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.

 

Playing House and Keeping House

Lately I find that our house has been taken over by toys.

There are toys in the family room and the living room.  There is an entire playroom upstairs dedicated to toys.  There are toys in our bedroom that I brought in for the purpose of keeping Natalie busy while I got ready for church.  There are toys in the basement being stored for when she’s big enough to play with them.

And guess what?

I love it.

To me those toys (and books, and blankets, and clothes…) are a happy reminder that a child lives here.  A little girl that I have the privilege of raising and loving and playing with and cleaning up after.

When I pick up her stuff in the family room, one of my favorite things is rearranging the doll house.

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The house was passed down to us and has just a couple people with it right now, but I’ve filled it with animal friends as well.  I like moving the furniture around and setting all of them up in different spots.

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I’ve always enjoyed “playing house”, but I’m not necessarily the best at “keeping house”.  That is to say, if you dropped in on a surprise visit there would probably be some part of my house that I would wave my hand and apologize for saying, “Sorry the house is such a mess right now.”

See how I throw that “right now” in at the end?  I thought I only did it out of habit, but now I’ve realized there’s probably more to it.  Maybe I hope those extra words will make it seem like the house is usually spotless, and you just caught me on an off day, or something like that.  I never planned it out that way, it just dawned on me recently as a logical explanation for my habitual comment.

(Please note: I don’t mean to imply that my house is grossly dirty.  The mess I refer to is more of the cluttered variety.  Just felt I had to clarify that, haha!)

Anyway, I don’t really have an excuse to explain away my sub-par housekeeping skills.  I mean, I have reasons that I know contribute, but that’s not the point.

I’ve read blogs/articles with strategies and tips for keeping a spotless house.  I’ve read other blogs/articles saying that moms should just focus on the time with kids and let the cleaning wait for later.

I don’t think either one is right or wrong.  Maybe a little of both is best?

Or, better yet, contentment.  Content but not complacent.

That is the point for me.

I’m not great at keeping up with housework.  It’s not a natural strong point for me, but I know I can develop some better habits and maintain things more than I do now.  I would like to do that.  I am working on that.

But…

I’m not going to beat myself up for the evenings when I want to just play with Natalie and leave the dishes piled in the sink.  Yesterday afternoon I spent her nap time cleaning, today I wrote this blog.  And I’m okay with both those scenarios.

Keeping house, for me, means doing my best for my family and my home.

It means being thankful for what I’ve been given.  It means swallowing my pride and not comparing myself to others.  It means being content where I’m at while still striving to improve on things that need improvement.  Most of all it means doing all things to the glory of God.

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men

Colossians 3:23

I’m going to try to stop using that “right now” apology, so if you come to visit and the house is messy, just push aside the toys and settle in.  Maybe you can even help me with the next arrangement for Natalie’s dollhouse!

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A June 15th Father’s Day

About a month ago I asked Steve if he’d like to share something on this blog for Father’s Day.  For a while he wasn’t sure if he would or not, but tonight he sat down and wrote this.  Although he wanted me to give a disclaimer that it is a longer writing than usual, I’m glad he took the time to share it.  I know it meant a lot to me to read his thoughts and reflections and I hope you’ll enjoy reading as well!

I’m not exactly sure the first time that I realized that Father’s Day in 2014 would be on June 15th.  I don’t think it was until maybe 3 or 4 months ago… I think Megan was the one to tell me.  I remember thinking, wow, that could be a day filled with many different emotions.

If you’ve been following my wife’s blog at all, you may be familiar with the significance of June 15th. It is the date of our first daughter, Faith’s, birthday. It is also the day she passed away. This year it would be Father’s Day…and also the day Faith would have turned two.

This year is my third Father’s Day.  My first Father’s Day was June 17th, 2012, two days after Faith passed away.  That Father’s Day was filled with many emotions, very raw and powerful.  Last Father’s Day was spent in reflection… the mixed emotions were still there.  I think I expected to be in worst shape than I actually ended up being.

This year I felt like Father’s Day would be much easier emotionally.  On December 7th, 2013 we welcomed Natalie Jane, our 2nd daughter, into this world.  This Father’s Day I would get to spend with my daughter here in person.

