jesus and He is the +1 we should always add.

Because He is right here with us in the midst of it all. As for me, though, I had to be at home to comprehend it…

I had to be alone.

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“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47

For so long, I avoided home because it allowed the hurt place in me to rise. But how like God to heal me here, at home, where I first sustained injury. Not at church or at a friend’s house or on a coffee date or in a counseling session…

It happened at home. Just the two of us.

But you know, He’s been trying to get me to sit still here for years. Hindsight tells me it goes all the way back to 2010 when I first came back home. And when I first began to sense what He was saying, I tell you, it felt like punishment. Like I was being disciplined.

But I had it so wrong. It wasn’t that at all. No, the truth is, God simply wanted to love me. He wanted me to receive what He was offering, lavishing me with His love…

But me? I could only bring myself to accept His mercy. It was January 31, 2014 when I found forgiveness for the abortions of my past (there were two). I had no doubt.  Through Jeremiah 31:20, God assured me, “I will surely have mercy on you.”

The word surely and mercy are the same. It’s mercy squared. Mercy + Mercy. Double mercy for my double abortions. Later that day, a bracelet I’d worn while in Korea disappeared from my arm, never to be seen again, proving my past was gone. And later, I heard my daughter’s heartbeat at her first sonogram. Proof of my future…

I was forgiven and I knew it. And yet, somehow, I missed the first part of the definition of the word. In addition to mercy, it means to love, love deeply… to have tender affection. It means to fondle. This is what God wanted to do in my life.

But see, after so many years of being beat down, life teaches women like me (and Martha and the adulterer), that we don’t deserve love. No, we have to work for it. Serve for it. Perform for it.

And that’s why God’s love didn’t touch me. I missed it because I kept striving for it. Proving myself loveable. On the outside. Out, out, out. Never at home.

So God tried. For a whole decade, He tried to still me. Finally, the virus attacking our land forced me into staying home. And while homeschooling my children, I find He’s been homeschooling me. Thus, after sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His teaching, I comprehend truth.

I realize I have to sit before I can stand. But more, I know He’ll stand with me when I do. And only through the support of His love can I move forward. This is how I overcome the voice of my accuser (Rev 12:10-11). Through God’s love, and His take away story…

For God so loved, He gave the life of His Son for mine.

And by the blood of the lamb and by the word of my testimony, I have victory.

Yet another take away story, for the power of my past no longer has a hold on me. It no longer remains and I am free.

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Yes, the COVID-19 factor sure has caused a lot of extra around here. Extra stress, extra noise, extra projects, but also, there’s a whole lot of extra love. In every capactity. Percent of increase through the roof…

And sure, my kids have pushed my buttons many times. And the schoolwork, if I’m being honest, has caused me angst more than once. But through me teaching them, He teaches me. I’ve learned so very much.

But I’m not the only one who’s understanding has increased. My little girl suprised me a month back when we talked about prayer…

“Where two or more are gathered, there I am with you.” I asked Annabelle how many people were at the table and she said four. I said no, because there was me + Levi + her. Immediately afterward, though, I smiled and told her she was right…

See, she got it. Even before I did. At five years of age, she understood to apply the COVID-19 equation, which is +1.

You always add one for Jesus.

As I said, I learn so much through teaching them. Even in March, God was showing me then. He is with me always. I am never alone…

But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength… 2 Timothy 4:17

Country Roads

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Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet. Psalm 45:1

Every now and then my heart is so filled, I can’t contain what’s inside. Today is one of those times. Because I realize how very blessed I am. And how good God has been to me…

It started this morning. I got a late start. Slept in a bit too late. And I felt miffed because my son rose at 2:30 a.m. and stayed awake till I rose at 6:00. The reason? He drank about a liter of Mountain Dew yesterday evening. And all I could think before school was how tired he’s going to be today.

But he didn’t complain. Happy to go to school. And when we had morning prayer, his words were so sweet and so sincere, I nearly cried.

After dropping Levi at the high school, I took hold of my little girl and breathed in her essence. I squeezed her tight as I lifted her to the ground and grasped her little hand. “Mommy, walk with me today.” And I gladly did, sending her off with a kiss.

Afterward, I needed to grab a couple of items for a ladies’ group meeting in my home. I had nothing to offer which necessitated the long way home, so I could come across a particular store. And as I cruised down the country roads of my youth, my heart soared higher and higher with every curve.

Then I arrived at my destination…

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I just love this place. So eclectic. So country. And man, it stirs a longing within me. Both the store and the roads remind me of a calling God placed within me at least six years ago. I seemed to have heard Him whisper, “Sit on the porch.” I even voiced it to my husband, “I think God wants me to sit on the porch.”

I’m sad to say, I didn’t heed His call. Instead, I entered the busiest period of my existence. No doubt, 2013 through 2017 brought me full calendars each month. I heard God again in the Summer of 2017. “Rest,” was the urge. And I tried. But in all honesty, I kept my toe in the pond. I couldn’t come to a complete standstill despite my best efforts.

And here I am today. It seems I’ve heard Him whisper yet again. As I traveled along a country road passing by various houses that prompted the sweetest of memories… Jack’s house, and Kathy’s and Sarah’s. Yes, I visited all those places when I was young. But not now. No more visits because there’s never enough time.

And so I hear God’s words fresh. The message? Be still. Quiet down. Take your time. Smell the roses. Watch the sunsets. Enjoy life. Lavish your family with love. Sit a spell. Go visiting. Practice hospitality.

Oh, my heart stirs this morning as I remember what He told me so long ago. And with gladness, I plan acquiesce to His prompting.

