Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Fire Ant Beds and the Sting of Rejection...

Have you ever found yourself in the unfortunate position outside atop of a fire ant bed? It's never a choice you make purposefully, although there are fewer things that will make you move with much greater purpose! The sting of such a tiny army truly makes you feel under attack and can have you raving around the yard like a lunatic, trying everything within you to just get them off of you, and yet, at the same time, leaving you feeling powerless and paralyzed in the moment. Even long after they've physically left you, their presence is far from gone because they can leave behind large welps on your skin from their attacks. However,  sometimes their work leaves no mark at all. Regardless, the pain is still very much felt for quite some time. 

I've stood atop many fire ant beds in my day as a child and an adult, but not just in my front yard. I've also stood in them when I was in school, when I've been among a group of peers, and even at church and family gatherings. What type of fire ant beds are these, you ask? They are the type that leave behind a different type of pain: the sting of rejection. It, too, is not a situation that you purposefully place yourself in, and it feels as if you have been placed under attack by an army of evil, hurtful, words that have crippling powers, leaving you feeling the desire to run for cover but as if you cannot move at the same time. Long after your encounter, the words still scar you, maybe not visibly, but inwardly; you have been wounded.

I've faced these types of fire ant beds in many different forms throughout my life. They never sting any less, and they never get any easier to deal with. In fact, some of them hurt a whole lot more than others and are a lot more difficult to get over than others, and if I'm not careful, I find myself growing bitter towards the incident ever occurring. It's easy to feel as if I'm entitled to a reaction to it all. After all, I was wronged! I'm the victim here! But that's not at all what I preach to my children day in and day out...

If you're ever around us in our daily life, then you've likely heard us quote Ephesians 4:32. It's basically our family's life verse. The kids all
(with the exception of Tiny T, although she may just be holding out on some massive vocabulary!;-) have it memorized, and we quote it pretty much daily:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

There's no exceptions to this verse. It's a very simple command we are given to live by: be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. Those are the three things I try to ask my kids every time they get fussy with one another: Are you being kind, Gabriel and Annie Beth? Are you being compassionate, Lucy and Evangeline? And lately, I've had to ask myself this one: Are YOU being forgiving, Paula-Beth? No, not to my kids, but to some other "fire ants" in my life because it is so easy to become bitter, and when we let bitterness take root in our hearts, it's like continuously picking off those scabs from the ant bites. It just rips them open and makes them hurt worse and wounds us even more and leaves the ugliest scars imprinted upon us that we can't seem to get rid of.

The holidays can often greet us with a lot of fire ant beds if we're honest.Various gatherings can be hurtful and bring up a lot of harsh memories, hurtful words, painful realities, and difficulties. But the Truth is still in the midst of it all: The pain is very real, but so is our God. He is our ultimate Healer and restorer, and nothing that happens to us goes unnoticed by Him. He stands ever ready to allow us to crawl into His lap, to cry to Him, to be comforted by Him, and to move forward with His strength. Psalm 26:3a tells us that His love is ever before us, and that is something that I choose to cling to during this season of my life. The hurt and the pain is so very real, but so is His love, and I have a choice to make of which I will choose to place my focus on.

So as you find yourself walking outside today, beware of the fire ant beds, but remember that sometimes, they're just unavoidable, and God's love is always one more step ahead of them.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hark the HAROLD Angels Sing...

I love Christmas music! I've reset most of my radio stations in the car to all of the stations playing it continuously since before Thanksgiving. I'm a bit sad that I've yet to hear one of my all time favorites (I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas), and I also grow tired of the constant Santa songs, (no offense, but I'm just not a big Santa fan), but I love hearing all of the Smitty classics over and over again, Manheim Steamroller, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, etc. One day, the familiar "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" was playing, and Lucy had the following conversation with me:

Lucy: "What does that line mean"

Me: "Which one?"

Lucy: "The one about the mom and dad saying that they want school to start back up."

I honestly wasn't exactly sure how to best explain it to her. I mean, I truly love having my kids home on break. I love having them home with me! I love the freedom away from the busy schedules of having to get up earlier, having to be somewhere by a certain time in the mornings, having deadlines to meet for schoolwork, etc. But, I also recognize that the routine of school is good for my kids. They tend to do better when they have a specific schedule to follow. Case in point: this week has been a bit of a disaster! With lots of rain and chilly temps, the kids have been bouncing off the walls, getting on each other's nerves, not being obedient to DH and me, fighting and being unkind to one another, etc. I really haven't had a single moment to myself, and it's been a bit difficult to regroup and stay calm and collected amidst it all. I'm not necessarily saying I "can hardly wait for school to start again," but I recognize the need for a bit more structure in my kids' lives right now than what we've had the past several days.

