Monday, June 6, 2016

Where's my Surrender?

I'm so thankful for all of the precious people who love on my kiddos each week at church. Whenever my kids ask where we are going and I say, "Church!" they all get SO excited!
I know this is because not only are people showing their love to my kids, but even more importantly, they are showing God's love to my kids. Sometimes they even gift them with things, which totally tickles the kids. Annie came home with a green necklace one day from Miss Jeanie,
Lucy comes home frequently with things from Mr. Tom's class, and Gabriel came home today with a huge plastic syringe to "squirt water with" that he said Miss Ann gave to him.
He was quite proud and possessive of this new "toy," and as we got in the car after lunch, he said, "Where's my surrender??" 

"Your what, Gabriel?"

"My surrender!"

We soon realized he meant his syringe :)

I know he's just a little boy (and an adorable one at that!)
who got his words mixed up, but I found myself stopping for a moment and repeating his phrase to myself:

"Where is my surrender...?"

It seems a bit counter-productive to be searching for something that you've supposedly laid down, and yet it also seems that this happens pretty often.  In the Christian walk, we are called to die to ourselves--to surrender to God and make Him the Lord of our lives. We lay down all of ourself so that we can put on all of Him. This doesn't just include our sins that we confess before Him, but it also includes our hopes and our dreams,
trusting that His plan is far greater than our own. What a tremendous, ugly mystery that Jesus would put on our sin so that we could clothe ourselves in His Father's gift of righteousness! The idea of being made new is quite enticing...until we realize that the process can also be a bit painful. We claim that we surrender our lives to Him, and yet we often find ourselves coming back searching for where we laid it all down. In a sense, we ask, "Where's my surrender?" But when I give Jesus "my surrender," it is no longer mine--it's not a toy that I can place on a shelf one day and then decide to pull it back out. 

Romans 12:1 says this:
"Therefore, I urge you my brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship."

The less there is of me, the more room there is for Him to fill me up and be poured out on others. And just like that syringe acts as Gabriel's new way of squirting out water, our lives can be used to spread the hope and glory of Christ as refreshment to others...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Waiting...

One of Lucy's school assignments this week was to write out a list filled with imperative statements (commands.) You may or may not know this about me, but I love a list! Lists keep me organized and scheduled, and my type A self loves that kind of control! (Just being honest.) Lists give us an opportunity to be the most productive with our time, being sure that we stay "on task." Something I pray often is that the Lord would help me to prioritize my time and use it wisely. But I think I often miss the point with that--I think the answer is accomplishing lots of stuff, so that means moving quickly from one task to the next. But maybe that's not what God always has in store for my days, and I fear I have missed out on many important moments because of my hurried spirit.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is from Daniel chapter 10. He had prayed over something for 3 weeks before receiving an answer. In reality, the Lord had immediately answered his request, but the answer was delayed because of a battle going on in the spiritual realm. It would have been easy for Daniel to give up and think God wasn't listening, but instead, Daniel persevered through his prayer and grew in his faith as a result. It was time used wisely, sitting in the presence of God. As I reflected on this story, I found myself asking, "So what is the purpose of waiting?" These are the things that came to my mind: 

1) Waiting instills patience or impatience
2) Waiting instills perseverance or defeat
3) Waiting instills anticipation or frustration 
4) Waiting gives us time to prepare or time to waste 
5) Waiting gives us time to reflect or to wish away the present 
6) Waiting gives us a chance to rest or a chance to stress. 

As we wait, we have a choice to make: will we hurry ourselves on to what is next, or will we sit and learn from what has been? Waiting gives us the opportunity to prepare and to grow and, yes, even just to REST. Unfortunately, I'm often so hurried to check everything off my to do list that I miss out on those moments. 

The question I need to ask myself is not how I can get everything done each day, but how I can glorify God in every moment I'm presented with each day. The Lord is not concerned with how much I can accomplish each day--He longs to see how much my heart is transformed through the ways I spend my time. I may have an impressive list to show at the end of each day when I hurry through my to-do's, but the Lord does not delight in sacrifice, but in a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:16-17.) It's not so much about what I DO as it's about what it does to ME. So whether I'm waiting for my kids to find their shoes, or for the traffic to clear on the interstate, may the Lord find me ever looking to Him through each task at hand, soaking up all He has for me in each and every moment. 