Today’s plans involved going to church for a Father’s Day breakfast, attending the church service, and then spending some time with both of our families.  I woke up this morning shortly after 7:00 am.  I went to my phone to turn off my alarm and waiting there was a text from my brother, Greg.  The text read, “Love and miss you Faith.  Happy Father’s Day Steve”… a short note, but one that meant so much to me.

Meg and I remember Faith often.  I know Meg has written about it previously, but it really makes us feel good that others remember Faith as well.  My cousin Brian and his wife Beth have sent us cards two years in a row on Faith’s birthday and I can tell you it means the world to both Meg and I.

Anyways, back to the text… I loved receiving this note and knowing that my brother remembered Faith today and let me know, but drawing my mind to Faith first thing in the morning set off emotions that I thought would be scaled down this year.  As Father’s Day got closer and closer this year I really thought that celebrating the day with Megan and Natalie would mean that happy emotions would push out the sad emotions.  I put the phone down and found myself sad… missing Faith.

I missed her a lot.  I haven’t really found myself wondering what Faith would be doing were she still with us, but I lay in bed and found myself wondering what Faith would be like turning two today.  How would today be different if she were still with us?  If we could celebrate today with her AND her sister Natalie!  Tears streamed down my cheeks.

Meg was up by now and noticed… she comforted me, I talked a little bit just to convey my brief emotions, and then we just held each other.  The day hadn’t started like I had envisioned it for sure… in fact, I didn’t feel much like going to the Father’s Day brunch now.  Meg and I just held each other… for a while… it was comforting to me.

I did go in to see Natalie when she woke up.  She was so happy to see us… she ALWAYS has a huge smile in the morning to greet us.  That was comforting to me and made me happy, she got a smile out of me after the rough start.

We went to church in the morning.  As the sermon began, the pastor read from Luke 8:40 and started talking of Jairus, who went to Jesus pleading for Him to visit his house as his daughter was dying.  Meg and I looked at each other and I think she whispered “oh boy”.  We knew that Jesus would go to Jairus’ house and raise his daughter to life, having told Jairus in verse 50, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

Again, some tears welled up in my eyes.  I thought to myself, “I had believed that Faith would live.  I had believed that God would heal Faith while she was in Megan’s womb and we would have a miracle as a witness to give glory to God.”  Pastor Tom did go on to touch on some other things, rather than really dig in and focus on just this last section of Luke, but he did say that we should have an unwavering faith and believe that God’s will would be done.

This brought me back.  I remembered how I felt after Faith passed away.  I remember feeling comforted in the midst of this huge loss here on Earth knowing that God would have a plan and use this somehow for good.

I remember when Faith was diagnosed with fetal hydrops and we sat in front of an ultrasound, looking at the fluids that had suddenly showed up inside her body where they should not be.   I remember coming to a point where I surrendered to God and acknowledged that this child was His.  He was her Father before I was.

We know that God knew her before He formed her in Megan’s womb as He told Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”.  Psalm 139:13 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb”.

God created Faith and God does not make any mistakes.  He knew she would have fetal hydrops and he knew she would pass away.  I know that her life, in its short existence, has touched others’ lives.  I pray that her life will still continue to serve a purpose here on Earth but I know that she is with her Father, God, in Heaven right now.  I found myself comforted again.

God is Faith’s father.  He is Natalie’s father.  He is mine.  He is yours.  Whether you believe in Him right now or whether you don’t, God created you.  He is your Father.

As a father to Natalie, I try to be the best dad I can be.  I like to feel that I am doing a good job, but I know I am not perfect.  I will always have faults.  God does not have those faults… it doesn’t matter what you have done with your life up to this point, He is there waiting and wanting you to love him back… all the while He is loving you regardless of where you’re at.

The rest of my day was pretty good.  We spent time with both of our families.  I got to see the joy that Natalie brings to all of our relatives and I got to spend some quality time with her.

I love her.  I love Faith.  So does God, with the perfect Father’s love.  How much joy do my girls bring to God?  Someday we’ll all be together in Heaven together and what an amazing day that will be!