Break Open the Sky

I sat on Jeremiah’s bed while all three of my children lay across the length of his twin size trundle.  Legs curled and bodies bunched, special blankets and pillows, stuffed animals crowded around them.  They had all decided that they would sleep there that whole night.  Addie lay in the middle between the brothers.  Taking up most of the room.

I was telling them about the great day that Jesus would return to the earth.  The day the trumpet would blast signaling the coming of the King.  The day those who love Him would rise to meet Him in the air.

We heard a noise coming from the kitchen (probably my father-in-law scrounging up a snack or something).  Thadd shot up from the bed, “Is dat Jesus?!” he exclaimed.  “De tumpet?”  I could make out wide eyes in the dimly lit room.

“No baby,” I replied with a smile, “that’s probably just Papa.”

I prayed with them, tickled backs and sang songs like they always asked for and then kissed them in a row.  Closing the door, I wondered how long it would be before Jeremiah moved over to his brother’s bed so he could stretch out his legs.

I wondered other things too.  Like what would this world be like for my children as they grew up in it.  The presidential election drawing nigh brought so many questions to my mind.  The economy seemed to be crumbling beneath us, and politicians raged and promised, each side attacking the other and offering the answer to the nation’s problems.  It seemed to be this big game, with the lives of people at stake.  The conventions, republican and democratic, being at polar odds with one another in value and direction.

And then these attacks on the embassy in Egypt and Libya and Yemen?!  Peace and safety are far cries these days.  Like the nations are arranging themselves for a final apocalypse.  And Israel is involved, and I am not sure what part the United States plays exactly.  It’s enough to make a sensible citizen want to run out to Montana and buy a few acres and live out the rest of her days self-sufficient and dependent upon the land for her livelihood.  To go hide and wait for the return of the King.  I mean, it all sounds very tempting.  Very tempting.

But deep down there is this prodding within that moves me to believe that there is a great work to be done.  A work that has been prepared just for me since the beginning of time.  For such a time as this.  In these unstable times God is calling me to Himself.  To follow Him where He is at work.  And it doesn’t look like he’s leading us to bury our heads in the sand and hide while the world self-destructs and then the trumpet sounds, bringing forth the consummation of all things.  While we, all the while, are preserved from suffering.

No.  I think the work the Lord has for us to do is dirty and bloody and difficult.  A work that will involve a death of what I hold dear.  A giving up of all the gods that I have set up before Him.  A great call to love those who are most difficult to love during days of hate.  A stretching of my comfortable, complacent Christian life, giving up control and plans and boxy living.  And I am scared to death.

But what do I stand to gain?

Unspeakable joy.  Peace.  Life.  Purpose.  The coming to the complete end of myself to be strengthened thoroughly by the power of God.  Growing in faith and trust.  Experiencing the Lord’s presence and provision because I place myself in a position of desperation.  Seeing change in myself.  Living the cross.  And one day gaining riches in heaven.  Riches not worth comparing with what I have given up here on earth.

A few days after the slumber party on the trundle bed, I sat outside watching my youngest son swing on his swing while the humming birds darted in and out at the feeders above my head.

“When is God coming back?” Thadd asked me.  His little face gazed up at the clouds in the sky.

“Soon,” I replied.  Soon.  But until that day, there was work to be done.

The Race

I pulled on new purple running shoes.  I tied them with a vengeance and pulled my hair up hastily in a pony tail.

“I’m running,” I told Jason curtly.  I couldn’t even look him in the eyes.

I forced my way into the humid night air and started running for the first time in four years.  My feet were light and my legs remembered what to do in spite of the weight of my anger.  I ran fast and hard and my mind re-played the events of the day.

