A Graduation Week Tribute

Monday, May 18, 2020  ::   4 important comments

If you know me, you know I like ceremony and tradition. Setting up memorials to point to big events, big memories, and big emotions makes me happy. Slowing down to enjoy celebrating milestones allows me to savor important circumstances and to create lasting mental pictures. When I close my eyes and go through the various files of my mind, I can pull out colorful images and truly remember the who, what, and why of any given important moment. I relish the past because it points me to God's goodness in my life and guides me to trust him for my future. As many of you have heard me say and even read the sign by my front door, I truly believe the best is yet to come. 

This week Morgan and Carah graduate from high school. Throughout school they've grown in character and knowledge. Many teachers through the years have spoken to Chad and me about their kindness and leadership which is much more important to us than their grades, although they are also excellent students. You already know, but I'll say it again, we are so so proud of them.

I enjoyed planning extravagant graduation celebrations for Esther and Kyle and had big plans to finish our family's pre-college school years with gusto. And then, as you all know, the world got a little crazy. School ended abruptly and graduation was canceled. We've cried and released expectations again and again during the last few weeks. But we woke up today determined to celebrate, to remember, and to engage in gratitude for what God has done and will continue to do in their lives. We will have a good week. Our celebrations will be different than I had planned, but you better believe, Morgan and Carah will be celebrated!

Please enjoy reading a few fun tidbits about my sweet girlies.

Obviously they have always been besties. They still hold hands and it makes me so happy. They are fiercely protective of each other and they are also easily annoyed with each other. They are sisters, after all.

Morgan and Carah love the arts. They can sing and act. When we went to meet their choir and drama teachers before their freshman year, I totally embarrassed them by telling their teachers that they had real talent. I realize it was completely dorky of me, but I wasn't wrong. And now I think their teachers even agree with me. Being cast as two of the leads in the spring musical is proof of their talent. Am I right? If you came to their play than you know what I'm talking about.
Morgan earned a fine arts seal on her diploma by completing a capstone project. She directed a play for a state competition that earned the superior rating for the project. She worked so hard, pushed past her natural people pleasing tendencies, and it paid off. She is extremely creative and artistic. When she was in 2nd grade, she took a ton of "trash" out of the recycle bin and made a whole farm, barn and all. She also sings so beautifully. I could listen to her all day. Throughout the years, Morgan has been a trusted listener for many of her friends. She exudes natural empathy and kindness. Children flock to her. It's actually kind of weird how good she is with kids. She will take her traits of empathy, peace-exuding, kid-organizing greatness and study elementary education at the University of Arizona. A principal in town already offered her a job, never mind that he's known Morgan her whole life. He knows she'll be a phenomenal teacher. Chad and I are confident she will change the lives of many kids through the years.
Carah qualified for the state swim meet all four years of high school. What's remarkable to me is that she didn't swim on a team until the summer after 7th grade. She was just a natural. She is also a natural leader. Throughout her school years teachers would tell me if they could get Carah to participate, most of the class would follow her. She doesn't really care what people think so she speaks pretty directly to problems, but not too quickly because she also doesn't care for unnecessary drama. She is organized and caring, but in very practical ways. She will take these organizational skills and non-people pleasing but caring character traits and study nursing at the University of Arizona. School comes fairly easy to her, so we know she will do well. If all else fails, she can sing to her patients because she also has the voice of an angel. She does, however, really like to please Chad and me and is our kid who loves to spend time with us, especially by herself. And, she is the member of our family who regularly makes us all belly laugh. She's stinking hilarious. 

It may sound cliche to you, but I don't care. They have truly become some of my best friends. I love being around them, laughing with them, listening to their hopes, dreams, and fears. When I found out I was pregnant with twins, I burst into tears. Chad laughed with joy and I wept with fear. He was so right. They have brought so much joy to our lives. They couldn't be more different from each other, but they couldn't be more dependent and important to each other. They are intellectually intelligent and emotionally intelligent. Training, helping, and watching them grow through the years has been incredible. I'm confident they will press into Jesus for much, much, much more training, helping, and growing. And, the cherry on top is they truly make me laugh. 

Just in case you missed the point, I'm super proud of them. We will celebrate their graduation this week like nobody's business. Nothing will stand in our way. Tradition-shmadition. We're making new ones!

