The Ram in the Thicket

I admit, I have always hated the story of Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain.  I know that it’s always taught that Abraham believed God would provide, and we know the truth is that he did!  There was a ram in thicket.

But let’s just be honest here.  I am a mom.  I have watched my kids go through some pretty hard things and wondered if I had scarred them for life.  My first thought every time I read about Isaac asking where the lamb was and Abraham saying,”The Lord will provide” is the therapy bill that would be in the future for that child!  Abraham actually binds Isaac up before God intervenes and stops him.  The whole story has always felt so manipulative to me, and most of the time I teach it or read it as fast as I can and move on so I din’t have to think about what I would call the “practical” implications of it.  Does Isaac fight back?  Is there ever a moment of doubt for Abraham?  What is the conversation like going back down the mountain?

I am doing the Ann Voskamp advent devotional “The Greatest Gift,” and when I opened for today this story was there.  My first instinct was to skip the Bible reading part – I know this story.  I don’t like it.  (And isn’t that how we are supposed to read the Bible – only the parts we like? *Note the sarcasm.)

So I started reading only the part that Ann wrote about the story.  And my heart just broke.  She writes, “It is a thing to call a place ‘The Lord Will Provide.’ It is a thing to name where you live as provision, to name the place you call home ‘The Lord Will Provide.'”

My heart.

This house, since the day we first saw it, has been God’s gift to me.  I don’t know if you ever heard my “wish list” when we were first talking about moving back to the States.  As we sat with the boys and talked about what we wanted in whatever our new home would be we made a list.  At first it was practical – enough bedrooms to host people, a dining room big enough for a table to seat many.  Then I felt the Spirit prompting us to name “extras.”  As a family we named things that we really wanted, even if they seemed silly and definitely weren’t necessities.  A front porch, a back yard, a gas stove, lots of windows, off street parking, bright colors, within walking distance of the church, an extra room where I could do art and create without having to always pick everything up midway.

This house checked every single box.  Every. Single. One.  In a place where we should never be able to have a house like this.

I almost cried when they showed it to us.  Everyone was nervous and reiterating that we could change the paint or do what we needed to make it our own home – but it felt like “me” the moment I walked in.  (I later met our landlord, a dear sister from the church, and instantly found a kindred spirit – just an extra blessing!)

I know this house is not ours – we are merely renting and using it while we can.  When the time comes that we need to move, God will provide the next right place for that time of life.  But in the moment, the now, this is HOME and I am so overwhelmed with thankfulness for it.

When I read those words that Ann wrote, I knew I had to go back and read the story of Abraham and Isaac again.  And my gratefulness started to deepen from the physical aspect of providing a home, which is temporary no matter how long we live here, to the spiritual aspect of knowing I have a home in my God, who’s name is Jehova Jireh.

The Lord Will Provide.

He is my provision.  In this advent season he is the hope, the peace. He gave himself as the ram in the thicket, and continues to be my provision as he gives me access to everything in the heavenly storehouses.  I am free because of him.  He gave this prisoner of anxiety and anger the gift of breaking those bonds and letting my heart know freedom and peace.

As I thought through these things and tears freely flowed, I was sitting and looking at my Christmas tree all lit up.  My eyes fell on the ornament with RJ’s name and the year he was born and my heart broke again for my baby.  Born with two holes in his heart, yet is strong and whole today.  I saw my “ugly Santa” ornament from Uganda and remembered the way God provided times of laughter and relief from the hardships of life in South Sudan with teammates that I loved completely.  The beautiful bulb of beads made in Bosnia that represented one of the many church families that have prayed us through the last 10 years of missions prep and work.  One after another I saw physical reminders of God’s provisions – and those were just some of the obvious ones!

This advent I encourage you to take time to notice.  Ann writes, “Worry is belief gone wrong because you don’t believe that God will get it right.  Peace is belief that exhales.  Because you believe that God’s provision is everywhere – like air.”  God always has a ram in the thicket, friends.

Now I’m off to paint a new sign for my home, as I have decided it needs to be announced that this place has a name – “The Lord Will Provide.”

