Be Content

Exactly six months ago I was sitting in the kitchen when Robert came inside to inform me that he thought Jane had broken her leg. She wasn’t crying, but she looked mad and inconvenienced. The next day we took her to Robert’s clinic where an Xray confirmed that she had, in fact, fractured her leg and would need to be in a cast for at least two weeks. The amount of time that has since passed, the events transpired and the reality we are currently living seem absolutely baffling. How was that just six months ago?

The contrast of our current circumstances to those of the beginning of the year look as different as an alternate universe. I don’t think I’m alone in living a different 2020 than was expected. Our situation is unique, but we aren’t the only ones living in confusion, disappointment and vastly changed plans.

Recently, I confided in a friend that I would like to meet someone that was living the life they always hoped for, was comfortable and had no reason to lament. I stopped myself mid sentence, I realized I had been that person. Six months ago, my biggest inconvenience was needing to carry my two year old around everywhere because she had a full leg cast. Six months ago, I was comfortable and happy. Life was predictable and consistent. Now life is not comfortable or predictable. I look to the future with caution and pray for courage.

Last night, Robert and I sat in Jane’s room and talked about the future. We both agreed that our longing for heaven and eternity is greater than it has ever been in our life. We talked about how as much as we long for eternity, we know God has us here for a purpose. Suffering is part of the Christian life, we knew that before, but we are experiencing it now. To think of how much time I may have to remain on this earth, bearing the weight of loss and suffering seems staggering. But I’m also grateful that I’m not living in the same superficial comfort that I was six months ago. Waiting is hard, but seeking contentment is holy.

Waiting is hard, but seeking contentment is holy.

The painful and difficult turns this years has brought us is not something we hoped for, but it isn’t to be wasted either. Some of the small things I once recognized as inconveniences, I now see as blessings. What I wouldn’t give to carry Jane around everywhere today. I’m so grateful that cast six months ago gave me the opportunity.

Early on I grimaced at the verse in Romans 8:18 that says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It was hard to read 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” The comparison of suffering now to just six months ago is enough to knock the wind out of my lungs. Our troubles don’t feel light, nor momentary. But if the truth is that it cannot be compared with what is to come and it is in fact momentary in the grand scheme of future glory and eternity, then I should be living with so much hope and expectancy.

Romans 8 goes on to say in verse 25 “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” And 2 Corinthians 4:18 tells us how to wait, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” I may not ever be “comfortable” again, truthfully I hope I’m not. The comfort of this world is a dangerous. The temporary comfort that steals my gaze and attention is false and without hope. My comfort should only be found in what cannot been seen. May I learn to be content, but never comfortable in this world again.

May I learn to be content, but never comfortable in this world again.

When the year began, I couldn’t have anticipated how the next six months would unfold. I wouldn’t have dreamed that entering the new year with a full leg cast on my two year old would not only be the least of my concerns, but would in fact be a blessing in disguise. The contrast of a life lived six months ago to today is staggering, but praise God that “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

Perhaps your year has not turned out like you expected. Maybe, like me, it is easy to look at the uncomfortable surroundings and situations that have transpired and feel defeated. Be encouraged, we were made for more than this. Comparison is the thief of joy. You will end up prideful or discontent. Don’t compare the year you hoped you would have to the one you are actually living. Instead keep your gaze fixed on the unseen. Keep your eyes set on the Author and perfecter of our faith. Release comfort for the sake of contentment. I don’t want my suffering to be wasted, I want it to achieve an eternal glory.

Comparison is the thief of joy. You will end up prideful or discontent. Don’t compare the year you hoped you would have to the one you are actually living.

I don’t know what the next six months will hold for me, my family or this world, but I trust God. He is sovereign and He is good. That is more than enough to merit contentment.

The Packed Cannot Be Carried

Many years ago, before having children, I picked up a new hobby in the form of sewing. It was slow going at first and I still don’t claim any expertise. With the arrival of children, my sewing has focused predominantly on bibs, burb cloths and children’s clothes. I don’t sew as much as I once did, because time simply doesn’t allow for it, but I have faithfully made a special quilt for each new baby in our family. The quilt doesn’t get used much, but the purpose of a keepsake is fulfilled. Lucy’s quilt has taken me the longest to make, because grief doesn’t work on a predictable or productive time table.

With the impending arrival of one child and the recent departure of another child, I have been faced with the glaring reality that not only are our days numbered but also that we do not know the number of the days. I do not want to waste time and I want to be ever so cautious about what I make with my hands and where my treasure is being stored. This morning I read the 6th chapter of 1 Timothy with my children. We spoke about money and treasure. While money is a moral neutral, the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10) . We paused and spent time pondering verses 6-7, which says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”

Am I storing things in the attic or eternity?

The kids understand that when Lucy is born, she will bring nothing into this world. They giggled as they talked about babies being born naked, crying and unable to even hold up their head. The kids also noted that Jane didn’t get to take any of her favorite toys with her when she died. I know Jane took nothing, because we packed away her stuffed animals, washed her sheets and took down her bed over the weekend. It was another reminder of where my treasure is found. Am I storing things in the attic or eternity?

