2014 – Focus

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As the first month of the year has come to a close, its time press the publish button on this post, which has been in draft form for several weeks…

Last year I decided to participate in One Word 365 – choosing a word for the year, foregoing New Year’s Resolutions. Last year’s word was Renew. It was a good word for the year. I felt the renewal of many things – joy, energy, goals. It was a word chosen in faith from deep in the shadows of grief, that somehow I could figure out how to fully live again.

While the sadness and missing remain, and always will, at some point this past year the heavy shroud of perpetual grief did lift. And in some ways, because of journeying through those sad, desperate, lonely places, I have felt a deeper sense of the sacredness of this one life I’ve been given. I’ve sensed renewed purpose in my role as mother to all three of my children. God has given me glimpses, as the year drew to a close, of how my daughter’s story and our family’s story has been and continues to be used for His glory. This brings deep joy to my heart – to know that Naomi’s brief life continues to impact others. Obviously, it continues to impact my life and our family’s life, but the ripples gently expand and it is humbling to see.

Turning toward this new year, I find the word focus coming to the forefront of my mind. As my heart has healed I have been able to embrace more activity, more of life. Yet, one of the things that I found in those early days of grief was that I had to create space in my days in order to process all that was in my heart and mind. Grief was a convenient excuse. I have spent a lot of time asking myself, why did I need an excuse to make space in my life? At the same time, as life has gotten busier, I’ve had less of that space in which to sit and think (and write!). Life is full of so many distractions – some helpful, others not so much. To that end, I find the need to focus my time and energies on the things that are the most important to me. I’ve sensed the Lord nudging me toward certain things, laying burdens on my heart and I want to be faithful to those things.

I have profoundly realized that I have been blessed with so. many. choices. Opportunities have been before me all my life. I’ve felt both the privilege and the burden of all these opportunities for quite some time. Often, I’ve interpreted my wide array of opportunities to mean that I should do all these Good Things. As a mom, as a wife, as a professional – I have this sense of I should do it all. But perhaps I am maturing a bit because now I am ready to say – I cannot do everything. In fact, I can’t even do most things. But I can and want to do a few things really well.

So I have a list. I am an INFP personality type, according to Myers-Briggs and as all “P’s” know, lists are more like suggestions than actual things that will be done. Still – it rules out some things. Six things this year that I am going to FOCUS on. It goes like this:

1) Reading God’s Word – soaking it in one book at a time. The past few years I’ve been reading through the whole Bible or large portions of it, which has been great, but this year, I want to really dig deep. And I’m starting in Genesis, which conveniently is the study for our women’s group at church. So excited to delve into this story of beginnings.

2) My Marriage – started out this year with a week long focus on our marriage as we spent seven whole days together, just the two of us (an 2,400 of our closest friends) aboard a cruise ship. Seriously, though, after 10 years of marriage I love him so much more than I did on our wedding day. The past two years have been hard but by God’s grace we are working through it and are growing stronger together. Want to keep that going!

3) My Health – After my bout of sickness the past two months of 2013 that ended with pneumonia, focusing on staying healthy, which for me starts with getting AT LEAST eight hours of sleep on a regular basis, is so important. There are lots of mini goals here to include fitness and healthy eating. Bottom line, when I take care of me I can do what it is I have been called by God to do!

4) My Children – they are one of the most precious gifts I have been given. But being a mom to two boys here on earth and a girl in heaven is not something I ever expected. I am learning to embrace being a boy mom…it keeps getting crazier and sometimes a bit stinky and uncomfortable, but there is so much joy there too. Two books I want to read this year are Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys and Boys Should Be Boys. There are a whole bunch more, but ….focus, remember?

5) My Career – this has been a confusing subject for me for many years. I’ve wrestled with a lot of guilt for working outside the home. But finally, I feel like I’ve come to a place where I am embracing this aspect of my life for the long haul. I am a working mom, a career woman. This year I’ve got some specific goals I’m excited about in this area, but I’m gonna keep those off-line. 🙂

6) Writing – And last but not least, writing…what, when, where, how? All yet to be decided. Here more, I hope. I love words. I always have. I’ve filled many notebooks with ponderings and musings and stories of life and of God. Its a bit scary for me to put out here that writing is something I’m going to actually focus on. I’ve never considered myself a writer. But I’m convinced that our stories are such an important part of who we are and how we come to know the God who created us. I have this dream of telling my stories – stories to give testimony to how God is at work in my life and in the lives of those around me. Stories that I hope bring others closer to Him.

