No More Running On Empty

There’s this thing that happens when I’m introduced to another woman who has adopted. We can know little to nothing about one another and yet share a glance that says “oh, you’ve had a taste of where I’ve been.” That’s likely true of anyone who has walked through pain, themselves, or with their children — that knowing glance. Jennifer Ebenhack and I have this in common: a hunger to find Him as we hold the hands of our children in a walk towards restoration and fingernails that have gotten a little bit dirty clawing our way there. I’ve invited her to write, here, today. Her words strike a deep vein. Read on, ready to be stirred.


I can’t keep living like this. I’m being eaten alive, Lord! I threw myself to the bed and sobbed. Resentment toward Jarod, each member of my household, and every missionary who ever enjoyed a family trip back to the States flowed like poison from my mind to my heart and through every cell of my body. I wanted to destroy something or someone—to exact revenge on Joseph for ruining our adoptions, to rebel against God for allowing all of this, to do something drastic enough to prove to everyone around me that I needed help.

My tears turned to silent cries: I’m afraid I’ll do something horrible, God! I’m terrified. I’m exhausted. I’m desperate! Don’t you see? There’s no way out! But even as my adrenaline pumped, my mind jumped ahead of my tantrum: What good would it do? I was only heading deeper into the darkness, and I’d already spiraled so far into the abyss of self-pity that I didn’t recognize myself. I knew the antidote to darkness was light. But apart from an adoption miracle—which I’d long ago given up on—how could anything change?

Utterly depleted, I reached for my One Year Bible. Just this once, God, could you show me something I’ve never seen before?
Window MJ

My hope rose just a little as I flipped pages to find the reading of the day, but my expectations were soon let down.

Psalm 23.

That’s it? How are verses about sheep and oil going to help me today, Lord?

I read on, expecting nothing.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

I scoffed, and a few tears ran down my cheek.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.”

 Lie down? If only!

“He restores my soul.”

And here I stopped.

“He restores my soul.”

I was living in a spiritual desert that rivaled the Sahara. Those four words may as well have been an invitation into the turquoise waters of Tahiti.

Are you serious, God? You can do that? This from a woman who’d been studying Scripture since childhood.

I drank in the words one more time: “He restores my soul.”

And suddenly the truth became real, piercing through all my cynicism. I was placing impossible burdens on everyone around me. It was no wonder they failed to deliver. My husband, friends, and family were powerless to perform the duties of my Savior—my Shepherd. Life was disappointing. Circumstances were impossible. My loved ones let me down regularly. But I was never supposed to place my hope in them. I finally saw that.

Okay, Jesus. Be my Shepherd. Please, restore my soul! I turned a wet face up to the ceiling. Help me! I am such a mess!

I was still on my bed, in a hot, cluttered room, but I had been spiritually plunged into the still, clear waters of restoration. God was listening.

I devoured the following verses.

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Of course. He will help me—after all, His holy name is at stake.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

Like never before, I knew what it was to fear evil, and oh how ready I was for His comfort. I also knew what it was to prepare a table; the process of making three meals a day from scratch, setting the table, cutting and cooling the kids’ food, and dishing out seconds and thirds before I’d had my first bite had frustrated me regularly. The beauty of Jesus serving me so tenderly humbled me. He wanted to feed me. He wanted to anoint my wounds with oil. He offered to keep my cup so full, filling it after every sip, that it would overflow. I didn’t have to run on empty; I didn’t have to live with a dry cup.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I’d spent the past months convinced darkness and despair would follow me all the days of my life. But here was restoration for my soul.

There was a knock at the door. Someone needed me for something urgent, as always. Drying my face with tissues, I opened the door. The needs remained. Mommy was in demand. I was still stuck. Nothing had changed.

Yet everything had changed.

Jen Profile In a Sun-Scorched Land Back CoverJennifer’s eight eventful years in Haiti produced a gift of brokenness through which she has discovered the depths of God’s healing grace. She passes that grace on to others through her blog, life coaching, her recently released memoir, In a Sun-Scorched Land: A memoir of adoption, faith, and the moving of Haiti’s mountains, and her ebook Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear. 
Jennifer, her husband Jarod, and their five children currently reside in South Florida. Jennifer blogs regularly for The Better MomClub 31 WomenFaithgirlz, and JenniferEbenhack.com. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram.