Sunday, I packed the baby quilt I made for Jane into a box and I wept bitterly. It felt like a second burial. George came in the room and asked a now familiar question, “Mommy, are you having sad tears or happy tears?” I looked at his sweet face of concern and told the truth, “both.” I told George how much a I missed Jane and how missing her made me so sad. I also told George how happy it made me to know that Jane is with Jesus and while she doesn’t have her baby quilt and stuffed animals anymore, she does have all that she needs. Things in this world that can be packed, cannot be carried into eternity.

Things in this world that can be packed, cannot be carried into eternity.

I’m thankful for the quilts that have been made in our home. They hold sweet memories and bring about praise to my Heavenly Father who gives good and perfect gifts. I am also painfully aware of what my hands are now making. Am I storing up treasures on earth? Or am I investing my resources, time and heart into things eternal? Wouldn’t it be a shame to find that my daughter did more for the Kingdom of God in her two years of life than I have done in my 32 or 60 or 80 or however many the Lord gives me on this earth? While Paul tells Timothy that we come into the world with nothing and will leave with nothing, he also bestows this truth in 1 Timothy 6:18-19, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Lucy will come into this world with nothing. Jane left this world the way we all will one day, with nothing. This constant reminder in our home is painful and often tastes bitter, but it is also an unbelievable grace. It is a reminder that we all need. Are we living well, so that we might die well? Am I living in light of eternity as a temporary sojourner or am I living for the here and now, where I’m not even promised tomorrow? I want to take hold of the life that is truly life, don’t you?

Are we living well, so that we might die well?

Many things in our home will be left behind by our children and ourselves. Many things have already been left behind. We want to hold tightly to the glory that is to come, to the treasure that could not be brought or bought in this world. We want to spend our time wisely, investing in eternity. I don’t want to waste a single minute, because my minutes are numbered and I don’t know the number. I want to live out the knowledge that things packed cannot be carried.

The Story I Didn’t Want

Two years ago, on my 30th birthday, I told Robert that I wanted to write a book before I turned 40. He smiled, skeptical and encouragingly, and asked what kind of book I planned to write. I didn’t have a solid answer. I thought a cookbook would be fun, maybe even a Bible study or a children’s book. I knew that I enjoyed writing and I especially enjoyed reading. Writing a book seemed like the perfect, unrealistic and somewhat silly “goal” I wanted for the next decade of life.

I do genuinely love to read, mostly because I love stories. Several years ago, I started making a goal of how many books I would read each year. The goal has grown and evolved, mostly it has blessed me. Reading books and stories out loud to our children is one of my favorite activities. To be sure, I grow tired of reading Elmo’s ABCs over and over again, yet I still love the opportunity to read to my children. I cherish this past time even more now that I have one less child to climb into my lap for a story. We read board books, we read picture books, we read biographies and we especially love reading The Chronicle’s of Narnia. Stories are special.

For the past few days I have been wrestling with the reality of our own personal story. This is not the story I wanted to write. This is certainly not the story I wanted to live. I have had many precious souls encourage me to continue writing. Many people have let me know that something I have written has touched them personally, encouraged them or something else along those lines. I’m grateful for that, but I’m living a story and writing about a story that I did not ask for and I did not want.

This is not the story I wanted to write. This is certainly not the story I wanted to live.

What do we do with the story we didn’t want, but is ours any way? I’ve thought about this a lot in the last couple of days. While some assumed that the first few days and weeks after Jane’s death would feel surreal to us, I never found that to be the case. Everything has been terribly real. In fact, our reality has been glaring for 115 days now. “Surreal” has yet to play a part in our story, but as time marches forward our vision is a little less foggy. I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of sorrow and loss. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I constantly battle discontentment, anger and bitterness. I find myself thinking about how much I hate our current story.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a message to let me know she was praying and to ask how we were doing today. Again, I can’t say enough how much a I appreciate the parameter of time attributed to the question of how we are doing. It is much easier to be honest and clear with my response when time is framed definitively. I responded, “We’re doing ok. Not good, not bad. Content in the Lord, longing for heaven. Missing Jane and waiting for Lucy. Complex and simple, all at the same time.” It’s a strange story.

Our present life and circumstances are not surreal. They are complex and simple, all at the same time. What my life looked like exactly one year ago seems so foreign to me now. We have been given a story that we didn’t ask for and yet we are living it, for better or worse. I dare to assume that most people are living a life they didn’t anticipate. Perhaps it is exponentially sweeter than you hoped or perhaps you have experienced disappointment, heartache, loss or waiting without an answer.

Sharing our story publicly has opened my eyes to many people’s stories. People send us letters, emails, stop me in the grocery store or just around town. People are willing to share their stories with us, I believe in part because we have been willing to share our own story. Most of the stories I hear are stories of heartache and uncertainty. I hear about others who have loss children or spouses. I hear stories of adoptions fallen through, wombs empty, broken marriages and lost dreams. It’s heavy, but I feel honored that these people trust me with their story.

Knowing my own story and now hearing the stories of others, I grow more perplexed at how often we think we are in control of our own story. How could we possibly think that we alone are writing our narrative? This morning I was reading in Isaiah and I was reminded of the truth that God is writing our story. Isaiah 45:9 says, “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands?'”

I am the clay, how can I complain to the potter about what He is making? How can I, the written story, complain to the author? Instead of complain, I must comply. Lament is Biblical. Asking God questions and telling Him that I don’t understand my story is ok. But I cannot wallow in self pity because my story is not what I hoped it would be. If I know God and believe His Word to be true, then I know that He is the greatest author of all time. He writes masterpieces and they are full of redemption. Isaiah 46:4 says, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

How can I, the written story, complain to the author? Instead of complain, I must comply.

