The Crooked Camel

The wise men are falling over, there’s a tree floating above the manger, and the camel is crooked.

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Yesterday Natalie and I put a sticker nativity scene up on the wall. I did some to get her started then let her place the rest on her own. I wanted her to enjoy doing it independently, but it took a conscious effort on my part not to stop her and “fix” it. I wanted to straighten out those wise men and guide her little hand to a better spot for the tree. But I resisted and let her just have fun.

As I walked by it last night on my way to bed, I spotted that crooked camel and smiled. I love these moments with my little girl.

Beyond that, though, I felt a gentle reminder from God… our little nativity scene isn’t perfect, but neither is this world that God sent His Son into!

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the sweet pictures in our Christmas books and the friendly looking animals that sit beside my nativity scene on the shelf. But I know that Jesus’ entrance into this world wasn’t so neat and pretty. And while I love to sing along to Silent Night I’m pretty sure that, between the newborn infant and the multitude of angels proclaiming the news to the shepherds, it wasn’t so silent!

Jesus came into the world just like any other newborn baby would, messy and (probably) crying. His head didn’t radiate light like some of the drawings we see. And I doubt the words of Away in a Manger, “the cattle are lowing the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes”, are very accurate.

God didn’t rearrange or “fix” things in the world to pave an easy path for His Son. Jesus lived a real human life, right from the start.

Yes, Jesus was God incarnate and He lived a sinless life. That fact is essential to His saving work for us on the cross. But He was also fully human. At Christmas we can celebrate the joy of Jesus’ coming, not only because He brought salvation but also because He loves us so much that He became like one of us.

I think of the words from Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” What an amazing gift for us to know that Jesus humbled Himself and lived in this world, setting an example for us and providing comfort and strength for the difficulties we face in our lives.

Let us never forget the hugeness of the sacrifice that was made when Jesus came to earth. This is an imperfect place, a messy place, a place where things aren’t often neat or pretty. And Jesus – God’s Son – came here to live among us… crooked camels and all!

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing Thankfulness

There’s a difference between feeling thankful and being thankful.

Tomorrow we’ll sit around a table with family. We’ll share in delicious food, conversation, and laughter. We’ll take a little extra time to be thankful for all that we have.

And I will feel thankful. I already do. I feel thankful deep inside my heart for so much in my life right now.

But what if I didn’t? What if it was hard to feel thankful?

I’ve been there before. Three years ago when we were headed into Thanksgiving and Christmas and a new year, all without the baby we had hoped and prayed for.

That November I challenged myself to write about something I was thankful for every single day. I made a decision to be thankful, even if it was hard to feel thankful.

And you know what? It was wonderful. It was healing. It made me focus my heart and mind in the right place which, in turn, helped me to actually feel thankful at a time when I thought that would be so hard to do.

Although I still have those moments where my emotions or temporary circumstances distract me from an attitude of thankfulness, the lesson I learned three Novembers ago sticks with me.

I wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:18 on the door of our broom closet as a reminder this November…

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As Christians let us not forget that it is God’s will for us to give thanks in everything. Let’s make a choice to be thankful always, not just when we feel like it or when the calendar tells us we should. We can honor God by choosing to live a lifestyle of thankfulness. It’s not always easy, but I know from experience that it can have a powerful impact on your life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS I’d love to blog more often but once again it’s a case of the page being empty because life is full. Hoping to have some more frequent updates soon!

 

 

The Way She Is With Us

In the song that woke me up this morning, the words replaying in my head as I drove to school…

Even if You take it all away, You’ll never let me go.  Take it all away, but I still know that I am Yours.

In watching as Natalie picked flowers and set them on her stone…

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In the candle that glowed on our shelf tonight while Natalie sang “Jesus Loves Me” in the background…

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In the stories we read together while we cuddled before bed…

I wanted you more than you will ever know, so I sent love to follow wherever you go.

In the way we love each other and the joy we find in the simple moments together.  In the hope we have through Him.  In the promise of seeing her and knowing her someday, together in that place where no candle or light of any kind is needed…

And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev. 22:5)

In these and so many other ways she is with us.  Always in our hearts even though she is not in our arms.

We love you Faith.

What’s Next?

Last week, eating lunch in my quiet classroom, I stared at the paper in front of me, blank except for the heading “Summer 2015”.  I had already made a couple lists for summer but I was mulling over some bigger, more long term things.  Things that were uncertain… hopes and questions and possibilities… and I was trying to somehow wrestle them onto the page so they made more sense.

Finally I just leaned back and sighed.  You can’t plan your whole life, I told myself.  I put the paper away and tried to follow my own advice.

Unfortunately, that’s really hard for me.  I love to plan.  I love to have something on the horizon that I’m looking forward to.  I like to consider different scenarios, play them out in my mind, and try to prepare for what might be coming.

I don’t think planning is a bad thing.  But sometimes it becomes too much of a focus for me and I start grasping for a hold over things I can’t control.  It’s in those times that I need to remind myself that God is in control.  Sometimes I need to simply wait, trust, and pray for patience.

Have you ever felt like everything was falling into place perfectly, only to have it change in the end?  That happened to me, in a huge and incredibly difficult way, when Faith died.  It happened again, in a significantly smaller way, yesterday.

There was a job opportunity that I was really excited about and, to be totally honest, was also pretty confident would work out.  It seemed to make sense in so many ways.  It seemed like everything was lined up just right.

But it didn’t happen.

I’m disappointed.  I’m frustrated and unsure of what’s next.  Truthfully I can just keep going as I have been for the past few years, nothing really has to change.  From the outside that probably makes sense.

But on the inside I feel like this could be the start of something else.

One of my initial reactions, after hearing the news, was to start considering different plans, to start setting up those imaginary scenarios in my head.  That always seems to be my natural response!