 

In a Sun-Scorchd Land Cover

Hope Takes Practice

On Christmas morning, I padded around the house in my slippers, stepping over remnants from the annual Christmas show the night before — the one the children have performed for us since a friend first suggested it as their family’s favorite tradition.

For the months leading up to this day, one of mine had drank deep gulps of negativity — the kind I recognize from my twenties. The kind that is both fueled and understood in light of a broken history. My little girl had reason to think that any given day might not be a “good day.” Her early years were stained with many not-so-good days.

The Christmas show, as with many good and beautiful things, felt like a set-up. For ones who struggle to hope even the very best things get translated into opportunities for the very worst. This particular child had made a habit of it. It felt easier for her to assume that a tear in the hem would mean the whole dress would unravel. Those feeling hope-less always hedge their bets.

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This night was no different. The music was off cue and the curtain didn’t rise at the right time and one child melted in fear of the audience’s eyes — all which might easily lead her to what many adults find themselves saying: “figures. I should’ve known this would happen.” 

Except something shifted in such a surprising way that I didn’t see it until the whole show was over. My little girl — the one who hedges her bets — she carried the show. She was Herod and Joseph and Mary (all at once), playing the roles of siblings who, themselves, were folding back stage under all the unexpected glitches. She stood, poised and confident, when given real reason to think that this night they’d been rehearsing for months might just be terrible. She was radiant. Perhaps the most radiant I’d ever seen her.

The child with a loaded history and a scary night — the child with real reason to live a measured and calculated existence, spying out every challenge in advance and bracing herself for the worst, as she had done often before — hoped. She leaned in to the God-Man who is hope.

And His light in her was brilliant.

Cherish Stained Glass

Hope does that to a person.

Not the Hallmark hope — the kind that feels like warm and cozy vapor, available when we need a boost but not weighty enough to really move our insides — but the kind birthed through sweat and ache that leans, weak and needy, into the chest of the One who made us, all when it would be much easier to grow cynical and hardened.

Real hope is forged.

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And it’s stunning.

It reflects this Jesus, when you see it eke through the life of a person who has any of a myriad of tangible reasons not to hope, and it tethers us to the truth that our true reality is not about what we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands.

We hope or we die, on the inside.

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So I pad circles around the first floor on Christmas morning and stop to stare across to the woods in our front yard and I can’t help but notice the harshness of winter on what felt lush just a few months earlier. Those trees look dead. Long dead.

I hear the whisper of that word that He has been speaking to me all month: hope. 

Hope in Jesus is like staring at the winter-worn tree and expecting a shoot. It’s looking at dead, dry bones of circumstance and story and relationships and dreams and expecting that they could become radiant with Him. Telling them to breathe. It’s making His Word, in our minds, more real than what we see.

It’s crazy.

It’s not careful and it’s full of foolishness and it’s certainly not safe, by any of the standards around us. To stand, day after day, at the base of that winter tree and watch for life would be a great waste … for the heart that hasn’t yet known the ever-expanding value of hope in Jesus.

So we wait on this thing — this barren womb or this child who’s still wounded or this broken body or this empty bank account with no sign of a new job or this [insert yours here] — with an option of how to wait.

When I move my often-stubborn heart towards waiting with expectancy that God can do what I could not fathom being done, instead of sitting cynical and refusing this risky hope, my heart expands. It grows. For and towards Him.

I practice hope with what is right in front of me at the moment so that I can build a lifetime of expanding my heart in hope for Him, just Him. Him, forever.

Plant MJ

Expectancy builds capacity for God.

Christmas show glitches and unpaid bills and empty bedrooms and broken bodies and staring at the dead-tree of winter while waiting for spring are all the practice runs. They’re practice runs inviting us to look at Him, with expectancy, and not at what we see right in front of us. He shines, here. Radiates. And our insides expand a little wider.

Then we grow in hope, the waiting kind of hope.

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Until the next practice run.

And thousands of practice runs get strung together across our life, ushering us into a fearsome kind of expectancy of God. A forever expectancy.

We can’t grow, in Him, without this impractical, “irrational” hope.

Real hope opens us to see Jesus as He really is.