So, last night, we had a big family "pow wow," where we just sat the kids down and really set some expectations for them on behaviour and what we expect from them. I understand that they are just kids, but certain things are just unacceptable: taking six hours to clean your room is not acceptable, for example; hitting and biting your sister is not acceptable, for example; pushing your brother is not acceptable, for example; stomping your foot or throwing a fit when you don't get your way is not acceptable, for example...and the list goes on. I realize all of these characteristics that my children posses can actually be used in a positive light, but it's all just a matter of pointing them in the right direction, and some days it is really hard to figure out how to get the arrow to go towards the bulls eye. My vision is often blurred because I'm tired, because of physical pain I'm experiencing, because of emotional stress I'm under, and, again, list goes on. But I'm not meant to do this on my own, and when I try to, it is VERY obvious!

During the Christmas season, we have a little visitor that joins our family for a journey to find the true treasure of Christmas. He is a shepherd named "Harold" (as in "(Hark the HERALD angels sing") and he moves around each day with a different message for the kids. (It is like a Christian version of Elf on the shelf, and the kids think it is so much fun!) We've had a lot of fun trying to creatively place him in different places in the house, and coming up with different things for him to "say." Lucy calls his chalkboard we use his "thought bubble." Well, I decided last night that today's thought bubble would be a great opportunity to talk about how God's mercies are new for us every morning when we mess up. It not only is a lesson to my children after the difficult day we had yesterday, but it's a much needed reminder to myself as I struggle with all of my "mommy mishaps." Oh, how I need Jesus' grace and forgiveness in my life, and boy am I thankful that He offers it so freely! It's easy to get all 'wrapped" up in busy-ness of the Christmas season being about holiday parties and recitals and programs and gifts and get-togethers, but what it's all really about is a baby that came for you and me that we might be forgiven from our sins so we could spend eternity with our Creator. What a reason to celebrate!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Prayers of a Five-Year Old...

It's often interesting the things that appear on your timehop and how they can relate to things you are continuing to go through in a strange, unrelated, and yet similar ways. This status update pictured here was posted on my facebook five years ago. I chuckled as I read it, and can  almost be transported back to Lucy's room and hear her sweet little five year old voice praying the first of many of that same prayer. It's not that she wasn't thrilled to have a baby brother, but if you knew Lucy during the time we were in the adoption process, you might remember that she was specifically asking for a brother and a sister, so when Gabriel was born, she wanted to know where her sister was! Lucy
has always been a bit wise beyond her years, a deep thinker and feeler who marches to life in her own beat. She also tends to see life in black and white, so since she asked for a brother and a sister, it just seemed logical that she was getting a sister and that response was somehow delayed somewhat, so she decided to just continue to ask...and ask and ask and ask and ask and ask! The way I see it, the Lord figured that she was so faithful in asking, that He might as well bless her with not just one, but TWO sisters for being so faithful in her request! LOL!
So Lucy ended up with not just a brother in Gabriel (whose name means "My God is my might"), and not just a sister in Annie (whose name means "prayer"), but also a bonus sister in Evangeline (whose name means "bringer of the Good news.")

The story of answered prayer does not end there though!  God doesn't hear just the prayers of sweet little five-year old girls; he also hears the prayers of precious little five-year old boys! You see, Gabriel has been asking for a puppy for quite some time. (Truth be known, so has his momma!;-) Recently, he re-watched the movie The Secret Life of Pets, which stars a dog named Max. Gabriel then began asking, again, if he could have a dog. Gabriel really hates getting his hair cut (it's a traumatic experience for him typically, although, as a of late, he's starting to outgrow it somewhat.) One day, we had gone to lunch, and he was asking if, afterward, we could go get a puppy if he did good with getting his hair cut. (Smooth one, GP! LOL) I told him, "Honey, maybe we can go LOOK at puppies, but we can't actually GET a puppy today. I tell ya what, though. If you really really really want a puppy, then you need to pray and ask Jesus for a puppy. That doesn't mean that you're going to get a puppy, because it may not be what our family needs right now, but we can always pray about anything, okay?" He smiled, quite satisfied with that response, and agreed, saying, "OKAY!"

Well, not two minutes later, I get a text from a church friend:

"Aren't y'all looking for a maltipoo?"

At first, I was confused and not even sure what she was talking about. Then, I realized that she was talking about a dog. I was like, "Oh! Um, no, we are actually looking for a goldendoodle because we need a hypoallergenic dog."