So there it is…written out, by God’s grace. And in that grace I will attempt to focus on just these things in 2014.

on a day i’m needing some courage

DSC05420_2There are some parts of my life right now that I am actually getting excited about again, where I see amazing things happening and I am getting to be part of how God is working in a larger way. Some of those things have come as a direct result of Naomi and the path I’ve gone down since she went to Heaven. I don’t for a minute believe that she had to die for these things to happen. I don’t think God works that way. But I do see that there is good coming out of something that was and will always be bad – because death was never in the plan originally. It wasn’t what we were meant for. We were made to live, to live abundantly. It really does amaze me when I can sit back and see these places where I see life coming out of the death of someone I love so very much and out of my deep grief. I am thankful for that.

But then there are these other parts of my life that feel so incredibly hard and insurmountable. These are things that were there before we knew Naomi was sick. For a large part of this past year I just ignored them because I couldn’t handle anything else and really I found I didn’t care so much about those things because I was hurting so badly. But recently I’ve been starting to face them, to wake up, so to speak, once again to these realities. Today, it all seemed so big that I just wanted to give up (and just maybe the screaming and fighting and needs of two little boys on top of these things was just pushing me a bit over the edge?)

One of the things that I have found in myself over this past year is, I guess, courage. Perhaps I could call it candor? I struggle incredibly with self-doubt and with wanting to please others. However, this past year I think that I have come to a place of seeing how futile the self-doubt truly is. I’ve begun to learn to trust more of how I hear the Lord speaking to me and who he has made me to be. And because I have faced what I never thought I could face, I’ve learned a courage that is not built on my own strength, but on a deep knowledge of my weakness and God’s all sufficient strength. So these things in life that feel really hard? I know I need courage to face them, but courage and patience, candor and wisdom to do it in God’s strength and as he leads.

This afternoon with these thoughts in my head (and after escaping to the park with those two energetic boys) I opened up my copy of Jesus Today by Sarah Young, asking God to speak some words of strength to my flailing heart. This book of devotionals are written as if Jesus is speaking directly to the reader. Sitting on a bench in the shade while sand flew through the air and a hole to China was being dug, this is what I read:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be discouraged, for I will be with you wherever you go. You can choose to be strong and courageous even when you are feeling very weak. However, the weaker you feel, the more effort it takes to choose to be strong. It all depends on where you look. If you gaze at yourself and your problems, your courage will melt away. The choice to be bold rests on your confidence that I am with you and for you…When everything seems to be going wrong, refuse to get discouraged. Remember that I am a God of surprises: I am not limited by the way things are or by the paltry possibilities you can see. I am infinitely creative and powerful…I am good to those who wait for Me.

One of the verses that went along with this entry was Lamentations 3:25-26, one of my favorite passages of Scripture this past year:

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

I so needed to hear these words of truth today. Sometimes it is hard for me to hope for good things in the future, because often I have a very specific idea of what that looks like and yet I know that what I think would be good for me and my family may not actually be what is best. It is hard to hope and dream after one has had their dreams shattered because you wonder if those dreams were right and if they were then why didn’t God bring them to fruition? I don’t understand God’s ways. But I am seeking to trust him and follow him because even though I don’t understand him, I know, deep in my soul, that he is good, that he loves me and that somehow he will bring redemption and restoration to all that is lost.

Ruthless Trust

“Unwavering trust is a rare and precious thing because it often demands a degree of courage that borders on the heroic. When the shadow of Jesus’ cross falls across our lives in the form of failure, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, unemployment, loneliness, depression, the loss of a loved one; when we are deaf to everything but the shriek of our own pain; when the world around us suddenly seems a hostile, menacing place – at those times we may cry out in anguish, “How could a loving God permit this to happen?” At such moments the seeds of distrust are sown. It requires heroic courage to trust in the love of God no matter what happens to us… I can state unequivocally that childlike surrender in trust is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship. And I would add that the supreme need in most of our lives is often the most overlooked – namely for an uncompromising trust in the love of God. Furthermore, I would say that, while there are times when it is good to go to God as might a ragged beggar to the King of kings, it is vastly superior to approach God as a little child would approach his or her papa.”

– Brennan Manning, from Ruthless Trust

I was struck by this quote posted on the friend of a friend’s Facebook wall the other day (one time when I appreciated that statuses of people I don’t know show up in my news feed when one of my friend’s like’s their status). I feel like I need some of that heroic courage…to have ruthless trust in the love of God.

Honestly, I am really struggling with the sovereignty of God in the face of Naomi’s death. I know I’m not the first and I won’t be the last. But sometimes it makes me want to jump out of my skin because everything in me screams out that this is wrong. Children are NOT supposed to suffer and die and I can’t make sense of it. I don’t understand why God permits these things.