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day 2016: The Greatest Show on Earth!

This was supposed to be my Mother's Day post, but I obviously didn't quite get it pulled together in time. (Pretty true to life with kids though, don't you think? ;-) But, as the say, the show must go on, even if it has to start a bit late...


My Mother's Day started off waking up next to the tiniest of Tollers and hearing  the sounds of 6 sweet feet trampling down the stairs. I overheard Lucy whispering to her brother something along the lines of, "Today is Mother's Day--so we want to make mommy feel special!" There were dark circles under my eyes from lost sleep, but there were also sweet homemade cards to read with those tired eyes; there were loud quarrels to break up throughout the day, but there were also sweet "I love you's" to be heard. There were showers of spitups to clean, but there were also the sweetest of snuggles to be had. But hey, I'm a momma, and
projectile spit up is like a rite of passage!;-)

Seriously, this whole mom-thing is no joke. It's an exhausting job full of messes and mishaps and a LOT of second-guessing. I spend a good portion of my day asking for my kids' forgiveness, texting my DH in desperation, and drinking coffee...lots and lots of coffee!;-)

But in the midst of the difficulties of being a momma, I try to remember the difficulties of BECOMING a momma. I remember the days my empty arms ached, so I strive to never take for granted the fact that the Lord has filled them in abundance. It may not look like it from our current family photos, but infertility is a part of our family's story, and I'm so thankful for how God used it to shape us into the family He wanted us to be.
The comedian Jim Gaffigan jokes that having a fourth child is like drowning and someone handing you a baby! I'll admit that most days I feel like I'm just struggling to keep everyone else's heads above the water while I'm sinking only with an occasional gulp of air at the surface. The house is never totally clean, there is always laundry in a pile, and dinner is usually sandwiches or cheap takeout. BUT, I'm doing my best to take care of the home God has given to us and the family He has blessed me with. Everyone is dressed and fed (even if that just means clean, mis-matched pj's some days). There are lots of tantrums and fights echoing down the halls, but there's also a lot of laughter and joyful squeals bouncing off of each wall. 

I'll never forget coming home with Evangeline from the hospital. DH and I were greeted by three very excited kiddos. (Well, maybe two very excited siblings and one somewhat-confused-but-equally-as-loud sibling!) To reference  "Spinal Tap," adding one more child to the mix has got to be like adding one more notch to the volume control: it's definitely "one louder" in our home now!;-) And as we walked into the chaos, I was reminded of the saying "Not my circus; not my monkeys," except I realized that this was TOTALLY my circus, and these were definitely MY monkeys! The thought was at first overwhelming, but I decided in that moment to just grab a hold of it and try my best to embrace it. After all, what child doesn't want to run away to the circus at some point, and here I am with a front row seat to the best show in town!

So, to all my fellow mommas out there--we may be sleep-deprived and feeling desperate, but we've been given the role of a lifetime, so let's all just take a seat and enjoy the show! (And maybe buy some cotton candy, too!;-)

Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Flowers and Fondue...

