The First Hundred Years Are Hard

Jason and I visited a Messianic Jewish synagogue last week in celebration of Yom Teruah, the Feast of Trumpets. A new experience for us, we fumbled with the Siddur, the prayer book, as we found it to read backwards to forwards, and we tried to keep up with reading the Hebrew. It was a three-hour celebration and we found ourselves unused to the longevity of the service. Yet, I enjoyed it immensely. We are in the “Days of Awe”, a time of preparation and anticipation of the Return of our Messiah, Yeshua. For the first time I listened, in person, to the shofar, the Ram’s Horn, practicing the final performance of the Ages when the shofar of God will sound and Yeshua Himself shall descend and raise up His bride to be with Him forever! I sang in Hebrew the words from Revelation 22, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come, and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”

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The very next morning, right before my run, I received some sad news concerning the miscarriage of a lady from my church. I don’t personally know this family, but the announcement of death had such a sobering effect on the morning. It seemed to go against everything about the Feast of Trumpets, this celebration and anticipation of resurrection. I put my ear buds in and willed my body down the road, as the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” filled my soul. I remembered the words that my pastor’s wife had spoken to a gathering of women the week before. She was sharing her personal story of how the Lord had pulled her out of her despair over the death of several people in the church. The Lord had said to her heart, “Only I can touch life and death.” It’s moments like these that make me bow to the sovereignty and the holiness of God the Father.

I contemplated the Lord’s sovereignty in the midst of our suffering and our loss. I recalled the stories of so many of my precious friends and family members who are still in the middle of difficult trials of sickness, pain, betrayal, and trauma. My dear friend, Ruth, who is no stranger to suffering, disclosed to me a poignant saying that a wise woman once told her, “The first hundred years are hard.”

Yes. This is so true. Life is hard. Suffering is reality. Sin is still here on this earth. Things do not always go the way we had hoped or prayed. The first hundred years are hard.

But as I ran, scripture from the night before came to my mind. Scripture that speaks of something more powerful than suffering. More victorious than sin and death.

If it is only for this life that we have put our hope in the Messiah, we are more pitiable than anyone. But the fact is that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a man, also the resurrection of the dead has come through a man. For just as in connection with Adam all die, so in connection with the Messiah all will be made alive.  1 Corinthians 15:19-22 CJB

Paul, the author of these words, had a close relationship with suffering. He understood what it meant to be hungry, poor, imprisoned, sick, burdened, beaten, and, ultimately, martyred for his faith. But he says that if we have hope only for this life here, we are to be pitied! His hope was solidly in the resurrection of Christ and in the eventual resurrection of all believers from the dead.

Listen, I tell you a secret- not all of us will die! But we will all be changed! It will take but a moment, the blink of an eye, at the final shofar. For the shofar will sound, and the dead will be raised to live forever, and we too will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 CJB

The first hundred, or however many years the Sovereign Lord gives us on this planet, may indeed be hard, but after that? After that, for us who love the Messiah Yeshua and have put our faith in Him, we will be forever with Him! And if He returns while we are still alive and remain, we will be caught up to meet our Lord in the air and changed by the resurrection of the dead!

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a rousing cry, with a call from one of the ruling angels, and with God’s shofar; those who died united with the Messiah will be the first to rise; then we who are left still alive will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will always be with the Lord. So encourage each other with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4: 16-18 CJB

This is surpassing news, almost too good to be true! But it is our blessed hope amid the suffering of our day and why we keep looking to the clouds.

 

 

Press On

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I’ve decided to do something crazy. Maybe it’s because I’m turning 40 in a couple months and am feeling the urge to do something out of the ordinary. Maybe it’s because doing hard things is a good discipline. Or maybe it’s because, as a homeschool mom, I need some chunks of time to myself! Whatever the reason, I have decided to train for a half marathon.

This might not seem like a crazy endeavor to everyone, but to me, it’s a massive undertaking. For the last few years my workout schedule has gone something like this: work out once a month, then recover the next few weeks. In August I made the decision to start running a mile every day up our dirt road to the mail boxes and back, for no other reason except that I really do enjoy running. Towards the beginning of September I began to wonder if a half marathon was a possibility. I reached out to a couple friends who had run it before and their enthusiasm was enough to convince me that, yes, this was attainable. So I researched running plans with Jason and even he began to train with me.