Just a little background info on our family: You may know we used to have two cats, Cappi and Frappie--Cappucino and Frappucino--and a beagle, Annabelle....yes, I realize that's quite similar to one of our daughter's name, but the dog came with that name! LOL If you think our family is sick now, you should have known us when we had all of those animals that shed hair everywhere back then. We loved them to pieces, but we were seriously sick ALL of the time. We realized if we were ever going to be pet owners again, we would need a hypoallergenic dog, but we probably wouldn't be able to afford one. So starting last Christmas, I began to pray that if we were supposed to add a dog to our family, that someone would contact us saying that they had a puppy that they were needing a home for that would be good for a lot of children to love on. In my mind, it was a goldendoodle, because that was the only dog I really knew of that was hypoallergenic. Plus, they're ADORABLE! However, they also get kind of big, and our house is already pretty jam-packed, and they are VERY expensive, hence us needing to find someone to need a home for one.

Anyway, back to the original story. She texts me back and says, "Maltipoos are  hypoallergenic!"

As you've probably gathered by now (and if you've followed our facebook page with our "Maxx the maltipoo" album"), we are now the very proud owners of an incredibly precious 16 pound puppy dog that we are absolutely in love with! And, yes, the original owners actually named him after, you guessed it, the dog from the movie, The Secret Life of Pets! It's just yet another example of how God hears our prayers and never ceases to to answer them in the way HE sees best. I think of how I originally had prayed for a goldendoodle and how that would have actually been a horrible fit for our family considering the size that they get! God knew our family needed something different, and He provided in the perfect timing and in the perfect way.

I think the reason that yesterday's timehop status really pricked at my heart so deeply is that on the particular day that it popped up, I was really struggling with a request that didn't get answered the way that I had hoped that it would. I found myself struggling with God, once again, with how His response could possibly be what it ended up being. I, too, had gone before Him faithfully, day after day, asking Him to work a miracle. But as a dear pastor once gently told me, sometimes God tells us yes and we praise Him, but sometimes God tells us no and He asks us if we will still praise Him. How grateful I am when I am able to lift my hands up easily in praise, but oh how I pray I can be gracious when God asks me to lift my hands to Him in broken praise. It's in the times of broken praise that we often get to experience how God transforms the beauty from ashes, the dry bones into life, and the broken glass into a beautiful mosaic. To cling to the pain only hurts us, but to lift up and let it go not only frees us, but it allows God to move, and when God moves, something amazing always transpires.

As we enter into a time of year that can be filled with both wonderful and painful memories, I pray that we can all lift our hands up in praise to the One who is worthy to be celebrated and adored during this Holiday season. Rest assured, He always hears us, He always answers, and He is ever on the move.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Your Ways are Higher...

There are a couple of ways that the Lord really allows me to pour my heart out. One is through blogging. I often stumble over my words when I try to speak, and feel like I am easily misunderstood, but when I write I can think through what I'm trying to say, and hopefully I come across more clearly and as I intend. If you really want to cut my heart open and see what's inside though, (although that sounds a bit graphic, doesn't it?) probably the best way to do so is to listen to me play the piano. I think that's one reason that all of these issues with my hands and the numbness and pain has been so difficult for me not just physically, but also emotionally because the unknown of how it will effect my playing has weighed heavily on me. I found myself sitting before the Lord with my fists clenched rather tightly looking up at Him with tears in my eyes, knowing that what He was asking me was a very simple, yet very difficult question, "Are you willing to let go?" Let go of what, you may be asking? Well, basically let go of my love for playing, my ability to express myself, my joy in being able to express myself so freely and creatively in worship to my Heavenly Father. Why would He possibly want to take something so good away from me? But the real question He was asking me was much simpler. What He wanted to know was this: "Would I trust Him?" And so I unclenched my fists. I opened up my hands. I laid my desires, my plans, my dreams, my ideas, and my passions at His feet, and I said, "OK God. You gave this to me, so I know you know the best thing to do with it. If that means you need to take it away from me, then I know that means You have something better for me, so yes, I WILL choose to trust You, no matter how painful it is. Help me."

I'd love to say I've gotten to experience miraculous healing from my issues, but I think maybe what I've seen instead has been much more beautiful: I've experienced grace through the journey.
My condition has basically stalled, so while it's not getting any better, it's not getting any worse. I'm still able to play, but I just experience some challenges that I didn't face before, and it's caused me to rely on the Lord in a new way, and that's a beautiful thing.

I am reminded each day to hold all things loosely (and sometimes I physically just HAVE to!) I never know if I will wake up and my hands will be number than they were the day before. The cause is basically unknown, so there isn't a way as of yet to be able to fix it. I continue to be faced with the question, "Will I trust You, Lord?" And in the mean time, I find myself sitting at the piano and just pouring my heart out in song as much as I possibly can, mostly putting Scripture to music. This week in particular, the Lord gave me a very special song that I found a bit interesting until something came up in my timehop today...