I had found the house we were to move into.  I knew it from the first moment I walked in as we made our way around the owner who bounced a baby on her hip apologizing for the mess the workers had made up in the master bathroom.  A stairway ascended on the left at the entrance to the house.  All four bedrooms up, along with the laundry room.  To the right french doors opened into an office with built-in bookshelves.  After that straight down the hall in the middle of the house was the dining room on the right, then the kitchen with the den on the opposite side, built-in shelving surrounding the fireplace.  The backyard, a very large backyard, was accessible through the breakfast room.  We filed through the house, Jason, our realtor Susan and myself.  And I tried to suppress the giddiness I felt.  This was it.  This was our house.  And it was actually in the same price range as the other houses we had looked at that day.  The other houses with the animal smells.

A frog jumped across the sidewalk and I leapt sideways so as to keep my new shoes from unnecessary disaster.  There are frogs everywhere these days.  Frogs and mosquitoes.  For this is Houston, TX.  The place where you swim through the August night with running shoes on.  I had only been running for a few minutes and already I was drenched in sweat.   But it felt good to be out there.  The blood in my veins raging with life and pushing the oxygen everywhere.  I felt free to wrestle with my anger.

I had sat in Susan’s office that morning while Jason stood because he couldn’t find another unoccupied chair in the building.  She was printing off comps in the area of the house I was certain was to be ours.  But Jason had a different perspective and upon reviewing the paper, his doubts in the house were confirmed.  We studied the comps, our heads banded together in concentration as I had risen from my seat, the paper in my hands.  But it didn’t look promising.  The house had been bought for a song a few years before and the owners had done some work to it (work which my carpenter husband cringed at) and were now selling the house at the top of the market value.  The numbers spoke for themselves, but Susan suggested we get some lunch and talk about it and then call her back with a decision.  Or an offer.  Preferably an offer.

So we went to Chick Fil A, during possibly the busiest time of its career, and decided to sit and talk about the house.  Our kids were in Dallas with my parents that week.  You would think we would have gone somewhere a little less kid friendly.  But no, Chick Fil A with the lines and the kids and the noise.  I looked at my man, after a prayer of thanks for the chicken, and still holding his hand I spoke dogmatically, “This is the house we are going to buy.”  He had looked at me painfully and shook his head.  I started spouting all of the reasons it was right for us and he just listened and waited until I was finished and then he began to tell me the reasons it was wrong for us, the biggest reason being the price which would not benefit resale.  And it went on like this all day long.  Me whining, pleading, crying as I tried to make him see what was so clear to me.  And he calmly and lovingly (O how I hated that!) held his ground.

Didn’t I deserve this house?  Didn’t our family deserve this?  We had been living with Jason’s parents for one year.  One year!  And our house in Dallas was finally being sold and we could finally purchase a home!  I turned to run around the subdivision lake and as I ran words came softly to my heart.  Words that I did not welcome and that I clenched my fists to.  Because I knew who was speaking them to me and it was not what I wanted to hear.

“It’s not about you.”

It surprised me as I heard myself involuntarily sobbing into the night.  I knew what I had to do, but I bloody battled it.  I balled my hands tighter and swung them faster at my side, picked up the pace.

My sweet friend Gilda and her husband Rudy had met us to pray over us just a week before.  “You are in a race,” she had spoken to us wisely.  At that time we still had not known where in Houston we were to even look for a house.  The day after we met to pray together God made clear to Jason that we were to look in Katy, TX for our home.  Though still a long commute to work, it would keep us close to family and in the neighborhood of our church home.  And that is what we need for we have been called to foster care and adoption.

My heart began to soften as I thought about our calling.  And I could see with new eyes the ugliness of my heart.  I had found something I wanted.  And it was something good, but my grip on it was deadly.  It was desire gone viral.

“O God,” I prayed into the night.  My tears mingling with sweat.  I paused before the final surrender and I could sense His goodness surrounding me.  I could trust Him with my desires.  And then finally, softly I broke.  “I will submit to you.  I lay down my desires and entrust my heart to you.”

The freedom of submission swooned my heart to peace.  I set back for home.

