A Little Love Note {for the mama still in her sweatpants}

Hey you,

Yes, you, still in your sweatpants and un-showered, hours into your day. This love note is for you.

Between seven a.m. when they wake, alert and ready to tackle the world and you and any sibling that accidentally touches the edge of that notebook that one-time a long time ago used to be theirs, and lunch you will field dozens of questions. The shade snapped, up, when seven arrived and you’re right in the thick of a motherhood that looks a lot different than when you prayed for their hearts in the dark, just a few minutes earlier.

In your mind, they were quiet and jammy-clad with the night weighing down their eyelids — and you poured out quiet prayers for their souls.

With seven a.m. came bodies that bolt and jump and climb right out of that placid sleep and into dress-up clothes and dolls and drama.

The older ones, they wear their layers — maybe not as loud on the outside but roaring beneath their skin. Where the littles count minutes until snacks and sweet treats, these older ones they hunger, too. They’re hungry for answers to all the questions you’ve just barely had answered yourself and the ones you’re still asking. You see them, awkwardly fumbling through who they are and who you’re not and trying find their one niche in a world that doesn’t know them but wants to own them.

Each child is a bell and they ring with their needs, sometimes all together.

All at once, this loud cacophony of sounds and needs and aches and you wonder how in the world God even allowed for a mother, much less you. They all need Him. Those bells, they ring and remind and hang out in your once-quiet space. All of them are needy for way more than your frame — still ringing its own bell of need and ache and hunger — can supply, yet {continue reading over here –>}

Finding The Love That Retrieves

We stand in line at the grocery store, no different than the week before. It’s Friday. The cashiers know my family and my children know them by name. Miss Misty is having a baby. Eden knew it months before it was obvious and I hushed her in fear that she’d engaged in the taboo question all children have a hard time containing. Mr. Ty’s daddy just died. Caleb prayed for him to be healed nearly every day since he’d told us, but Mr. Ty’s heart seemed to be healed in the meantime. “I believe in God, now,” he tells them as he weighs my cucumbers. Miss Sata has a new hairstyle, again, and Mr. Roger still isn’t quite sure my groceries will fit in the oversized bag we use every week.

Just like at home, I forget we are “different” when we are there. We may have been”different” to each one of them, when they first met us, but now the normal we live everyday is just as normal to the man re-stocking the produce each week as we scoot our cart passed him.

But one week, our cashier was new and curious and demonstrative. The groceries slowed to a halt  on the belt and his face flushed, red, as he gushed about them and gave kudos to me. “Wow, it’s so amazing what you’ve done.”

Adoptive mamas alike share the same discomfort with comments like this, but this particular one struck a new, strained, chord.

This week, when the window shades were pulled, I had been far from amazing.

Tired at best. I hid behind my bedroom door and cried, exhausted. Was it always going to be this hard? I’d run bone dry — out of those tender, patient words with a long-suffering tone, and this particular child pushed away every movement I’d made towards love. It was as if every one of this one’s actions was purposed to say: “I’m going to make it impossible for you to love me. I’m waiting for you to fail me. Prove to me I’m not worth it.”

Rose

And fail I did.

This one needed steady and I reacted. How many times will this child resist my advancements towards their heart? In my fearful expectations, I inhaled those years of fatherlessness like it was a death sentence. Albeit subtle — all in my head — my child read me, of course; a child, once orphaned, becomes an expert at detecting a weak-link of love. They prepare to flee at the first indication that love might fall short.

Hearts bleed in my home in different intervals, but at any given moment one or another is reminding me that we aren’t exactly re-creating normal. I press my hand against the wound and it hemorrhages and I wonder if we’ll ever stop bleeding out old blood.

What a perfect storm. The recovering perfectionist fails and the child backs away further. Who wouldn’t fail this child who’s fiercely resisting my love? I argue to myself. This one waits expectantly for their history to repeat itself and I fight feeling trapped by their expectations.

On days like these, as you cry behind the shades pulled tight while your neighbors are shouting out accolades, the YouTube video of the beautiful moment when they found themselves wrapped in your arms is not enough to sustain you. Those of us who have said yes to the wounded child   — or even if you just happened to find yourself raising one — need a grid for their very worst days.

He gave it.

In words, once. In expression, all throughout history.

Go again.*

He told the man, Hosea, who married a harlot that couldn’t leave her darkly-patterned ways. What a life calling. How do you explain this to your mother and father, whose dreams for you surely stretched well beyond welcoming a stained bride who still hasn’t decided yet if she is staying?

Ring on Branch

His words to me are in kind. Look deeply into those eyes that are like vacant corridors and hold that child again. Let their forehead feel your lips. Scratch their back and tickle their belly and tell them — again — that they are yours … forever. Call forth from what is not, what will one-day be. “…just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel” (Hosea 3:1).