Congratulations, Morgan and Carah! Class of 2020! You guys were amazing K-12th graders and so much goodness is coming your way. Don't forget, good does not mean easy. Lots of good things come through hard work, challenge, difficulty, and even heartache. But the really great news is you don't have to walk through any of it alone. Obviously, Jesus is with you always. Also, you are blessed to have a twin. Of course, you are stuck with Dad, me, Kyle, and Esther. And good news, you are surrounded by friends and family who will be joining us all week to celebrate and will follow and support you for your whole life. You are so loved. 

Happy graduation week, my darlings! Dad and I love you so dearly. 
Want to encourage the graduates? Leave a comment, send a text, or stop by with a present. All forms of love accepted by these Class of 2020 young ladies. 

Good Gifts and a Giveaway

Thursday, April 16, 2020  ::   15 important comments

I've put off writing this post for awhile now. I had the idea and then everything flipped upside down and it just didn't seem cool to write about what I had been enjoying.

But, my birthday is this week, so this is my birthday gift to you all: Some things that bring me joy mixed with a pretty good giveaway that THREE people can win. Based on comments and entries in my past giveaways, the odds are truly in your favor so go ahead and participate.
Blooming flowers in our church building's courtyard. Oh how I miss gathering with my people. 
The truth is I've been pretty sad over the last five weeks. Can anyone relate? This sadness presses my body down and makes me feel tired most of the time. My daily prayer is that joy will outweigh the sadness and that I will cling to Jesus through Scripture, music, and being outside. Which leads me to the first thing I've been enjoying: The Psalms. I read a few each day and let the emotion, struggle, and God-focusedness wash over me. The words of each Psalm ring so, so true for our lives right now. I'm praying Psalm 20 for you, my friends:
 May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
    May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
 May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and give you support from Zion!
 May he remember all your offerings
    and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah
 May he grant you your heart's desire
    and fulfill all your plans!
 May we shout for joy over your salvation,
    and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
 Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with the saving might of his right hand.
 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

They collapse and fall,

    but we rise and stand upright.

Lord, save the king!

    May he answer us when we call.
Amen! May we call on the Lord our God and may we faithfully wait for him. Don't make excuses to not seek him. We must open our Bibles whether we feel like it or not. He's all we truly have, so let's cling to him.

Worship music reorients my mind in good ways. There are two new albums I play over and over. They've been out for a couple of months now so maybe you've heard of them. I want to share anyway, just in case you haven't. And, please feel free to send me your favorite worship songs or albums. My friend, Sara, regularly sends me new music and I love it.

The first is Matt Redman's Let There Be Wonder. Here is the link to listen to it through your preferred streaming service. Funny story: I found myself humming one of the catchy songs on this album fairly regularly. It was always in my head, but I couldn't really learn the words because it is in Spanish. I asked Kyle to listen to it because I'm that annoying mom who is super proud of his language abilities so I push all Spanish stuff his way, especially if it is Jesus Spanish stuff. He looooves it, only he probably doesn't. One day I was listening to the whole album, focusing on each song so I could learn them and sing along. Guess what I discovered! The Spanish song is also in English! I had just never noticed. I'm so good at details, you know. Why I noticed the Spanish version and not the English, we shall never know the mysteries of my brain.

The next album I'd like to recommend is Shane & Shane's newest one, Hymns in the Round. Here it is on Apple Music and Spotify. Every song is excellent. We recently started singing Ancient of Days over our Sunday livestream gatherings. It's been an important song in my life for over a year now. Every word is a balm for my weary soul. If you aren't sure where 'Ancient of Days' comes from, what it means, or why it is important, please take time to read Daniel 7, specifically verses 13 and 14. We must keep Jesus our focus. His dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom shall not be destroyed.

To be honest, the next thing I'd like to tell you about may be a little much for some of you. It's intense and needed for this generation which my intense, prophet heart loves, but it is no joke. Have you heard of or watched American Gospel? There are two movies and they are total butt kickers. If you are able to watch, prepare yourself. The first movie, Christ Alone, tears down America's love of prosperity. If you think you don't fall in this category, think again. Something in it will convict you. It certainly did for me. The second Movie, Christ Crucified, goes after all the ways American culture waters down the cross. If you want to know more about how to discern false teaching, this movie will help. It truly angered me how susceptible we all are to terrible teaching. Sound like a fun series to watch? Well, good isn't always fun. Sometimes good is also difficult. They are long movies, so it may take awhile to get through them, but as it turns out, we've got some time on our hands.