Few things capture the Christian life quite like running. Here are a few of my observations:

  1. It’s simple. I put one foot in front of the other and I travel somewhere.
  2. It takes tremendous discipline. I have to choose to do it.
  3. It’s hard work.  Though it is simple, the act of running is tiring and strenuous to my body and mind.
  4. It’s better done in community. When Jason or my friend, Andrea is keeping me accountable, it is so much easier to continue running, especially when it’s hard.
  5. It’s essential to rest. I cannot run everyday. I must give my body periodic rest in order to recover from the run.

I’m only in week two of a sixteen-week training schedule and I haven’t hit any of the long runs yet, but I have already noticed how hard this is. Last week I was pushing myself up the last hill of a two mile run and all I could do was put one foot in front of the other and think about Jesus. How he endured the cross, scorning its shame, but for the joy set before him. I know I’m only running, but it was such a clear picture of the Christian life. Life can be so hard. And sometimes all we can do is just put one foot in front of the other and “just do the next thing,” like Elisabeth Elliot is known for saying. If that is you, my friend, you are not alone. I join you in this uphill battle. This battle that is worth undertaking.

  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

 

 

 

The Work of Completion

A red songbird perched atop the utmost branch of our tree and proclaimed his presence to the morning, his crest standing straight up as he sang. I sat in a wicker chair on our back porch, hearing the song and filling up my soul with the beauty of the day, washed clean from the storms of the night before.

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This morning I had felt so distant from God. Like I had forgotten how to commune with Him. I reached out to a small group of women that hold me accountable to spending time with Jesus each morning and asked them to pray for me. I didn’t really know what it was that I needed, just that I needed…Him. His presence. His nearness. I wanted to feel Him and I wanted the God of the universe to speak to me.

My friend, Rebecca, texted me back, assuring me that she was praying for me and she wrote these words,

“My friend, remember that God’s voice is not always heard, sometimes it is seen and sometimes it is felt. He’s always with you and has never left you as He promised in His Word.”

I thought of her words to me as I sat listening to the songbird. It almost sounded as if he sang, “Beware, beware!” Or was it, “Aware, aware!”?

I had so many questions still unanswered. Mainly, the one question. The question that always haunts me. The question of adoption. In a few weeks it will have been one year since we found out that we were not adopting Isaac. Our lives were so very different last year than they are now. We were prepping our home to receive a child. Gearing up emotionally, physically and spiritually for this. And now? A year later we have gone on with our lives. I am the very busy mother of older kids. I am preparing to teach a Classical seventh grade class next year and Jason and I have moved on from adoption. Definitely moved on from the diaper stage.

And yet, I haven’t really moved on.

I’m still there. I’m still holding on. That longing to enter into the miracle. I am holding onto adoption because, as crazy as it seems, I do not want to miss the pain and the blessing of sharing in the gospel of Christ.

It’s just that I don’t see how adoption fits into our life.

This morning, as I sat looking out over the lush pasture, I pulled out a bookmark from my Bible with declarations of my identity in Christ. I read them out loud and several of them jumped out at me, so much so that I knew I needed to slow down and meditate on them. The one that resonated the most was an old, familiar passage from the book of Philippians chapter 1.

God will carry on to completion the good work He began in me. Philippians 1:6

This was big. I grabbed my journal and started scribbling. And I wrote to the Father, “The completion of the good work in my life depends on YOU!”

How very quickly I lose sight, in my mad dash to work out my own salvation, that this very work is not my own. It is God’s work. He has begun it and He will finish it. Yes, of course, I partner with Him, but I don’t carry it on my own! It is from Him, through Him, to Him. It is all His!

And so, if the completion of the good work in my life depends on God, then…

  1. I can stop striving to make sure I don’t miss out on His best for me.
  2. I can rest in His promise.
  3. I can trust in His perfect timing.

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I don’t know if we will ever get to adopt. I don’t know what the future holds for our family. But I do know my Shepherd. He is good and He leads. We hear His voice and we follow. And He will bring the work of our lives, that He has started, to completion.

