Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Book Without a Name, any Name

I read the book, front to finish, and never once found His name.  He wasn't El Shaddai, LORD, Jehovah, Yahweh, or God.  He simply wasn't found on the pages.  How, odd, since this was Esther I was reading, a book of the Bible.

It was refreshing.

I know that sounds cruel and anti-God-loving.  But, I am neither.

To the untrained eye, He is absent all throughout the book of Esther.  We see no mention of His Holy name.  Out of the thousand beautiful names He has, not a single one graces the pages of that Holy Book.  There is no mention of the Book of the Law or anything else that would obviously point us to His fame.

To the untrained eye, God is absent in the book of Esther.

But, to the one whom He has given sight, He is everywhere.  He is with Esther as a young orphan, giving her a caring cousin to care for her as she grows up. 

He is with Mordecai as he is at the right place at the right time, overhearing the plot to kill the King. 

He is with Esther as she receives favor from all she comes into contact with...eventually putting her in front of the King himself so that she might become his beloved Queen.

He is with the King the night he can't sleep, moving his thoughts towards Mordecai and how he might best reward him for saving his life.

He is with every single Jew as they tremble with thoughts of demise, wondering how they will protect their young children from this hate crime about to take place.

He is with Esther as she boldly approaches the throne for the life of her people, knowing that her death should be the consequence of such an action.

He is ever present.  Always working on behalf of his children.

Always working even when it seems His very Name has been stripped from the pages.

It is refreshing.

I look into so many personal, cultural and worldly issues and wonder where His name is.  I see pictures of aborted babies, witness the heartache of the Ukrainian people, and cover the eyes of my boys as they watch TV that has become anti-family.  I sob, wondering if He is going to show up in these areas.

I refuse to believe He is inactive, cruel, or aloof.

I think it is the opposite. 

His Name is sometimes too beautiful and powerful to be put to paper.  It doesn't negate the work that He is constantly doing. 

He is always working for the good.

For you.  For me.

Always working for the good.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Over It

I am ready to kick this month to the curb.  It has about done me in on so many levels.  Can I get an amen that we are really aliens living in some foreign world?  Amen and amen!

Do you ever go through seasons where you feel like everything you try or life as you know it is thwarted or stolen? It seems to be my theme right now.  I know God can be the Divine Thwarter (prevents things from happening that you were hoping would happen.)  But, I also know the Enemy steals and destroys.  Right now, I am trying to lay it all before God and see which is which.

Our church has "home church" where smaller groups of people meet in homes one evening a week to live life together and further study God's word.  We've been in one for about 13 years.  It is such a blessing to have a group surround you and help you when you are sick or when you are moving or when you simply need to cry.  Good things are happening at our church:  growth!  But, with that, our home church needed to multiply in order to allow new couples into each group.

I kept some friends and lost others to the other group.  Now, I know they are friends forever and all that jazz.  You can't strip away that many years of doing life together in just one blink.  But, I felt like something precious was stolen away from me.  Call me female, but this has been the hardest thing on my heart.  On the flip side, I love the new people in our group and am so thankful that God has placed them with us!  Sorrow and joy.  Always dancing.

Take this other example of something being thwarted!  I ordered myself a personalized necklace (kids names, etc.) from etsy in January.  It was something I wouldn't ordinarily do for myself so it held a lot of meaning for me.  After four attempts with the seller to see if it was on its way, she still won't respond back.  I had to open a case with etsy to see if the matter can be resolved.  I paid. I want my necklace.  Seems simple, but a month after ordering, I still have no idea the status of that necklace.

And another example! The first part of February is always a nail biter around here.  I am extra tense, cry my eyes out, and simply refuse to breathe until the 13th passes once again.  I ordered my Mom flowers from an online site to bring a little beauty into a harsh day.  They, too were happy to take my money.  But, did my Mom ever get her flowers?  No!  I could not get the company to return my emails or calls either!  I mean the Better Business Bureau better watch out because I am one fired up daughter!

To aid in the joy of the month, the stomach bug hit our house last Saturday.  It has looked differently on each of us, but I am so over this! I almost sold tickets to Vomit Fest 2014. I was supposed to sing Sunday, but again, that got thwarted!