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As I said, I love that store. Laurel Mills, for those of you who are wondering. I love everything about it… how the tables on the porch invite you to sit a spell. A shelf offering books for the lover of words. A church pew for meditation. And praising.

And just look at that doorway. Thousands upon thousands must have traveled across the threshold. The wood deeply grooved by feet of all sizes. How it moves me. The passing of feet and the passing of time.

And that’s what really moves me to speak this day. Particularly, how my feet have passed through the days…

The Lord speaks; many, many women spread the good news. Psalm 68:11

This verse first popped out 7 years ago. What a turning point in my life. It was September of 2012. That was the true beginning of my spiritual journey with God, no doubt. Because what a journey He’s taken me on.

However, I digress. That Scripture. Many women spread the good news. But what good news?  Well, how about the first part of the verse. The Lord speaks. That right there is plenty good news. Indeed, God speaks.

The first time I heard Him, through His holy word, was nine years ago through the the prophet Jeremiah. “I will bring you back to the place I deported you from.” My heart soared then. I knew God would bring me back to my hometown and these country roads. And He did. God fulfilled His promise.

This is what causes my heart to overflow now, though. One, the beauty of this land I live in. I’ve traveled around and lived in many places. I just have to say, though, there’s not many like this county of mine. My homeland is stunning. The pastures and livestock and cornfields and trees and skyline. I don’t have enough words to capture it.

But the best part? I was raised here. Lived here till I was nineteen years old. Born and raised. And when God brought me back home at thirty-seven, I was a spiritual infant. Nothing more than a baby. I didn’t realize that, though…

And that’s what brings me to my knees in gratitude and praise of my God this day. That He saw fit to bring me back for my second raising. Raised twice in the most beautiful place I can imagine.

I thank Him for that today. That the second time around, He raised me up. A daughter of God. For truly, I am His girl. As precious to Him as my children are to me.

And even more.

Yes, I traveled multiple country roads this morning. And I visited a store that brings longing to my heart. It makes me yearn for a simpler life.

I ache for the days of my youth. How we’d just jump in the car and go to my aunt’s house. No call necessary, you just went. Endless Summer nights of playing in the fields. No agenda and no plans and no busyness. Nothing but time on our hands. Visiting. People. Life’s just not like that anymore.

No, the world clamors for our attention. Do more. No, do more, more, more. But God calls me to do less. Do less, less, less. He urges me to be with Him more. More, more, more. Like when I travel country roads. And oh, He was with me as I drove. And He was with me when I bought the pumpkin nut bread and half and half. Yes, God walked with me over that worn threshold. And He was with me when I brought my stuff out to the car.

That’s when I noticed the Bibles. One on each child’s seat. That’s because Levi will go to youth tonight. And Annabelle? Well, she saw us reading one this morning and decided to take one to school.

So my heart yearns for this. More of this. More of God’s word. Yes to more, more, more. I want more time with God and more time for teaching my children His ways. So they’ll learn to hear Him when He speaks.

For indeed, He does. And that is such good news. The Lord speaks in many places…

Often, for me, it’s as I travel down solitary country roads. When my body is stilled and my mind is free.

So I listen to Him today. And I throw off the world’s expectations of me and place all my expectation on Him. And I expectantly wait for the next word He will speak to me.

Older women (or my life as a country song)

September happened. It was a big month in our household. There was Labor Day, Jason’s birthday, me and a friend hosted a ladies’ event called Something Beautiful followed up by a beach trip. This all made for incredibly packed days. Oh, so busy.

Also, I chipped this cup. My hurried state caused me to carelessly unload the dishwasher. It’s the family rules mug. The thing is, when it happened I wondered if perhaps more than a piece of Porcelain was broken. Common earthenware. I wondered if just maybe, the rules themselves had been broken…

Covenant vows, even. Alas, the notion was a a passing flicker and quickly faded.

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Yes, September happened. This photo showed up in my Facebook feed along with it. I can’t help but wonder if God wanted me to see it. Because I stared when I saw it. I just looked so different then. My smile reached my eyes. I looked happy. And thin. And I can hardly believe it… I had only one chin.

And I know this may come across as vain, but I think I look pretty then. Beautiful, even? Because youth has a way of making one shine. And six years ago, I was younger. I’d just turned forty.

In reflecting on the me of 2013, I know I was younger, bolder, and confident. I had something to say and wanted to be heard. More, I wanted to be seen. I wanted to insert me into the world because I’d taken up a platform. It had to do with the woman’s role. And it had to do with being on the outside. Way beyond my walls..

Yes, in my smiling eyes, everything important happened out there. Where one could be seen.

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Funny thing about being seen. As I planned that ladies’ event, Something Beautiful, I recognized the irony of it. I knew I’d never felt more un-beautiful in my life. And also, I did not want to be seen. Mostly because of my outward appearance.

See, my contours have changed. I’m not as angular as the 40 year-old me. I have wrinkles and bags under my eyes while my waist heaps over my pants. I have bulges where I never did before. Oh, there are lines in unsightly places and veins mar my legs.

So this past Sunday, shamefully, I skipped church. One, September had taken its toll. The busyness left me so tired. And honestly, thinking about what I could pour my body into was too much to bear. So I drank coffee instead.

Later, I motivated myself to stuff my rolls into clothing and rolled into town. There was a baby shower and I had to finish off the gift. That’s when I found a beautiful box of stationary. And I bless God for this gift. Because it serves as a reminder.

See, Ecclesiastes 3:11 was the theme verse for the ladies’ event. Something Beautiful had a lot to do with being beautiful, but from the inside out. Letting your outer match your inner. And this box was God’s gentle way of reminding me of what’s truly important. Goes back to the broken vows I mentioned earlier. And my insides…

Not my heart, though. What’s inside my walls.

