Serving God in the Ordinary

These past 6 months have felt very quiet and routine. And I have wrestled with my lack of excitement of serving God in the most ordinary of places- being a stay at home mom. The truth is some days are filled with hugs and kisses, and other days are exhausting and not-so-glamorous. There are moments when my six year old cups my face with his hands and says ‘I love you so much. You are the best mommy in the whole world!’ And moments when I haven’t slept all night... and my two year old throws a temper tantrum while the boys won’t stop bickering with each other (and I’m wishing I was in a far away beach sipping on a margarita!).

Often I think I should be doing MORE for God, more to serve outside my home, more to help our family financially, more to make an impact on those hurting around me. And I have wrestled with that this year. I want to do all those things… yet I find myself today pouring myself into our children and knowing this is where I’m called to be.

‘’God had been teaching me the extraordinary strength it takes just to be ordinary. To dwell knowledgeably and hospitably in this place He has given me with my people is, in fact, an extraordinary call. He has shown me the beauty of being attentive to one person, in the mundane, again and again.

In a full life of trying to do great big things for God and see His glory in great big ways, He showed me He is glorified in the small too.’’  Katie Davis Major- Daring To Hope.

These words jumped out at me when I read them in the book 'Daring to Hope' a few weeks ago.

There are days when doing laundry, changing poopy diapers, making meals, cleaning the house, etc. doesn’t feel that important or life changing. It doesn’t feel like I’m bringing God glory in doing this day to day. Sometimes it is hard to do it over and over again with joy. But I am learning that even in the most mundane and routine of places, in the unseen places of everyday life, God is still there. 

I’ve felt God whisper to me this year to love the people around me well. To not love them half-heartedly, or give them half of my attention while keeping my eyes somewhere else.

‘’What really counts will be the quiet devotion practiced in our own homes. What will matter most at the end of our lives are the people right in front of us who get to see all of it- the happy stories and the tragic ones, the pretty good parts of us and the ugliest part of us. At the end of time all that will count is that we lived the gospel with our very lives, that we paid attention to the people God gave us.’’ Katie Davis Major- Daring To Hope.

Yes I want to serve God in an extraordinary way. He seems to be calling me to serve Him in the ordinary. And while He may call me to something else in the future, today I will find joy and excitement in this very place!

In the Valley

Life has felt pretty steady lately.  We’ve had our regular ups and downs as normal, but no big news or life changing events. For the most part it has been good and we have so much to be thankful for. God has abundantly provided in so many areas of our lives.

But I know it’s only a season. While I’m not living in fear of what could go wrong next (trust me I’ve done plenty of that in the past) I’ve lived long enough and seen enough to know that sooner or later life will be hard again. Sickness will come. Death of loved ones will take place. And I will wrestle again with God questioning his goodness when life doesn’t go as planned.

This past week a little boy from Jack’s school was in an unexpected accident and passed away a few days later. I visited his parents for a few minutes while they held on hope for his life at the hospital and vividly felt the pain they were walking through. I was angry and sad at all of it. And desperately pleaded with God to spare them from the pain of losing yet another child. Surely a good God would never allow this to happen, or at least He should intervene to make it all better.

Yet the answer seemed to be ‘No’ to some very VERY desperate prayers. From some very hurting people.

How can I teach my children that God is a good and loving God when such unthinkable things happen? Why would I teach them that Jesus came to ‘give life and give it abundantly’ (as he professed in John 10:10) when He would allow such hurt and pain to take place?

I’ll tell you why. Because I’ve had the privilege to see first hand that God does indeed give life and give it abundantly from the most broken of places.

For seven years Steve and I attended Celebrate Recovery and we had the privilege to hear story after story of how God had taken the most broken of circumstances, and He somehow brought the most beautiful things out of it. I met countless people who had no hope, no joy, and had walked through the most unthinkable of circumstances- a child who died to cancer after many years of fighting for them, abuse of an innocent child, divorce, addiction, etc… and God over the years wrote the most beautiful stories I had ever heard. Ministries and purpose that were birthed from the very loss of life. Joy restored. Hope breathed back into the lives of these people.

