Friday, July 29, 2016

Evangeline Hope...

One year ago yesterday, I went to Six Flags with some of my close friends and our kids. It was in the midst of one of the most difficult seasons of our family's life as we were processing some very deep hurt. Our life felt like it was entirely up in the air, so it was a needed breath of fresh air (literally and emotionally) to spend time with friends having fun and riding rollercoasters. Little did I know that the following day, July 29th, my stomach would jump out of my throat not from a roller coaster, but from the shock of my life!

Exactly one year ago, I found out that I would be the momma to FOUR. And yes, I kind of freaked out! You see, just two days before this discovery, my husband and our pastor had both resigned from our church. We were at a very low point emotionally, and while throwing a baby into the mix sounded like the most irresponsible thing ever, the Lord in His omnipotence knew this was exactly what our family needed at that exact moment.

The name Evangeline means "bringer of the Good News." I believe with all my heart that the Lord knew we needed some good news and something to look forward to this last year--to have some HOPE. The Lord also was reminding us, a couple who had struggled with infertility, that He was the One ultimately in control, even when our life felt so out of control. And I also believe the Lord was showing us His favor and His blessing by providing us with a child, for I truly believe one of God's most gracious blessings is the gift of a child. And so, out of a time of great hurt and sorrow and loss, the Lord was presenting us with tangible evidence of His hope and joy and abundant provision: Evangeline Hope.

My dear, precious girl--what a gift you are! You are a constant reminder to me of God's hand on my life. My prayer is that you will be a bringer of the ultimate "Good News" of our Lord Jesus Christ, sharing His great hope with a hurting world, just like you have brought and continue to bring hope to our family's hurting hearts. This past year has been filled with so much joyful anticipation because of you, and I am beyond grateful for the gift of being your momma!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Come...

Amidst the chaos and the cold coffee...the sink full of dirty dishes and the floor smeared with crumbs...the unmade beds and the unwashed laundry...the squeals and the screams and the sleepy-but-just-had-shots-baby...the trail of toys and the trash-sack full of dirty diapers...the missed phone calls and the unanswered text messages...the dirty kitchen table and the dusty ceiling fans...the chipped fingernail polish and the messy mom-bun...the kids still in their pjs and the momma wearing running shorts but not able to actually go running...amidst it all, my Jesus says, "Come."

"Come to me and I will give you rest."

Rest to the momma who just can't seem to get it all together...

Jesus doesn't come to my home to inspect all of the spills, to cringe at the noise, or to point out all of the piles in my far-from-put-together-surroundings. He simply wants to come and be with me in the midst of it all--with me.

I don't have to prepare a feast or clean up the mess (or try to stuff it all quickly in a closet!) He accepts me just as I am and invites me to rest in Him. To not just find rest from it all, but to find rest amidst all that demands my attention, having the confidence that He is with me through it all.

I think I often feel that rest means everything is put in place and everything on my to-do list is done. But maybe rest means I find peace in the midst of all of the things God has placed on my plate, knowing He's going to help me accomplish all of the things that will bring Him the most glory. So while I break up another fight and heat up my coffee in the microwave again, Jesus asks if I will simply come to Him in the midst of all...

"Come to Me...and I will give you REST..." Matthew 11:28

Sunday, July 17, 2016

for the JOY...

Do you see this sweet, super hero of a girl right here? She learned to ride her bike without training wheels this week! You may be thinking, "It's about time," but regardless of the world's typical timeline, we are celebrating this victory in our household, because it's so much more than just learning to ride her bike...

When I was pregnant with my Lucy, I was filled with a lot of fear. Actually, fear is something I struggled with a lot before having Lucy, but I discovered that motherhood will bring even more of it out of the depths. The Lord spoke very clearly to my heart during my pregnancy though, and He gave me a phrase that I have clung to ever since: 

Live in FAITH and not fear.

My fears throughout the years have been so many. Some of them may have seemed silly to most, other were common fears, and some were unique to me and probably considered valid. But God doesn't assign our fears to categories, and He simply asks that we choose to trust Him no matter what.

"Trust in Him at ALL times, O people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us." (Psalm 62:8)

In my life, I've worried about infertility and also the safety of my children. I've worried about rejection and finances. I'm currently struggling with the fear that my hand will not completely heal.
My worries are many and are born out of a lot of fear. But you know what? God has never ceased to provide for me in my time of need. All of those fears of mine? Most of them have actually become a reality that I have had to face, and through that I realized that it's not as much the actual fear that causes me anxiety, but it's the way that fear will make me feel. BUT GOD has been there every time to make a way out  for me, and that's because God always goes before us, so when He tells us not to fear or be dismayed, He's telling us that we don't need to feel disappointed or stressed, because He's got this!