It’s Time to Prune the Rose Bush

I learned how to prune my rose bush yesterday. I remembered hearing that Valentine’s Day is the prime time to prune roses and I just so happened to think about it when I had a bit of time to actually do something about it. So I got out some gloves and rusty pruning shears. Oh, and youtube. I looked up a simple video on pruning and started putting the four steps to action.

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First step: pull off all the leaves.

Second: cut out all the dead parts.

Third: cut away any branch that is rubbing against itself horizontally.

Lastly: cut the vertical branches at an angle so that the rain does not fall directly onto the buds.

Why on earth am I sharing these mundane details of my life, you might ask? Because as I pruned this rose bush, I was startled by the truth that it represented in my life. It’s been a difficult season in my marriage these last few weeks. Not bad. Not hopeless. But difficult. Jason and I have had many painful conversations, some that have stemmed from misunderstanding and miscommunication. Some that have been the result of our own selfishness and stubbornness. And some that have been because of differences in our personalities. Guys, I have an amazing husband and God has blessed me with a man who sticks by me and hears me out and loves me faithfully. But marriage is not easy.

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In these uncomfortable conversations, that we made ourselves have, I believe that God was doing a bigger work than I ever suspected at the time. He was ripping out premature  expectations and desires to make our hearts ready for His perfect timing. He was cutting out the dead parts in our hearts – the sin – and cutting away the rough and irritating parts that got in the way of our unity and harmony. He was pruning us, is pruning us, with His sharp shears, at the right angle, so that our harvest of love and righteousness will be great and abundant.

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Jason bought this particular rose bush for me on our 14th Anniversary at the Antique Rose Emporium that we happened upon accidentally when we were out driving. We had three rose bushes beside our house, but this one is the only rose bush that survived the new construction of Addie’s room that following summer. It happens to be my favorite, though. It’s name is Lafter. At the time, we thought the name appropriate, as laughter has been an enduring part of our relationship.

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As I finished pruning this last surviving rose bush yesterday, I was reminded of something that Jason has said to me over and over again, and that I, in turn, remind him. We are on the same team. We are different people, yes, but we are together, in covenant with each other. We are not enemies! But we have a choice. We have the choice to submit ourselves to the Gardener’s pruning shears and let Him do the work in our hearts that will lead to oneness with our spouse and obedience to Christ.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. John 15:2

How about you? Is your marriage in a season of pruning? Have you been through the pruning and come to see the fruit of that harvest of righteousness? Are you struggling to submit to the shears?

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Father, I pray that our hearts would be open and surrendered to you. I pray that we would submit ourselves to your wisdom and your goodness and that you would cut out any sin or entanglement in our lives that would prevent a harvest of righteousness. Unify our marriages, Oh God! For your glory and our gladness. Thank you for the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, which makes it possible to redeem our brokenness! There is hope for our marriages in your name, Jesus! Amen. 

 

 

The Fight for Life

I was returning from a Women’s Conference, driving the scenic country highway, worship music blaring, feeling so filled up with the joy of the presence of God. Jason called and I answered.

“Rosemary died two hours ago,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for you to come see her before we bury her.”

Talk about an emotional crash. I was halfway home, and told him so, but I knew they would still wait the thirty minutes more. He knows I need the closure with our animals.

Rosemary was our eight month-old heifer calf, born on Pentecost Sunday night. She was the exact image of her mother with her white face and orange body. She was always very scared of us and would never let anyone near her, let alone touch her. We would admire her from a distance. When we dewormed our cows this past summer, Rosemary was still too little to get a wormer, so we opted out for her, thinking she would get some of it through her mother’s milk. The summer was so dry and then the fall and winter was hit with so much rain, that it created a breeding ground for parasites. We knew we needed to get our cows dewormed again this winter, but we got busy and just did not get around to it in time. And by the time we noticed that Rosemary was not well, it was too late.

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Getting to love on Rosemary for the first time, as she never would let us touch her.

Jason and I brought her into our stall in the barn and the very fact that she was not running away from us made us realize how sick she really was. Just the walk one hundred yards from the pasture to the barn exhausted her and she collapsed as soon as she got inside. And she never stood again.

We immediately gave her a dewormer and started a process of feeding her raw milk every three hours and giving her B12 injections every day and Vitamin C. The first two nights Jason and I got up around the clock to feed her and the next day he tried to start an IV, thinking she was severely dehydrated. Our neighbor kept checking in on Rosemary and offering advice and we continued to dialogue with the vet, who basically said to keep her warm and continue feeding her.