You see, friends, he or she (any one of them in my home on a given day) is only my greatest challenge if I believe that my eighty-something years on earth were intended for me only to know safe love — the world’s version of love. If I am to receive and live a love that has a known a shape and form that doesn’t bend or break or bleed, then these ones are a real problem. A hindrance.

But His love isn’t plastic.

And He said about me what He is saying to me about them.

Go again.

Path

So I go, again, to this child — not because I have some stalwart strength that needs recognition from a grocery store cashier, but because I want to invest my life in knowing the “other-than” love of the Father that outlies every one of my natural understandings of Him.

It’s not my resolve that equips me. My knees are busted open and blood-shod from falling in my pursuit of this one’s heart. But in my weakest moments, I can know this love. Because of my weakest moments, I can know this love.

The most beautiful part of my story these days is bloody.

A friend recently stared into the eyes of her daughter, adopted at an older age and bristling — hard — against her love, and said tenderly, “Babe, you’re going to call me your best friend one day.”

That’s His love that goes again.

Going again is looking into that dead-pan expression and saying it’s not about how far gone you are [the lie they’ve listened to all their lives], it’s about how far He is willing to go to retrieve you. 

Holding Hands

FLower opened

I won’t come by this love naturally. It’s not natural for those of us clothed in flesh to lean in, not back, when pushed away. The real life-blood of God courses through my system when I resist the urge to divorce my heart from the battle for theirs and, instead, go again.

It’s in the going again that we wear the cross and find out from experience what we know in Word, that that tree was more about life than death. Though death was required.

9718_298377285293_887385293_9149592_3106210_n

The person in our lives most challenging to love — the child in our home, the husband who shares our sheets, or the friend down the street — is the instrument for bringing us to the end of that plastic kind of love and the beginning of our own personal revelation of the cross as a doorway, not just a destination.

He’s aptly positioned them so we might have a place where we get to be the rare ones on the earth who share His heart — the heart that goes again.

They aren’t our biggest challenge, friends. They are our greatest asset.

GoAgain

++++

Making it Practical for those in and outside of adoption: If your love for the one under your roof has run dry, start the line of prayer with yourself: Father, where I am putting up walls to Your love? Where am I not receiving You? Though maybe not connected by blood, this child was given to you for more than just their own heart’s redemption. Every one of their challenges is tied to something He is also doing in your heart. Resist the urge to divorce them in your heart and ask Him to reveal the layers in you that need to know Him as the Father who goes again.

 Spend time meditating in the gospels on the cross. Smell the blood and sweat against that wood. Ask Him to make His Word alive in your experience.

And put what He shows you into action. Slide away from the screen, pad your way down the hall to her bedroom, and wrap your arms around her, tight. Ask Him on the way “How do You see her?” and tell her what He shows you. Make it a habit: hug her as many times as you feed her. Give her His words about her, not just your observations. Let them become her true food.

Go again.

 

*For Your Continued Pursuit: Hosea 3:1 | Hosea 2:14-15, 19-20, 23 | Hosea 6:3 | 1 Corinthians 13:-10 | 1 Corinthians 1:18-19 | Galatians 6:14 | Hebrews 12:1-2 | Matthew 10:38-39 | Colossians 3:2-3

First, fourth, fifth and sixth photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Second and third photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography. Last photo compliments of Thrive Photography.

Holy Week Adoration: You Said Her Name In That Way

She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him,“Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). – excerpt from John 20:11-18**

You conquered the world’s limitation, and You called her by name.

She stumbled, unknowingly, to the rock which held resurrection’s imprint. She hadn’t received Your words of promise. She lived her years beside You, but didn’t understand You. She wept for a loss that was, instead, great gain.

Mary’s easter Sunday was still the dark, black night.

This is the flesh You came to save.

You didn’t chastise her lack of expectation or her mourning as unnecessary.

You called her by name.

She didn’t recognize Your stature, or even Your voice. But she knew You by the way You called her name.

Oh, God, so personal — Your victory didn’t preclude You from leaning in to the world’s weakest. You still called her name, with that lilt in Your voice which revealed You not to be stranger with inside information, but friend.

You still call my name with that lilt in Your voice which reveals You, to me, as friend.

Daisy-2 MJ

I adore You, the One who won with love, for loving me by name.

You saved the world and not one of them escaped Your sight. This first Easter morn, Your reacquaintance with her, provides a lifetime of  understanding, unfolding.

God most personal, God most powerful — You hold both.

You see me. You name me. You know that name.

You say that name in a way which only You can say it.

And when the world is trembling with great terror and strife or erupting with the glorious goodness of You coming forth, You still stop on the historic scene to say a name.

Rabboni, my great teacher. You are teaching me with Your love, bold to save humanity and quiet enough to whisper my name in a way that only I can recognize.

I adore You, Father who knows me.

Your resurrection … it’s personal.

Today for all mankind.

But still today for me.

Your eye, still on me.

