Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It's so simple.

Monday is my grocery day.  It has been for years.   But it's MONDAY, as I mentioned, so things are usually crazy, cranky and chaotic. I barely get the kids to school without losing my mind or doing the demon-mommy arm grab while talking through gritted teeth, then I bring Asher home and let him have a little Curious George time while I menu plan and list create.  I have about 30 minutes to do the list, grab my cash and my re-usable bags (I live in Oregon, people) and head out the door.  I can do my shopping and get back to the school for kindergarten pick up, then bribe the younger two with some snack from the store (that we surely ran out of last Friday) while I put the groceries away.

Have I mentioned I hate grocery shopping?  Just do not like it at all.  Especially with kids.  Bless them.  But I hate it.  In the summer when they are all home, I often go at 9pm rather than take all three.  No matter how I prep them and myself, create elaborate "help mommy" games and put my creative parenting hat on, 99% of the time it ends in tears and whining.  And that's just from me.

My youngest is notoriously NOT good at sitting still for longer than 30 seconds.  So taking him shopping is almost as frustrating as all three.   I am just used to it being an exhausting 40 minutes, with him whining and yelling and grabbing things off the shelves and climbing out of the cart, me buckling the buckle and him immediately unbuckling it.  (Locks and buckles are a joke to this child!)  In his defense, he is an energizer bunny and it's got to be boring as hell for his active body and mind to sit in that cart doing the EXACT SAME THING we did 7 days ago and not getting to swim in the lobster tank or sift through the bulk food candy like he wants.

This last Monday was no exception, and as we checked out, I did my usual juggling act of bagging my groceries, calling out instructions to Asher ("Sit down please.  Hands in.  Please sit down.  Put the bread back.  Put the bread back in the cart.  PUT THE BREAD BACK IN THE CART.  We don't throw.  No throwing.  Play with your toy! You have a fun toy!  Don't throw the toy.  I have to take the toy now.), and walking back and forth between him and the food.   Then he tried to crawl out of the cart again, but he got stuck and started to scream in pain.  I dropped my food and ran over, trying to figure out where he was wedged between hip/knee/ankle/toe and try to calm him down.  It took about 10 seconds, which felt like an eternity.  He was crying sad tears, and so I cupped his face and quietly told him I didn't want him to get hurt and he needs to SIT DOWN IN HIS SEAT.    Life with this kid is a loud whirlwind, so it honestly wasn't anything extra crazy or stressful, just normal crazy and stressful.  I was irritated, but didn't freak out.  Yeah, me!

But I don't think I realized how high-strung I was until the older woman on the other side of the bagging lane just picked up her groceries and smiled at me, looked straight in my eyes and said "You're a good mama."  And she left.

And hot tears started streaming down my face.

It's not that no one has ever told me that.  Dear people in my life have encouraged me.  But it's just in the bone-weary, day-to-day work of pouring into these little guys that sometimes it feels a little bit like a losing battle.  It's so much easier to notice how I'm failing to live up to the mom I want to be than it is to notice the times when I actually AM the mom I want to be.  Maybe it's also that my measure of success is pretty skewed.  If my children's behavior and my level of inner peace and calm is the barometer for "good mom" then it is quite rare for me to achieve that coveted label.

And I know I'm not alone!  Fortunately I am surrounded by honest moms who express many of the similar struggles to live up to our own ridiculous standards.  Most of us admit that at least one or more of our kids are in really challenging, exhausting seasons.   Over coffee and muffins and park benches and juice boxes we talk about how crazy we are about our kids, how we never knew a love could be so strong it physically hurts.  But we also admit it's harder than we thought.  We don't want to mess up these precious lives.

So when that lady in Winco rocked my world with those four little words, I thought: It's so simple.  We need to be told we are doing well.  We need to tell each OTHER that we are doing well.  I want to notice small ways that the mamas in my life are pressing in to their children, doing hard work when easier is an option, and continually striving to be molded and crafted into the mom our children need us to be, the mom God has created us to be.   The other moms in my life do things differently than I do--we make different parenting choices.  But we ALL are doing the best we can to love and guide our kids into healthy, well-adjusted, kind people.  And we need all the encouragement we can get.  So today I make a promise to be better at telling those in my life:

You're a good mama.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Treasure, part 2.

Wow.  As I cut and paste the second half of this treasure, (you can find part ONE here) I'm overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of lessons learned. Pace yourself, because it's a lot of information, but it is SO VALUABLE!

When I was praying about this speaking engagement, I kept asking God to place on my heart what He wanted these mamas to hear.  An image I kept getting in my head over and over again was one of our physical homes--apartment, condo, house, whatever it is.  Each night we lock the doors and windows, securing our families.  I cannot tell you why, but the Lord kept bringing my mind to the verse in 1 Peter talking about how our "great Enemy, the Devil" prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour.  I continually was picturing Satan prowling around our marriages, looking for a crack in the door.  If we let our guard down, if we fail to secure our homes, he will find a way in and pounce.  That crack may be a moment of discontent, of comparison, of bitterness...anything that the devil can use to put a wedge between and husband and wife.  We are all imperfect and vulnerable. 