But the truth is I don’t know what my plans should look like and I don’t want to try to make them on my own.  I want to trust God.  I want to be open to His leading.  I want to be patient and take it one step at a time.

The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

I sang Rich Mullins’ wonderful song – Sometimes by Step (live version here) – to Natalie while I pushed her in the swing this morning.  This is my prayer as I seek God’s plan and purpose for me, “step by step You’ll lead me and I will follow You all of my days.”

I have already seen His hand work mightily in the biggest of challenges, I know He is here working in the smaller ones as well.  “I may falter in my steps, but never beyond Your reach”.

What’s next?  I will wait, and pray, and see.

 

 

 

Little Girl in a Big World

The weather is finally nice and I feel like we’re coming out of hibernation!  It is wonderful to be able to go outside every afternoon.  Natalie and I have been enjoying stroller rides, blowing bubbles, swinging, and exploring the great outdoors.

I love her curiosity and enthusiasm.  Pine cones are a favorite item to collect, but she’ll pick up and inspect pretty much anything.  She also ate dirt the other day when I turned my head for a moment to check on Jackson.  Way to go mom, haha!

Sometimes she likes to have me right next to her, but other times she ventures out on her own, checking back once and a while to make sure I’m still close by.  There are days when I feel like she’s growing so fast, but seeing her out there in the yard I was reminded how little she really is.

A little girl in a big world.

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It’s funny… that’s how I feel too.  This world is a big place and I’m just a tiny part of it.

On those days when life feels really “normal” and the routine gets mundane I wonder what kind of impact my little life is making.  Am I doing something significant?

On the days when life feels challenging and the future is full of questions I wonder where my little life is headed.  Am I on the right track?

I think (or at least I hope!) those thoughts and questions are normal.  I think we all want to feel like we have a purpose and a plan, but we don’t always know what it is or where we fit in the grand scheme of things.

It would be pretty intimidating and even discouraging to me… if it weren’t for the promises and presence of God.

I know that He made me for a purpose and that He knows me better than anyone else.  I know that He can use me to accomplish great things for Him, and I want to be ready and willing to follow His lead.

These lyrics, from the song Little Is Much by Downhere, express so well the question and the answer…

What is the measure of a life well lived
If all I can offer seems too small to give

Little is much when God’s in it
And no one can fathom the plans He holds
Little is much when God’s in it
He changes the world with the seeds we sow
Little is much, little is much

Even more importantly, this passage from 1 Corinthians speaks a beautiful truth…

“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.'” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

It doesn’t matter how small I feel because God is working through me.  On the mundane days, on the crazy days, and on every day in between, He is present and He has a purpose.  What a wonderful peace that brings!

Just as Natalie has the courage to wander off into the yard , I pray I will confidently go forward following God’s will for me.  And just as Natalie stopped to smile back at me, making sure I was still watching, I pray I will never lose my focus on the God who is in control.

So thankful that He is with His little girl in this big world.

 

My Daughters

Last Christmas Steve gave me a necklace that has initials and birthstones for me, Faith, and Natalie.  The other night, as I was taking it off, I held it in my hand a moment and thought, “my daughters”.

My daughters.

It made me happy for a moment.  I have two daughters!

But then I felt a wave of sadness.

I rarely talk about them that way.  To be honest I can’t remember a time that I have used the phrase, “my daughters” when talking with another person.  Even in my own mind I’m not sure I often think of them that way.

It’s hard to explain.

I think about Faith as my daughter, waiting for me in Heaven.  I think about Natalie as my daughter, with me here.  But somehow the fact that they are in different places keeps me from easily linking them together.

I love them both, but that love is lived out differently.  I know I have had two babies, but the world sees only one.

Maybe that’s part of the struggle.  So many people in my day to day life don’t know about Faith and I am okay with that.  But now I’ve become so accustomed to answering the “how’s your daughter?” question about Natalie alone, that it feels foreign to think of daughter in the plural instead.

Stranger still… if Faith was here, I’m not sure that Natalie would be.

I can’t find the right words to express something that my own mind can’t fully grasp.  This separation between my two girls.  Two sisters.  Two daughters.

And yet, are they really separate?

In body, yes.  But they are together in my heart.  They are wrapped up together in the love we share as a family.

And as Natalie grows and, I pray, comes to a relationship with Jesus for herself, we have the promise of togetherness in Heaven as well.

Oh my sweet daughters, I am so thankful to be your mom.

 

 

 

 

How Many Kings?

Christmas is tomorrow.  Our tree is sparkling in the front window with presents wrapped beneath it, a special dinner is waiting to be cooked for our Christmas Eve celebration, our advent wreath is ready to be lit, Christmas music is playing as I sit here typing…

.. and, in the dining room, a little nativity scene is on display.

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How often do you stop and really think about what that nativity represents?  I wonder if we’ve become so familiar with it that we forget how incredible it truly is.

God came to earth.  God, the Creator and sovereign King of the world, as a baby.  Humbled and helpless.  Incarnate deity.

This isn’t just a tradition to me.  It isn’t some story that we read out of habit or a desire to feel “religious” at Christmas.  This is the truth.  This is the foundation of my life.  This is the reason we celebrate, the reason I have hope and joy and a future.

A baby in a manger who was God’s own Son.  Jesus, the long awaited Savior who would later die and rise again to pay the ransom for my sins because He loves me… because He loves you.

The words of the song How Many Kings (Downhere) are so powerful to me.  I hope you’ll read the chorus below and truly reflect on what these lyrics mean.  This is the truth of Christmas – God’s love for our world, for each and every one of us.  May His love surround and fill you today and always.  Merry Christmas!

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only one did that for me.