Wild. Uncomely. And radiant.

(Yes, even while we wait. Especially, while we wait.)

 

Making it practical: His word is better than Hallmark and Biblical hope might just turn the most deep-run cynic into one who prays with the roof off.

Read on: Psalm 34:5 | Romans 5:3-5 | Hebrews 6:13-20 | Hebrews 11:1-3 | Romans 8:5-11, 18-25 | Ezekiel 37

First and third photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Second and Fourth photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

Getting In The Way Of Perfect

Our first home together was a 1930’s bungalow, the only remaining vestige of a farm in Crozet, Virginia. When we moved in, then, had 50 nearly-new spec homes around it, transforming it from a charming farmhouse into the gangly outlaw of the neighborhood. In exchange for reduced rent, we stripped wall-paper and sanded floors and painted trim. We also added a pull-down staircase into the attic in a harried attempt to compensate for the hole our friend made in the ceiling as he foist our boxes up into “storage.”

Most of those boxes were Nate’s; I brought only a small dowry to our union. I thought he must be a pack rat, then (you know, all those guesses you make about this person who’s ring you’re wearing but of whom you still barely know). Poetry anthologies and historical biographies and more works of C.S. Lewis than I knew he wrote. We loaded up that cob-webbed crawl-space in the ceiling with box after box of books that didn’t have titles like “Growing Your Heart for God,” which were the only kind of books that I read at that time. The attic concealed them, so I ignored them.

When we moved again three years later into the home that didn’t have an attic, but a basement, and one into which we walked through every day from our garage up to the first floor,  I remembered the books. The boxes of books. “Can’t we just sell them?” I inquired with an added edge. I now knew … {continue reading over here —>}

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s To No Longer Playing It Safe

I never wanted to play it safe.

In those rare minutes when the noise of life is quieter than His whisper against my insides, I welcome risk. I want adventure and a life-rush that might empty every last drop of me and dreams that keep my eyes open during otherwise-normal days. I’ll take the threat of danger, if it means I get more of Him. I want unconventional, even when it’s coupled with the prospect of clearing my bank account or my fuel tank or my carefully planned schedule.

Yes, even with my children in mind, when life is still and my pulse tells me He is near, I’m Caleb and the giants are small.

I never wanted to play it safe, no not even as a mom. And I don’t want them to play it safe, either. I’ve lived enough life to know they can’t live with both a deep sense of Him coursing through their veins and a white-knuckled grip on their circumstances. I want them to sing (even through tears) if the house burns down and to clear their savings if He nudges them and buy a one-way ticket to China if He asked.

But there is one sneaky thing that tries to keep me tethered to safety, that tries to keep my life –and theirs — small.

Continue reading over here at The Better Mom…

Up, please.

We have this petri dish of a home. Having seven different bodies doesn’t only mean seven different personalities and seven different Myer’s Briggs’ scores and seven different body types. In our house, we have seven different beginnings and seven different histories, started in three different countries and cultures. There is a lot within these walls to observe about the human heart and how the waves of life make an impact.

So I’ve been watching, with this babe — the one my body hasn’t just held but formed — and wondering if I’d see a difference not only in him but in how he relates to me. Some want to call him a “child of my own“, but they’re all my own (and sometimes I’m actually at risk of overlooking the one that has my DNA for the others who’ve called forth a greater fight from within me for their grafting into our family).

Though there is something different and for nearly two years I haven’t been able to name it — until this past summer when I was away from my children for a night. I laid on my hotel room bed and talked to God and had that rush of understanding that back-filled two years worth of interacting with him.

“Up, please,” I saw the wide eyes of the babe in my mind.

Arms raised in the air, this toddler (whose epicenter mimics the belly of a forty-five year-old ex-athlete), looks up with expectation and says this one phrase more times than any other in a day. It’s the first one he learned. At 7:30am he’s squeaking it, his voice rusty from hours of sleep and his body ready to be held. At 9:30am it’s a cry for relief. He’s been in the sibling-care rotation and needs the respite of mommy’s arms. And sometimes it’s said with a creeping lower lip and eyes brimmed with tears.