Satan CRAVES broken marriages.  He works overtime to tear down what God has joined. But just as fiercely as Satan craves them broken, God longs for them to be thriving and healthy.  Healthy, God-centered marriages very often produce healthy, God-centered children.  And healthy, God-centered children?  CAN CHANGE THE STINKING WORLD.   Let's not let these treasures go unheeded!   


PRACTICAL

-Give him some space.  Let him go camping, or play basketball or golf without being a martyr. He will be grateful and glad to come home to you.

-Take your finances seriously. Take an active role. Set financial goals TOGETHER.   Remember, you are a team!

-Make your new family unique.   The process of building your own family can get mixed up with each of your original family dynamics so it is important to decide what you want to keep, change or eliminate from your childhood family traditions.

-Find community you can trust. Walking through marriage just the two of you is lonely and dangerous. Find other couples you respect and trust, perhaps those who have been married longer or have more wisdom, and ask them to tell you all their secrets. Never stop learning.

-Create a habit of not keeping secrets from each other.   Train your heart, your eyes and your mind to love your one and only, "forsaking all others.”

- Plan appreciation surprises.  Make a special day on any day.  I have done post- it parties in his car, special treats, notes in his lunch, notes on the mirror when he got up, set up a good morning treat, doing a chore he hasn’t gotten to, signs on the garage door when he pulls up. 
 This is something we involved our kids in as they grew, and it was a wonderful family practice to encourage each other with surprises.

-Date night can save your marriage.  We committed to a weekly date night years ago and believe me, there are times when going out, getting dressed, making that effort was the last thing I wanted to do.  But it got us through the crazy years and continues to be a touch point for us.  It’s a connection place to keep us from becoming isolated.  It's not always fun, but always important.  :)

- Leave your kids and go on vacation. Start with one night if it’s hard to get away.  Once you start doing it, it becomes easier and well worth all the effort to get your kids situated while you are gone.  This man will still be around when your kids are gone, so you better figure out how to enjoy him now!

-NEED HIM.  Our culture sends a message that as women we should not 'need' our men.  It is a vicious ploy of the enemy that leaves us fragile and anemic. But our 'need' of our husbands helps them grow into the men they are destined to be!  Moral of the story: you can need your man and still be strong and capable! 

-Choose the right time to discuss a problem issue. Don’t ambush him or bring it up when you both don’t have time to talk, or if one of you is exhausted. Make a date to talk when you are both rested and calm. Okay, sometimes issues have to be discussed when they need immediate action.

- Remember that he can’t read your mind.  YOU HAVE TO TELL HIM WHAT YOU ARE FEELING.

- Make sure to make time to just talk.  When the kids went to bed, instead of a book, computer, or TV, try to just sit down and catch up.  We noticed when we did that other things would run better. 

- Laugh together often. Like, laugh HARD together. We make each other laugh, we find TV shows and movies that make us laugh, we've established inside jokes from when we were dating up until now that make us bust up every time.

- Communicate! I used to be silent when I was upset, but I realized it was a type of manipulation. I would hang out there for a few days, shutting him out.  The Lord showed me that was sin, and I had to have a conversation with my husband even if it was so hard for me.  We had to learn how to talk in a healthy way about everything--sooner than later so we weren’t tripping over the carpet all the unspoken stuff was under.

- My husband and I have found some good freedom in making a point to get so honest with one another. Talk about the small things before they become big.

-Communication is key. I once read an article that challenged couples to rid their marriage of rhetoric. Instead of asking, "How was your day?" Ask specific questions that solicit honest answers like, "when did you feel frustrated today?" or "When did you feel the love of God today?"

-Have a yearly big girl talk with your spouse. Ask specifically how you can meet his needs. Where you are falling short as a Christ follower, wife, mother. Be ready for it with lots of prayer and acceptance.

- Stop stressing over the little stuff.  Get over it!  Life is too short with the one you love.  I have so many dear friends who have lost their husbands.  That has had a huge impact on my marriage.  I want to live each day like it’s our last day together.

-Take vacations together. The planning process can be fun. It gives you a reason to dream and look forward to time together. When we can't afford it, we do staycations in another part of the city that we haven't seen to keep costs minimal.

-At the end of the day prepare the kids to go crazy with excitement that daddy's home, then set the timer for 20 minutes and let dad change his clothes and unwind before you unload about your day or the kids tackle him.

-Go to a marriage conference once a year.

-Daily ask yourself—would I like being married to me right now?

SPIRITUAL
-Fiercely fight for your marriage, not because it is fragile but because it is precious.

-Pray, pray, pray for your husband, even when you are mad at him. We often have no idea how the enemy is trying to weaken him, and undermine him as a believer and a godly husband and father.   

-Ask your husband how you can pray for him.

-God is in the life-changing business. You are not. If you have a problem with your husband.   Tell him once, and let God work the rest.

-Invest in your own spiritual growth.  Never stop striving to be more like Jesus.

-Ask God to make you the wife that your husband needs you to be and asking Him to make you the wife that God wants you be.