Stand by Your Man…

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She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. Proverbs 31:12

September is always a big month. A seasonal time of reflection. More often than not, I find myself melancholy and enter a period of repentance. This is what September means to me.

Thus, I can’t help but reflect on a particular verse. Because in two days time, it’ll be the anniversary of Jason’s proposal to me. It happened October 4th, 1997. Yes, this man of mine got down on one knee and asked me to be his.

And that’s not surprising, really.  Because back then, I would have moved heaven and earth for him. I revolved around Jason. I’d follow him to the moon and back and pretty much did. Yes, I bent over backwards to please him. I was a woman who stood by her man. At least I did, then.

But the truth is, I don’t do that anymore. No, somewhere along the line, it became more important to do all the back-bending and flips out there in the public forum. That’s where all the credit is. And to be completely frank, I’ve given more time and energy to those on the outside than to those on the inside. I easily turn down a request from my loved ones but no rarely escapes my lips when someone from out there asks.

Yes, as I slide into the back side of forty, this is where God leads me. He has me seriously consider Proverbs 31:12. Particularly that word good. The bigness of it being it’s the same used in part of the ladies’ event. And it means just what you think… good, pleasant, agreeable, welfare, etc. But also, it can mean beautiful. Two times in Scripture, the word is used to describe a woman’s appearance. 

She does him good. She does him beautiful. She is agreeable and pleasant. But in September, I did not emulate this verse. And Jason called me on it.

That’s because no one knows better than Jason how I bent over backward for the ladies’ event. And please don’t mistake me, I’m glad I did. However, I let everything get upended at home. I had so much to uncover from afterward, it left me feeling pressured.

Thus, I cracked when Jason requested something extra of me. Oh, I didn’t say no but I let him know how inconvenienced I was. Not in words, mind you. Just my demeanor. Coldness. Silence.

Not at all like the woman I was way back when. And most assuredly, I was not beautiful inside or out at that moment. Sadly, my actions nearly nullified everything about the event… Something Beautiful. Almost.

And so, as I close in on my forty-seventh year, I comprehend what God wants…

He wants me to bend over backwards at home. Like I did when I first met Jason. He wants me to stand by him and support him. He wants me to treat those I love the most like the ones I treat on the outside.

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The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1

Look at us. I knew I’d see my friend this past Sunday and I wanted another photo of us side by side. Because we were beautiful in our younger days. But God, He tells me we’re even more beautiful now. In a hundred ways….

And though I can’t speak for Carolyn and what she’s learned through the years, I can speak about her heart. Because in the words of Willie and Waylon, she’s a good hearted woman. Life’s thrown her curve balls and stumbling points but those seasons have created a softness inside. She always sees the best in people. She sees the best in me.

And when I think of our outer shells, I can’t help but wonder if our not-so-firm skin and less-than-angular contours mimic the softness inside. Our hearts being more tender than they were…

Because I think I am. Six years have made me older and wiser. And softer. Because I’m more pliable. And when I make a mistake, I realize it and own it quicker than I once did. Like the day Jason asked me to do something and I resisted. I apologized for my actions within an hour. The old me would have held to my rights and plans for days allowing the coldness to shroud our home. Plucking down my walls with my own hands.

But the new me? The older me?

Basically, I’ve come to comprehend I was nothing more than a self-made woman back then. I put all my effort into making me into what I wanted to be. Something more. And there’s nothing wrong with striving and goals.

However, all my goals had to do with what I considered the big things. Important things. All being outside my walls. Oh, I struggled with my maker for years and years, asking Him “why have you made me thus?” (Romans 9:20) I resisted His purpose for me, which is mainly domestic. At least for now. Because ultimately, that’s what He built me to do…

Yes, sometime in the past year, I submitted to God’s design. Instead of being a self-made woman, I became a God-made woman. And there’s relief in that.

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“It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helper (one who balances him – a counterpart who is) suitable and complementary for him.” Genesis 2:20

I love how Scripture fits together. Take Proverbs 14:1 for instance. The wise woman builds her house. The word build is also used in Genesis when God made woman. He built a woman for the purpose of helping the man. Yes, God built me to help my husband.

Help meaning to aid or succour (assistance in times of hardship or distress). It comes from another word meaning to surround and this speaks to my heart today. Surround him…

A woman will encompass (tenderly love) a man. Jeremiah 31:22 

Because once upon a time, I surrounded Jason. My life revolved around his. I’d have done anything for him and I did. But then we got married. And that’s when I began to struggle. Jason’s time against mine. His plans against mine. All my plans being those that made me into what I wanted to be. A self-made woman all the way…

All leading to something outside my walls.

Ultimately, my plans conflicted with God’s. Thus, years and years of struggle with my Maker. But finally, this year came about. I raised my white flag in surrender and submitted to His will and to what He makes me…

Which is a wife and mother. These first. Above all else.

This is what God made me to be. It’s what He created me to do. He wants me to back-bend and roll over and surround those He’s entrusted to me. Joyfully and with all my heart.

Older women… 

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There’s a country song that’s been rolling around in my head. Read some of the lyrics…

Older women, are beautiful lovers
Older women, they understand
I’ve been around some, and I have discovered
That older women know just how to please a man.
Everybody seems to love those younger women
From eighteen on up to twenty-five
Well I love ’em too, but I’m tellin’ you
Learnin’ how to really love, takes a little time.
So baby don’t you worry about growin’ older
Those young girls ain’t got nothin’ on you
‘Cause it takes some livin’, to get good at givin’
And givin’ love is just where you could teach them a thing or two.