Life Portraits

I wrote this three years ago for Mother’s Day:

I look with uncertainty at the project at hand, the wriggling grub worm unaware of his destiny.  “I can do it,” my daughter tells me matter-of-factly.  The warm wind blows her golden hair across her face.  Confidently, she takes the unsuspecting worm and baits him from end to end on her fishhook.  Her four year-old fingers move with precision.  With amazement I look upon my little girl, so eager to learn and experience life.  Her clear eyes dance, scanning the waters of the small pond before us.  I gently take her fishing rod and cast as far as I can.  She quickly reaches for the pole and begins to reel in her line with the passion of childhood.  I wrap my arms around her and whisper into her ear, “I’m so proud of you!”

“Mommy watch this!”  he exclaims with pride.  His volume rises with each word he pronounces.  I turn from the wreckage of laundry scattered across the floor.  His small hand grabs for mine.  It’s sticky.  He pulls me around the corner.  He releases my hand and his feet start to prance in anticipation.  In a flash he advances full speed at his target.  He leaps aggressively and is soon caught up in strong arms.  Flying, rolling, squealing, flailing, they’re everywhere.  His eyes are shining, so full of life, revealing his greatest passion.  My heart swells with indescribable joy as I watch them.  My son and his hero, his daddy.

I hear a cry in the night and I lurch out of bed, unstable yet on my feet, disoriented.  I blindly make my way to his side.  I lift him up and is expectation overwhelms him.  He knows what comes.  Grunting and rooting he shakes his tiny head and his fingers make their way to his expectant lips, pursed and desperate.  He suckles vigorously, his passion for life consuming him.  I take it all in.  His little hands, his little feet, the feel of him snuggled up to me, his smell – so new, so fresh.  His one persistent objective is a quest for life.  I fight back tears as I urgently whisper into the night, “Please don’t grow.  Please don’t change!”

Sojourn Academy

Right after my sixteenth birthday, as the people of Brookfield, IL began to take their Christmas lights down from their snow-dusted roofs, just before the new year of 1996, my family and I moved to San Jose, Costa Rica.

We knew we would not be there long.  Guatemala was our final destination and that was what we had planned for.  My father, dramatically changing occupations from salesman to missionary, underwent three long years of graduate school at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, two of which involved trekking the United States visiting people and churches to raise support so we could be involved in Christian radio in Guatemala City.

For calling is not fulfilled without preparation.

Our mission board required that my parents spend time in language school learning the language before engaging in the ministry.  And San Jose, Costa Rica was a city riveted with language institutes.  But the thing was, we already knew Spanish.  You see, we were living in Mexico when my father sensed his calling into missions.  But still, the agency persisted and so we agreed and made the move.

Dad and Mom, myself, Ryan who was 12, Andrian almost 3 and baby Autumn 3 months old.

We never thought we would be there for longer than 6 months, but we ended up staying a full year in the peaceful land of Costa Rica.  While my parents studied Spanish at the the Instituto de Lengua Española, Ryan and I attended school at Sojourn Academy.  A tiny school for grades kindergarten through high school, Sojourn was the place the missionary kids went during their parents’ preparation for ministry in order to go to various countries throughout Central and South America.  It really was like a glorified homeschool co-op with A Beka being the main curriculum.  Teachers were assigned to two to three grades per classroom and the high school delivered two teachers.  One for Math/Science and one for English/History.  The classrooms all faced a common outside corridor with an exotic garden of native plants in the middle.  Quite the contrast to the flurry of life in public high school in Illinois.

Perhaps it would have been easy to discount that year as altogether unnecessary or a waste of precious time.  I mean, when I finally arrived in Guatemala I realized that an entire semester of Geometry and Geography taken at Sojourn did not count for my high school credit and had to be retaken at the missionary school there in Guatemala City.  True, my parents honed in their Spanish skills, but they would have been fine without a year at language school.  Another move, another transition, another house.  Was it even healthy for a family with kids to uproot again?