Now that we are living a story we didn’t choose, what can I do to honor the author? In the gospels we read the story of a man possessed by demons. Jesus heals the man and the man begs to go with Jesus. Luke 8:39 tells us Jesus’ response, “‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” Believe me when I say that I would love nothing more than to be present with Jesus right now. However, for now, Jesus has given those of us on this earth a task. Go and tell how much God has done for you.

While our story is full of pain, heartache and loss, it is also full of mercy, grace, faithfulness and redemption. The fact is that Christ’s beauty is displayed all the more brightly in times of sorrow, suffering and the hard stories. It’s not always easy to come to terms with that each day, but I trust my God who is sovereign, holy and good. He is the perfect author, and I dare not doubt His capabilities to finish a story well. The unique quality of our author is that He is there from start to finish. He is the first and the last. (Isaiah 44:6; Revelation 22:13) He will never leave us or forsake us, even in the midst of the story (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5).

God is the perfect author, and I dare not doubt His capabilities to finish a story well.

Maybe you are living a story you did not choose, that is hard and heart wrenching. I know how that feels and I know how easy it is to get lost in the day to day narrative. When the story gets difficult, I have to look to the author. He knows our burdens and He knows our story. It may not be the story I wanted to tell. It is definitely not the story I wanted to live, but by the grace of God I will tell everyone how much Jesus has done for me. I will tell the story of my author.

Silence is Loud

I have been convicted of many things since the loss of my daughter. My priorities, namely, became a glaring problem. My own comfort, happiness and selfishness are too high on the list of importance. I have been silent on many things in my life because it was uncomfortable, because I didn’t want to hurt feelings or say the wrong thing. There is truth to the statement, “If you aren’t sure what to say, don’t say anything at all.” I believe that. I also believe there are times when the Holy Spirit moves and you have something to say, but quench the Spirit in order to fit into society.

I lament the times I wish I had sent a personal note, a text message or picked up the phone and called someone, but instead remained silent. Maybe I wasn’t sure what to say, but I’m sure the message, “I love you and I care” would have been a well received message at the very least. I regret the instances when I let too much time pass and then felt it had been too long to say anything. In fact, it is never too late to do the right thing.

It is never too late to do the right thing.

We have an amazing community of friends, family and even strangers. I am so grateful and I praise the Lord for His providence. The evening that Jane died, our nearly quarter of a mile long driveway was full of first responders. It’s possible the entire sheriff’s department was at our house. I don’t know all of their names, but there are a few that I will literally never forget their face. They had a face of help, of compassion and they did their job well. I am forever grateful for those men and women. We have been loved on in countless ways. People have brought us food, prayed with and for us, sent encouraging notes, given to wonderful causes in Jane’s name, loved our children and loved us so well. It is a blessing and I don’t take it for granted. There have even been people that I have never met before that have been incredibly faithful to pray and offer encouragement. The goodness of strangers and people that I am barely acquainted with has blown me away.

My perspective has shifted and my ego has been stripped bare. I have been humbled. When people choose to not say anything, it can sometimes be more hurtful than saying a simple, “I care and I’m sorry for your loss.” I don’t expect to be the center of attention and I know our suffering and pain are minimal in comparison with most. It is our suffering and it is personal. I don’t expect everyone to understand and relate, but I certainly notice and appreciate those that have been willing to at the very least sit with us in our grief and heartache.

For the past several days I have been reading through 1 Timothy with our children. My children who have also experienced significant loss. My children who have had a perspective change without their asking for it. After we read the Bible, we pray. I have been floored by the wisdom, humility and courage that has come forth from my children’s mouth. My four year old has been praying, “Dear God, help me to fight the good fight.” My six year old prays, “God, please give me courage to stand up for what is right.” My eight year old has been praying against racism. By the time it is my turn to pray, I am often left without words.

“God, please give me courage to stand up for what is right.”

I have had to own up to the ways I have let complacency and apathy dictate my emotions, decisions and speech. I have prayed earnestly that any word that leaves my lips or is typed by my fingertips would be ordained by the Holy Spirit. Lately, that has called me to incredibly vulnerable spaces. I have had to pray, like Leah, “God please give me courage.” In bearing my grief, joy, suffering and loss, I am opening myself up to criticism, misunderstanding and ill will. But I have learned that silence is loud and sometimes silence is sin.

I have learned that silence is loud and sometimes silence is sin.

We have had faithful friends and strangers live out Romans 12:15 which says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” I want to be a faithful friend and stranger too. Right now and for a long time to be quite honest, my black brothers and sisters have been mourning. I have been silent too long and I repent. It might be easy to claim that I never owned slaves and it might bring me comfort to believe I would have been on the Godly side of the Civil Rights movement, but what I speak about now and what I’m silent about now shows my priorities. If I am more outraged over the cancellation of a cartoon than I am about the blood shed of black brothers and sisters, I am the problem. If I am more concerned with my child crying because he can’t watch his favorite tv show than I am about mothers that are crying out and mourning over the unjust loss of their own child’s life, I am the problem.

I may not always know what to say. I may only be able to offer, “I love you. I care and I am here for you.” But if my own personal experience has taught me anything, it is that a simple message of love and support is better than silence.