Five years ago today, we had our final home visit with our caseworker from CHFS before Gabriel's adoption would be finalized. And here I was today, dropping my son off at Kindergarten for his Thanksgiving feast at school, and then coming home to get the house cleaned up to prepare for our home group to come over tonight to celebrate Thanksgiving together, too. My son's birthmother made the most unselfish decision anyone could ever choose to ensure that this precious child could have a life filled with all she hoped for him, and I do not take that lightly at all. As we drove to school today and I prayed over the kids, we prayed for Rachel, and I thanked God for her choosing us as Gabriel's family, and I continually thank the Lord for paving the path to place Gabriel into our lives.

I think all of this must have somehow been in the back of my mind as the Lord laid this song on my heart yesterday, because the song I wrote was about our infertility journey, which is what the Lord used to open our hearts to adoption. Adoption was not our "plan B," or our "second choice," but God used our inability to conceive to make our hearts open to what He had designed for the course for our family all along. I'm so grateful that He is ever patient with us. He truly writes the best stories, and ours is filled with chapter after chapter that I could never have come up with had I been holding the pen!

I share this song with y'all today because I know so many of you have struggled or are struggling with infertility, too. My heart hurts for you, my friends. I don't pretend to know what you're feeling by any means, but please just know that I do not take your pain lightly at all. I know my story is not yours, but oh how I look forward to hearing how God makes beauty from the ashes in your lives!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Halloween 2017: Our Circus

Have you ever heard the phrase, "Not my circus, not my monkeys"? Basically, you use it when referring to situations you don't need to take ownership of. Soon after our family began to increase in number, though, I realized that the opposite was the case for us! This WAS my circus, and these were definitely MY monkeys! Our life is a constant source of laughter, suspense, thrills and probably some stinky smells wafting through the air from some unknown source! LOL! So, when DH came up with the idea that our family present itself as the greatest show on earth at our church's trunk or treat, I hopped right onto the circus wagon with
You may well remember my April-watching days earlier this year. Lucy's bestie had decided she wanted to dress up as April the giraffe for Halloween, so Lucy decided she wanted to be April's baby giraffe, Tajiri, which fit in perfectly with our circus family plan. However, figuring out to make a boy giraffe costume wasn't super easy since everything on pinteres seemed to involve a tutu of some sort. I just kept thinking something would come to us eventually though...
Annie Beth was set on being Peppa Pig for the second year in a row (I think she wanted to follow in her Daddy's footsteps. He was Indiana Jones for I'm not sure how many years in a row as a child!), but then she got the idea of being a pink kitty cat, so we went with that instead. We found a cute little accessory set on Amazon and it turned out to be the most precious thing ever...especially since it had BELLS on it, which we had no idea about until we got it in the mail! Literally, she jingled every time she moved, which was just too cute for words! This was our first time trying out little piggie tails on her hair (paying respect to not being peppa pig this year, I suppose;-) I wasn't sure if she'd really want to keep her paws on or not, but she seemed to really like them and kept them on for the most part. It really was an adorable costume! She got to wear it to preschool for the day and parade around in it that morning for their costume parade--so cute!
Gabriel also had a last-minute costume change from Batman to a puppy dog. I think once he saw everyone else's animal costumes coming in, he realized it would be fun to join in on the Toller Circus idea, too. (Although we always support the idea of "Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman, and then ALWAYS be Batman..." LOL:) Amazon, once again, came to the rescue, along with DH's awesome face painting skills. Seriously, who knew DH had such amazing face painting skills? Gabriel looked adorable and was the cutest little Dalmatian puppy EVER! One of his favorite Paw Patrol characters is Marshall, so he was excited that he got to look  like him.

Evangeline was able to fit into Gabriel's old sock monkey outfit which wasn't technically a costume, but definitely worked well for this purpose. She wouldn't keep the hat part on for most of the night, and she ended up taking a walk in the "duck pond" game so she didn't have any socks on most of the night, but she stole the show in her sock monkey ensemble! It really was the perfect costume for her, because I swear that child is trying to become a monkey! She is CONSTANTLY climbing anything and everything! We literally cannot take our eyes off of her for one second, because she just is so mischevious! She's super busy, but I think it's because she's super smart. She also really, really, really likes bananas ;-)

Thanks to a sweet church friend's mom, DH and I were able to pull the Toller Circus together with the last piece to the costume puzzle with some awesome shirts with the saying mentioned at the beginning of my post: "This is my circus and these are my monkeys."  The past few years I really had given up on trying to get everyone to dress up as a matching group, so it was fun to get to make it
happen this year--totally not on my own accord though, but all thanks to DH's brilliant idea:)