- Marriage is a battle so it must be fought for day in and day out.  You and your husband are on the SAME SIDE, fighting against the enemy. It can't be taken lightly and especially during those crazy baby years.  It still needs to be a priority.  As a wife I must make a choice, even when I don't always feel like it to get up and love my husband.  Maybe choosing to keep the house a bit cleaner, change out of my sweats and take a shower, serve him, it's in those small daily choices that I can tangibly love my husband beyond myself.

- Don’t try to change him. Let God do that. Work on your own actions, and ask God for the ability to see your husband through His eyes.

-Find a godly couple you can look up to.  It might be your parents or someone in your church.  It’s important to see a healthy marriage and be encouraged and challenged by that example. There’s a lot of wisdom that can be passed on and shared so don’t miss it.

- FORGIVE. It is so worth it. A marriage can survive even the deepest and biggest of wounds because of the power of forgiveness.  We have hurt each other so much and have forgiven miles and miles of sins and offenses, and I don't regret it one bit.  Being married as long as I have has ONLY happened because of forgiveness--radical, ridiculous, life-giving, Jesus motivated forgiveness. The season of marriage down the road (where I am now) is SOOOOOO sweet!  Having said that, it required a sturdy and solid and 'out loud' vow to the Lord in the midst of the hardest year of our lives that "Lord I will NOT divorce him and YOU WILL HAVE TO HELP ME forgive and stay put!”  Our God is in the resurrection business! He can bring back to life a dead love! 

-Spend time with the One who put your together in the first place. We’ve had seasons of being really consistent in our devotions and times when we haven’t, but it always blesses our marriage when we make a commitment to starting our day that way.  We’ve done devotions together, individually and then later shared what we’re learning with each other, either way…do them! You’ll never regret it, and pray, pray pray.  Pray with your spouse, for your spouse, for yourself as you work toward being the wife you are called to be…He hears each one.

- Praying together as a couple hasn't just "happened." We have to make it happen, be intentional. It's totally something we want to do, to pray over our future, to pray for each other, pray for others, and we we do we are SO blessed and realize how important that is and feel so unified in our marriage. It's something we're still working on.



- As a wife, if I remember I am first called to serve Jesus, and He has called me to respect and serve my husband.  Remembering this makes it easier sometimes when I don't feel like it.  I have even seen this played out for wives in seasons when their husband wasn't respectable.  When their heart was determined to follow Gods calling, by respecting their husband they were respecting Jesus.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Treasure

Recently I was honored to be asked to speak at a moms group at a friend's church.   They have an awesome and active young moms group, extremely well organized with over 50 moms!   I've been doing a little bit more speaking lately, so I was feeling good about it until I heard the topic:  marriage.  Don't get me wrong, I'm very happily married.  But I'm no expert.  In fact, I'm such an imperfect wife that the thought of telling others how to do it better was beyond humbling.  We're coming up on 13 years and I feel like I need about 13 more before I could fill 45 minutes with wisdom that came from my own head and home.  But I knew that at the season these moms are in (kids under 5, which I'm working my way out of, but am still very much in), we CRAVE practical wisdom from seasoned, godly women.  

So, I decided not to fill the time with wisdom from my own head.  I had plenty of things to share, but I needed more.  I went to a bunch of those seasoned, godly women and asked them to lay it on me.   I asked them to share with me some lessons they have learned in their years of marriage, which ranged from a couple years to over 40.  What they sent to me, in email after email, was more than just bullet points.  It was AMAZING.  I kept thinking of each one as a gem.  And you know what you get when you compile gem after gem?  You get TREASURE.   I can't keep it to myself!

And can I tell you a theme I saw running through?  Die to self.  Even the most strong, confident and capable women need to learn to be selfless in a marriage for it to grow.  The act of surrendering what is best for me and the CHOICE of choosing what is best for US--that is where the sweetest and deepest joy can abound.

But there are so many gems that I divided them into 4 categories:  Relational, Sexual, Practical and Spiritual.  Today I'm only going to post the first two, and then in a couple days I'll do part 2.   I pray you are as encouraged and empowered by these words of advice as I have been.  They are from imperfect wives who serve a perfect God, one who LONGS for our marriages to be strong and thriving.