 

Call me weird, but I see Scripture in that song. It’s a bit like portions of the Titus 2 woman…

Older women… teach what is good and right… encourage young women to tenderly love their husbands and children.

A few years ago, I thought this verse was odd. Why would older women have to teach the younger to love their husbands and children? Well, now I know. And I believe the me of 2019 can speak wisdom into the me of 2013.

Because back then, I did not love my family as good as I could. I couldn’t because I gave too much of me to the outside leaving leftovers for those inside my walls. And that’s what much of Titus 2 touches on…

The younger woman is encouraged to be a maker of a home. It comes from a word meaning house/build. The maker of a home is domestically inclined and works at home. This is how a wise woman can build her house and love her family. It doesn’t mean she can’t go out or work outside the home. But I think it means a woman makes home a priority.

For years, I did not. What a hard truth to learn. And how many years it’s taken me to realize it.

But since I do now, I feel like my life somewhat resembles that country song. It’s taken some livin’ to get good at givn’ love. And I’m really getting there. And this is where I could teach them younger women a thing or two…

So what are my words of wisdom? You give the best of you to those inside your walls. Love them first. Then, after you love them good and well, go beyond your walls and love the others.

That’s what I’d say to younger women. And in truth, this is what makes us women truly beautiful inside and out. When we’re just as lovely inside our homes as we are on the outside. At least, this is what God has been teaching me these past few years.

I have to wonder. Is it too late? My broken rules and vows? Is it too late to do my husband good all the days of my life?

Though I cannot go back and change what’s been, I can surely change what’s to come. And I can surely do him good all the rest of the days of my life. I can. And the past few days give me hope it’s all true.

First, take a look at my little girl. This was Sunday (the day I skipped church because I felt so hideous). Well, she had on a t-shirt and shorts. After she saw me, she went back to her room and came out with the white blouse on top. She imitated me and truly, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. How precious that she wanted to look as I did.

Afterward, my son told me I look nice (he never does that). And then I found two sets of stationary with the messages “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” and “Beautiful inside and out.”

I praise God for that. I do. Because despite my mess-ups (namely the one immediately following that ladies’ event with my hubby), He assures me a hundred ways I’m beautiful.

The best way, though, was through the lips of Annabelle. When I told her she was beautiful the other night, she quipped, “I know.” When I asked how, she said it’s because I love her. But she also said, “Because God made me.”

And ultimately, this is how I know I am beautiful. For I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). God-made. Built to love my children. Built to love my man.

You know, I’ve come to this conclusion again and again. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about all things domestic. And experience teaches me the last thing my husband wants is another blah, blah, blog. Words not backed by action.

So this time, as a belated birthday and early anniversary gift (of sorts), I plan to give Jason my life as a country song…

In deed, I hope to be a good-hearted woman standing by my man all the rest of my days as an older woman. Because as the song goes, we make beautiful lovers. This is my vow to my husband. Till death do us part.

Cinderella Things

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I’ve been wanting to write something ever since Sunday. Alas, the busyness of life got in the way. I even dreamt about this post night before last. More of a nightmare, really, because I didn’t actually say what I should. I left out the most important piece, which is something about my kids.

That’s what this past Sunday was all about, anyway.

My children…

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Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening. 1 Samuel 3:9

God speaks to me in various ways, but one of the most resounding is through the mouth of my children. I swear it’s like His voice passes through precious four-year old lips. It happened Sunday when Annabelle excitedly came to me around mid-morning, her little hands clutching the above decals.

“Look at these Cinderella things,” she commanded. And so I did.

And that’s when I heard not my little girl, but God. Because earlier that morning, I’d just voiced it. I said I felt like Cinderella. And after the entire household went out, leaving me behind with my two children, that’s just what I did. I looked at what I considered to be my “Cinderella” things…

And bitterness welled up within my heart.

I rinsed a milk jug and washed some dishes. I made my bed and began packing my suitcase (I was out of town visiting my in-laws). All the while, I pictured Cinderella with her pile of dishes and dirty floors…

It was the shoe that really did it, though. My shoe peeking up from the clothes was the ultimate Cinderella thing in my opinion.

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Yes, the real Cinderella may have had glass slippers. But me? Just a pair of shoes that have been sitting in my closet for months and months. I’ve never worn them. No need, really. At home, I’m incredibly casual. I work from home, tend children from home, and rarely go out other than church, which is laid back. Come as you are, which means flip-flops for me…

And Annabelle had been wanting me to wear these shoes. She’s pulled them out on numerous occasions, tried them on and even had me slip them on so she could see. And I’d planned to wear them to church that Sunday. My mom-in-law teaches a women’s Sunday school class and I was really looking forward to going. I craved women’s fellowship. A time to soak in and soak up…

I can’t stress how much I really, really wanted to go.

Alas, when we woke that morning, Levi didn’t feel well. He’d been struggling for days at that point and his ear hurt through the night. When we talked about going to church, he was reluctant. Nose congested and simply feeling run down, we decided to stay back.

And though I did all things necessary like feeding my kids and tidying up, my insides festered. All because I wanted to go but couldn’t. I felt as Cinderella did, having tasks to do – at the house – before going out. Her “things” being dishes and floors and ashes, unable to go to the ball unless she completed all her duties…

But me? It wasn’t the dishes or the packing or the milk jug that kept me from going. In truth, it was because my child was sick. And that’s when I heard what God really wanted me to hear.

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“Look at these Cinderella things!”

Acts 16:14 speaks of a certain woman whose heart the Lord opened, that she attendeth unto the things that were spoken. I like that word, “attendeth.” It means to bring near, to turn mind to, attend to, be attentive, give attention to, take heed, devote thought or effort. It means attend to or be attentive to a person or a thing, of caring for, providing for.