Back to the giraffe dilemma though...you'd think after all of my April watching days that I would be full of ideas on how to concoct the perfect Tajiri costume, but I was completely stumped. I did, however, come across one pin where someone had used masking tape on a t-shirt to section off giraffe type spots and then painted the shirt and then removed the tape. The problem: it was supposed to be cold and rainy on Halloween (it hasn't been since then here!) and I couldn't find a long sleeved yellow shirt anywhere, not to mentioned that brown leggings were absolutely NOWHERE to be found in our city! After spending a good 4 hours trying to locate some, I was about to check one more store when I "happened" to drive past a store that caught my eye who "just so happened" to have an entire rack of brown leggings sitting out for $1.99 along with ONE lone yellow sweatshirt that "just happened" to be in Lucy's size for $2.99. ((((WHAT??!)))) I smiled as I handed the cashier $5 and

some change for the two items it would take to complete Lucy's costume. I know there's lots of debate on whether or not Christians should take part in Halloween or not, but regardless of that, the truth is that we serve a God who cares about every little detail of our lives. He's interested in everything that matters to us and is involved in all of it. He reminded me of that last week through a simple, affordable giraffe costume that brought the biggest smile to my little girl's face. You see, there's nothing we cannot bring to Jesus. Just as my favorite little boy's favorite show, Paw Patrol says, "No job is too big and no pup is too small," my Jesus wants to remind me that "No problem is too big and no request is too small..." And just like I could hear every single step Annie Beth took in her costume because of the bells on it, I can rest assured in the promise that my Jesus has walked ahead of every step that I am going to take, so I can trust Him fully to lead the way for me. I'm so glad that Jesus doesn't look at me and say "Nope. Not my circus; not my monkeys." Instead, he gathers us around the middle of the ring and invites us to join him for this thrilling adventure He wants us to join Him on! Just like I refuse to grow tired of chasing my little mischievous monkey around, my Jesus won't give up on me either. He loves me, He longs to meet with me and to guide me, and He has so many wonderful things in store for me if I will just wait and see!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Lucy turns 10!

November 1st, 2017: 
This time ten years ago, we were gearing up for a LOOOOONG night. You see, the hospital had somehow left the regulator off my morphine pump after me being way behind on pain meds from being stuck in the OR for several hours because they left a sponge inside of me from my c-section with Lucy. I was so out of it, but Lucy was far from anywhere near closing her eyes...OR her mouth! LOL! That girl had some set of pipes on her! Poor DH was exhausted, so the nurse offered in the wee hours of the morning to take Lucy off our hands until it was time for her next feeding so that we could get some rest. 

Keep in mind I was a child of the 80's who grew up watching made for TV movies, such as "Switched at Birth," thus creating my biggest fear of child-bearing as being given the wrong baby at the hospital. However, when you're sky high on morphine, you're not exactly aware of what all is going on around you. You are, however, aware of what your baby looks like, and the baby they wheeled back into my room at 5AM was NOT my Lucy Shea!

Yup. You guessed it. My fear became a reality. They totally brought me SOMEONE ELSE'S BABY...and they wanted to argue with us about it! Thankfully, ID bracelets don't lie (and neither did the precious face that was back in the nursery that looked exactly like her daddy!) and all was resolved, but I'll never forget that first night with my Lucy Shea--full of the unexpected, and yet also full of what I had worst expected. Basically, Lucy's first 24 hours of life was full of things completely out of my control. 

From the early stages of my pregnancy, the Lord had given me a phrase to live by that has echoed throughout mommyhood for me ever since:  

Live in faith and not fear. 

My Type-A personality wants to control every aspect of these precious lives I've been entrusted with, but that's not what God has designed for the life of this momma; He's simply called me to be the pointer, and not the clicker. 

Have you ever noticed how when you're trying to get a point across to your child, you tend to point your finger a certain way? I found myself chuckling at DH and myself the other night when Gabriel asked for a cupcake (after having chosen a donut first) for the fifth time. I looked over at DH, and not only were we both saying "No, honey, we already said 'no," but we both had our hands pointed in a certain way as we were trying to get our point across to him quite emphatically, since the previous four "no's obviously hadn't meant anything to him. We both laughed at each other and made a remark about about how we must think there's something magical about pointing our fingers when we speak to our children, thinking it's going to suddenly made something click with them. We so badly want to snap our fingers and POOF! They immediately obey! But God hasn't called us to make our children to do anything. He's simply called us to point them in the right direction, and it's up to THEM to choose which way they will go from there.