RELATIONAL
-Be the first to laugh at yourself.   Do NOT take yourself too seriously.  Try not to be easily offended or overly sensitive.  Your mood affects the entire home.
-Practice saying “I’m sorry.”  Say it often for the little things, and then it won’t be so hard to say it for the bigger things.  Don’t be that person who physically can’t form the words.  That’s not attractive.
-Wives, your husband is not a woman.  He doesn't communicate, think or act like a woman. Keeping this in mind will help your expectations, ultimately your appreciation for him.  
-Do not correct your husband in public. So what if the event in his story really happened on a Saturday instead of Sunday like he told it?  Don't nag or demean him in front of others.  I’ve seen strong men's dignity crumble in front of my eyes because of the way their wives treat them in front of others.  It’s UGLY!  Don’t be an ugly wife.
-Please, please do NOT berate or mock your husband, in front of him or behind his back. This is a real temptation when girlfriends are venting about their husbands.  
-Fix your own crap.  We all bring emotional baggage into our marriages.  Go to counseling, talk to a wise friend, whatever you need to do to deal with it.  You'll find that his issues seem smaller and you will be more content.
- Make your kids believe their dad is the smartest, strongest, wisest daddy in the entire world. NEVER roll your eyes at Dad to make the kids laugh. Never put him down if front of the kids or anyone else for that matter. Don't make him out to be the goofy, bumbling kind of dad the media loves to portray. 
-It is important that you agree before moving forward on big decisions.  If you struggle with the concept of submitting, pray for a joyfully submissive heart!  Yes, it goes against what the world tells us, but it is God’s plan for a better marriage.
-Dream together!
-Don't forget your manners!  Even after years and years, when you are extremely comfortable around each other, it is still important to speak with kindness.  Saying please and thank you is important!  
- We always work on keeping confidences. If I’m not sure if I could/should share something about him with others, I ask him.  Some things I thought were not a big deal to share, but I found they WERE to him. He does the same for me.
-Don’t wait for your spouse to “figure out” what is bothering you. Find a loving way to tell him and allow him the opportunity to work through it with you.  Wasting time brooding is just that…a waste. Help each other.
- A guy wants to be pursued too.  Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking that is the guy’s job.  Not so. Also as a mom I get so wrapped up in being a mom or keeping things together, that I forget to give my husband the attention that he deserves.  Figure out his love language beyond sex.  Text while he's at work and tell him you love him or why.  Talk face to face for a few minutes when you can, even if that means turning off the TV, phone or computer. Don't wear a hoodie and yoga pants everyday even if they are uber-comfy.  Buy lingerie or plan a date, make his favorite treat, etc.  Husbands want to see you making an effort.  They understand we are busy, so even the smallest gesture means a lot!
- I'm not married to my father.  My poor husband had to endure my issues with my father for so many years.   Wives, get counseling for your issues before it messes with your marriage.
-Never stop being thoughtful with your spouse. Take time to write him a note, plan a fun surprise date for him, make a special dinner you know he loves.  It’s a way to show him you love him. If you know something is weighing on him offer to help or if it’s something you can do jump in and surprise him by doing it yourself.  Yes, I’ve mowed the lawn and taken down Christmas lights.  
- Forgiveness & grace must be present in my attitude towards my husband. (I’m so prideful! I so want to be right. )
-Guard your family's emotions, be completely trustworthy with vulnerabilities.  Know when something is really important to your spouse and handle that the way you want your important stuff to be handled.  Usually this involves sharing personal information, weaknesses or fears - we need to guard the information that is important to the others, even when it might seem silly to us.  
- This one is a real gem…are you ready?  Husbands do not like bathrobes worn all hours of the day.  :) It may sound silly, but taking time every once in a while to “dress up” for your husband means a lot to them.
-Decide your personal wills and won'ts.  Example: I won't use a threat of divorce, violence or gossip to manipulate.  I will make my relationship with God a priority, the only one above my marriage.  I will protect my husband and stand with him.  I won't cause others to think poorly of him.  I won't leave in a huff, making him worry for hours.  I will express my fears, frustrations, desires and needs.  We will handle disagreements and disappointments with each other in private. 
-Be sure you are honoring your husband when you speak about him to others. You should be his biggest fan so present his best to your friends….don’t fall into the trap of being a complaining wife.
-Support. Be your spouse’s number one fan. Tell and show them how much your support them. Support and understanding works WAY better than nagging.  Ephesians 5:22-23 "Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ.  The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing." 
-I’ve learned how important it is to accept my husband’s LOVE for me.  He loves me to the moon and back. I had to get over myself, understand how God loves me so I could receive my husband’s love in a healthy way.   We’ve come SO far, but it was my heart that changed, not my husbands.  
-Understand each other’s love language.  It is a HUGE help to know that!
- I want to find out about things he is interested in.  When my husband was in law school, I took a class on "law for laymen.”  I wanted to understand more about his world.  Our conversation time was much more interesting. 
-Be proud of your spouse!!  Tell him that you are proud of him.  Text, post-it note, it’s never too much.
- If you are grateful for him, or appreciate something about him, don’t keep it to yourself. Tell him. Even if it seems like a small thing.
- Choose the right time to discuss a problem issue. Don’t ambush him or bring it up when you both don’t have time to talk, or if one of you is exhausted. Make a date to talk when you are both rested and calm.
- When you are disagreeing, always ask yourself if proving your opinion as the “right” one is worth the harm done to your relationship.
-Remember these words and use them often: I COULD BE WRONG.  Saying it in the midst of a disagreement will help you not dig a hole out of pride.
-Trust your spouse. There is really no point in with-holding parts of yourself, as if you can keep the pain of disappointment and hurt at bay. You are married to an imperfect person, they are going to fail, fall short, wound you - you knew this when you said "Yes." Even still, trust that person. Love them completely and let them love you.

Make your relationship a place of refuge and safety. I want my husband to feel the freedom to fail, to make mistakes, to mess up, to be the person I don't really want him to be - and to know he is still loved. To know that I'm not going to be another voice saying he should be something better or that he's messed up. He has the rest of the world for that. Marriage is really sacred and God-like when it surpasses being just a relationship and becomes this sacred place of safety on earth for us. It is a gift. And this perspective helps me to choose my words and choose my silence in a way that builds him up. We are seeking the betterment of each other, not merely just raising a family together, although that's really fun, too.”