**So …adoration — what do I do with these posts? you ask. First, if you haven’t yet, do read: Why I AdoreHow to Really Fall in Loveand The Words to Use When You’re Not Ready to Talk  to give you a context.

If you are compelled, don’t wait until you feel familiar and comfortable to start (ready, FIRE, aim). Set up a space and time in your own life to begin adoring. Over laundry or dinner dishes, on your commute to work, or in the wee morning hours — five or ten minutes is a great start. You can use the verses I list here with these Holy Week Adorations to start. Feel free to lurk or join the group of us over here, adoring daily.

Then practice praise — practicing telling your soul and telling God who He is. Even this small act of moving our mouths towards praise when we don’t feel it (especially when we don’t feel it), expands our insides.

I promise your weary soul won’t regret it.

First photo compliments of Mandie Joy. Second photo compliments of Cherish Andrea.

Holy Week Adoration: Your Marvelous Silence

Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly. . . Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified. Matthew 27:11-14, Matthew 27: 27-31**

Nothing.

You answered nothing.

They sent words which pierced before they pierced Your skin … and You did not justify. Completely justifiable, You are the world’s true king, and You hung Your answer in Your silence.

Father all-powerful birthed meekness onto the earth, into the earth.

You lived Your message at humanity’s worst moment. You were one with Your Father and that oneness trumped any other strength. You chose to subject Your flesh to human weakness, at the hands of Your sons and daughters, because a new day was coming.

I praise You, oh God, for showing me the way Your Son stood tall (in You) when the world battered Him, low. He didn’t work at meekness, He was meekness, because a Son who is one with His Father need not bolster. He tuned His ear to a different wavelength — Yours.

He didn’t lash back or revolt. He welcomed death with an awareness of Your life coursing through the blood You gave Him to hold before it spilled out on that black night.

I adore You, Father, for unveiling that the way up is down. Your Son led the path to life.

He fasted momentary fame for a message which would be declared in heaven and on earth, then and now. He lived alignment so that I might know its safety, so that I might know the safety of tucking myself into You.

Though in His perfection His “yes” was resounding, He subjected Himself to dreadful weakness so that we might see that His “yes” would not waiver. He took the extreme of life’s struggles and lived them, in flesh, looking up. That silence — His testimony — gave me my own fresh spring for when life closes in. He chose You when the world got loud and angry, so that I might form a pattern after His life. And this not to mention the deposit offered to me three days later.

Meekness in me, God in me — what a beautiful offering, Jesus, was Your silence.

When my flesh revolts, Your life’s last moments, lived in skin, give me a silence I can both mimic and know way down deep. The cacophony of the world’s accusations, within and outside, falls powerless against my connection to the Father. You lived the safe agreement with Him You’ve now bequeathed to me.

I adore You, God who didn’t turn in Your power for meekness. You held both and You promised me the same.

I can know great strength bursting through this bruised shell because You went before me. Your love laid down all, so that I might sip surrender’s sweet brew.

The people mocked, spit and struck and You let them lead You to Your death. The governor marveled at Your silence, but I imagine it was nothing compared to the multitudes marveling among the heavenly hosts.

You conquered flesh at its worst, magnificently. Humbly. With meekness resting heavily on Your shoulders.

The skin You put on was taut around the marvelous mystery being revealed to the sons of men on that dark night. It couldn’t contain You.

And, oh God, even just stepping into that account from way back when changes me. My insides cannot contain yet another year’s revelation being birthed out of this remembrance.

Oh the wonderful Man, who carried the cross.

I see that we’ve only just met.

**So …adoration — what do I do with these posts? you ask. First, if you haven’t yet, do read: Why I AdoreHow to Really Fall in Loveand The Words to Use When You’re Not Ready to Talk  to give you a context.

If you are compelled, don’t wait until you feel familiar and comfortable to start (ready, FIRE, aim). Set up a space and time in your own life to begin adoring. Over laundry or dinner dishes, on your commute to work, or in the wee morning hours — five or ten minutes is a great start. You can use the verses I list here with these Holy Week Adorations to start. Feel free to lurk or join the group of us over here, adoring daily.

Then practice praise — practicing telling your soul and telling God who He is. Even this small act of moving our mouths towards praise when we don’t feel it (especially when we don’t feel it), expands our insides.

I promise your weary soul won’t regret it.

***Feel free to lurk or join the group of us over here, adoring daily. 

Photo compliments of Mandie Joy.

Holy Week Adoration: A Death-Life Exchange, Even Before Your Death

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. -excerpt from John 13:1-17**

You knew Your authority, yet You knelt down. Your calloused fingers brushed their calloused feet and meekness breathed holiness through human touch. They would soon know the Father through Your emptying, but the cross wasn’t Your first kind of death.

You left all that was Him — holy, safe, secluded — to enter the mess of a stable as an introduction to the mess of the world. Your people made You weep; instead of turning from them, You washed their brokenness with Your skin against theirs.