And Sunday morning, God opened my heart to understand what He meant in directing me to look at these Cinderella things. See, I’d been feeling sorry for myself. Bitter. All because I wanted to go. Basically, I didn’t get my way.

But ultimately, Cinderella things were not the dishes and the tidying. It was not a pair of shoes. In actuality, Cinderella things were, and are, my children. Levi was the reason I had to stay home. He was the reason why I could not go and do what I wanted.

And God’s message to me?

My kids… Levi and Annabelle. It’s all about them. It always has been. Look and see your children, He urges. Tend to them. Pay attention to them. And really, that’s all God wanted me to take care of this past Sunday morning.

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I confess, there’s a huge misconception I’ve battled with most of my adult existence. Well, more like after I had my babies. For some reason, I’ve always felt like the big things take place outside my home. I’ve always believed important things are out there, not in here.

It was June when I attended a retirement ceremony and I was so inspired because it caused me to want to be a part of something bigger than myself once more. It gave me the nudge to come off the sidelines, which is where I’ve spent most of my time these past two years.

However, on the cusp of my “going back in,” God gave me a gentle reminder. That yes, important, big things happen out there. But remember, even bigger things take place at home. The most significant thing I can ever do is raise my children properly… to nurture them and lavish them with love. To teach them what I know.

God wants me to comprehend in doing so, I accomplish my part in life. Because in tending to my children, I prepare them for their entrance into the world. And this is so much bigger than me…

In truth, it’s the biggest thing I can ever do. And it happens on the home-front. Unseen to the world. Even when I can’t “go,” big things happen at home when I tend to my little ones. My Cinderella things.

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“let me not see the boy…” Genesis 21:16

There’s a passage in Genesis that moved me in a dramatic way years back. The story of Hagar. She wandered the wilderness with her son and when the water ran out, she felt desperate. Because not only was she was going to die, but also her son. She said, “let me not see him.”

Wow, did that penetrate. Still does. When it first resonated years gone by, I was down. Depressed and dry. And truth? Though not desperate or in despair last Sunday, I was dry. Summer tends to do that to me. Time with the Lord is not as much as I’d like and prayer time diminishes. Kids are home and life is busier. Fuller. Thus, I’m emptier…

Yes, Sunday, I was dry before the sun even arose. And I longed to go to church. I wanted refreshment. I wanted a word. But God showed me, He can give me a word wherever I am. No doubt, He speaks loudly in a myriad ways. Most recent, through my little girl.

“Look at these Cinderella things,” she said.

But it was more than her voice, it was God’s. And so I think of Hagar, who didn’t want to look when her son was perishing. She didn’t want to see. That word means to look at, inspect, consider, look after, see after, give attention to.

And that’s the message God brought home on Sunday (and in the days following). He says see your boy and see your daughter. And though my kids are not dying as Hagar’s was, they most assuredly need my help. They need my care and attention and love. And that’s more important than anything I could ever do “out there.”

“Get up! Help the boy up and hold him by the hand…” Genesis 21:18

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“Cinderella things,” Annabelle dubbed them. She placed them on my window when we got back home. They’re still there and they serve as a reminder. And in seeing them, I’m reminded that Cinderella things can be the reason women have to stay back. They may be why one can’t just go and do.

For me, my “things” consist of an at-home job and the care of my house with all that entails. But mostly, it’s about my children. Yes, because I have children I can’t always “go” and I can’t always “do” what I want…

I can’t always go somewhere and I can’t always go to sleep. I can’t always go to work or go my way. I can’t always participate in all the big stuff that happens on the outside.

But you know, what I can do – at home – is the most important thing I can do this day. And it’s so much bigger than what I can even imagine. Because my kids, well, they go beyond me. And their future efforts will reach far beyond my days. Now, how BIG is that?!?

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In closing, I want to say 95% of the time, I have proper perspective. I realize most days, I can go and do what I want. Every so often, though, I stumble. My eyesight clouds and I forget how good I have it. That’s what happened Sunday.

My husband reminded me last night, though, I can go and do when I really need to. Like the picture above when I needed to take Levi for care. In many countries, there are women who cannot do this as medical care may be hours away…

And then there are other women who simply cannot just up and go because their kids need constant care and attention. Every, single day. God help me not to forget them. That when He says, “Look,” I see not only my own children but theirs, too.

And on the flip side, there are women who have to go on the outside to work. This is how they care for their children. They have no other option but to go and do so they can do for their own. May I not forget them.

God help me to really see…

Not just me and mine, but them and theirs. And when I do open my eyes, may I also open my mouth in prayer. For mine and theirs. Yes, this is one of the biggest things I can do today and I don’t even have to go out to do it. I can stay right here in my home and do what God calls me to.

Tending to my oh, so precious Cinderella things…

If you build it, they will come…

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A friend of mine posted the above picture today on Facebook. I was going to send her a private note to tell her what it meant to me… however, I decided to post for all to see.

Lindsey included a message…

“Have an amazing week my friends. Whatever you are working on- don’t stop.” And today, I really needed to hear that. See, I can easily become discouraged. And more, I become overly distracted. I let busyness derail me from the one thing I know God called me to do. I let unnecessary tasks keep me from the one thing that would fulfill all my purpose.

“May he give you what your heart desires and fulfill your whole purpose.” Psalm 20:4 (CSB)

This morning’s post prompted me to remember something I’d written down in my journal. It was April 21. My handwriting was shaky and urgent, “You have all the materials… all the support your task will require. Now get started.”