Up please — the incessant ask of the tethered child. Out into the world of blocks and puzzles and rowdy siblings and back into the place of sure-safety. All day long, I’m reminded that I have one that needs me. ‘Cause the diaper changes and the lunches and the baths do remind me on occasion, but not like that baby reach.

Four others need me too.

But they never got to say “up, please.”

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The needs of former orphans are often masked. Children raised on the streets or in foster care or at an orphanage among many earn their mask — it’s the survivor’s emblem. Some of the hardest workers are former orphans. They bury their “up please” behind a set gaze and eyes that don’t cry or they cry when it shouldn’t hurt as a means of controlling exactly how and when they get love. Shame of abandonment or rejection can shove that vulnerable “up, please” way down as if to say: I never want to feel that ache again, of needing and not receiving — so I won’t ask the question that leaves me with my arms in the air and no one on the other side to respond.

“Up, please” is dangerous for the child who’s not been tethered.

And for you. And for me.

Because somewhere in that grafting, when we said “yes” to Jesus — at seven or sixteen or twenty-three —  the inertia of humanity and life has taught us that “up, please” is for babies and we don’t know how to be babies to God.

Child at Window

Girl MJ

And He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3

It’s on our grandmother’s wall and in cartooned story-books. We know it, but if we’re honest we don’t like it.

I’d rather not be like a child. I don’t want to fumble over my words in a crowd or have my daughter’s wounds get triggered in public, for others to see. I don’t want to be the medical conundrum. I don’t want my eyes to be red at church, from a “discussion” I had with my husband before I arrived. I don’t want to be pushing forty and needing to ask the question: what broke at fifteen to make me still.keep.struggling. with that same issue? I don’t want to bleed, for too long at least.

Foot MJ

I don’t want to be diapered and drool.

I don’t want to need.

I’ll say it again: if I’m honest — I don’t really want to need Him.

Friends, we’ve been duped, just as my once-orphaned children had been duped. (Though I must say, they’re seeing it earlier than I did and walking out the healing a decade before I ever did.) We could spend a lifetime hiding behind “I’ve got this thing figured out” and running from the raw vulnerability that can turn a stalwart God follower into a forever-lover.

I want to crawl out of weak skin and learn the five points on how to grow my passion for God — ’cause wouldn’t we all rather learn it in a sermon than with our lives? Yet He keeps inviting me to be bare with Him — to literally, sit before Him and let down my heart and ask the questions and wait on His answers. Be vulnerable and stay vulnerable is quite the invitation in a world where efficient mastery and polished appearances are praised.

At three a.m. when the baby’s awake and mind-numbing scrolling allures me, “Up, please” is what He created me to say. When the child is bristling and a playdate sounds easier than a conversation with God: “Up, please.” The two o’clock in the afternoon quiet that exposes a bare heart more than a bare schedule — in lieu of checking off tasks: “Up, please.” With a still unrepentant perpetrator or a still unrepentant friend: “Up, please.” Standing beside a girlfriend who has what you want. You could push to get it or say these words: “Up, please.”  Lost in the crowd of many who barely know your story, before you open your mouth to tell them: “Up, please.”

The dozen moments in a day that I resent because they remind me that I’m weak are the ones when He wants to hear my faltering voice: “up, please.”

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Needy tears have become a treasure here. When pain isn’t shoved back into submission through self-flagellation or masked underneath layers of “I’m fine!” but instead spills out through eight and ten and eleven year-old versions of “up, please,” we celebrate. We give long cuddles, just to re-affirm them that hearts that are bleeding raw before God are the ones on their way to coming alive. 

[And for those of you adoring God with us over here or those intrigued by the notion of adoration: adoration isn’t for the strong minutes of our day, it is for when we’re tired and restless and grumpy. Vulnerable. We bring our raw selves — yup, the “this is how I’m really feeling right now, God” — with the expectation that He can handle it and that we’re not going to stay there. Adoration takes all of me — right where I am in that moment — and puts it at the feet of all of Him. I get changed as I adore.]

For Your Continued Pursuit: Romans 11:17-18 | Genesis 3:1-11 | 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 | 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 | Psalm 34:18

Pictures compliments of Mandie Joy and Cherish Andrea Photography.