I’m Not Ready

A couple of days ago I opened my calendar to write down some upcoming appointments. I haven’t used or even looked at my calendar in months, there has been nothing coming up and nothing to remember. Robert asked how many weeks pregnant I was and I replied that I thought I was 32 weeks or maybe almost 32 weeks. To my astonishment, I found that I was already over 33 weeks pregnant. Tears started streaming down my face. Robert asked what was wrong and I replied, “I’m not ready.”

That is an understatement. I do not feel ready to welcome a baby in under six weeks. I do not feel ready to bring my fifth baby home to a house where she will actually be the fourth child present. Her room is not ready, because I can’t bear to part with her sister’s bed and clothes. I am not ready to wash bottles in the midst of putting away unused sippy cups. I am not ready to stay up feeding and comforting an infant, when grief already plagues my sleep.

I don’t know that there has ever been a positive pregnancy test in our home that has not been met with immense joy and a feeling of inadequacy. Whether it was the news that we were going to have two children under the age of two or expecting our fifth child when we thought we might be done having children, I have never felt adequately prepared, ready or up to the challenge of motherhood. But the Lord is faithful and He always provides. This certainly is the most unprepared I have ever felt, but though my circumstances have changed, God has not and He will still provide.

Though my circumstances have changed, God has not and He will still provide.

Psalms 37:23-24 says “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fail, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” Does the Lord delight in my anxiety and fear of the future? I don’t think so, because the heart of the matter is my lack of trust and doubting of the Lord. Does the Lord delight in my humility and my dependence on Him? Yes. By accepting that I cannot do something without the help of the Lord is not self deprecating, it is placing myself and the Lord in our proper places.

The Lord is not concerned with a nursery well prepared. He does not delight in a check list complete. The Lord delights in my dependence on Him. I have stumbled through the last several months of grief and uncertainty, but I have not failed because He upholds me. I will continue to stumble and will never be the perfect mother, because I am a sinner and I am not perfect. But I trust that God, who is perfect, in His sovereignty ordained that I should be the mother to Emma, Leah, George, Jane and now Lucy. The one who has called me is faithful, and He will do it. Not me, but the Lord.

The Lord delights in my dependence on Him.

There is a fine line between humility and self deprecation. There is also a fine line between sinful pride and confidence in the Lord. My prayer in the midst of uncertainty is that I would be humble and have confidence in the God of the universe. I will never be ready, but God is ready and sure. He is not surprised and His plans are perfect. I can trust him with my inadequacy and so can you. I don’t know what the Lord has called you to, but I’m sure you aren’t ready in your own power. That’s a good thing. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

I have learned to be thankful for the things that are outside of my control, because I know the One that is in control. I have learned to have gratitude for the things that feel too heavy, because I know the One whose load is light. I am appreciative of not being ready, because I know the One who is ready and able. I do not trust my nearsightedness to walk the path, I trust the one that determines my steps.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

“33 weeks and 5 days.” My OB said this morning. There was understanding in his voice as he could see the doubt in my face. I don’t know when I will go into labor, but I’m certain that whether the crib is in place or not I will not feel ready. Thankfully I serve a God who is always ready and desires to lead my path.

For Better or Worse

We took our vows seriously on our wedding day, and we have every day since.

Our vows were long. I remember looking through the proposed vow options in the packet given to us by our church. I couldn’t decide, Robert liked them all and so we combined them. There was something of the traditional, for better or worse and in sickness and health. There was reference to the book of Ruth and his God being my God, his people being my people. We covered all the high points, not wanting to leave anything out. We took our vows seriously on our wedding day, and we have every day since.

We started our sixth year of marriage expecting our third child and settling into a relatively new town and job. We lived in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood and we had found a home church that we were beginning to get involved in. During the fall of 2015, Robert and I both sensed a restlessness. Not with each other, but with life in general. What were we doing? What were we really doing to serve the Lord? There seemed to be no obvious answer, but we continued to pray, discuss and seek God’s Word.

In October 2015, in the middle of a worship service at church, tears started streaming uncontrollably down my cheeks. I looked at Robert and he shook his head in agreement. We left the sanctuary in the middle of the service to talk privately in an empty Sunday School class room. “We need to sell our house,” I said with tears streaming down my face. Robert said, “I know. I don’t know why we’re supposed to sell it, but I know that’s what we’re supposed to do.” I was almost 8 months pregnant and the next day we put our house on the market.

Selling our home was one of the first impractical decisions Robert and I had ever made in our marriage. There was literally no reason to sell it, except that God told us to and that was reason enough. We prayed, we consulted Scripture and I personally tried to figure out every or any conceivable reason the Lord might be asking us to leave our home and neighborhood. He never gave us a reason and almost five years later, I still couldn’t exactly tell you what the reason might have been. What we learned was obedience. We learned to be obedient to the Lord, even when it didn’t make sense. We learned that when big confusing decisions were made, we had to make them together while following the Lord. We sold our home several months later, rented an old home and started building a house across town.

We learned to be obedient to the Lord, even when it didn’t make sense.

If people told us that the first year, the first five years or even the first baby were going to be challenging, the same people deemed that building a house together seemed to be an impossible feat in comparison. However, true to our expectations during our engagement, we knew that God would build our marriage, our family and now even our literal house. The process was not without disagreements, some impatience and a few unexpected situations. In the end, we worked well together and we cherish the house that the Lord built us.