And, this morning, our shower nozzle started spraying in all funky directions, including our ceiling which is never a good thing. 

Are you laughing?  Well, I think I will join you, then!

Sometimes I wonder what is spiritual warfare and what is simply part of living in world that really isn't our home.  I can't wait for Jesus to be physical King where friends never leave your group, grief isn't in your vocabulary, all flowers get delivered, the stomach bug never hits, shower ceilings aren't ruined, and meaningful necklaces come in the mail.

It is hard down here.  But, Jesus knows what it is like to be us.  That brings a smile and a bit of comfort.

In the midst of hardship, I do see beauty all around, though.  I celebrate with those who are rejoicing.  I have a friend who received an audible word from God.  I have a sister in law expecting a baby.  I have another friend who had to give up her precious baby for adoption since she had him at a very young age.  This gal, almost 19 years later got to meet her son on facetime!!!  What joy, to see a part of her heart restored. 

Life is hard.  But it is also very beautiful.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sweet Man of Mine!

I think about the flutters in my stomach when we were first falling in love.  In a way, I miss the early romantic days, and then the better part of me laughs and says I would much rather have what we have now.  We are almost 16 years into this thing called being one and I think we almost have each other figured out.  What is scary is that we often are thinking about the same thing at the same time!
I think about what true love is and how it really has nothing to do with flutters in the stomach.  I think about how love is patient.  I remember how after we lost Kiley, Eric wouldn't push me beyond what I could bear.  He was patient when for years I didn't feel like celebrating Valentine's Day.
I think about how love doesn't keep a record of wrongs.  Eric isn't one to hold onto my past mistakes and throw them back in my face at a later date.  He lets things go.  He graciously lets me live life, mistakes and all.
I think about how love rejoices with the truth.  He has always pointed me towards what I am good at and kindly kept me away from things that aren't my gifting.  He sees that love points people to the truth, no matter how hard it is to hear at times.
I think about how love always protects.  He isn't over-obsessive about me and for that I am thankful, but I always feel safe in his presence.  I know he is bending over backwards to ensure my safety, including small details like making sure we have the right amount of life insurance.
I think about how love perseveres. I have never once thought he might discard me or divorce me.  (Maybe its because we literally said 'I will not divorce you'  in our vows, ha!)  Goodness, marriage is hard!  It has its good seasons and its bad seasons.  You endure the bad ones not just because you are faithful but because you have hope that a good one is right around the corner.  His love has persevered through financial losses, tragedies, and the day to day grind.
Lastly, I think about how love is not self seeking.  Just last night, I didn't make enough soup for all the boys to have seconds. (Growing boys!)  Eric offered his first bowl of soup to one of the boys. We convinced him to keep it, but he was willing to give it up.  Giving up your bowl of potato soup, now that is love!
He is a good, good man.  I am so blessed to get to do life with him!

(all images by Todd Owens Photography)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

6 years {Highways to Zion}

I miss her today but that isn't a new feeling. Kiley is my sister and has a part of my heart that she whisked away to heaven with her 2191 days ago.  I ache for that place because a part of me is there already.

I have been thinking about the idea of questing or going on a journey or pilgrimage.  I am reading a book where Jesus has called a young girl to be a part of something special, but it involves adventure and possible heartache.  She almost chooses the safe route of being a nobody/slave but once she has seen the Savior's face, she knows she must follow him no matter the cost.  She doesn't think she likes adventure but Jesus tells her she will soon find out otherwise.

My heart resonates so deeply with that idea.  I want to play it safe in my walk, especially if that means I can avoid heartache and disappointment.  But, God, has called each of His children to a journey.  He wants us moving towards Him at all times.  He knows that in this thing called pilgrimage, we are coming to know His heart more purely. 

I was reminded of Psalm 84:5-7 this morning.  "Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.  As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.  They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion."

Let me unpack that a little:  Our strength must be in Christ alone.  There is a "Christian cliché" going around right now that is a bold-faced lie.  It says that "God won't give you any more than you can handle."  It simply isn't true.  When my sister took her life, it was more than I could handle.  When we lost our baby, it was more than I could handle.  There are countless examples in my life where the circumstances were more than I could handle.  The cliché is in reference to 1 Corinthians which is specifically talking about resisting temptation. The verse is about God providing a way of escape when we are tempted.