In our lifegroup the other night, we discussed different truths we believe as Christians. I mentioned that I believe children are a gift. We then discussed what kind of actions those beliefs cause us to make. For example, if we truly believe that children are a gift, how does that affect how we treat them? Do we find ourselves becoming easily angered when they misbehave, or do we treat them with love and gentleness, even when we get frustrated? I truly want to cherish my children, and for the most part, that's easy to do.
Like on the days when my 8 year old crawls into bed with me early in the morning, snuggling up close to me and telling me how much she loves me and thinks I am the greatest mommy in the world...or in the moments when my 3 year old runs up to me and gives me the biggest hug, just because he is so excited to be in my presence...or when my 22 month old reaches up for me to pick her up and crinkles up her nose, smiling at me and babbling away joyfully... It's easy to be a grateful momma in those moments. But what about the moments when that 8 year old talks back and argues with you over EVERYTHING...or when that 3 year old throws a fit because you make him take a much-needed nap...or when that 22 month old is kicking and crying uncontrollably because you won't let her eat chocolate animal crackers for a meal...or what about when all three of those things seem to happen all at once?! Those are the moments when grateful mommies can easily turn into the Incredible Hulk. Those are the moments that we all too quickly forget that even the greatest of gifts often require some of the greatest of sacrifices. I have to admit that I can often "lose my cool," but I truly do pray each day for the Lord to take over every ounce of my being, to give me patience with my children, to show them grace and gentleness, to LOVE them as He loves them, and to help me to appreciate every single moment--the precious ones that make my mommy-heart melt, but also the challenging ones, that make my blood want to boil! And as we approach
socks with sandals
adding another amazing gift to our family, I find myself praying extra hard for the ability to mother these children in a way that honors my Heavenly Father. I feel so humbled that, for whatever reason, the Lord has chosen me to be their mother...but I admit that I often feel very overwhelmed by such a great task. But that's actually a good thing, because when we realize that we really aren't enough, it causes us to rely even more on the only One who IS enough--Jesus Christ. And as we approach Thursday (*squeals*!!!!!) when we will get to welcome Baby H into our wild and crazy and blessed family, I find myself wanting to soak up every single moment I have with these three precious babies the Lord has so graciously gifted to me already. So while my brain is pretty preoccupied with thoughts of how everything is going to look as a family of 6, what recovery from surgery is going to be like with four children, etc., I'm also trying to just live in the NOW of this moment, and my "now" centers around my Lucy Shea, Gabriel Paul, and Annie Beth, and today, that meant picnic and play time outside, and a special mommy-daughter date with my oldest.

The Texas temps are doing their usual
Picnic in the backyard
dance of going from one season to another in the matter of just a few days, which meant my kids all wore winter clothes to church on the first official day of spring (except Annie's winter shoes no longer fit, so I actually put her in socks with sandals!) Today, it started warming up though, so I thought it would be fun to have a picnic out back on the deck and then let the kids run off some energy in the backyard.
Gabriel was the first to abandon his PB and J, but it wasn't just so he could run off and play. He ran up towards me , thrusting a small flower in my face, and with a big, warm smile, he proudly proclaimed, "Here you go, Mommy. I brought you a flower!"

"Here you go Mommy. I brought you a flower!"
My heart instantly became a puddle! I gladly accepted such a prize, only to be continually rewarded with various findings from my boy throughout the rest of our time outside. The fits are often hard to endure, and the potty training wars can be frustrating, but in the grand scheme of things, those moments make up such a small speck of mommyhood. It may seem overwhelming at the time, but when I think of the big picture of being a parent, those aren't the moments that come to the forefront of my mind. And just as I pray to give my children grace each day, I find that they are possibly the best examples of grace-givers (and flower-givers, too;-)

Before-Baby-Date
Not only was I blessed today by the sweet heart that my baby boy has, but I also got to experience the breath of fresh air that my Lucy brings to me.
On their way to see Star Wars!
Daddy-Daughter Date
She recently requested a special one-on-one date with her Daddy and with her Mommy before Baby H arrives. I was the baby of my family, so I never have experienced what it's like to have the responsibility that's placed on the oldest child of a family, especially a larger family, and I often wonder if we expect a bit too much out of Lucy. I seriously would be lost without that girl! She is SUCH a helper, and if ever someone truly blossomed in their role in life, it is Lucy with how she has just thrived in her position as the big sister. Her siblings look up to her with such awe, and she embraces them with such love. I always say that the Lord knew exactly what He was doing when He made Lucy the oldest child. So, while she does have the most responsibility placed upon her amongst all of the siblings, she also gets a few special treats that the others haven't gotten quite yet, such as a one-on-one date with her parents.

