Wednesday, February 27, 2013

a God-sized dream story

This week our God-sized dream assignment from Holley was to "find a God-sized dream story that inspires you and share it with us."

I thought about this off and on all week but nothing came to mind.  Then just yesterday I walked into the kitchen where my kids were laughing and watching a video from five years ago.  All of a sudden I had my story.
When my son was in second grade, he had a dream.  He wanted to be JoJo in Seussical the Musical, which his theater class was going to perform that Spring. 

I learned about his dream one day as he climbed into our minivan after school, chattering happily in his high, piping seven-year old voice.

“Mama!  Our teacher passed out audition information today.  And look!  See this?  This is the part I want to try out for.”

He pulled a wrinkled paper from his backpack and passed it to me. 

Skimming the lines of text, this sentence leapt off the page: This role will require much memorization of lines and performing multiple solo numbers.

Immediately I saw a huge problem: my son didn’t do much singing.  I knew he could memorize incredible amounts of information, but singing solos?  Did he even know what that meant?  That he would be singing, all by himself?!  Incredulous, I looked over at him.  With his legs kicking, feet hitting his backpack rhythmically, he sat turned toward me, eyes expectantly waiting for my reaction.

There are many moments as a parent where I wish for a do-over. 

“Um, are you sure you really want to try out for JoJo?  This says you need to do a lot of singing and not just singing, but solos!  Singing by yourself!  I’m not sure that is a good idea.  Is there another part you could try for?”

I simply couldn’t comprehend that here was my little seven-year old saying that he was going to audition for one of the biggest parts in the whole show.  Looking back, I know that my answer came from my own insecurity about the sound of my voice and fear of performing in front of people.  In contrast, my son shares none of these feelings.  He approaches the world with a confidence that I simply don’t understand.
Stephen auditioned for the part, and a few weeks later, as we walked up to the door to school, he suddenly grabbed my hand and pulled me toward a notice board.  The list was up showing who received which part in the show.  There it was, in black and white, my son’s name printed right next to the part he received: the part of JoJo.

Right then I felt a surge of motherly pride.  Not because he had been given a big part in the musical, but because he had believed enough in himself and what he felt in his heart to pursue his dream, even though someone so close to him (me!) had not been overly confident in his ability to achieve it.

In my own God-sized dream journey, I feel like that little second grade boy, full of the energy and excitement of a dream planted in my heart.  Yet I know that as I share my dream with others, they may respond much like I did to my son, with more questions and doubt than hope and confidence.  I pray that remembering this story will me grace to respond in love and strength to keep persevering.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

Five Minute Friday: What Mama Did

Today is a special Five Minute Friday, coming on the heels of an excellent series on Lisa-Jo's blog about mamas and the memories we carry with us now of the things they did way back then. 

Lisa-Jo asks, "What did your mama do that makes her your mama?  Let's unpack those memories today.  Let's trace our fingers along the lines of the unexpected.  The ordinary beauty in a day of motherhood.  The food or the laughing or the dancing or the story telling.

In just five minutes.  Tell me about what your mama did that made her yours..."

Here is where my memory took me today, for my own five minutes about my own sweet mama...

What mama did...

For me as a young child, nighttime was often filled with the startlingly real terrors of my imagination.  Fear gripped me, driving me out of bed to find my Mom and say the words I am sure she didn’t love to hear at the end of a long day,

“Mom, would you come and rub my back?”

She would already have put me to bed, brought me a glass of water, tucked me in tight. 

But sometimes it took more than those simple acts to keep out the darkness.

On those nights it was pure comfort to lay there on my belly, snuggled down under the covers, Mom sitting next to me on the bed, the weight of her pulling the covers tight over my body.  Slowly her hands would trace circles over my back, smoothing out the tension, smoothing in her love, the peace and safety of her presence.