That Time God Called Me Dude

2017

Not long ago RJ got in the car after  school and asked if I had bought chocolate.  (He is so my child!)  I told him no, and he immediately sighed and said, “We haven’t had chocolate in a long time.”  I literally stopped what I was doing and looked at him in the rear view mirror before responding, “Really, Dude?  You had two buck eyes*  in your lunch box.  You ate a cupcake at the church lunch yesterday, and Saturday we had dessert because we had friends over.”  To his credit he looked at me with a sheepish little smirk, his dimple adding to his innocence, and laughed.   “Yeah, but not a candy bar.”  (He REALLY is my child!)

That was the end of that exchange and I didn’t give it a second thought until later that week.  I sat at down in my room and started  complaining to God.  Immediately I heard my words to RJ – “Really, Dude?”  Yes, God called me dude.  He’s cool that way.

I stopped in my tracks and I’m positive I gave God that same sheepish smile I received  from RJ – dimple and all.  I confessed that I was being grumpy and even a bit spoiled.  Then I started naming the many, many things that He has given me.  But again I felt like he stopped me mid-sentence.  He wanted me to be more specific.  He wanted me to go back to my complaint and find the thanks in that.  The gratefulness for the absolute, miraculous provisions that he has shown us in the last few months as well as gratefulness for the struggle.  

Stop right there.

I can thank him easily enough for the provisions.  I may forget sometimes, but when I’m purposefully looking I can see and be reminded of all the ways he really has provided.   But can I thank him for the times he has seemed silent?  What about for the things that I continue to bring to him and have yet to see the answer to?   Or the times I had to let go of my ideas of what I wanted or (cough, cough) “deserved?”  Could I be thankful in the middle of the struggle?  Could I be thankful at the end of the struggle, when I haven’t received the answer I wanted?  Like RJ in his candy bar heart struggle, could I be ok if I didn’t get it?

God is constantly teaching me through my kids.  When I looked at RJ that day I was teasing him – not angry or shaming.   But I wanted him to see the truth.  How much more does my heavenly father love me in a perfect, holy, fierce love?  I  didn’t feel shame that night – only a bit like a cheeky child being lovingly chastised by her parent.  I pictured him with a twinkle in his eye as he pointed out truth.

He is so amazing.

I am thankful for his love for me.

*For those never fortunate enough to live in Ohio, Buck eyes are probably called peanut butter balls to you. null

null(How can you resist his smile?)

The One Where I Watched NCIS

Feb. 2016

As we are coming upon a year (!) in Kenya this month, I have been thinking a lot about the last couple of years.  I wrote a blog a few years ago about the true desires of my heart for my kids and I have thought about this blog several times in the last two years.  It was easy to say as I wrote it in the comfort of my comfortable, safe little home at the time.  My kids had seen some sorrow with the death of their grandmother and a drowning of a friend from church.  But for the most part when I wrote that blog, they had not seen a lot of the real world.  Though I knew it was coming, I didn’t really know what was coming.  I didn’t know that when I ripped teenagers away from their familiar world with technology and friends and family and clean drinking water from the tap and fast food and A/C how much anger would come from that.  I didn’t understand that living in a remote, war-torn place could cause such a deep wound on the hearts and the psyche of all of us, and that it would mean that, of course I couldn’t take care of the 6 of us – I couldn’t take care of myself.  It was a daily lesson in survival for emotional and spiritual health.  I knew that war was there – but what did that really mean to me?  I had not lived through gunfire, burnings, and assassination attempts on people I knew before.  I wasn’t prepared for those people to have a real face, a name, a family.  To cry with me about it – or worse yet, to talk about it with a stone-faced look because it has become all too normal.  I had gone through simulations in training on what to do in different crisis situations, but I had never lived with a go-bag packed before so we could take off with a change of clothes, malaria meds, and our important documents in minutes if we needed too.  Growing up in PA I had certainly shot a gun and seen hunters use them – but on animals or tin can targets – not on people. And I had never seen tracer fire or heard AK-47s.  I was not in the military, after all.

When I wrote that blog, I must have been naive, right?