When Our International Adoption Turned Local

Today, I share my friend Emily Wierenga with you. This woman has a raw vulnerability with her words  and her pursuit of God. It’s an honor to have a writer in this space who has handled her craft with such poise and beauty and who deeply loves Jesus as she writes.

I was all set to mail the application in.

I’d announced it on Facebook the night before, begging people for prayer and that’s when a friend of mine read my status and connected me with another Canadian–who lived just two hours from me–who had also adopted from Uganda.

We had been told it was nearly impossible to adopt from the Pearl of Africa.

But I’m the kind of girl who, upon being told “Don’t jump!” says defiantly, “How high?”

So we jumped, and we researched, and we made contacts and we felt very much hopeful and terrified. And as I was talking with the local woman who’d adopted years earlier, she said, “I think our adoption case may be the reason every Canadian case is so difficult now.”

I didn’t think much about it at the time.

Not until two nights later, when I felt a nudge, and so I wrote her. “How much did you end up spending, overall?” I said.

She responded in less than a minute.

“$110,000. And bankrupt.”

My heart stopped.

I swallowed.

Hard.

I’d known it was expensive–and this woman, she’d brought home two children, but she’d also lost everything: her savings, and her husband, in the process.

I never mailed the application.

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No, I sat at my desk, the boys napping in their beds, and I typed in “local adoption Alberta” because I know one thing–there are needy children everywhere. Here, and in Africa, and profiles of boys and girls filled my screen and I sent Alberta Government a note, asking how we could get started.

And then I leaned my head on my hands and cried.

Because loving hurts.

And I can still smell her skin–baby Edina–and it smelled like bananas and the sun. Her pale pink dress stained with the plantain I’d fed her for lunch, and no one even knowing how old she was. Somewhere between a year and 18 months and rescued from the slums and she had no one. And now, she didn’t have me either.

I ached like the Grand Canyon, I wept and I prayed and I knew I’d made the right decision because right often feels like dying, and yet there’s a peace, too. Kind of like the end of a long run.

“That must have been so hard for you,” Trent said when he came home from coaching basketball, and I told him. He held me close. “I’m fine with adopting local, as long as that’s what you want,” he said. “And we can sponsor so many children now that we have the money.”

Two nights later, after speaking with the local adoption agency, and signing up for their training, I sobbed into the floor by the wood stove. Asked God to speak to me about our daughter–the one missing from our family since the miscarriage last spring.

And then I went upstairs at midnight and chose five children to sponsor from Destiny Villages of Hope. And even as I sent the email, requesting those children, I received a message from a friend of mine whom I met in Korea years ago.

She was forwarding an old email of mine–and the subject was “Birth Announcement” and it was the letter we’d sent out telling everyone about our eldest son’s birth.

“I found this precious, old email, Em,” she wrote.

And in the first few lines of the forwarded message, I’d written,

“We celebrate, so very humbly, the birth of our beautiful babe: Aiden Grey… born Nov. 12, 12:24 a.m., at 8 lbs, 2 oz, 20 inches. Our hearts are full. We have longed for a child, and God has heard our longing… may you be encouraged, in your own pursuits and dreams. He hears, and He is good.”

It was enough. This random, very much planned coincidence, was enough.

It was God saying, through my own words, “I heard your longing then, Emily, and I hear it now.”

Even as he always does.

(Emily is celebrating the release of her new memoir, Making It Home: Finding My Way To Peace, Identity and PurposeGet your copy HERE!)

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Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, and the author of five books including the memoir Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). All proceeds from Atlas Girl benefit Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and three children. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

A Friend Who Leaves a Mark

Death can provide an exclamation point on a life that was already expressing the glory of God.

My friend passed between that one-day-will-be-thin sheath of death and life and I tried to remember if I’d ever told her how much of an imprint she’d left upon me.

Claire and I shared a small city but couldn’t have been more different, back then. She had six children. I had none. My womb was empty — and sometimes I wore a suit to work. I was fumbling through my twenties, both unsure of myself and also overconfident and she had bigger concerns than her weekend plans. She’d earned her grey hair.

Not too long after I met Claire, {continue reading over here —->}

 

 

 

{Where to Start} When There Seems To Be No Give

There has always been something.

To set me apart, to make me feel different, to weigh me down in a way that I was sure that other light-footed women weren’t and to remind me that an invigorating life (the kind that fills your lungs yet leaves you with space for more) evades me.