Maybe, just maybe, the greater miracle takes place in the making it through the darkest of valleys without falling apart.

Maybe, God sees the eternal and we can only see the temporary. And he is working towards life that will last forever, even if it means going through some very painful circumstances in our earthly life.

Maybe, we can trust God knows what he’s doing even during times when we can’t understand or make sense of it all.

The truth is I have a hard time reconciling a good God to all of this. A God that would allow children to be orphans, parents to bury their children, rape, abuse, genocide, etc. But I will speak this truth to my children: God can be trusted. He is trustworthy. He is true to his promises. He is good. And He loved us so much that he found a way to reconcile us to Him so that we could be in His presence. And it was all His plan and idea… and nothing that we did on our own.

And I can say all of this with confidence because He has been all of these things to me.

Most of our friends know about Andrew and the valley we walked through after losing him. But that  hasn’t been the only time Steve and I walked through valleys, it has only been the most public. There were many other valleys before and there have been many valleys since- more private of course- that we wish we would’ve never walked through. And each time God has come through and restored all that was broken from each one of those.

On the other hand, I’ve never seen restoration or healing take place without holding on to our faith in Jesus. I’ve also met families who have fallen apart after a loss, give in to addiction, and gone on to live very broken lives for the rest of their years. I know it can go the other way to, and how easy it is to go down that road. The road where we are too angry to pray, cry out to God for help, and surrender our will to Him.

So I will cling on to hope next time I walk through another valley. I have no doubt I will wrestle with God and question what He’s up to, and even feel angry at Him. I will probably hear silence again after some very heartfelt prayers, and feel abandoned I have felt in the past. But I will remember that at the end of it all He is always faithful.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;  his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:5

If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. 2 Timothy 2:13

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

On an interesting note, I wrote this post Saturday night, and our pastor at church spoke on this very same thing this morning. Here’s a great sermon on why to hold on to God in the midst of injustice and brokenness. It's the sermon from 6/24/18.

Foster Care: What I wish we would've done

About five years ago Steve and I became licensed foster parents. It was an exciting, joyful, difficult and humbling experience. We took on short term placements for almost two years. I will always be thankful for that time and wouldn't change the experience. But there are some things I would do differently if I could do it all over again.

1. I would pray for more direction before jumping ALL IN

I remember sitting in Panera one night when I clearly felt a leading that Steve and I should be foster parents. I wrestled with God and said ‘Well you’re going to have a talk with Steve because he is never going to say yes to this!’ Just a few weeks later I mentioned the idea to Steve while we were out on a date. Somehow without much convincing he said yes. I didn't even get to finish the whole speech I had prepared for that night. I was so excited that we were on the same page that I started the process the very next day.

Looking back I wish I would’ve taken more time to pray for God’s timing on how to move forward. For example, I wish we would’ve gone through the training with a Christian based organization like A Door of Hope or West Florida Foster Care instead of being licensed through Eckerd. It would’ve made a huge difference to meet other Christian families to encourage us on the journey! I also wish I would've prayed more about the timing of when to start, because I have no doubt that would’ve been different as well. We should've stepped back and taken the time to pray for more direction

2. I wouldn’t be afraid to fail at foster care

I remember when we finally made the decision that we wouldn’t renew our foster care license. We knew that the short term care we were doing was not what we had hoped for, but we also knew that we were not ready for the long term placement of a child in our home.
I was disappointment with our decision and I felt that way for months. I thought maybe we weren’t just ‘good enough’ people to continue with it. Perhaps if we had been more spiritual, listened better to God, or would be willing to make bigger sacrifices we would’ve continued to be foster parents. I felt that we had failed.

Looking back I wish I would’ve known God calls us to different things on different seasons, and I would’ve extended myself more grace. I went on to mentor a young girl in foster care which I really enjoyed. We stepped up to coordinate the foster care/adoption ministry in our church to encourage other families. There are seasons for different things and God doesn't all call us to do the exact same thing. I hope one day again that we will serve in a more tangible way as we did back then.