Quietly she would sing…

“Michael, row your boat ashore…Alleluia,
Michael, row your boat ashore, Alleluia…”

With my Mom’s quiet voice washing over me, my fear seeped slowly away.  I knew, in that deep knowing place of a child, that her voice and her body were the strongest walls of the most fortified castle.  Encircled there by her love and care, I could find my way to sleep, a weary traveler making her way home at the end of a long journey.
Thank you, Mom, for soothing my fears, for driving away the terrors of the night with your love and the strength of your presence.  I love you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

a different sort of Lent

Growing up, my Catholic friends talked about mysterious things like “meatless Fridays” and having to “give something up” for Lent.  At the little Baptist church I attended, we did not observe Lent, and Easter for me was much more about baskets and eggs and candies than it was about Jesus, the cross, and the glorious resurrection.

Over the years, I have come to understand the value of this special set-apart time before the celebration of Easter and I have enjoyed observing Lent as part of my own spiritual growth.  This year, as Ash Wednesday approached, I thought about what I might give up for Lent.  Yet unexpectedly, something else entirely kept coming to mind, the verse Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

At the beginning of the year, when my blog friends were choosing words for 2013, I did not immediately join in.  There was not a word that seemed to rise above the others as being important for this year.  Then one day I realized that I was hearing Psalm 37:4 everywhere, at church, on the radio, in my devotional reading, and it seemed to hitch itself to my heart, urging me to dig deep into its meaning, to know and experience its truth.   

I wondered, could this verse be the focus of my Lenten observation?  How does one pursue delighting in the Lord? 

I searched the dictionary for the definition of delight.  It is a high degree of gratification: JOY; also: extreme satisfaction: something that gives great pleasure.

Delight is sensory.  I delight in what I can see, smell, taste, feel, hear: my husband and my children, family and friends, hot coffee in the morning, exercise, laughter, reading, being outdoors, cooking, small group bible study, gardening, hugs, music, rain.

As I thought more about delighting in the Lord, scenes from scripture flashed through my mind: Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, hearing His voice, looking into His eyes, and being in his physical presence.  Or the woman who enters Simon’s house and pours the perfume on Jesus’ feet, washing them with the precious liquid from the jar and with her tears, wiping His feet with her hair.

These images call to mind a phrase Oswald Chambers, my favorite devotional writer, uses which I love: “broken bread and poured out wine”; it means to give it all, hold nothing back.  We do not delight in something half way; delight is all or nothing .

God has planted this seed of delighting in my heart, and he is continuing to water and grow it during Lent.  This year, my observation of Lent is about continuing to follow Him into what He is already doing in my life, where He is already leading me.  He is teaching me that my heart desires are satisfied perfectly and joyfully as I delight in Him and as I pour myself out into the work He has for me.

In this season, I am continuing to respond to the God-sized dream of writing my story, which is requiring of me the sacrifice and discipline I traditionally equate with this time before Easter. 

It all came together this morning as I opened up “The Do What You Can Plan” this to continue reading and journaling through it.  On Day 8, Holley reminds us that as we pursue these dreams God has placed within us, we need to stop along the way and place markers of celebration and remembrance.  She asks, “What brings you joy? How do you celebrate?”

And so I go back to the definition of delight: a high degree of gratification: JOY; also: extreme satisfaction: something that gives great pleasure.

It is a rainy, cold day today.  As I drove home from the gym this morning, the mountains surrounding our city were clothed in glittering white and ringed with cottony clouds.  What a perfect day for snuggling up with my girls on the couch and reading aloud a good story, perhaps baking a batch of my husband’s favorite cookies.  For today, right now, that sounds simply delightful. 

I am excited to be linking up for the first time over at Jennifer Duke Lee's for #TellHisStory.

This post is also day 8 of my series on Holley Gerth's ebook:

You can click on the graphic above to download your own copy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

back in the saddle

Over the past month, sickness made its slow and steady way through each member of my family.  It narrowed my focus and shortened my to-do list as I canceled plans, kept the van in the garage and made rest my priority.  I spent my days making endless cups of tea, soothing feverish children, and mothering myself through a wicked bout of bronchitis. 

I am so grateful that my kids and I are all healthy and my head is clear enough to do some writing.  Today I am linking up with Holley Gerth, fearless leader of our God-Sized Dream Team, writing on the topic of what I am going to stop delaying and start doing in order to create space in my life for my dream of writing my story. 