SEXUAL
-Sex matters.  It really, really does.
-Do whatever it takes to get your mind and body in the moment. Do it often. Repeat. 
-Try to understand that sex is one of the, if not THE main way that he feels connected to you and loved by you.
-Don’t make your husband feel guilty about wanting sex.  The alternative is not desirable.
-Just get laid, ladies.  Seriously.  Do it.  It is one of the keys to a long and happy marriage.
-Have sex with your husband even if you're tired, even if you have a headache, even if you just don't want to. Do it out of obedience to God.  You'll probably even like it after a few minutes!
- HAVE SEX MOREHere is my brilliant, million dollar insight on the matter....wait for it....IT DOESN'T TAKE THAT LONG!  I mean really.  Nike got it right. Just do it.
- Sex.  It gets better and better.  Really, I promise!  Our husbands need it.


Monday, March 03, 2014

How Refreshing.

This last weekend, Trent and I were finally able to attend a conference for adoptive (and foster) parents, and we went TOGETHER!  It was the Refresh Conference at Overlake Christian Church outside of Seattle, and it was amazing!  No wonder they are calling it the "Called to Love for Couples."  OK, I'm the only one calling it that, but it's catchy, right?  ;)  The quality of the conference (especially considering the price) was mind-boggling.  Great teaching, great worship, awesome food and lots of great little details that made you feel really loved on.  I highly recommend it to any PNW families.  It was fantastic to be learning, worshipping and connecting as a couple.  Of course I was still totally Social Sally (Amy, Sarah and I had a C2L table and we were networking and selling merchandise as well, so I was wearing my ministry hat too), but Trent hung with me and had a great attitude.

We did go our separate ways a few times, and one of those times was during a breakout session where I had the honor of being on a panel of adoptive and foster moms.  No idea how I was thrown in the mix, but it was a major highlight of the weekend because of the women I met on the panel. We connected quickly and deeply.  It helped that we were up in front of a large room pouring out our hearts, our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses.   "Hi!  Nice to meet you.  Let's talk about the ugliest parts of our journey, 'kay?!  SO FUN!"  Also, I was sitting next to LISA QUALLS, who is someone I admire and respect so very much, who has a very widely read blog (www.onethankfulmom.com), and is pretty well-known in the adoption community. I had never met her before and was pretty excited. It was hilarious for us to share our stories back to back.  Jen: "I have three kids, one of them is adopted and it is, like, SO HARD, you guys."  Lisa: "I have twelve kids, four of them are adopted, two of them have severe attachment issues, and I homeschool."  Ha!   But she was the epitome of grace and never makes anyone or their stories feel "less than."  We were each asked to share about a specific aspect of our journey, and I shared a little about my struggles with what I call the secret side of attachment--the parents' attachment to the adopted child(ren).  I felt like I rambled a bit and didn't mention things I had planned to, and also cried a bit, but that's a real shocker for those who know me.  Or have ever sat next to me in worship. Or had a conversation with me. ANYWAY,  afterwards I had some great conversations with women who were in the session.  One told me "When you started talking, I thought 'Is someone really going to talk about this out loud?' I thought I was the only one."   Praise God.  It was a confirmation that honesty and vulnerability amongst adoptive parents is so needed.

I wanted to share a little gem that I took away from the conference.  The aforementioned very cool Lisa Qualls spoke in a main session about Nehemiah, a man in the Old Testament.  Nehemiah had a pretty great job and comfortable life (OK, he was the cup bearer, so his job was great as long as no one decided to poison the king.)  But God broke Nehemiah's heart for the long-destroyed city of Jerusalem.  He asked Nehemiah to leave his cushy life and go into the rubble and the brokenness of Jerusalem and rebuild it.  But get this---God asked him to rebuild a wall that was damaged before Nehemiah's time.  If you are not getting the analogy to parenting an adopted or foster child, then you are not paying attention.  As Nehemiah led his people in the rebuilding, they came under attack by outside forces who did not want the wall rebuilt.  But Nehemiah had been given this task by the Lord, his heart longed for the wall and the city to be rebuilt, and he was not going to give up or surrender.  So he took half of his workers and posted them as guards, and the other half were to keep working on the wall.  The guards were on the lowest and highest places of the wall, protecting the workers and running interference if they were attacked.  They worked together toward the same goal.

Before the weekend, the sweet new friend who put the mom panel together emailed an encouragement to us and how we might minister to the women in our session.  She said that she kept getting an image that "we are the watchmen on the tower, just like Nehemiah's men.  We are doing spiritual battle for these women as God is helping to restore their ruins and the rubble in their children's lives.  We are standing on their walls, battling for and with them.   Through our vulnerability and willingness to take off our masks, God will be using our testimony to minister, heal and restore these women."  She also mentioned that in Isaiah 58:12, God talks about how "We will become repairer of broken walls, restorer of streets with dwelling......"   

