Soul grateful

It’s no ordinary morning that I find myself back in these simple pages. I’ve had a night, a sleepless night, of wondering and listening to God for His love for me. In seasons like the one I currently reside, loss and transition and disorientation are the expected companions. What I was not prepared for, however, has been the constant presence of hope and even her sister… gratitude.

I care very little this morning for looking around me and noticing all of the ways I might have failed, how others might have failed, how our very human culture seems to fail at the most basic levels of human kindness and care. It is probable that part of my awakened state came as I read a brief report of what we are learning is one of the greatest massacres in American history. Colorado, my heart has been with those mortally and emotionally wounded by the impact of one human who could not creep out of the fear and loss and disorientation of his own soul.

Instead, out of nowhere, my youngest boy giggles in his sleep. Loudly. For several minutes. And suddenly in all of this mess, the fullness of joy breaks in. Right there while I am in the dark, lightness. Right there in a place of fear, total abandon and freedom.

And isn’t that just what God offers? Daily, amazing, sustaining grace in forms both profound and plebeian. Surreal and simple.

So the dark nights make way for dawn
Stars make way for morning birdsongs
Skies transform daily into canvas
Only One knows how to move nature through perfect design.

Shame and fear are silenced when Gratitude sits at the breakfast table.
Counting even the trials as joy, she hands out a cup of remembrance.. God loves.
Hope sings of better things to come like so many early birds perched safely in their nests
She laughs at the days to come and has no fear of what’s ahead
Only One knows how to impart this confidence of heart.

In this exact moment, soul grateful.

Humility Makes Way for God’s Extravagant Love

For years I have been on a journey of downward mobility, trying to create a simple life in the midst of raising four children in Orange County. I had been thinking about these truths for a long time, punctuated each year at Christmas when I began to wonder if my children really celebrated Jesus at all in the midst of celebrating their Christmas wish list.  Everyday life as we know it as an American equates with “consume and be happy”.  Christmas becomes a heightened version of this wrapped up as “buy for others extravagantly to demonstrate extravagant love”.  But are we still buying this?

Don’t miss this! I am all for celebrating and eating and gift giving. But where was Jesus even invited to bring joy to my world? I was trying to do that on my own while Jesus simply became the background music, the joyful carols that played in Toys R Us while I pondered the deep questions of Christmas life: Star Wars Legos or Ninjago? Barbies or Craft Sets?

So this year I asked for God to help me.  How could I create an environment where my children would actually prepare room for Jesus? How could we ignore the pulsing push and pull towards excessive consuming and indulging and instead have a peaceful Christmas season where Christ could come and let us adore Him?

God answered just a week before Christmas by having my husband lose his job. His well paying job. The job that provided just-to-the-penny for our lifestyle.  No severance, no liquid savings. In that moment of fear, came the reminder that I been prepared for this with my dangerous prayer: whatever it takes, whatever You need to do, make room for yourself Jesus.

Over the next 30 days our family center transformed dramatically. We became mindful of the lack of money, of course, but we also became increasingly grateful of the gift of an increase in time together. For 12 years with rare breaks, my husband had come home between 9 and 11 pm each evening.  In 3o days, we had dinner together every single night.  Jesus entered in to this time and reminded us that the gift of being present is a rare and precious gift that means more to our souls than any present we can unwrap. I watched Jesus enter into our marriage through the gift of time and serving one another and simple gratitude. Elaborate meals that I had prepared (remember, I am married to the chef with four foodie children) now made way for simple groceries based on what was on sale.  We had started growing lettuce in our little garden patch and that was the only vegetable at the table some nights. We became aware of how precious each bite of food could be.

This was not the gift I’d imagined unwrapping, but God gifted me with deepest desire of my heart- a season spent pressed into the heart of Jesus, celebrating His birthday in a way felt more loving and aligned with His character and humble birth. Gods sacrificial gift jumped into our humanity and humility, into our shattered dreams, into the lives of our family that was going to experience for the first time, the miracle of Christmas.