You did what they didn’t understand, all for love. We, even now with all of You living inside of us, don’t understand in full. And You still wash, patiently.

Daisy MJ

That night, then, is my everyday, now. I adore You, sweet Jesus, who washes my feet. You give me an everyday cleansing with Your life. You start with my roughest parts.

You had power to raise the dead yet You took the lowest place. They slew You with their words before they scourged Your flesh — the flesh You put on so that they might know You and Your Father — and Your preparation was a foot-washing.

Jesus, so other, I adore You for living from Your Father’s heart.

You loved them. You loved me, then. And Your love wasn’t transactional.

Your singular focus on the will of the Father included a heart which bled for His children. You didn’t spend Your earth years, distant, waiting to perform that for which You came. You cleansed with Your life before Your life and death expunged.

You kneel with all that You are, Jesus. You carry the power to move the world in the same hands that washed their feet. Your life spoke a better way. Death, in the daily minutia of Your thirty-three years, was life to You. All of God in an earthly frame, every moment of Your time on earth was a sacrifice. Yet You walked in step with Your Father … and thus was life upspringing.

You loved while You modeled and You modeled love. I worship You, God who went before me in human form so that I might know how to live. I adore You, Jesus, who walked the way of the cross before Your day came to hang there. I praise You, One who demonstrated this death-life exchange for my witnessing.

I stare deep into the eyes that look up at me, from the God-Man kneeling to wipe clean my dirt, and I can’t help but receive more understanding of this love, so other.

I choose You, which means death — but for a moment — because You lived a life of risen-ness even before the world witnessed it.

In You, I lose me. I kneel, heavy against the pavement before life’s woundings and those that have administered them, because You went before me. And it was there, back hunched over all of their mess, that love cleansed. And love won.

You died, daily, so that I might see the precious victory in Your life’s love.

You lived a love I want to know. I adore You, oh God whose love is ever-unfolding before my eyes. I worship You, Father of bent-knees.

Thank you, Jesus, for Your sacrifice which changes me.

 

**So …adoration — what do I do with these posts? you ask. First, if you haven’t yet, do read: Why I AdoreHow to Really Fall in Loveand The Words to Use When You’re Not Ready to Talk  to give you a context.

If you are compelled, don’t wait until you feel familiar and comfortable to start (ready, FIRE, aim). Set up a space and time in your own life to begin adoring. Over laundry or dinner dishes, on your commute to work, or in the wee morning hours — five or ten minutes is a great start. You can use the verses I list here with these Holy Week Adorations to start. Feel free to lurk or join the group of us over here, adoring daily.

Then practice praise — practicing telling your soul and telling God who He is. Even this small act of moving our mouths towards praise when we don’t feel it (especially when we don’t feel it), expands our insides.

I promise your weary soul won’t regret it.

Photo compliments of Mandie Joy.

The Best Thing I Can Give My Children

While babies across the earth warmed in their mama’s insides, mine was a photograph on my fridge. She had fingernails and eyebrows and could open and close her eyes, already. She’d done so for years when her picture wasn’t on my fridge. I couldn’t feel her kick, but I studied that one photograph and saw the will that is often forged within the vulnerable who are fighting desperately to be invulnerable. She was still kicking.

My only parenting tactic back then was what I prayed in secret for her.

It was too late to pray for healthy baby, healthy delivery. I prayed for a one-day-healthy heart. I asked that she would be open to me, that she’d desire love — because sometimes when you don’t get it for long enough, it’s easier to just stop wanting it than it is to wait for it to come. I prayed … {continue reading over here –>}

How To Really Stop The Pain

He has seven teeth and only one person elicits a full reveal.

All seven of us were around the dinner table laughing at the antics of the just-over-one year-old. Deep belly giggles and a single one-syllable word (at varying decibels) to describe just about everything — this babe is better than an electric train for his siblings. And at the dinner table, Daddy draws out the best of that kid.

So there he was, spitting image of his father and sitting four seats away, showing off all those teeth in one direction.

“We think he might grow up to look like Peter in Narnia, Daddy,” says one.

“But I saw your baby pictures, Daddy, and he looks just like you,” said another casually, in between bites.

“His hair is turning out to be the same color as yours and his eyes are blue, too,” says a third. “You know, Daddy, I think he looks just like you.”

“Nah,” says Nate. “We’ll have to just wait and see what he looks like.” In other conversations like this, he’s reminded Caleb how many people say they look alike, but for the color of their skin. I do the same thing.

As the girls move on to talking about hair color, Nate jumps in: “your hair color is the same brown as Mommy’s.” They don’t agree with him. Mine’s lighter, they argue.

Everyone is taking bites and weighing in on hair color and eyes and even the varying skin colors of one another (common discussion in our home) and this conversation, for me, feels super-charged.

It’s not that I don’t want them to notice the differences between their light-skinned brother — the only one of five children that my body birthed — and themselves. Observation is childhood’s currency.