I loved that these two women were both drawn to the story of Nehemiah.  And I connected deeply with it, because I have been on both work teams. I have been in the midst of the rubble, fumbling my way through with rocks that are way too heavy, being attacked by an Enemy telling me I can't do it and reminding me of the enormous importance of the task at which I was failing.  During those times, I've had co-laborers who were not carrying the same heavy weights, but they were interceding for me.  They supported me, protected me, looked out for me--they were running interference for me when I was too weak to fight for myself.   But even though I don't think my challenges are long gone, I'm definitely resonating more with the watchmen today.  I've been to two different adoption retreats in the last month, and met parents who have multiple adopted or foster children. They are in deep with precious lives who are so very broken.  And it is heartbreaking, life-sucking, exhausting work.  I feel very confident that God is not calling us to add to our family right now, and sometimes I can start to feel a little guilty about that.  (Especially when I'm hanging with the "families of 8 or more" crowd.)  Is our family's emotional health balancing out so that we can take on a new challenge?

But this passage in Nehemiah reminds me that we can't all be in the trenches at the same time.  Those of us who have served a time down there--and heaven knows we will probably be down in them again--have a unique perspective and ability to minister to those still digging through it.  When we have reached a less hectic, less dark, less chaotic season, it is our PRIVILEGE to be the watchmen over our beloved co-laborers.  I especially feel that way about the amazing women I've met through Called to Love, but also about so many of my mama friends--adoptive and not.  Praise God that He knows we cannot all be down in the rubble and ruin at once.  Our hearts have been broken for what breaks His, and we strive to rebuild lives that are precious to the Father.  May we all become repairers of broken walls, partnering together in the name of the only One who truly can bring beauty from the ashes.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lyrically speaking

I dig lyrics.  Instrumental music has it's time and place for my relaxation, but I like me some songs with words. They stick with me.

I have no gift for song-writing; believe me I've tried and it was not pretty.  They were all mostly of the "roses are red, violets are blue" category.  Speaking of, I can't write poetry for crap, either.  And I don't know if you are like this, but when someone shows an amazing, I mean a GOD-ordained talent or giftedness in an area where I am talentless, it leaves me in awe.  (Don't even get me started on the dancers on SYTYCD.) And then when they USE that gift to point to the Creator?  It gives me chills down to my toes.  I feel that way about certain songs and their composers.

Sometimes I find a line or two in a song and pull it out of the rest, carry it with me and put it on repeat, over and over.  There's a song we sing at church called "What Joy is Found" by Vineyard/Jeremy Riddle (but, FYI,  I like the way we do it at church better than the recording.)  Some of the lyrics are simple, but divine.  This juicy nugget was something I meditated on for a good week:

What joy is found in communion with you/
In living a life that pleases your heart/
Responding in reverence to all that You are

Do I really believe that?  That there is deep and abiding JOY in just living a life that pleases God's heart? In being in communion with him, recognizing who HE is and repsonding to it?  Even if I get nothing accomplished in the eyes of the world--or my eyes, for that matter. Oh, gosh, I hope so.

Then sometimes, I notice that lyrics from different songs written in different centuries complement each other beautifully, or express a similar concept in different ways. For instance, in the third verse in the hymn "When I Survery the Woundrous Cross," Isaac Watts wrote these words: 

All the vain things that charm me most/
I sacrifice them to his blood

That verse is so convicting to me!  Oh, Jesus, help me see past all the vain things that charm me most and focus on what is eternally important to You.  Then I noticed there is a similar sentiment in the more recent chorus "Lead Me To The Cross," written by the amazingly talented Brooke Frasier:

Everything I once held dear/
I count it all as loss

See what I'm saying?!  And, to top it all off, I feel like these "discoveries" of mine are not just me having my observant hat on.  I think the Holy Spirit brings these to my attention when I'm willing to have open eyes and ears.  Maybe when I need to learn something?  Ouch.  Vain, charming things that I hold dear?  I'm embarassed to say how many things are on that list.

On Christmas Eve, I got to sing a fun duet arrangement of a little known holiday jig called "Joy to the World."  LITERALLY I've sung it hundreds of times in my life.  Same words, same melody.  But I got thinking about the refrain:  

And wonders of His love, wonders of His love/
wo-ONders, wonders of....His....love.

What is it about His love that is so wondrous?  Do I recognize it?  Does it feel wondrous to me?  How can I describe it?  Then I heard this song, that you may not have heard, so I'm going to link you up with the vid down below, because it is too good to miss.  And in the same days that I was pondering the wonders of God's love, I heard these lyrics mixed with a moving melody (not realizing they were by Sidewalk Prophets, quickly becoming one of my fave bands):

I am the thorn in Your crown/ but You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow/ but you love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist/ but You love me anyway
I am Judas' kiss/ but You love me anyway

See now, I am the man that called out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes, then I turned away with this smile on my face
With this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night, I still called out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life

BUT YOU LOVED ME ANYWAY
Oh, God...how you love me

THAT is it.  Those words painfully capture the beauty and the WONDERS OF HIS LOVE.  That I am a sinner, failing Him day after day, making the same mistakes, feigning passion when I am often so wretchedly mediocre.  We ALL sin and fall short of His glory.  We let Him down constantly.  And yet?  His love is constant, perfect, never-changing.  He picks me up time after time.  I am His beloved, His precious daughter.  He give me new mercy every morning, even when I give Him nothing in return.  It is truly nothing short of WONDROUS.  Now these two songs are forever linked in my mind. I'm so grateful for  God who created music and for the song-writers who use their gifts to move me closer to the original Composer of all things beautiful.  