DH took her out a few weeks ago with some other friends to see the new Star Wars movie at the imax. I always say my biggest flaw for DH is I don't like Star Wars,
tic tac toe
and his one and only fault is that he doesn't like chocolate. However, God gave us Lucy--she's obsessed with Star Wars alongside her Daddy, and she's also a HUGE lover of all things chocolate, just like her Momma! So, I decided for our special "before baby date," we would go out for fondue! Lucy was so excited when she heard me on the phone today making reservations for our special outing. I could just see it all over her face how special she felt tonight. She spends the majority of her days having to share everything, including Mommy and Daddy, but tonight, she just had me to herself.
After we finished eating, she asked if she could come sit next to me. Since it wasn't busy at the restaurant, they told us we could stay as long as we wanted, so we sat next to one another and played eight rounds of tic tac toe, coming up with different shapes and designs to use for each game, laughing with each other, and taking silly selfies.
It was a few hours devoted to just enjoying each other's company.

silly selfies
It's quite possible that tomorrow will hold its share of tantrums and fits and arguments, but I'm reminded that my Heavenly Father deals with the same thing from His children, too. I often kick and scream my way through the valleys, and yet He so graciously loves me through it. I so pray that my children will see Him in me as I parent them. Whether it be over flowers, or fondue, or even fits, may I never forget or take for granted the tremendous gift I have been given by being called "Mommy."

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Stuck...

I'm at the tail end of my pregnancy, and while I am savoring each kick and crazy movement my little Baby H is making, my body is SO worn out. Between sickness, migraines, ulnar nerve issues, insomnia, swelling, and a host of other issues, my body has been on a wild ride! I've found myself fighting guilt over these feelings of being "done" being pregnant. I know what it's like to feel like you would give ANYthing to be able to experience pregnancy. But the reality still is that it's hard on a woman's body to grow and carry another life inside of it. A dear friend reminded me this week that I can be both grateful and miserable at the same time--it's just the reality of the situation, and there's nothing wrong with being real! 

 So, that being said, I've had to spend a lot more time in bed lately than I normally would, just trying to allow my body to rest so that baby H can get what she needs, and so Mommy can function to give everyone else in the family what they need, too. Yesterday was one of those days that I just had to take some time resting, and Annie joined me after her nap. As she was "talking" to me (she cracks us up--she will babble on and on endlessly, but we usually can't understand anything she's saying except for the last word or two), she started pointing at my belly.

ME: Is that the baby?
ANNIE: Baby!
ME: Do you want to kiss the baby?
ANNIE: (can't quite reach my belly): NO!
ME: Why not?
ANNIE: Baby STUCK!
ME: As a matter of fact, Annie, yes. She sure is!

All of my girls have seemed to be "stuck" until forced to move. I had my last OB appointment yesterday before that conversation with Annie, and sure enough, Baby H is following in her sister's footsteps (or lack of foot steps!), so I'm not dilating at all. It seems my girls just like to find a comfy position (i.e. an UNcomfy position for Mommy!) and stay put. Sometimes, I feel like my body just doesn't want to cooperate and do what it is "supposed" to do, but in my heart, I really believe that the Lord is somehow protecting us. For some reason, it's best for my babies to come another way, and in the end, it really doesn't matter if I have some amazing natural birth story, if I have to go through a c-section, or if I receive the amazing privilege of being chosen by a birthmommy to parent my children. God's design for our family is exactly what it should be, and I am so thankful for how He has masterfully written our family's story. But typically, we don't tend to think of being "stuck" as being a good thing. However, as I reflected on my conversation with my toddler, I realized that being "stuck" isn't always a bad thing, and, in fact, Baby H's current position (according to her soon-to-big-sister) appropriately reflects the position our whole family has been in these past nine months. I shouldn't be surprised that God would use this baby to teach me and grow me once again, before she even arrives...