"Do no be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He WILL be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." (Deuteronomy 31:8)

I suppose it's fitting that since the Lord spoke His truth over me while I was pregnant with Lucy, that Lucy, too, would need to learn this as well. She's a very cautious child and greatly impacted by her surroundings and happenings.

 When I asked her why she was so scared of learning to ride her bike, she kept saying she was afraid of falling, and I told her this: "Honey, the chances of you falling are pretty great, because you're learning. You probably ARE going to fall, but then you will just have to choose whether or not you're going to get back up and keep going."

The same thought process applies to my own fears. How did I respond when faced with infertility struggles? How do I respond when faced with my children's safety, rejection from others, financial stresses, etc.? Will I stay down for the count, or will I dust myself off, get back up, and keep going, while trusting FULLY in the One who has gone before me? 

Lucy could have let her fears hold her back, like we so often do in life. She could have just continued to ride with her training wheels on, but that was making bike riding more difficult for her. They kept coming loose and were slowing her down. Yet even when they were on the brink of falling off, she felt more secure--but it was a false security she discovered when, last week, they finally did fall off. But now, less than a week later, she's flying up and down the street, and she's having more fun than she ever did before because she can go faster and
further...because she chose to not let fear win. 
Hebrews 12:1-3 says this:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

We can't just bury our heads in the sand and pretend like difficulties aren't going to arise. The question when we learn to ride a bike isn't "what if I fall?" The real question I must ask myself is, "What am I going to do WHEN I fall?" Jesus knew He would face difficulty. He knew He would face rejection and betrayal and a cruel death on a cross. But in this scripture we see that He chose to endure them "for the joy that was set before Him..." How will I choose to praise my Jesus through the storms that I face? Will I choose to throw off the "training wheels" of fear that holds me back and then trust Him joyfully? It is my prayer that I will, and that my little Lucy can follow in my footsteps (or my bike riding;-) and also learn how to "live in faith and not fear," for the JOY... 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

"Wait! Let's Discuss This!"

last year's six flags trip--we weren't as brave last year!
I'm not sure if we are brave or just plain crazy...maybe we're a little bit of both? Either way, my friend and fellow mother of four and I loaded up our entourages and headed to Six Flags recently.

Yes, you read that right. The two of us took EIGHT children (4 of them 4 and under!) to Six Flags. They always go through your bags after the security lines, but the security officer just kind of glanced at my bag and looked at all of the kids in towe and gave me a look that seemed to say, "your large assortment of bags and pouches are obviously well-warranted." As he nodded at me that I was okay to go, he told me to "have a good day" in a tone that seemed to be sprinkled with a bit of doubt. I don't blame his half-empty attitude though, because even I was questioning what we were attempting to do!
However, I can happily report that the day was a success...I just needed the next day to recover from it! 😜
GP was NOT happy last year on the Yosemite Sam ride

One of the main reasons I was hesitant going into our outing is because Gabriel was absolutely terrified of Six Flags last year. He would scream and cry just at the mention of us going, and he refused to ride anything.
Having suffered from so many ear infections for so long, he doesn't like to be around anything very loud, and an amusement park is certainly full of loud music and noisy rides. However, after a successful trip to the mall carousel a few weeks ago, I was cautiously optimistic that we'd turned a corner, and sure enough, we have! 

When we first entered the park, the music was BLARING, and Gabriel quickly covered his ears and screamed to go back out. We kept walking though and made it past the music area, and he immediately calmed down and willingly jumped in line to ride a ride. I was SHOCKED! He was so excited about riding that he almost got us thrown off the ride because he ran over the track to get inside the car the wrong way!
It may sound silly, but I was so proud of him for overcoming this fear. It brought me so much joy seeing him laughing and screaming in excitement over the fun he was having. There were still some things he was afraid of and wouldn't do, but he didn't let that keep him from enjoying other things, whereas before, he would have shut down. I know this is all just a sign of him growing up and outgrowing some of those tendencies, but no matter the reason, I was really proud of him today. 

It all made me stop and wonder what areas of life I've been cautious of, causing me to resort to running away in fear. How many blessings do I rob myself of because I'm too afraid to step out of my comfort zone? Just like I want my son to trust me and know that I would never put him in a harmful situation, my Jesus wants me to trust in Him fully, too. 

One of my very favorite roller coasters growing up was the Texas Giant. I recently got to take Lucy on it for the first time. They've re-done the track since I was a child where it now is steel (which makes for a much smoother ride--I definitely prefer this change!), but the ride itself is very much the same, including Wile E. Coyote's sign at the top of the largest hill you come to at the very beginning of the ride. It reads, "Wait! Let's discuss this!"
I think this is the approach I often take with my Lord. In life, we face tall mountains of difficulty, low valleys of grief, and sharp turns of disappointment, and our life can get turned upside down by the hurts of this world.
My heart doesn't feel prepared for the sudden onset of these things, so I throw a stop sign up over my heart and tell the Lord, "Wait! Let's discuss this!" But God knows that all of those things in my life work together to bring me to exactly where He wants me to be, and He asks that I would just trust Him, knowing it's for my good and His glory. 
July is a month full of things that remind me how crazy and unexpected and HARD this life can be. My father passed away 9 years ago this month, and it's been almost one year since our lives were turned upside down when we left our previous church with hearts full of hurt. And while I still can't quite make sense of it all, I'm reminded that I'm not meant to. Because while I don't understand how good can possibly come from any of it, my Jesus does, and He WILL! What I have to do is decide if I will dig my heels in the ground, or let go and trust. 