One of the greatest surprises in the midst of building our new home was the news that we were expecting our fourth child, Jane. Jane was born six weeks before we moved into our brand new house. Four kids under the age of five, a new home, an old dog and seven year marriage. It was beautiful chaos. I would end the day exhausted and in utter disbelief at the goodness of God. As if the gospel was not blessing and grace enough, the Lord had and has lavished us with so many good gifts.

My love for Robert has grown every year that we have been married. After moving into our new home and settling down with baby number four, things seemed to calm down for a while. Life was busy, because life with four children, a job and community involvement usually is busy. But we settled into a consistent rhythm and enjoyed predictability. Robert did and has continued to faithfully lead and serve our family. We have enjoyed living, traveling, teaching, laughing and so many more things together. Robert is genuinely my best friend. Last year when the movie Little Women came out I told Robert I wanted to go see it. He told me to call my best friend and have a night out. I replied with a smile, “but you’re my best friend.” He laughed and said, “Call your next best friend, I’ll keep the kids.” Our love is easy and he constantly tells me when certain social events or opportunities arise that he would rather just spend time with me. He means it and I believe him. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t say, “I love you” multiple times a day. Usually the phrase is followed by, “you’re my favorite.” It’s true, we are each others favorite person.

There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t say, “I love you” multiple times a day. Usually the phrase is followed by, “you’re my favorite.” It’s true, we are each others favorite person.

In the midst of those long vows we made to each other almost ten years ago was the promise to love each other for better or for worse. To be fair, most of our years together have been better. But on a winter evening in February, we experienced the worst. With first responders flooding our home, two children crying on the sofa, I called Robert incoherently sobbing. A trooper had to take the phone and tell him to come home immediately. Robert never left my side. His hand never left mine while hearing the words, “I’m sorry, it isn’t good news.” Robert was the one who helped me change into pajamas when I didn’t feel like I could physically stand anymore. Robert never let go of me throughout the entire night, while we both sobbed over the loss of our daughter. I remember looking at him panicked and saying “Robert, some people don’t make it through things like this. These are the things that ruin marriages and families.” Robert calmly and gently held my face in his hands, looked into my eyes and said, “Casey, we are going to make it. God made our marriage and God will sustain it. We’re in this forever.” He was right and I trusted him in that moment just like I did ten years ago when he made his vows.

I’ve talked to many young girls on the brink of marriage, or perhaps waiting for “the one”. So many talk about their hopes and dreams, they ask to hear about our story. Robert and I don’t have a unique, interesting or witty story. I don’t think we experienced love at first sight and I don’t think we really knew what we were doing when we said we were ready to get married after only a couple of months of dating. I do know that our marriage is important and it is special, because it is ours. God created our love, He sustains it and our aim is not to make much of ourselves, but to glorify the Lord through our life, marriage and family. God has honored that and I believe He will continue to honor our desire to serve Him well. I have no poetic or outlined advice for young girls embarking on married life, except to keep your eyes on Jesus and knit your heart together with a man who is doing the same.

Keep your eyes on Jesus and knit your heart together with a man who is doing the same.

Ten years ago, I could have never imagined the better or worse that the Lord had in store for us. But I chose then to love Robert and I choose that everyday. I don’t know what the future has in store either. But I trust God and I trust Robert. There is no one on this earth that I would rather stand by. Whether joy or sorrow, sickness or health, better or worse, no matter what tomorrow might bring, I’m thankful to face it with Robert. What God has joined together, let no man separate.

Happy Anniversary, Robert. I love you and you will always be my favorite.

The Early Years

This week Robert and I celebrate ten years of marriage. There will be no expensive international trip and we will be fortunate if we get to eat at a restaurant for dinner. This milestone looks different than I probably imagined it would look just a few years ago, but it is actually much sweeter than I could have hoped. There is beauty in the ordinary and the simple. Our marriage is beautiful. Not because of anything we have done or manufactured, but because from the day we said our vows and every day since, our marriage has belonged to the Lord. Please indulge me as I take a trip down memory lane to commemorate this milestone over the course of the next few days.

Our marriage is beautiful. Not because of anything we have done or manufactured, but because from the day we said our vows and every day since, our marriage has belonged to the Lord.

In the early days of our marriage, people told us that the first year of marriage would be the most difficult. However, our first year of marriage was sweet and full of promise. Robert and I met each other through mutual friends late in 2008. We lived in different cities and saw each other very sparingly. By the Spring of 2009 we had struck up a long distance friendship through text messaging. In June of the same year, we were an “instant” item. I met his family and he told them I was his girlfriend, before he told me. We still laugh about this. In August, we went on a mission trip to Honduras together, and I vividly remember talking about marriage. I would be finishing nursing school in December and he would finish medical school the following semester. Since I wasn’t attached to any particular location, I was happy to move wherever he moved for his residency. Why on earth would we pay two separate rents? We should just get married. As a mother, I can’t imagine my own children having a similar conversation one day. But Robert and I loved the Lord first, and we knew He would build the marriage, family and house. We had a growing love for one another and the time we had spent together or not spent together didn’t seem to matter much. We had the rest of our lives. We are also both undeniably practical.

We had a growing love for one another and the time we had spent together or not spent together didn’t seem to matter much. We had the rest of our lives.