The details aren't really beneficial for me to share at this particular time, but in a way, our family was stuck in a very difficult situation nine months ago. In some ways, it felt as if we had been "stuck" in a horrible position, but what man meant for harm, God chose to work for our good and His glory. It some ways, it seemed cruel to be confined to a space that doesn't seem to allow the freedom to be all you know God has created for you to be, but in the midst of the darkness and confinement, God was at work growing and developing us through our circumstances. In the loneliness, He had us held more closely to Him. And while it felt like life was at a standstill, in the waiting, HE was still moving. And Baby H is in the exact same position right now...

A word that has similar meaning to "stuck" is the word "hold," and we find it in God's word that we are to "hold tightly" to our hope in the Lord. Just as my sweet baby girl is being held closely in my belly until the appropriate time for her arrival, God often holds us in places while he prepares the right place for us...and also while He prepares US for that place. What I'm learning more and more is that it's not so much about WHERE I am as it is about WHAT I'm doing while I'm there. I pray I will be found sitting at my Saviour's feet, or cradled in His arms, drawing closer to Him whether it be in every step He has me take, or in each pause He asks me to endure. May we all find ourselves "stuck" at His side...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Holland Tunnel!

DH and I got to attend a worship conference together this week. It was so nice to get away for the day with just him and to worship and be refreshed together. There were some amazing speakers and insights--I laughed with Mark Hall from Casting Crowns,
 I cried with Steven Curtis Chapman as he shared his heart,
and I chewed on the insights from Montel Jordan.
 But before I even entered the room the conference was being held in, the Lord had an interesting encounter for me...

I was standing in a hallway type area waiting for DH as he took something to our car. As I was standing there, a lady walked up to me, no introduction.

"Where's the restroom?"

I glanced down at my lanyard,
 wondering at first if she thought I was a volunteer, but then realizing every person attending the conference was obviously wearing the same thing. Thinking maybe I had heard her wrong or just wasn't understanding if she was actually talking to me, I looked up at her and replied, "Ummm...I'm sorry?"

(Lady) "Where's the restroom?"

(me) "Oh...ummmm...I don't know."

(Lady, laughing) "Well you better find out!"

I was so caught off guard at first, but then I realized my obvious "great with child" stature. I replied, "You're probably right!"

(Lady) "I figured if anyone would know where the restroom is, it would be you!"

I nodded, looked around, spotted the restroom, and pointed her in the right direction.

As she walked away, I couldn't help but chuckle to myself as I immediately recalled a Brian Regan bit that my family has quoted multiple times. (It was a total "Holland Tunnel!" experience!) I re-told the story to DH, we laughed, and then we headed into the conference to find a place to sit...

In that first session, the speaker talked about how there is a difference between "leading" and "directing." He said, "If you arent in the presence of God, then you're only able to direct people to God, rather than LEAD them to Him." He challenged us, asking if we were giving the right impression of how to get to God. I couldn't help but think of the lady I had just recently encountered. I had given her the impression of being someone who would know the answer to her question, but I was honestly just as lost on the matter as she was! I then found myself thinking, "If I am giving the impression to the world that I'm a Christian, I sure better know how to lead them to Christ!"

You see, so often we wear the shirt, we quote the popular Scripture passage, or we share the "right" articles on our facebook wall, giving others the impression that we are followers of Christ. It's easy to just point someone in a general direction, but if someone were to start following me around, where exactly would I lead them to? Would I lead them to that flustered place I often find myself in when it seems none of my children are listening to me? Would I lead them to the chair I often plop down into when the exhaustion of trying to do it all hits me? Or would I lead them to the foot of the cross?  I think we often think the foot of the cross is found at the place where we have our quiet time, or at the alter at church, but I was reminded this week that the foot of the cross is anywhere. You see, we don't have to invite God to join us each day--He's already there! As Montel Jordan spoke, "We are called to RECOGNIZE God's presence!"

So where can I find Jesus? I find Him at the kitchen sink when I'm doing dishes...I find Him at the dinner table when I'm eating with my family...
I find Him in the living room when my kids are playing...I can even find Him at the bathroom of a worship conference! I can find Jesus anywhere, but the question is, am I acknowledging His presence in every aspect of my day? Because when I do that is when others will be able to find Him, too.