3. I wouldn’t have the false expectation that because God called us to do it, the journey would be easy.

I used to believe that when God calls us to do something He also makes the process easy and smooth. Now don’t get me wrong there are many when He has done just that… but there have also been times when He has not. And when things get hard I tend second guess decisions, wrestle with God about why he's not helping more, and wonder if after all we made the right decision in the first place.

As I’ve dived into the book of Exodus these past few months, I’ve learned that sometimes God clearly calls us to do something and the journey is still hard. I love, love the story of Moses: a man filled with insecurities and far from qualified for the job God calls him to do. He does EXACTLY what God asks of him, but the journey is still really hard along the way. Moses wrestles with God and asks him multiple times why He's not making things easier for him.

It has brought me so much encouragement to know this truth and know that God is at work even when things get hard. For us in foster care, we had a hard time getting licensed and the process took almost a year. Also there were many times when it was really hard to say goodbye to these little ones. Some were easy but some were much harder.

Last thoughts

I wanted to share these drawings from a five year old girl that stayed with us for two weeks. She came to our home late in the night one day with nothing but a Publix bag with a few of her belongings. Her story I will keep private but it was heartbreaking to hear.

The first day she came in she didn’t say a single word but she loved to draw. She drew countless pictures of sad faces with tears.

After a few days she did talk… a lot! The day before she left she made this picture which I’ve kept over the years. It was a picture of a happy face with no tears. I was so amazed that just two short weeks had made some impact on her. These pictures made me realize just the huge impact that you can have on someone else... even if it's just for a short period of time. 

Christmas, Grief and Advent Baskets

Two years after Andrew passed away we started a family tradition of organizing an Advent Basket for other families walking through grief during Christmas. I came across the idea in a blog- from a mom who had also lost her child and shared how helpful this basket had been for her. This is such an easy, practical and tangible way to encourage someone who's lost someone or is walking through a difficult time.

The basket contains 25 small gifts for each day of Christmas. Each gift is wrapped, numbered, and has a bible verse taped to it. 

This year we worked on two baskets- one for three boys who lost their mom to cancer, and another one for three kids whose mom will be in the hospital for an indefinite period of time. Working on these really reminded me to be thankful.

Even though it’s been many years and our Christmas seasons these days are filled with joy  I still remember walking through that first Christmas without Andrew. 

I remember sometimes waking up in the morning and forgetting for a few seconds of all that had happened... and then remembering that he was gone. And the weight of the loss coming back.

I also remember having perfectly normal conversations with people and then going home to cry for hours. 

I still remember feeling a knot in my stomach as Christmas Day approached hoping I could figure out a way to skip it altogether. I knew what was supposed to be a day of celebration would instead remind me of the empty space Andrew had left in and the pain we felt.

That Christmas we spent most of our free time with our dear friends David and Shelly Clark. I believe God placed them in our lives to encourage us during this season of grief and I will always be grateful for them.

It was that New Year’s Eve that I got pregnant with Jack. And that January Shelly and I would surprisingly find out we were both pregnant, and God would graciously bless us with two boys later that year. 

Part of me is glad to have walked through this pain so that we can all these years later have a glimpse of what is like to walk through grief. Grief can be so much heavier, last so much longer and linger into so many more Christmas seasons.

Somewhere in getting ready for Christmas day, school programs, shopping, etc it’s easy for me even to this day to lose perspective of what's important and easy to get caught up on things that are not. I am thankful for this Christmas even though it's been far for perfect, (particularly the awful flu-like sickness that hit our home this week). This week has been filled with cleaning up throw up, keeping fevers down, holding babies, and surviving this sickness. Which I wouldn't have been able to do without Steve's help and him taking time off work to help.  It's been really hard and easy for me to throw myself a big pity party (and believe me I have). But as I remember Andrew this Christmas, I'm reminded of the big picture. And there is so much to be thankful for. 

Wishing everyone a very wonderful Christmas!