The one and only thing I have to cling to is the fact that Jesus suffered and died on the cross because of all of this. Because evil had corrupted our very beings so that even in the womb a little body can be malformed. Yes, he died to redeem our souls, but I believe more than ever before that we are both body and soul. He died to redeem every part of fallen creation. I long desperately to see that redemption become a reality, to be done with the pain and the suffering. But knowing that Jesus didn’t just love me from afar in His perfection, but rather came here and experienced all the wretchedness of sin and suffering, that is what gives me the first glimmer of hope.

Weird that I find hope in the suffering of Jesus, huh? Anyone who’s been a follower of Christ would say, “Of course, that’s where our hope is!”  But I feel like I’m seeing this in a new way. I guess its akin in a small way to how it feels to talk to another mom who has also lost a child. There is an immediate connection that we both know this deep pain, that we experienced something that we thought would kill us, and a part of us is gone with our children, but we are still here, still standing and trying to learn how to live even while a part of us has died.

I know I could have absolutely nothing to do with a God who said he loved me yet left this world to suffer, even though we did and do bring it on ourselves. His willingness to identify with me, with my suffering, with my daughter’s suffering, draws me to Him. It speaks of a love that IS stronger than death. A Love that reignites a spark of hope in my heart. Someone loves me THAT much. A Love that was so powerful and so pure that death could not conquer Him.

Right now, there is just a little, flickering light of hope, kept alive by Love. And yes, I’m camping out on Calvary, at the cross and in the suffering. Yes, I know He rose again and He gained the victory. But today, right now, I don’t see the victory and am not ready to celebrate. I believe and know that one day I will see all things restored, the final victory over death accomplished. But today I stand beside the cross, beside Naomi’s grave and am so grateful that my God came and walked this path through the valley of the shadow of death and He is walking it with me even now.

Steadfast Love

Busy days we’ve had here lately, with many ups and downs. Grief is like riding the ocean waves, sometimes its calm and peaceful and then without warning a storm is upon you and all you can do is hold on to God for dear life. And He is faithful to stay close by through every up and down.

I found out that Corrie Ten Boom is on Facebook…who knew! 🙂 She was born April 15, 1892. From her FB page: “Cornelia ten Boom was a Dutch Christian, who with her father and other family members helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II.” The book, The Hiding Place, tells the story of her life during WWII as she and her family hid many Jews from the Nazis and eventually her whole family was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. This quote was posted on her FB page today:

Often I have heard people say, “How good God is! We prayed that it would not rain for our church picnic, and look at the lovely weather!” Yes, God is good when He sends good weather. But God was also good when He allowed my sister, Betsie, to starve to death before my eyes in a German concentration camp. I remember one occasion when I was very discouraged there. Everything around us was dark, and there was darkness in my heart. I remember telling Betsie that I thought God had forgotten us. “No, Corrie,” said Betsie, “He has not forgotten us. Remember His Word: “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.” Corrie concludes, “There is an ocean of God’s love available – there is plenty for everyone. May God grant you never to doubt that victorious love – whatever the circumstances.”

Here is a woman who lived through some of the darkest times in the history of mankind. She experienced unspeakable horrors committed by one human upon another. She knew and experienced that GOD IS GOOD in every circumstance of her life. That ocean of God’s love is what kept her afloat both during her years in the camp and for the rest of her life. I take great encouragement from her example. The suffering I have experienced is so little compared to what she experienced. And yet we both know the same God who is steadfast in His love toward us. Thank you, God, for Corrie Ten Boom. Thank you for her faithfulness to You and for her willingness to suffer for Your sake and for those who were unjustly persecuted.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of these past days…the days where we’ve seen clearly the steadfast love of the Lord.

My three year old’s first day of Preschool!

Cool dude riding in the car

Checking out the firetruck at the Hope Heart Picnic Saturday.

This is an annual event hosted by the cardiology group that cared for Naomi. Heart patients and their families enjoy a fun afternoon picnic. It was bittersweet to be there without Naomi, but we also got to catch up with some families we met while at the Ronald MacDonald House and it was so great to see their little ones doing so well. Plus the boys had a ton of fun! And we loved seeing so many of the nurses and doctors who also became like family to us this summer. The boys got to each have a special shirt, intended for the child who was the heart patient. The shirts say “25 Years of Giving HOPE”.

Mr. G busting a move at the picnic.

Super cool Spidey face paint!

The green eyed monster…

Pony rides!

Love!

Thank you, God, for my children and for how they lead me closer to You.