It’s that I don’t want them to feel the differences.

Cherish Wood

We asked close friends, in advance of Bo’s birth, not to do that baby thing we all do. “Hmm…he’s got your lips, Sara, but that chin is all Nate.” We didn’t know what three, four and seven days post-baby might feel like to the ones who’ve fully owned being Hagerty children, but who didn’t come from my womb. I didn’t trust my sleep-deprived body — in those first few days after it gave itself over to bringing forth a child — to be able to also handle the insecurities and fears and questions that might come. Just then, at least.

But here we are 16 months later and the prospect of their pain as they stare across the table at the babe who has his Daddy’s eyes — while most of them won’t ever even see a picture of their biological father — is still too much for me. I want to pretend, to skirt the potential pain — “Oh, no, sweetheart. He doesn’t at all look like Daddy. Don’t you see, you’re tall like Daddy and he’s short.” — in any.way.I.can.

I’ve cried more about the years I didn’t have with my other four, now that I am actually changing diapers of their baby brother and running my finger along his gums to feel for new teeth and tickling his tiny toes, than I ever did when we first brought them home.

I didn’t know, then, all that I missed.

I didn’t realize, then, all that they missed.

Child Window Cherish

I didn’t know the ache that would come from the slow realization that they were formed in their biological mommy’s womb but they can’t picture her smile. I didn’t expect they’d wonder what she smelled like or if her forehead wrinkled when she laughed. I wanted us to be enough, with my overly simplistic understanding of “enough.”

So I would look away.

Ever have that happen — where you see something that seems so big and painful and cloudy that you just feel like you have to… look away?

Human nature creates a method out of looking away.

What was it in me that took me almost two decades to realize that having a once-vibrant, active, engaged father wind up in a wheel chair and a bed in our family room for months (in a turn of events that happened in one day and with one bad doctor’s appointment) might have altered the entire way I saw the world?

For the longest time I thought it was “just another bad day”. So I looked away and kept moving.

How did I live for two decades as if that was just a dot on my timeline, not the game-changer it really was?

In our limited perspective on God and His engagement with the broken parts of our history, we so dutifully press on as if that dot on our timeline can be glided over. History. “Oh, silly,” I say to her. “Bo doesn’t really look all that much like Daddy. His hair is like Daddy’s just like your fingers are skinny like Daddy’s.”

For now at least, that’s fine.

But at some time in the next decade, I want her to know the God who’s face is fiercely set to heal her heart, the heart that will soon ache at the missing pieces of her baby book.

I want her to cry at His feet when she realizes — just like I did at the dinner table the other night — that she’ll never (on this side) see the face of the beautiful woman whose body grew her. I want her to feel the hands of God cup her chin and look in her eyes, with limitless understanding of her pain, when her pain makes her want to glide over and pretend all that loss never happened.

I want to her to have a tender brush with the God who came to make the broken sing.

Dark Candle MJ

So: If I teach her to avoid the pain of her history, I’m giving her permission to overlook the most enrapturing parts of her God.

The dark parts of our history were made for conversation with God. And when we invite Him into those times when it seemed like the lights went out in our history, He brings His story out of us.

If she skirts past the pain of her history — and the way He reaches out to fuse that wound with the nearness of His tenderly calloused hands — she may also miss her most profound story in God.

Dear church:

He has a story of Himself to tell through our lives. What if it’s through the most broken places?

What angles of God as Restorer are not being revealed, from us to the world, because we’ve become so good at coping with our broken history (instead of inviting Him into it)?

What angles of God are not being revealed, from Him to us, because we’ve become so good at looking away?

Dear church, He wants to heal your story, not just give you a way to cope with it.

Cherish Stained Glass

Making it practical: The Holy Spirit is our counselor. We don’t need to dig. If, as you read these words, certain memories or blips in your past come to mind, perhaps set aside time today to sit before Him. Take these memories to Him with His Word in your hand. Write out the broken places that He’s surfacing and the feelings you had in those moments. (And, friends, they aren’t always “big” moments — sometimes even the simple loss of a friend at a critical time in your childhood can leave an open-ended question of pain before God. For decades.) Ask Him to replace those feelings with the truth of His Word. Write His Word over those. Invite Him to tell you who and where He was, in that moment, according to His Word. Let Him re-write this part of your story with who He was for you, then.

This may take weeks or months, but pray with expectation that He wants to heal this past pain with Himself.

For the others? No memory comes to mind but you can tell you’re walking with a limp — a bone is broken … somewhere. Prepare yourself for a long conversation, over weeks and months, with God. Ask Him to teach you about your heart and get ready to hear His response. He is the God of infinite understanding. And He made you. He knows the road map here — it may just be the time for you to ask Him for insight.

After all, this wounded One loves to heal.