Now we enter the giveaway portion of this post. See what I did there? Made you read all that other stuff to get to the goods.

You all know I like books. I had my spring list ready to go, but to be honest, reading takes hard work for me these days. Sadness that leads to tiredness and reading takes focus so it isn't compelling right now. To top it off, I was reading Lore Ferguson Wilbert's new book, Handle with Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry when life flipped upside down. To read about touch in a time when we are not even supposed to be close to one another sucked, but I finished it. It was a good read and I look forward to healing hugs again. Here are the books on my spring list. I've read all but two and will start another one today.
I'm not going to link them all. You can easily find them where ever you purchase your books. 
I'm giving away two copies of Beth Moore's Chasing Vines and one copy of Audacious, also written by her (which is out of stock so bonus for you). Both are excellent books, compelling, deep, and easy to read.

If you win a book you will also receive a $25 gift card to Lovely Enterprises or Why I Love Where I Live. If you are from Tucson, you already know and love Why I Love Where I Live. I'm always happy to support them as they continue to inspire people to love the city I so dearly love. Lovely Enterprises is associated with Jesus Said Love in Waco, Tx. They seek to change the lives of people impacted by the commercial sex industry. I'm wearing my new favorite shirt from their shop in this photo:
Lovely Enterprises Shop
It's my birthday month, so this is my gift to three happy winners. You will each win a book plus one $25 gift card to your choice of Lovely Enterprises or WILWIL. All you have to do is comment on this post, on Facebook, or on Instagram. Tell me something you are enjoying during these days. That's it. I'll choose the winners sometime next week.

Thanks for reading. As you all know, it is a weird, weird time in our world. In my opinion, there is no better time to be lifting our faces to Jesus, waiting on him, and making our gratitude lists. What are you thankful for today?

Empty to Full :: Lessons from Romans 8

Friday, February 14, 2020  ::   Be the first to leave a comment!

People often declare "I'm so glad such and such year is over" or "Such and such year was the worst year yet." I'm not one to proclaim such extremes because every given year has victories, defeats, joys, and heartaches. This is my disclaimer as I head into sharing how God used January 2020 to fill me up after the emptying that was 2019.

I would never give details as to why I ended 2019 depleted, but I can say God stretched me through ministering to others in both brutal and beautiful ways. As many of you have heard, I studied Isaiah last year. (Hopefully soon I can muster the courage to write about some of what I learned through the study.) I'm confident God equipped me to do what he asked me to do by meeting me in the depths of Isaiah. He truly strengthened me with his power in my inner being through his Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16). Nevertheless, December arrived and my heart was heavy and sad. There were no reasons/words to explain the sadness. It just blanketed my heart. So I read Scripture about Christ coming once and Scripture about Christ coming again. His promised return was the hope I clung to through the jingle jangle holiday noise. I looked to the change of the decade with trepidation and leaky eyes. 2020 would prove 15 years of leading Second Mile, 25 years of marriage, and would usher in an empty nest.

Separately, Chad and I both felt prompted to set aside the month of January for some intensive spiritual emptying and replenishing. I floundered a bit after studying Isaiah, my head spinning, some of the dust settling, and not exactly sure what next step to take. I tried to work through a Bible study by a famous author and it only annoyed me (because of me, not because of the study). I looked into some other in depth book studies but felt frustrated and overwhelmed. In desperately needing something for my soul, I gave up all the "I shoulds" and simply read a few Psalms and Romans 8 every single day. (If you aren't familiar with Romans 8, stop right now, go open your Bible or click on the link and read it.) I knew it was a meaty, beautiful, redemptive chapter, but I couldn't have known how God would use it to completely revive my weak, depleted self.
My current Bible study tools 
May what God showed me through these January lessons from Romans 8 encourage you. Do not compare your own journey to mine. It pushes me to pursue God when others around me tell me how and what they are learning. My motives are to humbly strengthen your faith as I show you how God strengthened mine.

As January began, I didn't know what or how to pray for myself. He showed me that it didn't matter, that not only was the Holy Spirit interceding for me (vs 26), but Christ himself is at the right hand of God interceding for me (vs 34). Immediately he put me at ease that he knew exactly what I needed and was praying on my behalf.