In October of 2009, Robert asked me to be his wife and we planned our wedding for the following May. We had yet to live in the same city at this point. Most of our friends that were getting married around the same time had been dating for years, some even since high school. But we were unswayed, young, in love and dreaming of our future. I finished nursing school in December and worked in home health for the next semester. Robert graduated from medical school in May and the next weekend we got married on May 22. We honeymooned for a week in Mexico and moved to South Carolina as soon as we returned to the States. It was the first time we shared an address, or a city for that matter.

After we were told that the first year would be difficult, we were surprised to find that it had in fact been a pleasure. Robert was busy with his intern year of medicine and I had started (and ended) my first job as a nurse in the hospital. We definitely experienced challenges, a few arguments and the typical learning curve that comes with living with someone for the first time. Robert was tired and I was alone many call nights. It was a unique first year of marriage, but I’m so grateful for the way God orchestrated it.

One of the greatest gifts to our first year of marriage was that we moved away. While we both love our families dearly, we were able to establish our own family and our own traditions. Because of Robert’s hectic work schedule, we weren’t able to go “home” often for family events or even holidays. We made our own memories and we consulted with one another about decisions. We committed our marriage and our plans to the Lord, and He greatly blessed us.

Since the first year wasn’t too hard, we then found people telling us that the first five years would be the biggest challenge. We were told that whenever we welcomed our first child, that we would experience a huge change in our relationship and it could be difficult. Well just shy of two years into our marriage, in the thick of residency, we welcomed our first child, Emma. Loving Robert has always been easy, seeing him as a father only made it easier.

Loving Robert has always been easy, seeing him as a father only made it easier.

In our first five years of marriage, we bought our first home, we welcomed two babies, I started and ended jobs in nursing, Robert started and finished residency, Robert also completed a fellowship in sports medicine, we sold our first home and purchased our second home in a different state. Life was busy and constantly full of change. We celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary on an elaborate trip to South Africa. We still talk about that trip and reminisce fondly. Not long after returning home, we found out we would be expecting our third child. George would be the first and only brother, to Emma and Leah. Life was showing no signs of slowing down, but our marriage was ever so sweet.

Though we were promised difficulty, we found our first five years of marriage to be a precious blessing from the Lord. Our marriage is not perfect, but it is good. We know that “every good and perfect gift is from above” and we have never doubted that the goodness bestowed to us has been straight from the Lord. Marriage is a miracle. The merging of two sinners into one family is an impossible task that only God could ordain. God has created, sustained and blessed our marriage. We are grateful, we do not take it for granted. The next five years of marriage looked different. There was more uncertainty, more settling down and more heartache. But Robert and I remained each other’s best friends and biggest fans. I look forward to remembering and writing about more sweet years with Robert later this week. I hope you will be encouraged and maybe even amused.

Fear or Purpose

Am I moving forward with purpose, or am I timidly resting in fear?

I was listening to the radio this morning when I heard the hosts talking about what people are doing in the midst of less busyness and more uncertainty. The gist of the segment was to use our time wisely, specifically this time, and move forward with new direction and purpose. I don’t entirely disagree with this thought or notion. I don’t believe they meant picking up a new hobby or making travel plans for next year. Even still, lately the subject of time and making plans has rubbed me the wrong way. You see, I had a lot of plans. One might say that I am a natural planner. I love to make lists and it gives me satisfaction checking each item off. I’m not rigid, flexibility is key. But if I’ve learned anything in 2020 it is that plans change.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 2:13-17

Personally, our family’s plans have drastically and painfully changed this year. The entire globe has also faced much uncertainty and a shift in plans. The question that remains is, “now what”? I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what it will be like to miss my daughter for the remainder of my years on earth. I don’t know how to joyfully welcome the arrival of a new daughter, while still grieving the loss of another daughter. I don’t know how to handle birthdays and anniversaries of death. I also don’t know how society should slowly reopen. I don’t know how to fix the economy. I don’t know the best way to keep communities healthy, while trying to resume “normal” life. But I do know the One who knows it all and this is what He has to say….

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6:25-27

The Lord has ordained our days (Psalm 139:16). Who am I to think that I can add one single hour to this life. While Coronavirus has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands, my daughter did not die from Coronavirus. My constant attention, prayer and planning did not add a single hour to her life. Her days were ordained by God Almighty. In some ways this truth could be the cause of anxiety and fear. I could live my life holed up in my home and put my surviving children in a metaphorical bubble, but even that would not add hours to our ordained days. I mentioned in another post (you can read here Out of Control) that I believe fear and anxiety are a result of feeling out of control. The truth is, we have never been in control. So if I am not to live in fear and I am not to make grand plans, what am I supposed to do? I’m supposed to live with purpose.

Who am I to think that I can add one single hour to this life.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, He has given us a purpose. We ask our children different catechism questions every night before bed. One of the questions is “How and why did God create us?” Without missing a beat they respond with the truth. “He created us male and female, in His own image, to glorify Him.” That’s it. That’s our ultimate purpose, to glorify God. Image bearers of God Almighty spanning the globe. Except not every person knows the Lord. So He gave us another mission. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

God has not given us a spirit of fear, He has given us a purpose.