HowToStopThePainPintrest

For Your Continued Pursuit: Psalm 139 | Psalm 34:18 | Hosea 2:15 | Joel 2:25 | John 1:4-5 | 2 Corinthians 5:17 | Psalm 51:5-13 | Isaiah 53:5

First, second and fourth photos compliments of Cherish Andrea. Third photo compliments of Mandie Joy.

About Those Harmless Thoughts …

Dear twenty-two-year-old me,

I see you. It’s September and still muggy in Virginia. Football is in the air, the only sign yet of fall. You’re full of energy for the new year ahead — September always delivered that to you, and you’re glistening with the sweat produced when hundreds of high school bodies cram into one room. They didn’t really know they were going to hear about Jesus this night and you were the voice. You love your job.

Except this night, like so many others before and after it, you wonder if they picked the wrong girl. Sweat still fresh and the twenty-minute presentation of the gospel having barely left your lips, you’re thinking seemingly “harmless” thoughts. Evaluation is your strength. Consider the gaps, adjust and do it better the next time. Rinse. Repeat. This particular talk is no different. You drive away from those hungry-on-the-inside teenagers, already with new ideas of how to improve.

Right out of the parking lot and down Route 29, your list of ways to improve accelerates as your gears shift.  Oh man, shouldn’t have said it that way, you think, wondering what adolescent heart was distracted from the truth of what you said by that turn of phrase. Eleven minutes and three stop-lights later you’re delivering the equipment back to your office, having moved from harmless evaluation to wondering: why am I even doing this? I just keep failing. Earlier that night you’d told a friend you were doing what you were made to do. Hours later and the job is on the chopping block.

Only harmless to the one who doesn’t know what’s at stake, these thoughts slink their way into the human heart.

Barbed Fence MJ

The “evaluative” lens you had on your own life was only given more power when you married that boy. Something about bringing him under the same analysis to which you’d put yourself highlighted the pain.

You had an eye for his flaws. Why wouldn’t you? You’d honed that skill on yourself. Another life to live beside was another life for you to evaluate. And somewhere between when he slipped that engagement ring on your finger and when you came to share bank accounts, the boy began to bristle underneath your scrutiny. He was everything you needed, but your spiritual eyes had developed an astigmatism. (It’s what happens when we have an unfettered trust of our own judgment.)

Here — now — I want to scoot up to you and give you a secret to living alive on the inside and loving that boy, really well, and growing in God.

You have an accuser. Don’t let him in.

Door Lock

Yep, it’s that simple. Biblical*.

You have an enemy whose main goal is to steal your intended-to-be-beautifully-intimate connection to God, to kill your heart on the inside and to destroy the plans and purposes God has for you and for your marriage.

There’s a whole lot at stake here. All of your heart and life and maybe even that boy’s, too.

You know those thoughts you so quickly dismissed as harmless and the hours you gave, per day, to that low-grade frustration that every-time surfaced in that list of “things that are just flat out wrong about me” … what if those thoughts didn’t start with you?

You lock your doors at night and only share your private thoughts with a few close friends, yet you welcome this stranger into your head and accept his thoughts, without filter. You haven’t just shaken hands with the enemy, you’ve partnered with his ideas about you, his ideas about God, and his thoughts about your husband. Your friends. No wonder you feel uncomfortable for more than an hour alone with God. Which thoughts are the enemy’s and which ones are God’s? which ones are mine? you might wonder, if you stopped to examine them.

Fog Cherish

God has so much of Himself to unfold to you (we’re talking beauty that would catch your breath), and worship — unique from your voice (you’re the only one who can give your worship) — to call forth from you and a line of people behind you whom He’s intended to be moved by your life-song in Him. But on the ground, for a moment, it can look like that ol’ enemy is winning.

So, you, desperate to be out of this fog and to walk, wildly alive, in what He has for you:

Use.your.voice.

Speak His Word, don’t just read it. Fill the space with His truth and leave little room for anything else. For you, I say — the one who has been inebriated on years of thinking thoughts that aren’t God’s thoughts — give yourself one long pause from self-evaluation. Yup, it’ll feel like you’re sleeping without the covers, but the way you’ve been thinking has to change if you’re going to grow into what God has for your life. When the thoughts come about all the things you’re not and the ways you’re always failing — as they will, in about three minutes after you’re done reading this — say “no”, with the power of Jesus and His name behind you and in your mouth, and run like you’ve never run before to His Word.

Ask God what He says about you, in His Word.

Plant MJ

Tell the accuser who is really in charge of your mind.

This little thing we do called adoration, it’s not just rainbows and sunshine for those who want to fill themselves with all things pretty and nice — it’s war.

Adoration is the way to win your mind back to God.

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And you? The one who’s maybe not twenty-two but thirty or fifty-six, this is for you, too. Just because you’re a pastor or in full-time ministry or a grandmother doesn’t mean the enemy hasn’t been given license to speak into your mind.