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Jason trying to start an IV on Rosemary.

When I was finishing up at the Conference, Jason fed Rosemary a little bit of milk. She sighed deeply, and then was quiet. After a while, she sighed deeply one last time. And then she was gone.

I arrived home that evening as rain began to spritz in the twilight. I put on my boots and then hurried out to the far side of our top pasture. Jason and the kids were there with the tractor and there was a deep muddy hole in which had been placed the small body of our calf, Rosemary. All at once, in a spontaneous manner that reminded me of my mother, I began to sing “It Is Well With My Soul.” Hoping someone would join me, I sang the first verse, and then the second, and then the third. No one joined in and I could tell Jason was getting anxious to bury her before there was no more light to see. As I started the last verse, he jumped in the tractor and then, as I finished, he immediately started it and began to cover her up. All the while, the rain spit down on us.

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Looking at her grave the next day.

The very next day, Jason was on shift and made a call with the fire department to a young patient.  I don’t know the details, but in the course of the fight for life, the fight was lost.  I’m really not sure how my husband does it. He daily enters the battle of life and death and some times he is able to stabilize the patient and bring them back. But many times, he isn’t. But the fight for life must be made. It is too sacred of a thing not to fight for. For animals. But especially for people.

Rescue those being led away to death, and restrain those stumbling toward slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know about this,” will not He who weighs hearts consider it? Does not the One who guards your life know? Will He not repay a man according to his deeds? Proverbs 24:11-12

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Looking for Mercy

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I had already planned on running this morning. In fact, I was going to take a quick jog around the pasture even before we milked the cow. But as I made my way into the barn, I remembered I had just bought horse feed and needed to dump the bags into the containers in the feed room. As I did this, all the animals- the horses, dogs, chickens and the dairy cow- looked at me so expectantly and noisily! that I didn’t have the heart to leave them hungry until I returned from my run. So Thadd and I did the chores first.

I noticed that our oldest horse, Mercy was not at the barn, as she was usually, waiting to be fed. This was so unlike her as she was normally the most vocal of our four horses, neighing heartily any time she saw one of us come toward the barn. I knew she was the oldest of our horses and so genuine concern grew within when I whistled the two tones that call our horses: a low note and then another a fifth higher, and she didn’t come. We had opened up our lower pasture so the horses and the cow could graze there, so I went running down the road, past the creek to see if Mercy was in the pasture beyond the creek.

We were given her by a man we met a farmers market a couple summers ago. He gave us three horses, actually, and this one was so shy and fearful of people that no one could catch her. She was scared of men in particular because earlier in her life she had been mistreated, so Jason and our friend hid in the bushes as I coaxed this timid creature into a corral with a bucket of sweet feed. It took me over an hour of luring her in and during that time, in the hot June heat, I took to calling her Mercy and the name stuck.

As I got across the bridge and looked into the pasture, Mercy was nowhere to be found. I climbed over the gate and ran into the field and through the woods and over the creek, whistling the two notes and calling her name. When I got across the creek and up the muddy bank, I found what I was looking for. There she was, nibbling on acorns by the bee hives, as healthy as could be.

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I went over to her slowly, held out my hand and touched her nose. I was relieved to see her well.

I straddled the barbed wire fence that separates the middle pasture to the back pasture and climbed over. I continued my run around the back pasture, pondering the significance of what I had just witnessed.

Sometimes life seems too much to bear. At times it hits me hard and I don’t see it coming. The weight of just doing my normal activities of being a mom and meeting needs combined with the burden I feel for loved ones who are dealing with difficult and painful circumstances can bring me to a place of deep weariness. I’ve felt that recently. The needs. Oh the needs of so many hurting people! I think it’s called Compassion Fatigue where we are so sucked into the drama of other’s lives that it consumes us and exhausts us. Depletes our resources and our joy.

I remembered that I don’t have to hold the world together. A friend told me recently that her mom would occasionally remind her, “Don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s okay to go read a book.” That was such a freeing thought to me. I can pray hard and intercede on behalf of others, but the outcome is not up to me. I don’t have to shoulder the weight of it all! And as another friend said, “We just bring them to Jesus.”