You have a purpose. I have a purpose. Every single person created on this earth has a purpose, but are we fulfilling it? Lately, this has been a challenge to me personally. Am I moving forward with purpose, or am I timidly resting in fear? I still struggle with anxiety, especially now. There are topics of conversation that cause me to bristle. The sound of sirens raise my heart rate, along with other unsettling circumstances or situations. That is a product of shock and a traumatic experience. There is grace for that. I’m not trying to minimize my own experience or the traumatic experiences of others. If you truly struggle with anxiety, fear or depression, please seek out professional help. There are godly men and women trained to help you. There are therapies, medications and resources for you. So while I don’t seek to minimize, I am saying that God is bigger than our hurts, fears and anxiety. He is our refuge and source of wisdom.

Living with purpose does not mean throwing caution to the wind and playing in traffic. It means seeking wisdom from the Father and consulting Godly, Biblically based advice. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 So the question I ask myself is am I living in fear of the world, or in fear of the Lord? Do I respect, honor and trust God enough with the remainder of my days to faithfully fulfill my purpose? Or am I cowering to circumstances and situations that I have no control over, minimizing the very things I have been called to do?

Planning is not inherently a sin. I still have a calendar and I still make to-do lists. It’s a part of my God given personality. I can honor God with proper planning or I can grieve and ignore Him while plotting my future to the point that He is planned out of it. Have I left enough margin in my schedule to trust Him, to let God work, to live by faith? Personally, I don’t want to waste what time I might have left of my life. Whether it be 60 more minutes or 60 more years. I want to live in light of eternity and trust the Lord in all things.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future, to a known God.

Corrie Ten Boom

Broken Offerings

My children are gatherers, especially when outside. For years I have been accepting offerings of broken sticks, pieces of acorns, squashed dandelions, fragile leaves and the occasional bug. Some gifts are beautiful in their own way, but most are broken, perishable and often a little sad. The offerings themselves are not what I love. The thoughtful hearts and sincere love is what I cherish, much like our Father in heaven.

Romans 12:1 says “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.” My spiritual act of worship, my broken and grief ridden body is to be offered to the Lord.

Life looks different for us right now, but we aren’t the only ones. The ways in which I was used to serving the Lord, my community and even my family has drastically changed in the last couple of months. There are many reasons for that, though grief is at the top of the list. Everyday my emotions are different, even though most days look the same. We are also in the midst of societal changes. Church, work, school and life in general have taken on a vastly different appearance since the pandemic swept over us. So what do I gather and what do I offer the Lord? I offer what I have, what He has already given me.

So what do I gather and what do I offer the Lord? I offer what I have.

Some days all that I have to offer is lament. A few days ago, while the kids were resting quietly in their rooms, I sat on the couch unable to control my tears and sobs. I was then overcome with frustration, because nothing specifically seemed to have pushed me into a new sea of sorrow. But here I sat, feeling completely out of control, helpless against emotions and broken. I knew I needed to offer this to the Lord, but I couldn’t even find words for my own personal lament. So I opened the Bible and allowed it’s words to become my own.

I read aloud Job 16:6 which says, “Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved; and if I refrain, it does not go away. Surely, O God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household.” I continued, Job 16:16 “My face is red with weeping, deep shadows ring my eyes; yet my hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure.” Job 17:7 “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow.” Job 17:11 “My days have passed, my plans are shattered, and so are the desires of my heart.” The words of Job became my own and they were honest. I then finished my lament by reading Psalm 116:1-2 “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” That was the offering I could give. It was fragile and it was broken, but it was also sincere and filled with trust in the Lord.

The words of Job became my own and they were honest.

Some days I press on to the glory of God, and monotonous tasks become my living sacrifice. I recently told my parents that while it was difficult to find the desire or energy to perform daily tasks, I was also grateful for them. Three weeks after my daughter’s death, our world went into quarantine. A week prior to social isolation, if I had been falling behind with laundry, I could have called forty different women and they would have been at our home to take care of all of our needs. Suddenly I was devoid of the privilege of community inside our home, offering tangible help. In ways, this has been a blessing. I have been given the gift of motherhood and there are still precious souls that reside in my home who are in need of care. I am also a wife, daughter and friend. I have people to care for, laundry to be cleaned, meals to be cooked, school to be taught and other sometimes monotonous tasks to be performed. There is time for grief, but there is not a time for self pity.

There is time for grief, but there is not a time for self pity.

There is an interesting story in the middle of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 24 we read the account of the death of Ezekiel’s wife. The Lord tells Ezekiel that “the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes”, his wife, is about to be taken away. The Lord also tells Ezekiel that he will not be given the right to typical mourning practices. Ezekiel says in verse 18, “So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.” I realize Ezekiel’s story is not the same as mine. The Lord clearly commanded Ezekiel to refrain from mourning, which is unique and not necessarily a pattern for believers (see John 11:35 and Acts 8:2). I do think that I have to be careful to guard against self pity and remember the things which God has called me to do. Sometimes the offering I can give is working to the glory of God and doing the next thing. It is an offering that is ordinary and straightforward.

Some days, even in the midst of sorrow and grief, I can offer true thanksgiving. Our perspective was eternally altered on the evening of February 24th. Things I once easily took for granted, I now recognize as good gifts from the Father. The good news of the gospel is enough to merit thanksgiving for all time. The unmerited blessings of family, friends, community, health, shelter and sustenance sparks praise. The fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is cause for gratitude daily.