When we left South Sudan and were in a safe place to process the huge amounts of grief and fear we had felt over the past year and I started to see the affects on my kids, I thought yes, I must have been naive.  I was so angry at the woman – the mom – who wrote that stupid blog.  What did she know? I was embarrassed because I knew so many people had read the blog and yet I wasn’t even sure any of it was true anymore.  I was mad that I couldn’t be that woman – that I didn’t even want to be.

It had felt good and empowering (and pretty darn prideful, if I am willing to be honest) to write that the first time and “know” that I must have something in me that many people don’t.  Us missionaries – we can be pretty arrogant in the name of sacrifice and service.

So while we took the last year to heal in many ways and start to really embrace life here I ignored that blog and all it’s implications.  But then tonight I was watching an episode of NCIS  (Isn’t this how all the good spiritual revelations start?)  They were in South Sudan rescuing some military doctors who volunteered their time while off duty.  And from the get-go, I realized it was not just a tv show for me.  Though annoyed at the mispronunciation of “Juba” (really people – it’s four letters long!) I found myself in tears at the first sighting of the makeshift hospital tent where the people were gunned down.  I felt panicked at seeing the gunships come in.  I felt a homesickness for the people and the accents and the Juba Arabic and the landscape.  Because yes, it had been HARD.  But it was also GOOD.  I experienced over and over again the hospitality and love of a people that just wanted to be left alone to live in peace.  I heard stories of loss and survival that ripped my heart in two and put a burning desire to see justice come to light.  I learned anew what hope looked like, even when it made no sense to me.

And my kids experienced all of these things right along with us.  Their hearts and eyes were opened to things that may seem harsh and over the top, but are realities of the majority of people of this world. I have talked with my kids about these things.  Anna said she remembers clearly the day after lockdown when she realized that the Sudanese people have no other choices.  We talked about evacuation and safety and looked at what seemed like limited options – but they were still options.  We had an out, but they didn’t.   She also realized that the Sudanese cared about us enough that they wanted us to have that out and to use it.  It wasn’t fair and it opened her heart up to justice and love and empathy and compassion.  John has talked about how the last year shaped him and that even though it was rough and he was angry most of the time, God has since shown him some things about himself and about this world that he has realized he would never really understand without having South Sudan in his life.  Andrew and RJ have really only good memories of Mundri (other than the latrine)  because yes, we had an amazing team and some really awesome times there.  They are both shaped by the input of a team that poured into them and loved them.  And what young boy doesn’t love the adventure of wide open spaces and bows and arrows?

Would I have liked to have spared them some of the things they have seen and known.  From a certain standpoint, of course!  No mother enjoys watching her children ache and cry and grieve while not knowing how to help them.  Yet I really like who my kids are today.  I love seeing their hearts open to new things and people.  I love seeing the compassion they have and the passions He has put in their hearts.  It has been our prayer for as long as I can remember that our kids would be justice seekers and risk takers in this world and they wouldn’t be content with status quo.

I forgot that for a while.  I got caught up and forgot that God is sovereign. I saw only the “in the moment” and not the molding and shaping that was happening for His good.

My kids are healthy.  They are happy.  And more importantly, they are in love with Jesus.  That looks different for each of them, but it happened in deeper, more profound ways because of this last year.  Grief can draw a sense of purpose out of you in ways that times of ease cannot.

So tonight I stand back alongside that naive woman who wrote the blog a few years ago and the quote from the book I was reading ( and need to reread, apparently) called ‘Parenting Beyond Your Capacity’ that says “The mission of your family is not to ultimately protect your kids but to mobilize them to demonstrate God’s love to a broken world.”  Of course I will continue praying protection over my kids.  But I will also pray for boldness, for compassion, for broken hearts that seek him, for things that bring them repeatedly to the place where they remember he is all they need, and for being justice seekers and grace bringers into this very broken world.

And I will pray for my own heart to be steadfast in this.

Heroes in Grief

(Originally written Nov. 2013)

“Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”  

C.S. Lewis

My heart has been heavy since leaving MTI yesterday.  I knew I would feel a loss from the community that we have been living in for the last 4 weeks, but I guess I underestimated the intensity of it.  I tried sleeping in the car while traveling yesterday to lessen the blow and not think about it, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to play music and block it out, but the music playing reminded me of worship there.  Finally I gave in to what the Holy Spirit was telling me – to feel it and not fight it.  But it stinks.