The thing is, I feel like my dream of writing is a horse and this past month I fell clean off of it.  So as I sit here, this thought keeps running through my head, “What do you do when you fall off a horse?  You get right back on.”

I saw this in action one day at my daughter’s horseback riding lesson when I watched her fall off her pony.  Her physical self was fine, but emotionally she was pretty shaken up.  Her instructor let her come sit with me for a few minutes, and then came over and to ask her if she could come show one of the younger students how to canter on one of the ponies.  It happened to be her favorite pony, not the one she had been riding when she fell, and Clare readily agreed.  She walked back into the paddock and the next thing I knew, she was right back in the saddle.

Looking back over the past few weeks, I see so many dropped balls in terms of my writing.  I am have not finished journaling through Holley’s excellent ebook, I haven’t written more about adoption or taken time to research places to submit my writing.  There is a voice inside my head that says, “How are you ever going to achieve this dream if you let illness get you so off-track?”

But if I still myself and listen closely, there is another voice I can hear, although it is a bit quieter, and definitely more polite, and it says, “Yeah, you lost some days last month.  You dropped some balls.  That’s OK.  Just climb back on that horse and keep riding.”

So while there is not one thing I am going to stop delaying there is definitely one thing I am going to start doing again: writing everyday.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Five Minute Fridays: Beloved

After weeks of sickness and very little energy, it feels luxurious to be writing this morning!  Linking up with Lisa-Jo for Five Minute Fridays:

The prompt for today is: Beloved.

My parents named me Amy, which means beloved, so that’s nice.

And they did a good job making me feel loved.  They have both always been free with the words that some people just can’t say, “I love you.” 

It was just the three of us for years, and our dog, Pookie, and I was happy. 

Then the memories go a bit darker and I am spending lots of time alone in my room and then, when I was six and still hammering down the foundations of self that every child is assembling at that age, things kind of blew up.

My Mom and I were living in a tiny little apartment near the junior college and my Dad was in the house I knew and loved and of course, you know where this is going: they got a divorce.

They named me Beloved, and they did, and I was, but the tearing apart of my family felt completely wrong; it left me feeling uncertain, with my foundation all shot to bits, scared and alone.

The summer between sixth and seventh grades I attended a Christian summer camp.  We lived in cabins and swam in the lake.  We sang loud, raucous camp songs and lilting, heart-jerker choruses.  In the morning and evening we gathered on the green shag carpet in the little chapel and listened to a sermon.

It was there, with the carpet scratching my mosquito-bitten legs that I first heard about Jesus, what He did on the cross and why that mattered to me, a heart-broken almost seventh grader.

I learned that it wasn’t just my parents who named me Beloved, but God.  And this was really, really good to know.

I scrambled onto the lifeboat of that loving as fast as I could, and I have been saved by it every day of my life since.

We sang this chorus that you remember it?

Beloved, let us love one another, (let us love one another)
For love is of God,
And everyone who loveth is born of God,
And knoweth God.
He that loveth God (clap, clap, clap)
Knoweth not God,
For God is Love (God is love).
Beloved, let us love one another.
I JOHN 4: 7 AND 8 (that’s great!)

Friday, February 8, 2013

eyes open to see the joy

If the endless cups of Echinacea tea with honey and lemon, the antibiotics I’ve been on for five days and the rest I am taking can help me overcome this incessant cough, then tomorrow I am going to drive into Orange County to attend a special event:

Choose Joy is a one-day conference in Southern California for women and couples that are experiencing infertility and/or desire to grow their families through adoption.  

Click on the button above to read more about the conference, and to read about Emmy, the creative and lovely host for the event, click here

At the conference, I will hear speakers on topics like open adoption, infant loss and miscarriage, and waiting on god’s timing through infertility and adoption.  I look forward to meeting other women who have walked a similar road and who are also called by God to grow their family through adoption.

A couple of months ago, I posted that I was starting a series about adoption here on my blog.  Well, it hasn’t been much of a series!  (I am still such a blog-novice!  Lesson learned, don’t say you will do a series until you’ve done a bit more planning…).  I may not be writing about it, but I am thinking and praying about adoption constantly.  And I am learning much in this time of waiting.