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Oh That You Would Bless Me Indeed...

"It looks like you're heading out on vacation," said the man to me while our families stopped at Wendy's for lunch at the same time. "No," I smiled. "You don't go on vacation with four small children--you go on TRIPS!" lol

stopping for lunch on the way to Arkansas
I'll admit, I had been bracing myself for this "trip" for quite some time. (Traveling with a nursing newborn=enough said!) I'm happy to say we all more than survived though and had a wonderful time in Arkansas. Here are some thoughts I wrote about during our trip at the end of June...

It was a full week of traveling for our "troupe de Toller." ;-) We left on a Thursday for my college suitemate's wedding...not that it really needs to be stated, but 4 children traveling 7 hours (that's not including necessary stops) is certainly no walk in the park! (Thankfully, we had a minivan;-)
Between breaking for lunch and dinner, nursing the baby, filling up the van, needing to pick up some last-minute items, and running into crazy roadwork-induced traffic (we were at a complete standstill for some time, which apparently led a fellow driver to take a nap while he was waiting--we passed by his non-moving truck and saw him snoozing!) we turned our 7 hour trip into a TWELVE HOUR journey! It was exhausting, but I have to say I always love extended time I get to spend with my hubby in the car.
DH and me at Lizzy's wedding
He laughs at all of my witty attempts and puts up with my desire to be the best back-seat driver that ever was, and we just get to spend lots of time talking to one another...in between the endless question from the kids of "are we there yet?" We would have arrived much sooner to our first destination, except that we discovered we had one headlight out. It was too late to go to the dealer or to an auto store, and Wal-Mart didn't carry the right sized bulb, so we weren't surprised to find blue flashing lights directly behind us when we tried to enter the highway. Thankfully, the officer was amused by our large display of Apple stickers on the back of our minivan, (there's one for each member of our family) and he was gracious in understanding we couldn't find the necessary bulb, so we got sent on our way. (We did find a bulb the following day.)

Our first stop was Heber Spings, Arkansas, where my college suitemate was getting married.
OBU classmates
I got to meet her sweet (now) husband and also got to catch up with former college classmates that I hadn't seen in almost 15 years. I'll admit that it's hard for me to revisit days from that part of my past. I often feel like a failure because I withdrew from school for a time so that I could regroup and figure out exactly what I needed to do with my life. The Lord would have a word for me regarding that on the second leg of our trip tho...

DH's parents
After the wedding, we headed for DH's parents' home where we led worship for a revival.
The birthday boy!
 The sermon that Sunday evening was on the Prayer of Jabez. I've always focused on the actual prayer in that passage, where Jabez petitions the Lord to bless him, enlarge his territory, and keep him from evil. I'd never noticed the part right before that though where we learn that Jabez's mother named him Jabez because he was "birthed in pain." And while the world might have looked at him and called him by that name, the Lord did not. In 1 Chronicles, we read that the Lord granted Jabez's request. It's so hard not to become consumed by how the world views us, but MY prayer is that my gaze would be so fixed upon God that I will see myself through His eyes.

The revival wasn't the only thing going on that Sunday, June 26th--it was also Gabriel's 4th birthday!

friends from our adoption agency
Paw Patrol bracelets he wears every.single.day!
And I found that the Prayer of Jabez had me reflecting upon these last four years with my precious baby boy. Jabez asked God to enlarge his territory, and I truly believe that God has done that to our lives through our son. We have people in our lives that wouldn't be there were it not for him--friends we met through our adoption agency, and of course, Gabriel's amazing birth mom--and we also have been given a heart for adoption and those who hope to adopt. God has given us a different outlook on certain things, especially infertility and showing grace to others when they're walking through valleys, and the best part is He's grown our family in a way that we never could have done on our own. God has truly "blessed us indeed and enlarged our territory." This precious, amazing, long-awaited son that we have been given is truly the greatest gift I have ever been given.
The Lord continually uses him to teach me of His great love and might, and He also uses Gabriel to bring a sweetness and joy to our lives. I love the way he and his sisters love on each other, the excitement he shows over even the smallest things, and his snuugles--ohmygoodness does he give the best snuggles! :)

Gabriel: I pray you never question the great blessing that you are to me and how loved and wanted you truly are by so very many...


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.