I never thought emotions and grief were a problem for me.  I am that mom who cries at Little House on the Prairie, every church service we go to, and YouTube videos of puppies and kittens.  My kids are no strangers to seeing me cry.

So when Robin, one of our trainers this week said, “I want you to be your children’s heroes when it comes to walking through grief and loss” I was surprised at my reaction.  My knee jerk reaction was to think that the best way to help them was to avoid having to go through it.  I have felt like a failure many times as a parent because we are constantly putting them in situations with these things occurring.

A hero?

Apparently a healthy grief, a deep, mournful loss, a guttural prayer and moan, and a tender heart are super hero qualities!  Who knew?

So as we pulled out yesterday, surrounded by new friends – really new brothers and sisters – tears were streaming down our faces and sobs wrenched our hearts as the kids gulped and cried with us.  But we held hands, cried together, acknowledged and affirmed the deep loss we were going through, and eventually everyone settled into a silence that was full of the safe knowledge that we all understood each other.  There were no trite words, empty promises (or even real promises) – there were really no words at all.  Just gentle looks, shared groans, and healing touches.

And we keep processing.

The kids were so happy to get a Facebook hug from Miss Becca last night.  We have been texting and communicating with MTI friends all day.  Pictures are being shared and blogs being read.  And MTI has become the new “favorite place” of our children – sorry, Delta Lake!

Yet my grief just keeps churning.  Sorrow has been coursing through my heart that seems to go beyond the grief of leaving Colorado.  Tears start anew at little, unimportant things and inopportune times.

And I say to Him time and time again, “Father, Help!”  I want to feel it, yet I want to run as fast as I can from it.  I want to dig down deep and see what some of the roots of this sorrow is – yet I want to close my eyes and ignore it just as much.  But he chooses to answer my cry for help, and he starts to peel back the layers that are there.  While the grief from leaving MTI is genuine, deep, and not to be ignored, there has been a prodding into other areas of my life that I have not fully grieved.   When Tim and Robin had us probe into these places I was not only given permission to feel them, I was actually encouraged to look at them closely, to allow those things to kind of float around me for a while and think upon them – to “jump off the high dive” instead of dipping my toes into the water.

And when I started it was like a dam broke.

I grieved the loss of my mom all over again, in deeper ways than I was able to face at the time.  I miss her so much.  I want her to be here – to share in my excitement about going to South Sudan, to see pictures of where we will be living, to make plans to come visit us there, to know her grandchildren and be known by them.  As one friend said this week, I want to have her hug at the airport, but I won’t.

I grieved the end to our time in Malawi.  I gave my heart to that place, that ministry, those people.  And yet we had to leave in a way that I never really got to say good-bye.  I never really got closure.

I grieved over the loss of the church family that had become our life-line in the past few years in New York.  The people who knew us in deep ways – the right and the good and the deep, dark, ugly things.  The people who prayed with us and for us.  The people who have walked through our lives with us for the past five years.

I grieved the loss of time – the fact that another year has ended and we are not in Africa yet.  That our time with John is getting shorter and shorter.  I know His hand is in all these things, but the feelings of grief are real and need to be acknowledged.

I grieved hurts from childhood that have popped up in my adult life time and time again.  The loss of innocence, the things I saw that cannot be taken back, the feelings that were stuffed down and spilled out at the wrong times.

And I grieved loss of home.  That is why it has been so very hard to leave MTI.  It was a safe haven.  It was a place where we did not have to explain our hearts or motives.  Where living out of a van for months doesn’t seem so strange.  And it was a place where people spoke into our lives with wisdom, challenge, and love – from experience.  We were not handled with kid gloves, but given every opportunity to grow and know God more while being prepared for the next part of our lives.  We were loved, and we loved.
Whole-heartedly.  And that’s why it felt like home – not just because that’s where we “hung our hats” for a month.  And leaving that home we are back in a different hotel each night, fast food, and uncertainty about the timing of things.