How many times have I been waiting for something, eyes glazed over, oblivious to my surroundings, only moving step by step because the person in front of me has stepped forward? 

A friend of mine, a sweet 80-plus year old woman at my church, shared a moving testimony a few weeks ago.  She talked about how, as she goes through her everyday errands, to the bank, the market, the dry cleaner, she has learned to keep her eyes open as she is waiting in the interminable lines.  She told of how one day at the bank she heard a woman coughing and wheezing behind her in line.  She turned and began to speak gently with her, learning that the woman was suffering from bad asthma.  My friend asked if she could pray for her.  The woman was touched as they prayed, and there was an easing, both physically and spiritually for the woman.  My friend told of another time at the market where she became aware of a woman in front of her who was short on money for her groceries.  She stepped in with a blessing for the woman, and with money to cover the difference.

As her testimony drew to a close, this dear saint who has walked so long with Jesus told us what she gained in each of those moments: Joy. 

The joy of Jesus, pure and lovely and true.

I was struck that in each of the moments she shared about, my friend was simply waiting, willing to do the good work God had for her.

Our family has been waiting to adopt a baby now for over a year.  I know that at times during this year my waiting posture has been one of glazed over eyes, shuffling forward day after day without really seeing the work God is doing in these waiting days.

I am excited about tomorrow.  I know I will hear stories of love and loss, heartbreak and hope.  The title of the conference, and the truths I know about Jesus, give me hope that I will be encouraged to live these days of waiting with my eyes and heart wide open, to Choose Joy.

Five Minute Friday: Bare

Remembering a sacred time in my walk with Jesus this morning, writing on the prompt Lisa-Jo chose for our five minute free-write today - Bare.
The room was wood-paneled, cozy, with a wood stove in the corner.  Faded plaid couches made an L shape in another corner, and on one of these I sat, elbows on knees, head in hands listening as she bathed me in Truth.

Her signature phrase, “Bring it into the light,” rang in my ears, echoing into my heart chamber, finding every dark corner inside.

Lifting my head up slowly, looking into her steady, wise eyes, I began to bring things hidden up and into His glorious light.

Inside that tiny room, sitting beside my best friend’s mama, I learned the power of laying it all bare, of speaking it out, what you are hiding deep down inside.

I learned to believe in the presence of Jesus there with me, in my deepest, darkest, most secret inside places. 

If He is there, then He knows, I am already laid bare.  There is such grace in this knowing, such grace.

As His healing light fell on the things I brought forth, it was as those first rays of Spring sunshine falling on my bare face after a long winter, healing, reviving, life-giving.

I remember these moments so long ago now, when I am tempted to hide my fears and shame for my sin deep in the dark.  I remember that healing light, the warmth and the grace, and I lay it all bare before Him again.
As I wrote these words this morning, I felt they were both a reminder to me of His healing work in my life, and an encouragement to keep writing, bringing hidden things into His glorious light.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

facing my fears

Fear can strangle us from the inside out its insidious limbs wrapping around and around us like an octopus strangling its prey.  At one point in my life, fear had such a hold on me that at 18 years old I was unable to sleep alone in my bedroom or walk unwatched down the path from my front door to my car. 

Fear had narrowed my life, hemmed me in, and smothered me in the darkness of its lies.

I had very real reasons to fear.  My physical safety had been threatened.  I had recently gotten a restraining order against someone I had been in an abusive dating relationship with for two years.  I needed to act wisely, but I did not need to succumb to the lies that fear told me, that I was powerless and would always have to hide and live in shame. 
I remember clearly the night my Mom came out to the living room, the only place I felt safe enough to allow myself to sleep.  She held in her hands her worn, pink Bible.  She sat down and began to talk to me of Truth, of how I did not need to remain captive to the darkness of my fears, but could trust in God to meet me there and to bring His light into my darkness. 

She read Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”

We prayed together and that night, falling asleep with the name of Jesus on my lips, I was able to sleep in my own bed the whole night through.

Victory triumphed over fear; light shined in my darkness.

Over the years, God has been relentless in bringing me face to face with my fears.