Which brings me back to Lindsey’s post. “Whatever you are working on, don’t stop.” Noah didn’t. He fulfilled his whole purpose in making an ark. God said, “this is the way you are to make it.” So Noah did it, according to all that God commanded him. That’s what Noah did…

The word for “make” and “did” means to do or make, to produce or be busy. Which brings me to King David. He set his heart on building, too. His cause was a house for God. That’s what he wanted to be busy about doing however, God said no. It wasn’t David’s task. Instead, it was for his son, Solomon, to do.

So David ordered Solomon to build a house for the Lord. He exhorted him, “For the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary. Be courageous and strong and do it!”

Then David gave his son the plans… plans for the porch, the buildings, the upper chambers, etc. “All this,” said David, “The Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, all the work and details (to be done) according to this plan.” 1 Chronicles 28:19

He then encouraged Solomon, “Be strong and courageous and take action; do not fear nor be dismayed for the LORD God, my God, is with you…”

So here’s what strikes me. There’s a million things we can each one do. A million ways we can take action, all being good. Worthwhile and noble. David chose one… He wanted to build a house for God but He was not allowed to.

This resonates. See, we all want to build. We all want do do something worthwhile. But we have to ask ourselves if it’s the thing God wants for us to do. Is it our plan or God’s? Is it for my purpose or His?

Different versions of 1 Chronicles 22:16 show building or making in several ways, “Arise and be doing,” or “Arise and do.” My favorite? “Now begin the work…”

The most important question we can consider is what work? What is the one thing God would have us to do specifically… what would fulfill our whole purpose?

I think deep down, we all know what it is. It’s the thing that brings us joy and passion and purpose. It’s the thing that keeps us up at night and rolls around in our brain. And when we actually “arise and be doing” it, we feel like we’re walking on air.

Oh, it’s the thing we may have started and stopped a million times but never finished. I know I sure have… a million starts and not one completion.

However, I am reminded today with perfect clarity. I know without a doubt what God has called me to do. Further, I am exhorted (no commanded) to not get distracted again. Not one more needless task, until I finish it. For He is the one who called me to build “it.”

I remembered thanks to an encouraging post from my friend. And I hope this inspires you to remember your purpose, too… So that what God commanded you to build, you’ll keep on building it. And more, that you won’t stop building until it’s done. Because in the end, it’s His plan, not yours.

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. Psalm 20:4 (NLT)

A Work Out

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We’ve been trying to lose weight for a while now. Me and my hubby. I’d say we began in earnest just after Labor Day. And there was progress because earlier this month documented the lowest weight I’d seen in years.

YEARS.

Yes, December 6 was a good day.  My weight was finally dropping. Annabelle had her follow up with the cardiologist and was cleared for a full year. And so, after a snow day and a two-hour delay, she went back to school. It was December 11. I thought I’d then resume my weight-loss journey. I thought I’d get back on track.

Alas, my son got sick two days after Annabelle went back to school. Levi had a quick hospital stay (appendicitis), and while there, the seal came off. Meaning, the seal over my mouth. I had chips. And sweets. And other things. And ever since we came back home, I’ve been eating whatever I want at night. Lots of carbs.

Not surprisingly, the pounds are going back up. Nonetheless, me and Jason continue to make daily entries to our log. He’s going up a little bit, too. Like me, added food intake on his end.

However, in contemplating the progress we’ve made in three months time, I can’t help but notice a considerable difference between his and my entries. He’s lost a lot more weight than I have. And I know why…

It’s because he was diligently going to the gym. Three times a week, he was getting a good work out. Me? Before mid-October rolled around, I was walking several times. But ever since then, not a stitch of exercise. And the pounds are coming back.

“Arise [from spiritual depression to a new life], shine [be radiant with the glory and brilliance of the LORD]; for your light has come. And the glory and brilliance of the LORD has risen upon you.” Isaiah 60:1

When I moved home eight years ago, I was a lot smaller. And I felt really good. I’d say I was pretty healthy.

However, during my six month stay in Mom’s basement, I began eating chips. Oh, I’d say about every night. Not surprisingly, I added on some pounds. And by the time we fully settled in our home (after the busyness of moving/unpacking), I found myself in a full-blown depression. It was Spring/Summer of 2011.

And darkness was a constant companion of mine.

But then, something happened. I felt stirred. Movement. God was calling me. And by the time October rolled around, the above verse seemed a promise from God. Arise, shine! Your light has come.

And I thought it did. Because October of 2011 was an awakening of sorts. It’s when I felt a calling from God was confirmed. I tell you, I was full of purpose and aim. And I turned in the direction I felt God beckoned me. It was towards the light…

You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

I was ready to serve seven years ago. Chomping at the bit. And when we joined a new church, I thought I had a lot to offer. When the pastor came visiting and asked, “How are you going to serve,” I knew just how to answer. I told him all I wanted to do.

Turns out, they didn’t really need me in that capacity. There were other things for me to do. And honestly, they were things I didn’t want to do. And so, when I think about that question… “How are you gonna serve,” I chuckle. Because back then, the correct answer would have been bitterly.

And selfishly.

Yes, that’s exactly how I “served.” For years.

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Isn’t this the fast I choose:
To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
and to tear off every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him,
and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will appear like the dawn,
and your recovery will come quickly.
Your righteousness will go before you,
and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:6-8 

I tried to serve God.  I let my light so shine before men and women. I did all the things I thought I should do. Everything prescribed in the above verses. I donated and volunteered. I prepared foods and delivered.

And yet darkness always found me.

But then something in the above verses stood out about a year back. It’s that part about “do not ignore your own flesh and blood.” See, I’d always looked at that in light of my extended family. But last Summer, I finally understood what God was saying to me. He was talking about me.