I don't think I will ever forget that fist moment I laid eyes on my Lucy Shea. I was overcome with so much emotion and thankfulness that God had entrusted such an amazing miracle to Michael Toller and me. She was an answer to a long-awaited prayer. She was a miracle that we didn't think we'd be able to have but that God knew would be the start to some mighty big branches! He also knew that she would be a continual source He would use to draw me close to Him to teach me more and more about Who He is as a loving Father, and who I am to be as an obedient child and follower of His.

It seems fitting that here we are, exactly ten years later, closing in on midnight, and Lucy is still fighting sleep:( Never wanting to miss out on a moment of life, she's a child eager to face every day, every moment, and every situation. She continues to beam light everywhere she goes, living up to her precious name which her Pappy was adamant he would call her by whether we ended up choosing it as her name or not. (He made that quite clear, so after my daddy passed away, we knew that her name definitely would be Lucy.) I so often find myself wishing that he could have met her, because if anyone could have melted his heart, it would have been Lucy. But who am I to question God's ways and His timing? Again, I am not the clicker, but the pointer, and I am not responsible for the response of others, but oh how my heart breaks when I can't see the response that my heart so longs to see and that my soul cries out to my Heavenly Father for. Yet still I will trust in who He says He is, and who He has made me to be in Him and is continuing to make me to be for my good and His glory...

I really can't believe my baby girl is a whole decade old! We've gone from being days old, to being weeks old, to being months old, to being years old, and now to being two digits old! I know there have been so many things I've not done right along the way, but my heart longs for her to know Jesus and to love Him and serve Him, and my prayer is that will overshadow all of the mistakes and shine through above all else.

Lucy Shea, you are truly a bringer of light and such a special little young lady! You are a unique and extraordinary little girl  who I am confident God has BIG plans for! You have given me such tremendous joy these past 10 years and 9 months of your beautiful and amazing life, and I am beyond grateful that I get to guide you through your childhood! I love you more than words could ever express! Happy 10th Birthday!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

This is the Way, Walk in it...

One of my very favorite ways to relax and pamper myself is to get a pedicure. I've been obsessed with painting my nails since I was around 12 or 13 years old. In fact, I used to paint them every day to match each day's out. I guess I've always found different ways to use color to express my creativity (now I just dye my hair and wear really bright colored clothes!;-) With four kids, I don't really have the time mess with my nails near as much as I used to or as I'd like to. You may well remember posts from the early days of this blog where I have photos of me painting my nails in preparation of big events, such as getting ready for our meeting Gabriel's birthmother, preparing for our sonograms and arrivals of babies, etc. Any time a big event happens, I like to have my nails done! It makes me feel more confident going into a stressful or exciting situation. Likewise, NOT having them done makes me feel like a HOT MESS. It's fine if they're just unpainted, but when the paint is flaking off, or the jamberrys are peeling off, or just a few are remaining, you know that I've had other pressing matters to attend to. And honestly, lets be real here: my nails do NOT need to be a priority most of the time!

At any rate, I do occasionally allow myself a moment to relax and get my toes pampered with a pedicure. I've been putting it off for a couple of months now though. I've tried painting them myself, but they still look SO sad, and being a flip flop girl, the whole world can clearly see that my toes have been sadly unattended lately. In the grand scheme of things, it shouldn't matter so much, except I keep thinking of this pastor we once had who said he could judge people by the type of shoes they wore. He never said what he thought about people who wore flip flops, but that is enough to make me self conscious about my exposed, chipped-polished toes. I wonder what people think when they see my "tattle teal" polish flaking off in various places of my dried, cracked feet? (I realize most people don't think a thing of it, but just go with it for a second, OK?) I've literally found myself almost running out the door several times the past month to get a pedicure, but the Lord has literally whispered in my ear,

"No, P-B. Not yet."  
Really, God?  Why?  
"Just not yet."  
Ok, God...

So this week was kind of a crazy one.