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Christ’s precious blood has opened the way so that we can enter the very throne room of God Almighty and plead our case and our loved one’s before Him. As His beloved children!

And when we go looking for Mercy, she will be found.

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My Righteous One Will Live by Faith

I was folding up the guest room sheets and putting them away in the changing table drawer, the one intended to hold diapers and onesies. We had put away the crib and pulled out the select comfort mattress and set it up so that we could host a missionary family with us this summer. It had been just two weeks since we had received the news that Isaac was not coming to our family, but that his paternal grandmother would be adopting him. Our whole year of preparation and anticipation had culminated to that decision from CPS. I had wept as I said goodbye to the tiny nursery. As pieces of my heart were boxed up and stored away to make room for a completely new and different reality. One which did not consist of a baby.

It was now almost five months since we received the news. I pulled open the drawer to the changing table and saw a collection of various pieces of baby clothes my mother had given to me at Christmas, confident that she was receiving another grand child soon. There, atop the clothes and few diapers, was a letter I had written to Isaac last Christmas. I sat down on the bed and read the letter. It was such a sweet read, telling him all about our children and our dogs and all the animals here on our farm. How we had gotten everything ready for him and were so excited to meet him, even though we didn’t know that they would pick us to be his parents. But the part that got to me was toward the end. I wrote:

Even though we don’t know if you will come to stay here forever, we do know and trust the Lord God, Creator and Redeemer of our lives. He is infinitely good and so we can put our confidence in Him, knowing He will do what is absolutely best for you and for us.

I sat there in our baby-room-turned-guest-room and wept because I didn’t know if I believed my own words anymore. Infinitely good! Absolutely best! Was this true? Deep, deep down I knew it to be true, but the pain was fresh again. The sorrow and the loss seemed to be more real than the sovereignty of God. And the questions I had! How it all made no sense at all. Why would we have gone through almost a year and a half of so much work and expecting and hearing very clear words from the Lord only to give birth to wind?

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It dawned on me last week that Isaac turned two years old. And I had completely missed it! Last year, we celebrated his first birthday as a family, though we hadn’t met him yet, but this year we had gone on with our lives without him and had forgotten all about it. The sadness didn’t hit me until I remembered him. It is in the remembering that the pain cuts deep and the tears bleed out.

A few nights ago, I drove home in the rain after taking my daughter to a youth retreat and was overcome with the sorrow of losing Isaac. I sobbed to the Lord, “I just want to understand what last year was all about! I want to hear your voice!” Over the course of the last few months many people have given me words of encouragement and phrases they heard from the Lord for me. And they were good things, beautiful things, but I wanted more. I wanted Him to speak to me. But I think what I really wanted was for Him to explain everything to me. And every time I asked for an explanation, I received nothing.

But yesterday I asked again. I was making myself a cup of coffee and then, “You, my child, are righteous,” spoke softly to my heart. It caught me off guard. It didn’t make sense that He would tell me that. That didn’t explain anything about this last year. And, righteous? I didn’t feel very righteous!

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But then I remembered something. There was one phrase from the book of Hebrews that the Lord brought to my heart a year ago, which became the theme of our long, arduous wait for a son. I remember being out in the woods, worshiping God and listening. I heard in my spirit, “He who is coming will come and not delay, but my righteous one will live by faith and if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased.” I grabbed at my Bible that I had brought with me and thumbed through the concordance to find the place where it said that in scripture. It took me a while, but I finally found the place. It was Hebrews 10:37-38. I came away from that time in the woods, not believing that it promised me that Isaac was coming, but that the Lord Himself was coming and that I must live by faith, and not by sight.

I did some simple logic. If God called me righteous, then according to that verse, and though I felt a bit presumptuous in saying it, I had lived by faith this last year and He was pleased with me. I looked back over this last year and knew it to be true. We had all walked by faith in the goodness and justice of God, even though we didn’t know what the outcome would be. We trusted Him. We did all He called us to do. The thing that was driving me crazy was that I couldn’t understand why we didn’t get what we wanted. But yesterday, though I did not receive any explanation for the past year, I received the confirmation that my Daddy was pleased with my faith. His pleasure with me makes all the difference.

And as C.S. Lewis states so eloquently in the book Til We Have Faces, “I know now Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away.”