I’d find myself thinking: why does this always happen to me, as I looked at women who sailed through life’s mile-markers with poise and sassy shoes and advice for the rest of us who couldn’t or didn’t.

But I only looked at them long enough to presume, to fuel my frustrated looks of comparison back at myself and my own story.

Had I looked longer, I may have noticed more similarities than differences.

We all have that something, that nagging thing that leaves us thinking: if this thing [insert yours here] would just change, I could get my full eight hours of sleep and feel the words I sing in worship and touch joy, not just put it on a sign in my house.

In my twenties, it was an empty womb and an empty bank account and a marriage that landed us in a counselor’s office. Turning the corner on thirty it was a father with brain cancer and a delayed adoption. We brought our two home from Africa and it turned, quickly, to managing life with … two! We adopted two more and I was sure having four children, in such a short amount of time, was the equivalent of training for the Navy Seals. Then, when I’d see women with four children who had somehow managed a shower and I was certain it was adoption that made it a feat for me to get dressed – four children with broken histories, that was the thing.

And those are just the broad strokes. When we couldn’t pay the bills I wanted my husband to crawl right out of entrepreneurship so I could sleep at night and when my children had health issues I thought the end of trouble-shooting those mysteries would give me breathing space.

It was always something.

Something that I called circumstance and that {continue reading over here —>}

 

 

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The Secret to Staying in Love

Fourteen years ago today, it felt like I might has well have been twelve and was spending my parents’ savings on a new bike. I had little life experience but was full of zeal and opinions and somehow I found a husband who would accept all of that.

So, instead of twelve I’d crested into my twenties and my parents had given me a dollar amount to pay for my wedding.

I may have handled a bike better.

We were young in heart, wearing big kids’ clothes at Christ Church on that day. I thought I’d fallen in love ’cause I found someone who would carry my secrets, tenderly, and wouldn’t leave me.

It really was my most beautiful day ever, witnessed by all my closest family and friends, and we had nothing to say to one another but gentle love notes spoken like phrases of an inside joke in between the clanking glasses. We said our vows before a crowd of three hundred and whispered secrets to one another about our dreams, late into the night. This was my first taste of married life.

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I now had someone to hold my secrets, to see even the hidden parts of me and not to leave. The pent-up valve of what-do-I-do-with-this-inner-traffic was released and I told him everything, without filter. I unlocked not only the thoughts about me that I hadn’t realized were tucked away — but also my unfettered opinions of him. I supposed that my steel (the steel of my unrefined youth, that is) was intended to sharpen the jagged parts of his own iron.

Marriage was going to make us better. Stronger. And information, generously shared, about our flaws and weaknesses and “areas for growth” was interchangeable in my mind with the power to grow.

Cherish Wood

Except he didn’t like that so much.

My inner thoughts about him weren’t often welcomed (nor were they usually delivered with care) and I hadn’t thought that the one bringing a gift might should consider the packaging. It was a gift, after-all, to give this man the input I had about his life.

Right?

The marriage-whispers began to peter. I didn’t want to share the innermost parts of me with one who didn’t want to also hear my feedback about him.

I withheld — stubborn, but God was merciful.

The obstinance of this fresh bride was what God used to show me another kind of marriage-whisper, another kind of secret.

I had a hearing with God, the kind Father who knew I held opinions without much weight and an immaturity that needed tapering. He fielded my in-the-middle-of-the-night whispers (that started mostly as fret) and turned them, over time, into trusted secrets. God worked the muscle of leaning on my insides as I held my tongue in public but poured out myself in private, with Him — all about my heart, my marriage and my man.

God became safer to me than even the boy who gave me his name and his paycheck and his youthful-but-real promise. My marriage now involved three. Functionally. At times, the greatest love affair was my secret conversation with God about that boy.

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I filled notebooks with God’s Word to pray about my husband and was interrupted when His secrets were shared — for me to pray back. Our conversation was not one-sided. Years of confiding in God, and stuffing a cork into my otherwise running mouth, gave me an inroad to hear and not just to speak.

I was falling in love with Nate, and not just over late-night conversations and spontaneous dates and izze’s, shared under June’s swelling sky.