As someone who leads worship alongside my husband, I truly do pray that I can be a part of leading God's people to His throne, but I realize that doesn't just happen at our church--it has got to happen at my home, too! So my desire is that my children will see me acknowledging the presence of Jesus in our home, and that they'll desire to follow me to His feet. Because when I'm acknowledging Him in all of those mundane, every day tasks, it's a lot easier to show patience and love and joy and grace to my kids, because I have the very essence of those qualities right there with me. Jesus isn't far away--He's always waiting to meet with us. The question is, will we acknowledge His presence? Let's not just direct others to where He's at--let's lead them...even if that means to a bathroom stall! ;-)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Tap Light in the Fridge...


I remember the first home DH and I lived in. It was about five steps away from the church doors on a busy college street that liked to party on the weekends. (I still remember people at school telling me that they would warn each other not to touch our house when they were all partying, because DH was a minister! ;-) It was a very cute house on the outside--it looked like an old barn--and it was certainly a nice size for just the two of us. But it definitely needed some repairs! The house was actually deemed un-insurable, and we would often spend around $600 or more each month trying to heat it in the winter because it was so drafty. (I still remember burning my feet multiple times standing on top of the vent grates trying to warm up.) I'm not complaining at all-we were thankful to have a house near the university and church! But it had lots of little quirks that I often think about now. I remember when we moved in, the church ladies had worked so hard to try and make it homey for us. We have carried one of those decorations to every house we've lived in since,
 and I always feel like it makes our new dwelling place a home to settle in at. We endured lots of cold temps in that house, a roof caving in (for six months!), a smashed in front door repaired with duct tape...just to name a few.

We also got to see a beautiful deck built on the front though, and we welcomed many students into our home for B.Y.O.M. (bring your own meat) Survivor watching parties, girls nights in, youth gatherings to play video games, etc. I am thankful for that first home we got to live life in and for the many ways God has taught me through the stories that unfolded within.
Perhaps one of my favorite memories is when we first moved in. There was possibly the ugliest and oldest fridge sitting in the kitchen that I had ever laid eyes on. It was an interesting shade of brown, and even a short person could tower over the top of it. Its main flaw was not its appearance on the outside though, but the inside. When you open a refrigerator, you typically see a light pop on automatically, but with this one, there was no light. Some sweet ladies in the church wanted to fix it though, so they placed a tap light in it so we could have some light in there. I never had the heart to tell them that within hours, that tap light quickly gave up the fight. The temps and the condensation quickly got the better of it, and it wasn't usable anymore. 

So what's the point of all of that? Well, I found my heart very heavy for my kids today. We received some news that I knew would be very disappointing for Lucy, so we tried to explain it to her as best we could, why we could no longer support something that she really enjoyed, because it was promoting values and things that don't please Jesus. It truly is getting increasingly harder to learn how to be in the world but not of it. I found myself asking, "So, what is the answer?" It came very quickly and clearly to me though:

Jesus!

I want my children to want Jesus more than anything or anyone else in this world--more than a friend, more than a job, more than a placement, more than a comfort or a luxury...I want them to want Him! So how do they do that? And that's when the Lord reminded me of my role as their momma--the greatest role I've ever been given. It is my job to guide them every single day to the foot of the cross. It is my job to show them the example of someone so in love with Jesus that it guides their little hearts to want to do the same.
Do I want Jesus more than a full time job with security for my husband? Do I want Jesus more than any friendship to fill a void of loneliness in my life? Do I pursue Him more than any other dream that I have, trusting His ways are so much better than I could ask or imagine? Am I willing to make tough decisions to ensure no one takes His place in my life? 

The Lord directed me to the following passage in 1 John 1:15-17...

And I was reminded of the verse I have prayed over Lucy throughout her life... 

You see, it's easy to say we want to be a light for this world, but when the "elements" come into play, just like that tap light in the cold fridge, we often burn out. Oh, how I pray I won't do that, and oh how I pray that my children will desire to stay on fire for the Lord! May my desire for Jesus shine so brightly that it leads others to desire the light within me--the light of the world, and not the tap light in the fridge...