Please listen to this song!  My fave part starts around 1:56.



Saturday, January 11, 2014

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Some of you know that human trafficking has become a "cause" for me.  I really don't know why, other than the more I learn, the more I feel ill.  The FBI statistics show that humans, primarily young women, are being bought and sold--most often for $ex--around the world.  This is happening in the US.  This is rampant along the I-5 corridor, where I live.  It is a quick way to move people out of state, undetected.  This is happening in the run-down hotels off the I-5 exits that I pass EVERY DAY.  This is happening at the truck stops where I get gas and run my kids in to use the restrooms.   Hundreds of sad stories describe how these girls became victims--some were at risk, homeless or missing, others were drugged and taken from seemingly safe situations.

I have read articles and statistics, so I know this is happening within miles of my safe home, but I have never seen it with my own eyes.  However, I'm quite certain there was a moment when I came face to face with a woman being prostituted against her will.

My heart is racing and tears are stinging my eyes at the memory.  It was our last day in Bangkok, Thailand, where we had spent 2 weeks meeting our son to bring him home.  Our flight was leaving around midnight, so we moved to a fancy hotel RIGHT next to the airport to kill time until we needed to check in at BKK.  We were walking ALL around this hotel with a hyper toddler, exploring and letting him roam in hallways that were deserted...just because we had nowhere to be.  In one especially quiet and vacant back hallway, a older, white, overweight man--I would guess he was in his 60's--came out of a hotel room holding the upper arm of a very young Thai girl.  I would say he was gripping her arm, but that might be me adding drama.  But they positively were NOT arm-in-arm.  He was dressed nicely, she was not.

He caught my eye for 1 second, and I know my face was full of alarm.  He then avoided eye-contact with us and looked straight ahead, walking quickly.  The girl's face was expressionless.  Her arms were to her sides and her eyes were on the floor. She had no purse or bag.  She had to have been around 20.

Can I be 100% certain that this woman was being forced into $exual acts with this man?  No.   Can I be 100% certain that everything about it FELT WRONG and red flags were flying in every direction?  Yes. As we walked away, I began to shake and feel nauseus.  My mind started racing...who can I call?  I don't have my phone, and I wouldn't know what to dial even if I did. How can I report this? We had no internet, we had a very traumatized child on our hands, and we were leaving the country in 2 hours.  By the time I started thinking clearly and trying to form a plan, they were gone.   I knew it would not be wise to try to become Sydney Bristow and track them down.

This encounter still sits in my gut like a cement block.  Thailand is a beautiful country, full of kind and generous people.  I adore this country, my son's birthland.  It is also a land plagued by human trafficking.    For so many of us, the numbers and the horror stories can blur together and become a little hypothetical.  In the hallway of that hotel, the blur became crystal clear to me.  The statistics had a face.  [I want to add that it was not the inter-racial aspect of the couple that alarmed me.  It was everything about the situation added into the moment, especially the countenance of the 2 people.  Later at the airport we met a lovely couple--American man in his early 50's and Thai woman in her late 30's--and they were very much in love and had been married for 10 years.  No red flags flying.]

I ask you to take a few moments today to do a little research, read an article or two.  Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day.   I believe that this ugly secret does need to be brought into the light.  Most of us cannot become covert spies and infiltrate brothels.  But we can support anti-trafficking efforts with our time, our money and our prayers.  Here are just a few organizations that are working to end human trafficking, and/or support the rescue and rehabilitation of victims:

Destiny Rescue
International Justice Mission
House of Engedi
Abolition International
Compassion International
Not For Sale


"Nothing happens just because we are aware of modern-day slavery.  But nothing will ever happen until we are."  Gary Haugen

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Highlight Reel 2013

I was looking back over my f@cebook posts from the year and it was a great snapshot of our lives in 2013. Granted, one must take into consideration the fact that it focuses on the fun and happy, not the ugly.  But just know that there was some ugly in 2013 too.  I decided to post some of the best pics, status updates and videos as a compilation of the crazy and the awesome.  This is our year at a glimpse:
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April 19: WHAT THE HECK. We have a murder mystery going on in the T household, and I'm the prime suspect. Our beta fish, King Kong, is missing from his bowl. I cleaned out his bowl several hours ago, and I SWEAR I specifically remember plopping his little body into the clean water. Now he is GONE. The temporary green cup he stayed in during cleaning is empty, and so is his bowl. Don't see him in the sink, no sign of a jumper...and I am feeling the heat, people!

April 21: MURDER MYSTERY SOLVED! Asher has been cleared of all wrongdoing, and my conviction has been lessened from murder to involuntary fish-slaughter, by way of filling the bowl too full, therefore enticing King Kong the beta fish to jump free of his bowl. He (evidently) plopped off the dresser and managed to make his way under it. Ew. Glad I wasn't the one who found him. After the fact, I said, "Maybe he just wondered what was waiting for him outside of his bowl." Carson said "What was waiting for him was a quick trip to the garbage can." CASE CLOSED.