One reason I couldn't escape the exhaustion of the last year is because I replayed conversations, events, and situations over and over in my mind, sometimes through prayer, but often simply because my brain was stuck. Through verses 1-8 he showed me how I had set my mind on things of this world and on things of the flesh. He very clearly says to do so is death. There is no life in dwelling on what I cannot understand or change. In the kindness of God he rebuked me, led me to confession and repentance, and reminded me that to set my mind on the Spirit is life and peace (vs 6). Prayerfully with God's help, this verse will forever be written on my heart. When I start to despair about the past or the future, he brings this verse to mind and leads me to life in Christ which is peace. Thank you, Jesus.

He reminded me of how secure I am in Christ. He reminded me that to be led by the Holy Spirit is to prove that my adoption by him is secure (vs 14). When the Bible speaks of a follower of Jesus being secured in his eternal family because of adoption, it resonates with me because adoption is momentous in my earthly family. But the passage goes on to say because we are adopted we can cry out to our Father (vs 15). Through a little more study, I learned the word 'cry' (krazo) means to scream, to cry aloud. This isn't a soft little whimper. This is a guttural "I NEED HELP, DAD!" He knew I cried out in this way many times last year and then he met me in the moment of reading this passage to hear my deep cry for restoration. I've continued to find healing from shame concerning emotion. The Holy Spirit removed yet another layer of shame as he invited me to cry aloud to him because I'm his daughter.

And then, the whole next section bolstered my understanding of deep guttural groaning for God! Our sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us (vs 18). What a promise! Then he says creation groans for Christ's return (vs 22), we groan for his return so that our bodies can be redeemed which means no more suffering (vs 24), and that the Holy Spirt himself groans as he intercedes for us (vs 26). I can't even express how these words describe how I felt over the last year, how I groaned for an end to suffering and for his return over and over. I can hardly make it through a song about Christ's return without tears streaming down my face. But then he reminded me through verses 24 and 25, that as his adopted kids, we hope for his return, but we hope for it with patience. Groaning through grumbling and complaining is entirely and completely different than groaning with longing and expectation. The line is easily seen and crossed when my disgust and discontentment is woefully disguised as hope. My God-focused hope is displayed through groaning that longs for God's glory in the whole world, for God to make all things new, for God to wipe away every single tear, for God to end suffering forever SO THAT every knee will bow in worship and WE WILL enjoy our one, true, holy, righteous, loving Lord God forever and ever. Come quickly, Jesus, and we wait for you with patience.

There is more I could share, but the final lesson I want to explain is the most personal. As I stated above, this is a big year for Chad and me: 15 years at Second Mile, 25 years of marriage, and launching our last two kids resulting in an empty nest. One of my main strengths is that I'm a very present person which enhances my relational abilities. I don't dwell on the past and I don't look to the future; I'm mostly fully present. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? What this means in real life is it is difficult to see myself in future circumstances. The short story is for more than 20 years, I've been very present with my kids. I would say being their mom is some of the best of who I am. Yes, I know I won't stop being their mom when they leave home, but it does change. I can easily see with Kyle and Esther that our relationship has only gotten better, and I'm believing the same will be true for Morgan and Carah. I'm not afraid of it. My fears come out in the very practical thoughts of what will I do? As I stated earlier, I am present. I can't see myself in the future without the daily grind of caring for my kids. My heart feels squished when I try to envision it. It's vulnerable to tell you I've asked God to speak to me through his Word about this for many months now. On one of the last days of this emptying and filling Romans 8 process, he answered my prayers in the simplest, most beautiful ways in a passage I've read probably a thousand times (literally). "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" At this point in the month, my heart was FULL of God's love. He met me, healed me, replenished me, rejuvenated me, and refilled my emptiness. He then whispered to my heart that nothing will separate me... things present OR things to come. The same love that I'm experiencing in the present moment is the same love that will carry me in all things future. It truly is such a simple idea, one church kids hear in Sunday school. But, he so lovingly answered my prayer to speak to me through Scripture and not my own knowledge about launching my kids. He will uphold me because I am secure in the steadfast, unfailing love of God. The sure-footing of his love will ground me as Chad and I launch our last two kids. Simple and still profound. He is good and his Word is living and active.

Through the emptying process of January, emptying of fatigue, of expectation, of myself, God faithfully filled me back up, with his love, his presence, and his Word. I'm ready for what's next, but not because I'm confident to achieve anything for or through myself, but because my confidence is in Christ. May he continue to establish and strengthen our faith and cause us to overflow with gratitude. I will never ever stop telling you that God faithfully uses his Word in our lives. Do not give up. Keep reading. You will reap a harvest if you do not give up.