I was falling in love with Nate as I talked to God about him.

Hey you — new bride or wife celebrating a decade or woman just needing a jumpstart,

Have you started telling secrets to God about that one who has more-than-quirks you can’t quite get over? It’s never to late for a love affair.

If the horizontal seems to be stunted — or if you’re just drooling a bit for more out of marriage than a shared bank account and calendar or even missions trips — maybe it’s time to go vertical.

Could it be that marriage is your school of prayer? 

We don’t just need to stuff those things we see and feel and discern about our husbands so that our homes can be peaceable. They’re intended to be carried right back to GodHe works out and in, in those conversations.

If conversation with God seems laborious or just like another task on your list — it’s possible your marriage is right there too. Remember that dress, fitted perfectly to your frame, and your ring on those manicured hands and the way he looked at you that day and remind yourself that you were made for fiery love.

And here’s the biggest secret: that fire starts when no one is looking, not even your man. If it’s gonna last, the fire has to be vertical — just between you and God — first.

Let’s get alone and revive.

It’s time to talk secrets with God.

Book on Swing MJ

And for the seasoned bride — the one who is counseling young ones and pulling her perhaps-yellowed dress out of storage for her daughters and is commemorating decades, 

Is it time to go to new places in prayer for your man? To ask things you’ve not asked before and be willing to unlock new closets of your heart and his while you hold your hands open to field God’s secrets about that no-longer-youthful groom? 

The end is better than the beginning when God is fueling the conversation. Advanced years can translate into advanced secrets, shared, with God.

Lead the rest of us into the heart of God by how you are unrelenting in asking for the fully-surrendered heart of your man. (We’re watching. We’re learning from you.)

Pearls Cherish

Our dreams for our husbands are far too small.

Tapping in to the currency of God — prayer — takes the ceiling off of who they can be in Him.

Nate Hagerty, Happy fourteen years of sharing way more than a sink. You’ve become far more of the husband than I ever knew I needed or wanted when I met you at the end of that long aisle all those years ago. Thank you for enduring my youthful obstinance — instead of moving to the corner of the roof as would have been justified. Now, look at you: the ceiling is off. 

You sure have given me a lot of material for my conversations with God … (wink).

Wedding9

The photographers: Lucy O Photo, Cherish Andrea Photography, Seeing Joy, and Aspen Photography (circa 2001). 

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A Love That Isn’t Loud

Fifteen years ago, I heard a whisper on my insides: you’re gonna marry that boy. One quiet day at the creek — quiet enough for me to hear the methodical splash of the rower’s ores and a dove’s  distant call … and a whisper — and everything changed. I’d never been in love before and didn’t quite expect this kind of preceding introduction before falling into it. I hadn’t even had a chance to try on the feeling. (I wouldn’t advise this method for my daughters — but sometimes you live a story you don’t think others should try at home.)

But boy did we feel, that boy and I.

Cherish Shoes

For the first few years, I wondered when I might stop feeling. I was befuddled by who I turned into when things between us didn’t go my way. How was I twenty-four and had never seen these sides of myself? I was angered when he didn’t approach life like I did, but felt the sweet sense of home in sharing long weekend mornings and late-night ice cream splurges during the pockets of life into which you don’t normally invite others. I was disappointed at a seeming lack of newlywed bliss and saddened by the loss of my independence. At the same time, I felt a measure of peace in the new release-valve I’d found for my interior life: this person who was learning to receive all of me.

I spent years feeling and falling in and out of affection with the person I’d committed to love with my life.

Love was loud, then.

We said it took work as if work took on only one form: active labor.

We did heart-work sitting on the couch in a counselor’s office and staying up later than normal to finish a conflict that started in the morning. We worked — we labored — saving money we didn’t have to make an anniversary trip happen. I listed items on ebay in order to make money to buy him a fishing rod. I spent weeks preparing for a surprise camping trip for his birthday and he spent long days painting our first home a color that he didn’t like but that I loved. We worked at love in ways that could be memorialized and remembered and love was loud. And we felt it all.