We listened to this song approximately 2934 times from August to December.  Our friend Uncle JJ had a rare glimpse at the VonTrapp family singers belting out Nothing But the Blood: 

video

Asher developed a hilarious little routine, where he lip syncs passionately to silly little Sunday School songs as if he were rocking out.  It never ceased to crack us all up!
video

 *Tonight when we were reading Goodnight Moon, for some reason on the page when the cow jumps over the moon, Asher got very serious and started shaking his head. "Cow, BIG no-no." I don't know why, but this totally cracked me up! Think he hears those words a bit too much? I'm glad he's found someone to boss around. Being the baby is rough!

*My two-year-old can't speak in full sentences, but he just totally stomped me in 7 different I-Spy books. He's too fast for me!
 *I need a new measuring scale to categorize my children's meltdowns, like they do with storms, earthquakes or fires. Today we have been hit with multiple F5's and my inner richter scale is measuring about a 9.5. The situation is 1% contained.
 *"Mom, you know that song I asked you about the other day? Well, you were wrong. It's actually: 'Who let the FOG out? Who? Who-who-who?'"  "Um, no, it's not. It's DOG."  "No, it's FOG."  "Ok, sure. You go with that."

*"Carson, who did you eat lunch with today?" "The cold lunchers from A2. We're kind of a club." "Oh really? Who's the leader of this club?" "Me. And kinda Joshua, but mostly me." Yeah, I kinda had a feeling....

Just when you think you're covering all your bases as a parent, you notice something. "Carson, how long have you been wearing those pants?" "Since Christmas day!" he says proudly. (That's six days ago.)  Sigh.


Overheard from the bedroom: "Asher. I PROMISE I will catch you. I PROMISE." Says the girl who weighs exactly 1 pound more than the child she is promising to catch. This should be interesting.
 * Ignoring my frustration at their constant bickering over the play kitchen, Sydney insists on pushing through her brothers with a little menu pad and asking me "What would you like?" "I would like my kids to get along while they play." "We don't have that," she deadpans. Clearly.

*Tonight the kids were discussing something and Sydney gave her opinion. She then paused and said "THAT is a good point." About her own point! Ha!

*If you see my non-facebooking husband in the next couple of weeks, pat him on the back and tell him he was a total rock-star hubby this year. He showered me with gifts and affirmation for our anniversary--a total surprise. This from a man who once gave me an empty fish bowl for a (dating) anniversary, with a COUPON for a goldfish. That costs 29 cents. That never came. He's come a long, long way.  Love this man and so glad to have him for the last 12 years!


*So...this just happened. A) yes, he got shocked, but he is fine.  B) Before you judge the crap out of me, there WAS a plug protector in the outlet and he popped it out. I gotta make dinner, people!

*Today at silver falls was one of those days where you feel like falling on the mossy ground & kissing it & thanking God you're an Oregonian.

*My cup overflows! The first annual Called to Love Retreat was bathed in God's presence and favor. I can't even articulate what a blessing it was to meet so many individual moms who share a similar heart, and to work alongside this tireless, drama-less, ego-less team of women. We're already planning for next year!


*It was a casual Easter for us.  Love these faces


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One of my favorite new songs from 2013 is  "Your Grace Finds Me" by Matt Redman.  The lyrics show how God's grace is in every moment, the good, the bad, and yes: the ugly.  I see His grace in the mundane and the phenomenal.  In the joy and even in the sorrow. My goal is to keep my spiritual eyes open to it always, to continually be "breathing in your grace, breathing out your praise."  Here's a link to the song and the lyrics below.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Love, Brazenlilly



YOUR GRACE FINDS ME

It's there in the newborn cry 
It's there in the light of every sunrise 
It's there in the shadows of this light 
Your great grace 

It's there on the mountaintop 
It's there in the everyday and the mundane 
There in the sorrow and the dancing 
Your great grace 

Oh, such grace 

From the creation to the cross 
Then from the cross into eternity 
Your grace finds me 
Yes, Your grace finds me 

It's there on a wedding day 
There in the weeping by the graveside 
There in the very breath we breathe 
Your great grace 

Same for the rich and poor 
Same for the saint and for the sinner 
Enough for this whole wide world 
Your great grace 

Oh, such grace 

From the creation to the cross 
Then from the cross into eternity 
Your grace finds me 
Yes, Your grace finds me 

There in the darkest night of the soul 
There in the sweetest songs of victory 
Your grace finds me 
Yes, Your grace finds me 

Your great grace 
Oh, such grace 
Your great grace 
Oh, such grace 

So I'm breathing in Your grace 
And I'm breathing out Your praise 
I'm breathing in Your grace 
Forever I'll be 
Breathing in Your grace 
And I'm breathing out Your praise 
I'm breathing in Your grace 
Forever I'll be 
Breathing in Your grace 
And I'm breathing out Your praise 
Breathing in Your grace 
For our God, for our God 

Yes, Your grace finds me 
Yes, Your grace finds me