But then I think of what I would have missed out on had we skipped that period in our lives.  Friends.  Like I had never had before.  Friends that drew close just because we knew that our time together was short and we had better make the most of it.  Friends that would not have found each other had we not been thrown together.  Friendships that would last.  And then there was Mr. Loren Wilbur, my English teacher.  My favorite teacher of all time.  He was the one who taught me to read the great books.  And because of our miniscule classes, he actually took the time to sit down with me and counsel me on my writing.  He was the kind of teacher that inspires you to greatness.  And I would have missed that.

Oh I could go on and on about what I gained that year.  Running three times a week with a lady from our mission and being unknowingly mentored by her wisdom.  Enjoying my family without outside pressures of activity.  Not to mention the things we experienced like soaking in natural hot springs while watching a volcano erupt before us.  Exploring a dozen beautiful beaches.  Eating all manner of strangely delicious fruit.  Experiencing the process of coffee.  Climbing mountains.  Kissing monkeys.  Getting rained on.  A lot.  Riding in taxis everywhere we went.

Somehow that waste of time became my favorite year.

Of course, that was Costa Rica.  And who could not endure a year of preparation in paradise?  I look at our situation now and inwardly cringe that   I even dared to write about my experiences at Sojourn because it would seem they are to be envied compared to our current outlook.  We live in Houston, TX.  In Jason’s parents’ house.  Still.  Three children.  Real estate ghosts from our past haunting us.  House loan prospects dim.  What is this year we have been experiencing?  Our dreams are still strong and our calling continues to take shape.  But this place where we cannot see the end for the wall that is before us, can it be of any good whatsoever?

It is Sojourn Academy.  Without the exotic paradise.

And yet, something stirs within my soul.  The slow outbreak of hope and faint echo of faith that this time, this wait is preparatory.  And even, dare I believe, exceedingly good for me.  For all of us.  For this season of sojourn paves the way to our calling.

Beauty in the Thorns

I’ve been living in hiding.  Paralyzed by all I can’t control but wearing myself weary controlling and hovering.  This is the absence of trust.  This is the bondage to the will of another.  Another without mercy.

These are my chains of fear.

I’ve had many fears these days.  Fears that have come as a result of recent storms.  Storms of finances and parenting.  There are different kinds of trials in life.  Some come and you can muster the faith to believe the truth.  Others are of the substance that slam the air out of your lungs and the difference between faith and fear is not easy to differentiate.

I was compelled to go for a walk a few days ago.  We were in Dallas at my parents’ house for Spring Break, visiting my grandmother who was in town.  They live in Kessler Park, at the very edge of the city right next door to Oak Cliff.  The trees are mature and there is a walking trail right beside Interstate 30, but the highway is hidden because of the trees and the hills and the streams that flow into the Trinity River.

I was restless because of prayerlessness and Springtime in Dallas beckoned me out.  I cast a pleading eye at Jason and he winked his approval, agreeing to watch the kids as I wandered about.

So I set out quickly, crossing Sylvan Avenue and turning into the lane with the walking trail.  I settled into a slow pace and walked silently as the world around me danced with life.  I’ve come to see that prayer is just as much about silence and listening as it is about me actually using my own words as I seek audience with Almighty God.  And for me nothing arouses heart-felt worship quite like nature.

I took my time down the lane, eyes wide open, sensing everything.  Bamboo grew wild on the side of the trail to my left, covering the view of the creek down below.  I heard it faintly gurgle as it washed over rocks and debris.  Honey bees hummed around the early wild flowers just poking up from their winter slumber.  I drank in the sweet, new air and lifted my eyes to the fresh green trees to catch a glimpse of the bird who sang that hauntingly beautiful song.  The sweet notes filled me with wonder.  Birds don’t worry about life.  It’s all praise.  Effortless praise.

I prayed for my brother, Andrian who was on a missions trip.  A strong rush of wind spun about me from out of nowhere.   I prayed that the Spirit of God would be poured out upon him.