Logs Cherish

That loud love which was measured by above-ground labor and a torrent of feelings has slowly morphed into a love that is now marked more by the five minutes he spends, first thing, at the sink doing dishes, right after he comes home sweaty from the gym, and by the hand that holds mine across three children’s backs while at church. Like my children’s growth spurts (where they happen and I miss them until two seasons later and they’re back in pants that are inches too short), this love shifted.

And to grow in love — to keep falling in love — I have to shift with it.

This week, I don’t feel those 34 turbulent emotions about my marriage — and I’m planning an eight year-old’s birthday party this year, not a surprise weekend camping trip for my husband where we’ll have nothing but time together. But I walked the circle in front of our house last night, asking God to open new parts of Nate’s heart and I whispered “you’re a great dad” to him as he coached our son through assembling a bench. I held his hand in the car, with children screeching over a spilled smoothie in the back.

My marriage and my walk with God are comprised of a hundred little moments over a week that are opportunities to catch a spark and start a interior fire — and a hundred little diversions that could allure me into subtly believing there is a ceiling on love that isn’t loud.

Piano Cherish

I can wait until the next “big thing” to fall in love — the next conference, the next grand idea to change the world, the next catastrophe that makes me fall flat on my face, crying out to God — or I can tell myself, right now: a wild falling in love with God happens over the quiet minutes.

This is adoration, for me.

Window Door Cherish

Adoration is seeing His word as a formative part of my life and thoughts — at 7:30am and 2:53pm and 10:32 before bed. Adoration is speaking God’s Word back to Him, all the while realizing how little I actually believe it and how much I need to cling to it. Adoration is the honest reckoning of my interior life where I acknowledge there is a great dissonance between what His Word says about Him and what I believe about Him when the car stalls out on the highway.

Adoration starts with this grand (but often subtle) admission: there’s a whole lot about Your Word that I’ll put up on my walls and tweet about and say in a conversation that I don’t really believe here, deep on the inside.

And it moves me into replacing those newly-identified (but maybe always having been present) toxic thoughts with the only thing that will change a human heart: the Truth of this beautiful God-Man. His Word. (And the wind of His Spirit that comes when we invite His Word to be bigger than our toxic human logic.)

Adoration is for when my child puts her foot through the less-than-year-old painted wall and I find myself saying under my breath “these kids are ruining my order” and God nudges me to look at what’s revealed in that moment about who I really believe Him to be.

Adoration is for when my friend breathes air on support in the ICU and takes in food through a tube while I remember dozens of conversations we had about her dreams for her family and I’m confused and scared — and God whispers: who do you say that I am in this moment?

Adoration is for when the dishwasher stops working on the same day the hospital bill arrives and there’s no room in the budget for either. Adoration is for when your insides feel hollow — bored — and you’re finally sick of scrolling your feed through others’ exciting lives.

Adoration is for when you remember the fire you once had for God that’s now barely a flaming ember and you finally muster the ask: is there more of You, God, than what I’m experiencing?

Adoration is for Monday morning at the same old job and Friday night at home, alone.

Tea Cup Cherish

All those buried thoughts about God that we spend so much of our lives carefully pretending aren’t there are meant to come up and out. And then to be expunged.

You’re not too old (or too young), too tired, too worn, or too boring to fall wildly in love with God.

Just like you don’t want to wait until your 15 year anniversary trip when the love is loud, but instead you reach across the cluttered console of your mini-van and grab his hand and say let’s stoke this ember until it becomes a fire:

Grab His hand too.

Adore God, right here.

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Join us over here as we adore Him. Wanna read more about adoration, try these: The Words You Use When You’re Not Ready to Talk & How to Really Fall in Love.

It’s the kind of habit that’s best started in the middle of the month, in the middle of a transitional season, when it’s unplanned. He loves to show up in our very-weak lean. Jump in with us for August:

I’m years into this habit and just this week I’ve been telling my fickle soul, again, who God is and how He sees me and finding new oxygen there. When I put His Word in my mouth something shifts. Every time. The habit of adoration isn’t some grandiose system, it’s the minute-by-minute winning over of my otherwise-negative (read: otherwise-toxic) thoughts and expectations and perspective back to God’s Truth.  This month we’re adoring Him through the book of John. Perhaps it’s your month to move from scrolling this feed to engaging in adoration? #adoration #augustadoration

Photos thanks to my sweet friend Cherish

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