Actually, I'm not sure why I bother to preface it as such. EVERY week in our household is a crazy one! I don't say that negatively, though. We have four amazing kiddos and they keep our lives full of all sorts of interesting antics, stories, and experiences. Lucy got glasses this week, Gabriel discovered he could breathe through a straw and sound like Darth Vader, Annie decided she wanted to be a cloud because "clouds don't poop," and Evangeline scaled her crib FIVE TIMES in the span of one nap time, finally ending said nap time asleep on the floor of the bedroom for a mere 20 minutes. (I accomplished nothing other than keeping an eye on the camera the entire "nap" time.)
Thursdays are typically my main cleaning day for the week, but with my escape artist in full swing, (the previous story is just a sampling of what my day looked like with Evangeline!) absolutely nothing was getting accomplished. I always pray with the kids when I drop them off at school, and in those prayers I ask the Lord to help me to use my time wisely for the day. That afternoon, my floors desperately needed to be mopped, but as I was going through the house Norwex-ing windows and mirrors and pulling out all sorts of "goodies" from within the depths of the couch cushions (holy COW, what was that GREEN glue-like substance on the inside wooden part of my couch?????!), I passed by my entryway chalkboard, which hadn't had a new verse placed on it since I first purchased it. Again, I felt God whisper to me:

"And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it'." Isaiah 30:18

It's from a passage that has been popping up in multiple places before me for the past few weeks, and the Lord has even given me a melody to put the words to. I often find myself humming it all throughout the day. As I looked down at my dirty floors and then thought about the words of the verse, I felt the Lord say to me,

Paula-Beth, why do you keep looking down at all of the dust and the dirt? Why are you so concerned with where you've been? Don't you want to look UP and see where I want to TAKE you? Fix your eyes UPWARD today on ME!"

So I put down my cleaning items and grabbed my chalkboard markers. I wrote the passage on the chalkboard, and I left the floors un-mopped and kindly asked my homegroup friends to "not look down" when they came over that evening. And suddenly, it struck me why the Lord kept asking me to wait on getting that pedicure.  He wanted to drive home that point that I was focused on the past and how it often chips away at us and leaves us feeling less than in the present. He wanted me to fix my gaze Heavenward so I could see the way that He is showing me to go. You see, God doesn't typically meet us in the neat and tidy. God often meets us in the midst of the messy and muddy, the broken and battered, the sticky tile and chipped polish...because His ways are Higher than ours, but He is not beneath meeting us exactly where we are at!

Friday, September 29, 2017

I Choose to Trust...

When my daddy passed away, it really shook my faith. Questions arose from within me that I never knew could exist. I questioned God's plan and His ways. I struggled with His answer to my pleas. How could that be His answer?

And so, again and again, I looked at the character of God. I had to ask myself if I truly believed who God says that He is--that He is loving, He is gracious, He is able, He is in control, and His ways are higher than mine...if I truly believed it, then I had to be okay with not always understanding His response, and instead, trusting that He hears me, He weeps with me, and He is a good God. 

For the last two years, I've again wrestled down a road of unanswered questions. I deal with daily pain from issues that doctors just have not been able to figure out. As I left yet another specialist's office this week, I found myself feeling very heavy from another round of, "I have no idea what this is..." As I waited for our car, I saw multiple people entering and exiting the building. Many were accompanied by caregivers who assisted them in standing and sitting or pushed them through the doors in wheelchairs. I saw so many people who looked to be in a lot of physical pain. In a way, I felt guilty for feeling discouraged about my situation. Yes, I experience a lot of pain, but I'm still able to go about my daily life the majority of the time. I'm still able to play the piano, which is such a gift since I've lost some sensation in my fingers and experience a lot of pain in my hand--but, most of the time, I can still play. I felt Holy Spirit nudge me as I was feeling guilty for questioning my own circumstances, as if He were saying to me, "I want you to have some perspective, but I also want you to know that I see exactly where you're at, and I see your pain and your fears, and I'm still here."

I found myself at the verge of tears most of the day, wanting to shout out victory in Jesus, but feeling like I just couldn't pick myself off of the floor...and that's where Jesus met me. He reminded me that I can worship Him from the mountaintop, but I can also worship Him in valley. 

So often, I think of true worship as us shouting God's glory from the rooftops, but God is just as glorified when we cry out to Him in our despair. Worship happens when we recognize Who God is. Many times, I find Him in the victory, but lately, I've been able to find Him when I'm  kneeling down and He comes to meet me in the floor, as I cover His feet with my tears, and He covers me with His peace. 

I'm not giving up, but I realized this week that I need to come to peace with the likely possibility that the doctors will not have an answer for me, which means that I will have to continue to live life dealing with these issues. They are going to try to treat the issues they can, and they are hopeful it will have a domino effect on alleviating other issues, but more than likely, these issues aren't going away. Just as my faith was shaken when my daddy passed away, I found myself saying, "but God, how is this Your answer? You are able to heal me, but why won't You?" And He lovingly spoke to my heart and said, "My ways are higher than yours. Trust me." 

I think I often feel like if I trust God enough, I will see Him move the mountains and part the waters, and He certainly can do that and so much more! But who am I to choose how God will move? Who am I to limit Him to blessings as the world sees them? Do I trust Him enough to give AND to take away? Do I trust Him enough to be glorified in the mountains as much as He can be glorified in the valleys? Do I really trust Him? Or do I just really hope He can be trusted?