So, back to strength.  When the rug is yanked out from under us and we have no strength left, that is a precious place to be.  Our strength was never meant to be in ourselves, but in our only Hope, Jesus.  I have wrestled with doubt, depression, fear, and simply feeling paralyzed.  I need to know in those moments that it is God who holds our relationship in tact.  I need to know that it is His strength that is literally gracing me through each moment.  I need to know that if I am acting either as the Prodigal or the Older son, that I always have a place at the Father's knees, with His hand resting upon my weary head.

The next part says that their hearts are on the highways to Zion. The Jews were required to make a pilgrimage to the temple at certain feasts during the year. While it was obligatory, the psalmist is clear that his heart is in the right place.  It isn't burdensome to follow after the Master, it is a joy.

Like Believers today, the Jews often had to pass through the Valley of Baca ("weeping") in order to get to their destination of Zion (Zion can symbolize Heaven for us).  The psalmist has accepted that he is on a journey because he has seen the goodness of God and wants a taste of that no matter how difficult the pilgrimage. He fights through the sorrow and decides to make it a place of springs simply because it is Jesus He is following. The joy of knowing the Redeemer makes all the ache of life worth it. In the deepest recesses of his heart, he knows that one day, beauty will indeed arise from the ashes.

Lastly, they go from strength to strength until they see God in Zion. The ESV commentary states that they "keep on finding new levels of strength for the journey."  I'd like to think that from one trial to the next, they know the Father's affection for them a bit more, which provides new strength for the next trial.

Six years.  God has sustained me and allowed me to go from strength to strength.  In the beginning, this meant He simply allowed me to take one breath after another when I couldn't breathe at all.

He is faithful.  He is good.  I will see her again.

I'd like to think that after cheering her through learning to walk, showing cattle, prom, graduations, mission trips, walking with Christ, and settling into a career that the roles have now been reversed.  I'd like to think that she is sitting in His presence and cheering me on now.  Keep the faith!  The reward is more than you ever dreamed!  You can do this! One foot in front of the other! I promise it is all worth it!

I am envious of where you are, Kiley Elisabeth.  A single breath in God's courts is better than a lifetime down here. We will have ourselves a nice little never-ending celebration one day.

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." Romans 10:9-10

Believe in Jesus.  He is worth the ache and the journey.  He is everything.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Praise in the Storm {almost 6 years}

Pick any of the previous post's pictures of Asher and it would describe how I am doing.  The first six weeks of the year haunt and taunt and culminate into this huge climax of the week we are once again living and reliving.  God heals, yes.  But tears still fall.  Somehow, it is an achingly beautiful and sacred dance of His sovereignty and my frailty. 

What has hurt me the most these past few weeks is that Kiley not only left us six years ago, but chose to leave.

You simply can't grasp the condemnation and rejection unless you have lived it.

Last fall, I had a dream that literally left me crying.  In the dream, we discovered that Kiley had somehow faked her death in order to run away from home so that we would never bother her again.  I found out she was alive and went to find her.  She was beautiful as always and looked so happy.  I begged and begged her to come home to us but she refused and said she was better off. In the dream, she walked away.  She didn't even look back.

The rejection stung so badly that I woke up sobbing.

Kiley always had a desire that she would one day dance in the rain with the one she loves.  Later last fall, I found myself in a new gift shop downtown.  I almost gasped when my eyes fell upon a certain painting.  It was my sister on canvas.  She had an umbrella in hand and was walking away.  Her face could not be seen.  But, her bouncy dark brown hair was in a ponytail and the colors all around were bright.  I never knew a painting could haunt my soul so deeply. 

I couldn't afford the painting, but this image gives you an idea of the emotion of the other painting in the store.

Carefree and in love with life.
But still walking away from me.
I guess after six years, that is where my heart is.
I know she is happy and better off. 
But, what I wouldn't give for her to simply glance back at me.