Been caught in a fog and feeling that low-grade dissatisfaction with your life or your spouse’s? Could it be the accuser?

God has a life for you on the other side of today’s accusations that is full of vim and vigor and beauty that will spill over into eternity. You’re made to bring Him glory and draw those in the world around you into that same arms-stretched-wide-towards-Him life. You’re meant to move the heart of God with your life. Today. Now.

So … partner. With God, this time.

Sign-up again.

God, we give you our minds. We say “no” to the enemy’s lies in the power of the beautiful name of Jesus. We ask: fill our minds with Yourself.

(And don’t do it empty handed. Write these, speak these, sing these until you fall asleep with them on your tongue and wake up with them as the first words in your mouth: Romans 8:33-34, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Ephesians 6:10-16, James 4:7, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, 1 John 4:4-6, James 4:7, Psalm 89:1, Isaiah 26:3. Your life was made for so much more than what the enemy has told you.)

*Just a few more verses so you can search this accuser-bit out yourself: Revelation 12:10 | Zechariah 3:1 NIV | 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 | 1 Peter 5:8-11 | John 10:10

AboutThoseHarmlessThoughts

First, second and fourth photos are gifts from Mandie Joy. Thank you Cherish Andrea Photography for the third photo.

Seeing With Unscreened Eyes

Today, I share my friend Emily Wierenga with you. This woman has a way with words — she invites you in and before you know it you’re smelling what she’s smelled and feeling what she felt. 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 through her writing. Her words, today, are timely. Read and ….absorb.

 I didn’t take my laptop on my last trip – a six-day visit to Phoenix – which might not seem like a big deal except I don’t own an iphone. Our only phone is a flip phone with no internet access, and being Canadian, it doesn’t work in the States. So for six days I was screen-free. Hands-free. Eyes lifted at all times – all five senses tuned in to the world around me.

And do you know what I saw?

A world that wasn’t seeing.

A world, distracted.

Screens in every hand.

Mothers, not seeing their children. Husbands, not seeing their wives. Kids, not playing. Adults, not caring.

No one actually making eye contact. Children being taught that to be seen, they have to turn to a screen. (And we wonder why 90 percent of porn addicts are boys ages 12 to 17?)

Conversation, if it happened at all, revolved around whatever had just happened online.

I could have wept. Because we’re missing it people. This whole, beautiful, ordinary, un-pixelated, unenhanced life.

Boots MJ

We’re missing our sons stretching tall, our daughters huddled against the wall for fear of a world they don’t understand.

We’re missing our baby’s first steps–first fall.

But more than that? We’re missing God.

Butterfly Flower

As my husband says, “God does not have a blog, Emily.”

No, God is not online. He doesn’t have a Facebook account and He doesn’t tweet.

Now, please note, a lot of good can be found on social media. A lot of talk about God can be found on social media. But God Himself? Is not on social media.

Yet we are. All the time. We look up for a minute to make sure we’re still alive and then it’s back to the “real” world. The one that’s easy to control and understand, the world that fits into 140 characters.

Everyday life might not “like” everything we say, but type something onto Facebook and someone’s bound to.

There is no room for empty space, because we’re so busy affirming one another. There is no chance to get emptied of self and filled up with God. God wants empty vessels. He doesn’t want people who feel good about themselves. He wants broken people who realize that only God is good.

Fence MJ2

And if we don’t let others get empty–if we try to save them from that by liking their status or constantly affirming them–we keep them, and ourselves–from hungering and thirsting after Christ.

Silence. Space. Desert. Wilderness. Poverty. Suffering. These are the ways we encounter the fullness of Christ. But if we stay on auto-pilot, zoned in on the cyberworld and failing to feel, we stop being human. And we stop needing the divinity of a Savior.

If I have a thousand blog posts or Twitter followers but have not love, I am nothing. If I write encouraging statuses and give to online charities but have not love, I am but a gong or a clanging cymbal.

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How many of us are afraid to set down our phones, or turn them off, for fear we’ll miss something?

Look around, sisters.

We are missing something.

Life.

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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.

Originally posted on The Better Mom. Photos are a gift from Mandie Joy.

When It’s Time to Turn Off The Nightlight

I flew across the ocean, twice, to grow my family.

I invited once-strangers to call me Mommy and made them my own.

I fielded all the hurt and anger that comes from four once-broken lives that are now finding mending in my home and sometimes finding me to be an easy (safe) target. And I loved them.

Things that many fear — loving the outsider until they’re an insider, at a variety of ages, and around the clock — I’ve done (by the grace of God).

“I’ll do anything for You, God,” I whispered under my breath a hundred times, as I slowly warmed to the reality of this “yes” I’d said to adoption, two times and four kids over. I think I even considered myself fearless during moments of walking through and over my fears for them and seeing His response.

Until.

An email and a subsequent phone call and a ball that slid right out of my hands and down what seemed to be a declining slope so that I couldn’t catch it.