I prayed for the spiritual protection of my children.  I stood looking into a clearing, the land sloping down a bit with tall trees marking the end of the wildflower field.  The wind picked up again and the trees danced shaking off their seed.  The lightweight pods swirled magically through the air slowly. I watched one as it floated towards me.  It landed on my chest, a tiny bit of fluff surrounding the life-giving seed.  Those who sow in tears, will reap with shouts of joy.  I looked down at the seed and kept it there.  Not wishing to remove it from my heart.

I turned away from the walking trail and started to hike up the hill through the residential streets of Kessler Park.  There were no sidewalks here, but only a road separating gated properties and large mansions.  I walked quickly up the incline and felt the surge of blood course faster through my veins.  My fears began to melt away as everywhere I went, I saw truth manifested in reckless beauty.  A flowering rose bush reminded me to pray for my friend, Gulnaz.  A monarch butterfly gave me hope for transformation.  At the top of the hill I could see a single cross lifted high on top of the Methodist Hospital just a few blocks away.  It took my breath away.

I began my descent down the hill.  At the very bottom, just before turning back onto the walking trail, I noticed a bush with dominant white blossoms.  At that point I decided I would take one home with me.  I looked around to make sure no one was watching and reached my hand through the iron bars to pick the flower.  I gasped as I realized that the bush was actually a bramble of long, intertwining thorns.  Deadly-looking thorns that threatened my pursuit of beauty.  The kind that would have been used to crown my Savior.  They twisted large and fierce but produced a flower so beautiful I was compelled to take it.

I smiled and carefully placed my hand back through the bars and not so gently eased the white flower from its thorny home.  I secured it into my pony tail and walked back to my parents’ house.  The sun, magnificent, broke free from the clouds and shone all around me as I rejoiced that here, even now, is the promise of life and freedom from the curse of the thorns.

On Short Floods and Deep Weeping

It was one of those delicious mornings where you hear the wind before the rain.  When the alarm clock screams, but the trees scream louder, urging you to ease back into the warmth of covers.  But not to go back to sleep.  Instead to lay there snug and listen to the howl and the fury.  The shaking of the windows and the air rifling through the fireplace.  And then, the rain.  Softly at first with a casual drip drip drip which grows to a steady beat on the hard winter earth outside the window.  Then, the downpour, deafening ears and widening sleepy eyes.  Forcing you to rise and peer out of the blinds into the darkness of a morning without sunlight.

The thing is, the rain didn’t stop.  For hours.  My fireman managed to get Addie to school that morning.  I was so relieved it was his day off and that I could wave them goodbye from inside the shelter of the warm, dry house, holding onto a cup of hot Ethiopian coffee.  I could have walked around with a warm cup of something in my hand all day with weather like that.

At about nine in the morning both of my boys were standing in the window seat of the breakfast room.  The blinds had been pulled up impatiently, one side higher than the other, and faces and hands were pressed against the glass, creating circles of fog.  A hard rain can captivate the mind of a preschooler, but a flood will get the adult’s attention.  There was a current of water sweeping down the road and continuing to rise on account of the unending pour of water from the dark sky.  It was trash day and so all color of garbage bags were floating down the middle of the street with the occasional blue recycling bin swirling in the mix.

Now there were five adults gawking out of the steamy window.  My in-laws, my husband, myself and my brother-in-law, who happened to be in town.  The waters had crossed the boundary of the street, over that thin stretch of grass between street and sidewalk, and were easing up the front lawn.  The diesel truck parked in the street had small waves lapping the bottom of the passenger door.  I wondered what it felt like to be inside of Noah’s ark, the rains pounding from above and the floods thrashing from beneath.  Knowing that no one else would survive.  Jason’s brother, Jeremy, grabbed his phone and ran to the covered front porch just in time to video two cars passing each other in the flood.  A scene that caused some excitement among us all.

We all began to wonder if it would rain all day, or if Jeremy would make it to the airport in time to catch his flight back to St. Louis.  But much more discreetly than it began, the rain ended.  Around eleven that morning I looked out of the window and the flood was gone.  A sweet neighbor lady was outside reigning in the garbage bags scattered all over the street.  And Jeremy did make it in time to the airport.