God gently reminded me this week that I don't need to have all the answers, but that He also doesn't rebuke all of my questions. My daddy-God is allowing me to crawl into His lap and weep. He is allowing me to experience the assurance of His presence, and He is allowing me to be reminded of Who He is. So I will choose to trust. I will choose to believe He is Who He says that He is. And I will choose to lift these broken hands in praise to Him.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Words of Life...

I really love blogging.

(That's probably an unnecessary statement! ha!)

It's cathartic to me in many ways, and it's honestly been a way that I've chronicled so much of the parts of my life as a momma, from the days when we were struggling to conceive (who else remembers xanga?;-), to the adoption process, and now to this journey through motherhood. I feel like my spoken words are often so easily misunderstood, but my written words can be more thought out and, hopefully, clearer.

I also enjoy reading others' blogs and thoughts and keeping up with friends and family via facebook. Social media is a great tool in many ways, but as a lot of us have discovered, it can also be a breeding ground for overwhelming amounts of well-intentioned, yet condemning, information, tips, tutorials, and fear-filled advice.

For example, Saturday evening, I read an article about the danger of making slime, and then Sunday morning, I saw Lucy and her friend playing with slime that her friend had made. I kind of freaked out! I realize, in hindsight, this was pretty silly of me. Yes, we need to be aware of things and be careful and smart, but a few hours of playing with homemade goo probably isn't going to be harmful.

I later found myself at our church's coffee and donut bar (which, lets be honest, I often find myself at! Glazed chocolate donuts, anyone else?;-) and was chatting with the sweet ladies helping serve. One of these ladies shared with me how delightful Lucy was, and a funny story about how she had saved a specific donut for later for her so she could come back and ask for it when she was ready for it. In passing, I made the remark of how Lucy was my helicopter child, and I probably need to cool it on how I have a tendency to hover.

Y'all, I hadn't even heard of the term "helicopter parenting" until, you guessed it, a facebook article that popped up on my feed in the past year or so. I realized, after reading it, how I definitely have this tendency to hover over her, and I have since then focused on all of the negativeness associated with doing so.

But this sweet, precious sister in Christ looked me in the eye and said something along the lines of this: "Well, it's obviously working well for her, because she's a delightful child."

Her words made it feel as if the room just stopped for a moment; I was totally taken aback by what she said. There was no condemnation, no "you've got to learn to let go," and no "I'll pray for you to trust Jesus more with your children." She simply gave me the sweetest affirmation that I was doing a good job parenting my child in the best way I knew how.

Later that day, I received another message from a sweet friend with an encouraging message on soldiering through life's current difficulties in my various roles. 

That evening, I met up with some friends. I was in a "comfy" mood and threw on an old Beatles shirt  with some elastic waistband shorts. My friend commented on how cute I looked. I responded with comments on my post baby belly pooching out and looking slouchy. She looked me in the eye and stopped me right there.

Fast forward to this morning. I received a replay to an Email I sent to Gabriel's teacher last night regarding this week's lesson plans. (We are doing part-time homeschooling, so we do work at home two days a week and they do work in the classroom at their school two days a week.) After reading her response, I realized one of the answers was literally RIGHT in front of me, and the other was on the back side of the paper, which I didn't realize was printed on, too. They were pretty silly oversights on my part, and I found myself dealing with all sorts of negative self-talk this morning. "How could you have missed something so simple?" "Why did you waste that teacher's time with questions you should have been able to answer yourself?" "Is homeschooling really the best idea for your family? You obviously can't even handle a simple lesson plan for a kindergartner." And on and on it went, until, like my dear friend yesterday did, I stopped myself.

The Enemy can't take my ultimate victory from me (my salvation), but he sure does want to make me feel completely defeated in this earthly life, and it's so easy to listen to the lies--lies I tell myself, lies I believe from things I read, perhaps with well-intentioned advice, and lies from a world who does not know of my Jesus' grace. And as I chose to stop listening to the Enemy's lies, my Heavenly Daddy reminded me of the words of Truth He had spoken to me through those three precious women yesterday.  Their words were not meant to promote myself. No, their words were used as messages of God's Truth: God is helping me be the mommy to my kids that He wants me to be; God is giving me the strength to persevere through the difficulties I'm currently facing with my health; God says I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Their affirmation touched me so deeply, not to promote myself, but to remind me that God is within me, and I am so much more than this world says that I am because of that profound Truth!

I pray that the words that come out of my mouth to those around me can be life-giving words that affirm God's presence in our lives.

"Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord..." Proverbs 8:34-35a