Sometimes I felt it would be easier to just not let myself love the people there.  To isolate our family and not let the kids get their hearts involved. But the quote at the beginning of this was given to us this month, and I realized that the alternative to no suffering was no real love.  I can’t have that  and I can’t teach that to my kids. It’s time to act like a grown woman instead of a little girl.

So Shawn and I are putting on our super hero capes and wading through this grief.  We are learning to communicate with the kids and each other, and giving grace in these times on loss.  Thanks for your prayers during this time.  It’s not fun, but it’s necessary.  And I do thank my God for it – because I would never have wanted to miss it.

Anxiety Wars

(originally written Nov 1, 2018)

Yesterday  I was having a conversation with Shawn about a particular situation we have been working through that went something like this:

Shawn: “How are you feeling?”

Me:  “I feel good.  Like, I actually don’t have any anxiety.  I feel like God truly is going to work this out in a way that tangibly us shows his love for us and he will get the glory.  This is a strange feeling..” (Long pause, overthinking, deep gulp of breath) “And now I have anxiety about not having anxiety!”

Oh, Heather of little faith.

I can chuckle about the whole conversation, but the truth is that it really isn’t funny to be that familiar with stress and so unfamiliar with the peace of laying that at His feet.  I was (over) thinking about it again later and had to start really ask my self some hard questions. How did that brief moment of peace feel, and why is it so foreign to me ? Why is it so uncommon and momentous that I want to write about it?

Let’s be real for a minute here.  Having a moment of panic or anxiety pop up is NOT a sin. It is a natural by-product of our new selves in Him constantly fighting our old selves of the flesh. Add to that the brokenness of this hurting, chaotic world and we are bound to have it attack us sometimes.  I am also not talking about an anxiety that requires medication.  There have been times that I have been on meds for these types of things. The only thing wrong in that case is feeling too embarrassed or weak to seek out help because of it. Those are lies.  However, with the daily, normal stress of everyday there is a problem with allowing oneself to wallow in it, or to jump in head first and whole-heartedly because it feels familiar and – dare I say – safe.  It is easier than the fight.  It is “normal.”

This is where I know some of you are saying, “But what about…” or “You have no idea…”

I understand, friends. I truly do.

You can see from my opening conversation how “normal” anxiety is for me.  As a matter of fact, many counselors all over the world could retire from what my family alone pays in counseling services.  I  second guess myself and my decisions about every little thing. I remember once when I was pregnant for Andrew I had debate within my mind over whether it would be better for our family to have another girl or another boy to add to the crew. I got seriously stressed over it, feeling on the verge of a panic attack before allowing the Spirit to actually breakthrough and give me His peace about the fact that I had ZERO control over the whole situation anyway and – oh yeah –  if the God of the universe, who created every single person and family was in control, then maybe it was ok for me to trust him rather than waste precious sleep time having that debate.

I’m a mess.

I’ve experienced panic attacks in the car on a regular basis since I was a child.  I can think of probable reasons for this beginning, but after 40+ years I somehow had talked myself into believing that this was just who I am and I gave up hope of ever feeling victorious over it.  I made myself believe it is just a part of who I am.

Then I watched my youngest suffer through debilitating panic attacks.   The kind where there is no reasoning, no talking, no loving  that can bring him out of it until he is removed from the situation that brought him into it in the first place.  My maternal instincts kicked into overdrive and I started to do everything I could to help him overcome and find peace.  My hope and celebrations for RJ as I see victories, and the soul-crushing hopelessness that comes when it often seems more like one step forward, two steps back drove me deep into the Father’s arms in ways I had given up on for me. My glimpses of peace made me long for that for my little boy – and for me, and a new type of war began.

Today as I sat in the counselor’s office she was asking me about this very thing.  She mentioned that when you live with something for so long in your life, you don’t know what to do without it and even welcome it back.  I told her about my conversation with Shawn, and she smiled knowingly.  Suddenly I felt a sense of freedom the promise that I am not the only one dealing with this, as well as the reminder that it is not something I always have to hold on to and be “ok” with.  I will do what it takes to be free – whatever that is.  Freedom comes in different ways for each of us, and in each situation. There is no shame in that. 

So today I begin again.

“I’m no longer a slave to fear.  I am a child of God.”