My flesh and blood. My health. For once I found God’s purpose and calling, I went after it with all my heart and soul. But I let myself go in that I spent every available waking hour going after that. Exercise and healthy eating went out the window.

Also, my flesh and blood meaning my husband. For two became one on our wedding day. He is me and I am Him.

And finally but not least, my own flesh and blood meaning my children. Those on this side of eternity and those beyond. Yes, October of 2011 was an awakening of sorts. Only, it took me years to figure out exactly what God meant.

See, light eluded me for so long because of me and my actions. Darkness surrounded me because of me “ignoring” my own flesh and blood. And that’s what this past year has been all about…

“Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth until now, both we and our fathers [before us].” Genesis 46:34

I tell you what. The spiritual journey can be a confusing one. See, I felt God called me to something specific years ago. And I kept moving that way. Every single time, though, I was thwarted. Delayed. Set back. Stalled.

And it was really hard for me to understand why God wouldn’t just open the door. Because He placed a desire inside for me to do something. And yet, every time I moved towards the light, I was pulled back into the dark. And finally, I realized it was more than the dark sucking me in.

Incredibly, it was God Himself calling me to obscurity. He was telling me to be unseen. And quiet. And it was so hard. Because in placing a burning passion in my heart, it was like the door was cracked open. Light seeped through. But then, He closed the door tight.

This week, though, I made a discovery about shepherds and their own obscure paths. It was through the above verse. I read it in a book and heard it on the radio. Two times, which attuned my ears to the Holy Spirit for I realized He was telling me something.

My epiphany being that God’s chosen people were shepherds. Time and again, you read about them. The children of Israel were shepherds. David, the anointed king, was first a shepherd.

And me? I wasn’t a shepherd when God called me. That’s the discovery. That if you’re not a shepherd when He calls you, He’ll make you into one. That’s what the past seven years have been about…

God transforming my heart into one of a shepherd’s.

A servant’s heart.

I came that they may have and enjoy life and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. John 10:10

October of this year was a big time for me. It was one of those seasons where God was all over and in everything surrounding my life. Such great revelation. The biggest being I encountered Christ as the Good Shepherd. In this way, I found comfort I’d been seeking for probably most of my life.

Here’s what’s interesting, though. John 10:10 promises abundant life. To me, this is the opposite of a depleted life. The way I’ve been feeling here lately…

Anyway, this verse immediately precedes Jesus calling Himself the Good Shepherd. I think that’s a clue. Abundant life being tied to a person being a good shepherd. And the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. For his flock.

Further, Jesus tells about the hired man. The hireling runs away at the first sign of danger. He doesn’t care for the flock. Instead, he ignores the sheep, abandoning them as he runs for his life.

Yep… the hired man runs hoping to save his life. But in the end, he loses it by trying to hold on to it. And in the end, there’s darkness.

But the good shepherd, well, he’ll die for the fold. And in dying, there is life. And light.

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” Luke 17:33

Two of the Bible greats were runners. The first who comes to mind is Moses. God set it in his heart to lead a people out of slavery into a land of promise. However, Moses kind of botched it at first. He murdered an Egyptian and tried to cover up his deed. When Pharaoh learned of it, Moses ran for his life. That’s when he ended up on the backside of the wilderness for forty years.

Know what he did there? He was a shepherd. And so, before doing the thing God called him to do, Moses learned how to be a shepherd.

Then, there’s Peter. Cocky Peter who told Christ he was ready to follow Him anywhere, even to death! When the occasion arose, Peter failed miserably. He denied even knowing Jesus. Basically, running for his life. He was scared so he lied. He didn’t want to die.

This Peter who failed miserably was the one who Christ reinstated and used to build His church. But first, He fed Him…

“Come and have breakfast. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them…” John 21:12, 13

Yes, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And Peter was a fisherman. But he was meant to be a shepherd. So Jesus fed the one who’d feed the church. And He instructed Peter. “Feed My lambs. Shepherd My sheep. Feed My sheep.”

I heard a teaching on this once. Lysa Terkeurst suggested that as a fisherman, Peter would have been quick to throw out fish. He would have measured them and kept only the bigger ones. But a shepherd isn’t meant to throw anything out. Instead, he’s to keep them all…

And Peter needed some growth in this regard. He needed to learn how to shepherd God’s people.

Essentially, this is what I needed, too. God revealed to me in seven years time that I was not a shepherd. Instead, I behaved more like a the hired hand. The worker who’d run for his life in hope of preserving it.

This was me. I ran for my life by doing everything I could to shine my light. I tried to serve God by being visible. To me, visibility meant viability. Value. It counted. It was measurable. This made me a keeper.

In the end, I served bitterly. And selfishly. Because all my works were more about me than God. And feeling compelled to “work” made me bitter. In more ways than one.

 “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32

This is the part that will make me sound really bad. It has to do with all my food prep. At home and elsewhere. But you know, this week, it was like a light bulb went off.

See, I’ve always been quick to volunteer. Brownies? Sure. Casserole? Sure. Sign-up sheet for something at church. Sure. I would always sign up for food. Running for my life (trying to preserve it) by being useful.

But for a year, God said no. He didn’t want me to sign up for one more dish. Man, that was hard. Because in truth, there was nothing measurable on my end. No contribution.

Here’s the thing, though. Whenever I’d take a dish to someone, I’d smile. I looked good. At home? My family didn’t always get a smile. They’d get the sighs and the huffs when I was overtired from doing too much on the outside.

And when my kids aren’t especially grateful, or when they’re complaining about what I put before them, or when I’m trying to clean up dinner dishes and they’re already asking for a snack, I can be really ugly. Inside and out. That’s what they’d get served.