I was going to publish my story. Just like that, it happened.

Evergreen Cherish

The story that I didn’t just write, but inhaled at 1am, months after we brought our second two children home and at midnight while we waited for them and one I had scribbled on scratch pieces of paper that I stuffed into my Bible in between making dinner and the changing of the laundry (’cause I just couldn’t get away from it), was going to be available for more than just my internal discussions with God.

And in about five seconds I went from fearless to frozen.

I’d clean up the vomit from a child who quite literally heaved as she experienced a daddy’s love and I’d shut down my entire afternoon for another one of mine who needed hours of talking and praying before she was even able to speak — but a book? A published book, with my words?

Winter Cherish

The waves of fear I had around notions of external promotion and platform and what it all might steal from my tucked-away-and-undiscovered life could leave my head spinning for not just hours, but days. Nothing was penetrating this fog of fear that left me like a five year-old on the first day of kindergarten all over again.

Talk of the book left me with a head full of confusion and fear. One minute I’m thriving in God, alive to what He’s speaking and saying, with the layers of His Word moving me … and the next, I’m winded, sucker-punched.

I’d stare in the mirror at yesterday’s woman who stood bold and confident-in-Him — the mother of (then) four who was wearing big-girl clothes — who now in one second had recoiled into a little girl, unable to think of anything but the noise in her closet at night and what it might be.

Little Girl Cherish

Fear does this. It sucks the oxygen out of a room and leaves us thinking of nothing but the very thing we fear and its potentialities.

And most of the time, we learn to cope. I had.

We avoid circumstances and people that elicit the fear. We carefully — often unbeknownst to ourselves — pattern our lives in such a way that we don’t have to look in the mirror and see that six year-old, terrified of the night. We turn on the nightlight. Always.

Until that purposed moment when our secret cries to God — I really do want more of You. I want a life lived radically alive to You — are heard. And He gently walks us through our valley of the shadow of death.

Snow Window Cherish

Because His perfected, completed love — and fear cannot coexist. New areas of our heart won over to God are always reclaiming space from old place-holders.

I could often focus on God and His Word when fear wasn’t around; so, naturally, I voraciously avoided anything that triggered that fear. Dozens of times over the years I said: “there is nothing new under the sun. The world doesn’t need another book.” It felt pithy when I said it. Fear (and the enemy behind it) are smart that way. You can dress fear up and call it wisdom and be bedfellows for years, unknowingly, just like I was.

So He took the book I wrote in private and which I fiercely guarded, and gave me a very weak “yes” to Him, here. He put it in print. Almost seamlessly. I watched friends labor through a process that, for me, felt like it happened in a blink.

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I’d spent years praying “God, I want more of You,” expecting (and receiving) that “more” in all sorts of ways, but I faced no other hurdle quite like this one, where it was as if He leaned in to me and said: let’s walk through your worst fear. I promise you’ll find me here.

And find Him, I have. And am still.

It’s taken me months to be able to write this post and years to live it. I was locked-up on the inside, trapped in a haze and bowing to the fear of what this life, now-exposed-on-the-outside, might bring me.

But He was gentle. This perfect love of His moved in and scooped up the jammy-clad six year-old version of me and said “no more nightlights.” He took me where I didn’t want to go and waited it out as I kicked and screamed (silently and with language guised as measured maturity). He waited it out with me, patiently unfolding the circumstances I said “no way, never” too. He put my hand to the closet door and put His face up against mine, nearer than maybe I’ve ever felt before, and said: this is love.

This invasive love of God has opened up new spaces in my heart and mind to worship. I see Him, nearer, on the other side of this fear.

Nate_Katy-479

So, I once knew of a girl who feared pinecones.

I thought it was crazy, thought she was crazy, until I was given the gift of telling the testimony of Jesus in my life to many more than I’ll ever meet in person and I got crazy afraid. Just like her.

We all have them. Crazy fears, that we normalize and build our lives around so as to not trigger them.

Mine was becoming uncoiled from my beautifully-hidden space — it was publishing my story, and yours might be flying across the ocean to adopt a child who will vomit at your expression of love. Or it may be pinecones.

The danger isn’t actually in walking through our fears, the danger is in resisting the leadership of God when He scoops us up and says “no more nightlights.”

Is today your day to ask to have His face move closer to you than you’ve ever known, while He puts your hand on that closet door? Is today your day to hole up in your room, even if just for ten minutes, and say “Jesus, no more. Come and replace my fear with Yourself.”

We only have so much space on our insides. I want mine full of Him, not fear.

(Making it practical: Though I’ll likely write more about this in the months ahead, I can’t end this post without saying:  The best inspirational books — even this one 😉 — might lead you to water, but you have to be the one to take a drink. His Word  is that drink. Don’t just hang out around His Word and His Spirit if you want freedom from fear, get lost INSIDE of them.)

Thank you Cherish Andrea Photography for these photos.