But God was generous beyond what we could imagine or ask with His Christmas gifts to us:

  • God provided financial grace with our housing. Shelter is a gift.
  • God provided an immediate job for my husband (at half the pay but brings him home to us every night-unlike his jobs of the last 12 years)…. Employment is a gift.
  • God put on somebody’s heart to anonymously pay one-month’s tuition for my three children!  Who are you, angel of generosity?
  • God provided for our two car payments to be paid on time through another generous gift. Cars are a gift.
  • Our brakes needed to be repaired and everything was under warranty. Brakes are a gift.
  • God allowed us to find unused gift cards and all sorts of creative ways to still give my children and family a few nice gifts for Christmas.
  • Someone offered tp pay our utility bills. Heat and electricity is a gift.
  • While ordering cleaning supplies online I discovered a credit that I never utilized and received a month of free products. Cleaning is now a gift.
  • The same day our water bill was due, I received the exact amount from a check from a friend who lives far away. Water is a gift.
  • A group of long time friends who meet regularly to pray and care for each other allowed us to join them for this tender season of transition. A gift of mercy and compassion with voices, hands, eyes, and their presence.

In this humble humble season of financial scarcity, I treasure these gifts, knowing that all I really wanted for Christmas, and all I want for my family, is Jesus with skin on. Jesus comes in His fullness, in His Spirit, in His word and in His timing.

Just last night people (or angels) anonymously left us a porch full of groceries and thick piles of gift cards for gas and food and cash. So now in this Valentine season where American culture will market to our senses and entice us to show love through jewelry and cupcakes, I am reminded again through a discipline of humility, to simply make room for God to continue to reveal Himself as the essence of true love.

Thank you God. Thank you People of God.

lay me down

on a quiet afternoon, i lay my youngest child down for a nap. It doesn’t work. So I pull this teary young babe out of his crib, lay him down in the bed next to me, and cover his wet cheeks with mamma kisses.

He falls asleep in this posture with my lips resting softly on his cheeks. He is beautiful and soft and still and receptive. Motionless and submissive to the moment.

And God is kissing me.

God reminds me in this quiet place that in the same way I run to comfort my wailing child, God runs to comfort me. God wraps me in the grace of a parent who is more concerned with my peace than what I can accomplish. God holds me in this moment and I am still and receptive.

land of milk

Holding my pregnant belly in my hands as I slowly strolled around a grassy meadow, I heard a still, small voice say: ” this is the land of milk and honey where I will deliver you.” These words touched something deep within me as I surveyed the expanse of my in-laws’ 140-acre working farm. Indeed, this season of my life felt very much like wandering in a barren wilderness, waiting for God to move.

We were vacationing as a family while my husband continued to seek employment near our California home. We had no certainty of employment, we had moved all of our belongings into storage, and we were temporarily living 3,000 miles from the place we were seeking employment. God was giving all of us a break from the stressful realities of unemployment so we could really hear His next directions for us. Our days were filled with the contrast of simple joys of country living and the everyday hope for employment news from California.

The bliss of “vacation” came to a halting reality when my husband’s job offer came at last— through an employment agency in Michigan! We had never seriously considered living outside of California and now I stood on Michigan farmland with a strong sense that God’s words to me had been gradually leading our family to live in this rural, small town.

Four months later, my husband and I delivered our third child in Michigan, navigated icy frozen roads and dark days of winter, wandered the maze of church hopping and house hunting and had only one constant in our lives—the fact that God was totally in control and we were not. It took time, but we finally saw God’s purpose in moving us so far out of our comfort zone. We watched God provide financially and professionally for my husband’s career and were able to buy our first home. We ended up planting a church out of a denomination that was more traditional than we had ever attended. The challenges of hibernating indoors through brutal Michigan winters pushed us to find creative ways to meet and build community in our small town. In the four years we lived in Michigan, God taught us daily what it looked like to trust Him out of our comfort zone.

adoption

I am fortunate to know many families who have made the courageous and compassionate decision to adopt children. One family in our neighborhood adopted three infants from three different families into their family of one 10-year-old girl. What made this process so endearing was the way the older daughter immediately referred to her newly welcomed additions as sisters. She would even say things like “ Don’t you think that Cristina looks like me?” To see these four girls walking down the street in front of our home always brought my four children running excitedly outside. At their young ages, they could not fully comprehend a process that would allow an only child and three children with no parents to become a full family. They could not fully understand the reality that these three babies were once abandoned and left without resources. Nevertheless, what they could understand was that this family lived in the same house, walked to school together, and had the same parents. They had a newly created identity called family.

I am always reminded when I think of adoption, that we have been saved into God’s extravagant family. We have been plucked out of an obscure future that was once without a future hope and given not only a Father, but also Brothers and Sisters! Even though we are born into particular families, our identity as followers of Christ makes us a part of a universal family. In this new family, we exhibit identifiable traits where we begin to resemble one another in the image of God. As we grow in God’s family, we see that this is just one of the mysterious ways that God saves us.