Oh, I’ve served my family, but it’s not cheerfully. Or thankfully. Or selflessly. Instead, I’ve served bitterly. And this should not be.

To my soul, I believe this is what this past year (a year of no’s and rest) has been all about. See, my light will come when I don’t ignore my own flesh and blood. That means serving my family with my whole heart. With a shepherd’s heart.

It means I serve them first. I give them the best of me. All of me. I lay down my life for my husband and kids. And sometimes, laying down my life can be nothing more than a bowl of sausage gravy. Only, made without grumbling…

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And he will go on before the Lord… to turn hearts of the parents to their children… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17

The above verse is about John the Baptist. I find it interesting that he would turn the hearts of parents to their children. I often wondered about that. But you know, I find insight in Jesus’ words to Peter when He said He’d pray for him. He said, “when you turn back.” That word means lots of things, but most revelatory for me is, “to cause to return, to bring back… to the love for the children.”

Wow. That’s staggering to me. It speaks volumes. And it causes me to wonder about the hearts of God’s chosen people at the time Jesus came upon the scene. See, the religious men and women had became very rigid in their lists of do’s and don’ts.

Could it be that in all the attention devoted to what one should and shouldn’t do, the children were ignored? Forgotten? Abandoned?

Could it be the ultra religious held so tightly to law and regulation that they lost their grip on their home life and babies? Looking so good on the outside, but no good on the inside?

This is just what I’ve been pondering…

How the hearts of people needed to be turned to their kids even then.

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Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

Both my children are gifts from God. They’re my kids and I love them dearly. But today, I realize they’re gifts in more than one way. For God has used them to refine me. All my impurities have come to the surface through them. And honestly, had I not had them, I don’t know if I would have discovered my selfishness.

Also, they’ve slowed me down. They go slower than me and I realize, the child’s pace is just how fast I should be moving in life. Unhurried. Focused.

Finally, a child shall lead me. And I realize Annabelle shows me how to serve. Happily and lovingly. She puts her heart into what she prepares and you can feel it. She serves to be my example.

She shows me how I can serve her and Levi. And Jason. Because within my little girl, I see the Shepherd’s heart God is cultivating in me.

It’s true, I’ve been feeling depleted the past few weeks. A couple of hospital stays (one for each kid). Christmas adds extra. I’ve been pouring out and not much has been poured in. I’ve just not allotted enough time to the filling of me before pouring out…

It causes me to serve crankily. Bitterly. Selfishly. But then, there’s Christmas and a child came to us all. And Philippians 2 provides us with a picture of His pure service. It’s Jesus and He’s our model to follow…

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit. Regard others as more important than yourself. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also the interests of others. Have this same attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus – look to Him as your example in selfless humility.

He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God but did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted. He was not afraid of losing it. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a human. He humbled Himself further by becoming obedient to the point of death… death on the cross.

Jesus came to die. Truly, He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life… so we can find ours.

Present yourself a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1

That verse is funny. Living. Sacrifice. One is alive and the other is dead. In the end, though, God calls us to die. For in laying down our lives, we really live. It’s the abundant life Jesus promised in the 10th book of John.

Plainly, we die to our selfish wills. Our timelines. And all the other things we hold to, running for our lives. That’s hard to do, though. It’s not easy giving up the reigns. To submit…

That’s when I look to the Bible greats. Young David had to continue shepherding sheep before he became king. After leaving the palace, Moses had to spend 40 years tending a flock before leading a nation. And Peter, well, He just needed some time with Jesus after his colossal failure…

Jesus fed him and restored him. He exhorted Peter to shepherd His people. And that’s what He calls me to do, too. He wants me to give up my life for the sheep.

For my sheep.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. John 1:4

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In closing, I’m brought back to food. And to the weight I’ve been trying to lose. If I go all the way back to February, I see I’ve made some progress. And if I add a work out to my regimen, the pounds will drop all the more. And I will. I just need to get through the holiday…

Anyway, I’m also brought back to the food I have to offer my own flesh and blood. See, several years back, I began seeking a Christmas heart. And I think I found that. There has been progress. For a Christmas heart is unhurried and slowed. Focusing on the true reason for the season. I’m really getting there with this.

But now, I realize there’s more to it. It has a lot to do with a shepherd’s heart. And I understand this type of heart takes a great deal of time. It develops through seasons of aloneness. Times of being unseen. Cultivation in the dark. And also, a work out is involved. Just like with losing weight…

Philippians 2:12 says it like this “continue to work out your salvation [that is, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, actively pursue spiritual maturity] with awe-inspired fear and trembling [using serious caution and critical self-evaluation…]

Yes, self-evaluation is a huge part of the process. But this is what enables one to do everything without murmuring or questioning God (v. 14). In this, we prove ourselves blameless… innocent and uncontaminated… children of God without blemish in a crooked generation, among who we are seen as bright lights [beacons shining out clearly] in the world [of darkness], holding out and offering to everyone the word of life…

Did you catch that? We hold out and offer the word of life. We feed the sheep with the Bread of Life. With the Word become flesh…

However, our insides have to match what we’re offering. Our children have to want what we’re offering them.

And when our insides match what we say, they will. Our kids will want to eat what we give. They’ll want to graze upon us.

Also, when our insides begin to line up with Jesus, we shine. Like stars in the night sky. Maybe even like the star that led the wise men directly to Jesus. That’s what we can do, too.

Leading not just our children, but the world around us, to the One who gives life.

Yes, simply by working out our salvation, allowing Him to work inside us, we shine. Without even trying to. And this is how we let our lights shine before men.

Arise, Shine! For your light has come!

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