Like any bride, I entered my marriage with a heart full of joy and hope, and hopefully unlike most brides, I also carried in my heart a deep-rooted fear, born out of the pain of divorce in my family.  I was afraid that my husband would one day leave me, that my marriage would simply not work, that I could not trust in the integrity and faithfulness of the man who had pledged his life to me.

Two years into our marriage, my husband was clearly led to begin graduate studies in California, while we decided that I would stay in Wisconsin for six more months to finish an important job commitment.  The time we spent apart was difficult on many levels. The hardest part was that I had to face my fears head on.  As I walked through those six months, I began to trust God and my husband in new ways.  By trusting God, I began to live a life of freedom, and not fear.  

Eight years later, I drew deep from the well of lessons learned during that time of trusting when my husband was deployed to Afghanistan for ten months.  I did not know what the outcome of those ten months would be, but I did know that I could trust God no matter what.

Different fears plague me these days, fears that have less to do with circumstances and more to do with what people think of me.  God is calling me out on the waters of trust in new ways as I take more seriously my dream of writing my story.  I have heard His call and have stepped out of the boat.  When I focus my eyes on Him, I find the waters holding.  But like Peter, my tendency is toward fear.

What if my writing doesn’t connect with anyone?

What if I am just not good at this?

I don’t write like so and so, should I really add my voice to the mix?

Is this all a waste of time?

Focusing on those questions brings the darkness of fear and doubt.  There have been days these past few months when I have listened long to those questions and have felt myself falling into the waters of fear.

Thanks be to God, His arm is strong to lift me up out of the waters of fear onto the firm ground of His love, grace and truth.

Monday, February 4, 2013

the kindness of a stranger

Saturday morning, while I was standing at the gas station filling up the family van, a large, spotless white truck pulled up to the opposite pump.  The door opened and perfectly ironed, gleaming white pant legs swung out.  They belonged to an older man in a brilliant pink and white striped golf shirt, white belt, and dark pink and white golf shoes.  His hair was thick, wavy, immaculately groomed, his face craggy and kind.  Turning to begin filling up his truck, he caught my eye, me standing in my damp workout clothes, face still pink and hair wet through with the sweat of my recent workout, and he said,

“Good morning, beautiful!” 

The adjective tacked on to the common greeting caught me completely off guard.

I smiled.  “Good morning to you too!  I am not feeling too beautiful today, here in my sweaty gym clothes.”

He responded with an analogy about tigers and natural beauty and how funny he would look with make-up on.  Perhaps he was making a point about women not needing makeup to be pretty?  I have a high radar for smarmy fellows, the kind that look you up and down and never quite find your eyes.  He wasn’t one of those guys.  He was sincere, open and friendly.    

Putting the gasoline nozzle back in its place, I wished him well on this Saturday morning.

“I am playing golf,” he offered, needlessly.  I mean, really, in that outfit?  What else could he possibly be doing?  Modeling?

“I thought as much,” I said, gesturing to his striking ensemble, “You’re looking pretty spiffy this morning!”

He held the sunglasses in his hand up to his chest, the frames of which were a dark, reddish pink, showing me how perfectly they complimented his shirt, his shoes. 

“They’re perfect,” I said.  And they were.

Sitting my sweaty self in my van seat and driving away, my heart was full with the gift of the simple compliment given and received, and a kind conversation passed with a stranger.   

For it is a gift when someone sees you, your very real self, your sweaty gym-clothes wearing self, and calls you, “Beautiful.”

Friday, February 1, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Afraid

Linking up this morning with the fabulous Lisa-Jo.  The topic this week was timely for me...

This afternoon I will load my van with suitcases, sleeping bags, and too much candy, and I will drop my two oldest children off for a weekend of church winter camp.  They are going up into the mountains for two days and two nights of eating well, not sleeping well, and having all manner of camp adventures.

I attended a similar camp when I was their age.  I remember the thrill of being away from home, spending whole days with good friends and the giddy fun of camp life. 

But this Mama is also afraid to put them on that bus and to let them go.

It takes tremendous trust to send our precious ones out into the world to have their own adventures. 

This weekend I will spend my time loving on their little sister who is too young to join them at camp, and letting trust drive out my fear.