All at once I was struck with the awareness of the gracious hand of God.  I thought of that first flood upon the earth and I rejoiced in the promise of the rainbow.  A cry for humanity sounded in my heart.  There is still hope for repentance!

Little did I know how much I needed to hold onto that truth.

The next day was Jason’s shift day and so I was all alone to get the three kids bathed and into bed that night.  I had already determined we would only watch the Nature Channel until 7:30 and then have time to do baths and read stories.  But there was a documentary about elephants on.  And it ended at 8.  And I was glued.  Come on, it was elephants!

So needless to say, we were all late getting into the tub.  I turned to my daughter and told her she needed to get into the bathtub.

“Mama, I’m too tired!” Addie whined.

I knew she had a bit of narcolepsy in her, so I compromised. “You don’t have to wash your hair, just your body.”

She just sat there, those clear blue eyes looking straight ahead of her.  I asked her again and still she sat there, defiant.  I was starting to lose it inside, my blood heating and beginning to course quicker.

“Do I need to take away your tooth fairy money?” I threatened.  I was exasperated.  Had the sweet evening of snuggling and elephant-watching come to this?  I felt like I was losing control.  I haven’t spanked my seven-year old in quite some time, but I reached for the spoon that night.  That did get her attention and she finally slinked off to the bathroom.  I held the wooden spoon as shame and despair began to creep over me.

“O God,” I prayed, “redeem this night!”

Later, as I was getting the boys in the tub, I heard her crying in the hall.  I ran out to see what was wrong and I saw that she had fallen down, walking from the bathroom to her room.  She was dripping wet, wrapped in a red towel and must have slipped on the tile.  I comforted her as much as I could and helped my daughter to stand.  She seemed to be alright and so she went on to her bedroom.

I went back in to care for the boys, but I could still hear her crying from her bedroom.  No, rather it was weeping that I heard.  Perhaps she really was hurt.  I ran again and reached her room to see her curled in a ball on her bed, her small frame shaking with the sobs.

“Adeline, baby, what’s wrong?”  I rushed to her and scooped her up.  “Are you hurt?” I tried to ascertain any broken bones.  She shook her wet head.  I looked at her, puzzled.  “Look at me, Addie,” I said gently.  But she would not look me in the eyes.  “Please tell me what the matter is,” I prodded.

She pushed up from me a bit and freed her right hand.  Her fingers began to move.  She was finger signing!  Jason had taught her the alphabet in sign language a few weeks before.  Unfortunately, she was better at it than I was.  “Whoa there!  Start over, Addie, I didn’t catch that!”  I said, realizing that I had better pay attention.  She signed, slower this time and I repeated each letter as she formed it.  “I V B E E N S I N F U L.”  I put it together.  “I’ve been sinful?”  I asked her.  My daughter shook her head as if I hadn’t rightly understood her.  I repeated the letters again, “I V B E E N S I N F U L,” but then she added “A L O T !”  This threw her into a fresh wave of anguish.

And I cradled my daughter, my Addie Rose, as her heart broke over her sin.  She wept and wept and I was awestruck.  Dare I believe that God was redeeming the ugly of the night?

“Addie, turn from your sin and run to Jesus.  His grace is enough for you.”  I smiled at her and said, “His grace is enough for me.”

And I rejoiced that there was still hope for repentance.

Free to Dream

We are free to dream.

I often find myself holding back, not wanting to fully engage in a dream for fear that I will be shattered if it is taken away from me.

But dreaming is good.  Important even.  For what dreaming brings about is excitement and action and productivity.  And to dream fully, with open hands and a light heart and busy mind, is a good and necessary undertaking.  For we begin to think noble thoughts about who we are as God has uniquely gifted and called us.  And with eyes focused on Christ and His kingdom there are no limits.

My problem is not that I dream prematurely.  My problem is that I do not dream big enough.  Full enough.  Or free enough.

So dream!  Here is your invitation.  Take it and fly!