Psalm 40:1-3 says “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” God has given us a new song. Sometimes it is a melodious orchestration of praise and sometimes it is a monotone hum of recognition. But we offer it back, beautiful or broken, to the Lord.

We offer it back, beautiful or broken, to the Lord.

I can only offer back what God has already given me. In the eyes of my heavenly Father, I’m sure that most of my offerings appear much like the fragile leaves and squashed dandelions from my children. Fragile, broken and a little sad. Thankfully, God sees the heart. I rejoice that I can give God my sincere, imperfect body as a living sacrifice and know it is pleasing to him. So I give what I have and know that God can redeem even my broken offerings.

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

Our family has a very personal Ebenezer.

Ebenezer. It certainly isn’t a common word in contemporary language. Every time I try to type “Ebenezer” into my phone, predictive text wants to change the word to Ebook, which is further proof that it is uncommon terminology. Perhaps the word first brings to mind the famous book, A Christmas Carol and the memorable protagonist of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge. Maybe you sang the familiar hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, as soon as you saw the title of this post. But rarely do we think of the word Ebenezer or it’s purpose. I now think of this word often, as our family has a very personal Ebenezer.

The origin of Ebenezer is Hebrew and it means “Stone of Help”. 1 Samuel 7 tells the story of the Israelites returning to the Lord and forsaking their foreign gods. While Samuel is crying out to the Lord on behalf of the Israelites the Philistines came up to attack them. Verse 9 says that Samuel cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf and “the Lord answered him.” Verse 12 says “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.'” The stone was set up as a memorial, to remember what God had done.

Remember who you were, remember what God has done, remember who God is and who you are called to be.

A few days ago my friends and I were discussing all the good we hoped would come from this crazy and hard time of Covid-19. Being the natural pessimist that I am, I mentioned my concern that we would in fact forget and probably not learn much. If history has taught us anything, it is that humans are prone to forgetfulness. Countless times in Scripture God’s people are told to remember. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there.” (Deuteronomy 24:18) “Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24) These are only three of countless admonitions to remember. Remember who you were, remember what God has done, remember who God is and who you are called to be.

I’ve always felt that, in hindsight, we tend to be critical of the Israelites. We ask, “how could they forget the plagues, the parting of the sea and immediately make an idol?” But how often I forget. In the same conversation with my friends, about all we hoped would change and the good that would come out of this time, I mentioned our family’s own personal Ebenezer.

Our personal Ebenezer is not a literal stone, but rather a memorial of gratitude. Just a couple of days after Jane passed away, I started making a list of ways I had seen the Lord work. I wrote down ways the Lord had been our help. I wrote down seemingly small blessings in disguise. I did this because I wanted to remember, even staring in the face of tragedy, how good God is and the help He had given us.

Our personal Ebenezer is not a literal stone, but rather a memorial of gratitude.

Here are a just four entries from my personal list. The ways I am thankful actually fill many pages of a notebook.

  • I’m thankful that Jane broke her leg at the beginning of the year, because I have so many more pictures and videos from that time. She was still and I had many more sweet moments to hold her. In the moment, I was sad for Jane and it seemed inconvenient, now I see the Lord’s blessing.
  • I’m thankful for our church family and community, who literally surrounded our house, praying and singing over us the day after Jane passed away. I didn’t even like our home town when we moved here six years ago, but now I see how graciously God provided this specific community.
  • I’m thankful that the gospel has been shared with many and is still being shared with many, all over the world, through Jane’s story. God is a God of redemption and I’m grateful He is allowing us to see small gifts of His redemptive plan.
  • I’m thankful that God’s timing is gracious. As much as I wanted more time with Jane, had she died just three weeks later, because of the pandemic we wouldn’t have been able to have a funeral. No one would have been able to come to our home. Robert and I wouldn’t have even been allowed to go into the hospital to see Jane one last time.

In the midst of joy and blessings, I want to offer a song of thanksgiving. But I also want to meet heartache and grief with gratitude. Hear me say, gratitude is not an attempt to be dismissive. Gratitude does not change the facts, but it does change my heart.

Gratitude does not change the facts, but it does change my heart.

On a rainy night in February, Robert and I were ushered into a room at a hospital to wait and see a doctor who would pronounce Jane’s fate. I remember the exchange perfectly. The doctor, clearly burdened, walked into the room and introduced himself. He bent down in order to be eye to eye with us and said, “I’m sorry, it isn’t good news.” That was a fact. Jane’s death was not and is not good news. This terrible tragedy is a fact, but it does not change the fact that the gospel is good news. I don’t have to be thankful for Jane’s death. I am thankful that, when I repeatedly whispered a quiet prayer, “Jesus please be near”, He was near. Psalm 46:1 says “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” God doesn’t promise us an exemption of trouble, but He promises to be our refuge, strength and help. I know that and I’m thankful for that.

This is our personal story. Our gratitude is our Ebenezer. I still pray that we won’t forget the goodness of God. I pray that we won’t be complacent, prone to forgetfulness and tempted to be bitter. As a community, I hope that good will come out of this scary and uncertain time of Covid-19. I hope that even when the facts are bleak and the news isn’t good, we will remember the good news of the gospel. I pray that we will clearly see the faithfulness of God and His ever present help in times of trouble. I hope that we will remember. While the facts might not change, I hope that our hearts do.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by Thy help I come. And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God. He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.”