After six years, the ache boils to the surface as if it were as fresh as ever.  But, God has taught me one thing.  Praise Him in the storm.  Day by day.  Year by year.  Until my faith shall be my eyes.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This

Poor thing just wasn't feeling it for our little session.  Call it his age (wants to be mobile) or teeth coming in, but Asher was not his happy little self.  Not every day is sunshine and roses!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

9 months (My Funny Valentine)

Funny how 9 months outside the womb goes so much faster than the 9 months it takes you to grow a little human!  We are so blessed to have this sweet fella.  Asher, these are things I want to remember!
*You are starting to use your hands more and more.  You are even starting to sign "all done" and "more" while eating.  This is usually after you have thrown a huge fit and I encourage you to sign instead of using your anger skills.
*Which leads me to this:  you are a passionate little boy.  Most of the time, you are easy going and so sweet but you are definitely coming to the age where things frustrate you...like me not getting your baby food ready fast enough for your liking. You are starting to really voice your opinion on things which leads to a bit of, umm, shall we say...screaming!  We are trying to nip that in the bud!
*When I get you up after nighttime and naps, we open your door and you start jumping up in my arms and looking all around trying to spot your brothers.  It's a sad day if they have already gone to school! 
*You have an orange nose all the time.  What can I say, you love your veggies!
*Your independence level has sky rocketed the last month.  You rush through nursing as if you don't have time for such trivial things.  You play in your bed and talk to yourself after your nap which is nice!  You reach for who you want to hold you. You hate confinement...but that doesn't mean we don't confine you at times!
*You wear 12 month clothes and size 3 diaper.  You go to the doctor next week...can't wait to see your weight and height stats!
*You will snuggle under mine and Eric's chins.  You know how to lean in for kisses. You sometimes open your mouth big and then lean in for a kiss. 
*You have those three brothers wrapped around your little finger.
*You love your "puppy" ride on toy, little Elmo, stuffed monkey, chew toys, and balls.  You like to read board books and hit the pages.  You are starting to find the tag on your blanket.  As soon as you get it, the thumb goes in your mouth.  (Just like Eli!)
*These days have gone so quickly.  I feel like the "baby" days of snuggling are quickly coming to an end.  Lord, give us grace to parent Asher well as we move more into the discipline and training phase.  (sniff sniff) Give Asher an obedient and teachable heart. Thank you Lord for the blessing he is to all of us.
Here is my Funny Valentine...

This look says, "Gee, no one ever told me I had superpowers."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Biggest Loser

Did you watch it?  Last night was the most fun, cuddled up with my husband while watching The Biggest Loser finale.  The results are always so fun!  I mean people usually lose half of themselves!  Eric and I cheered and roared all the way until Rachel came out on stage.

And, then our jaws dropped.  And, apparently, it was all Jillian could do to keep hers from dropping.  But, the look she gave Bob gave herself away.

In that one glance, we knew what the trainers knew.

Rachel had gone too far.

I love the show and what it represents.  I love that it gets to the root of the matter...there is usually a spiritual heart issue that needs resolved before the weight can come off.  I love that inward healing often brings outward healing.

But, The Biggest Loser may be in a bit of trouble after last night?

What are they to do when a contestant goes from one extreme of obesity to the other extreme of being too thin.  (I won't call it anorexia because I refuse to label her that way if that is not her issue. But, there is an issue that must be dealt with.)

So, what is the issue?  I think there are at least three.

First, body image.  How thin is too thin?  What mentally is going through Rachel's head to think that she must be that thin?  She went from 260 pounds to 105 pounds.  She lost over 60% of her body weight. What number for her will ever be thin enough? Will she stop here?  Will she feel freedom to put back on some weight now that she has won?

Which brings me to the second issue:  money.  The contestants are in it for money.  I am telling you first hand that losing weight is a hard journey.  I totally agree that you might need some incentive to keep going.  But, when that much money is at stake, will people starve themselves in order to set themselves up for a better financial life?

The third issue is how The Biggest Loser runs the show.  It never has seemed fair to me that they make men compete against women.  In general the men always have a better advantage because they start off larger, and are usually able to take more off percentage wise.  What if Rachel ran some numbers, and realized that in order to beat the other two male finalists, she would simply have to get down to 100-ish pounds.  I had a 100 pound friend in high school.  They wouldn't even let her give blood when the blood drive came around.

So, did you watch the show?  What were your thoughts?  Did she go too far?  Is she healthy?  Are there things that The Biggest Loser can modify in the future in order to set everyone up for long term success?