Facing the Emptiness

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I have baby onesies with no pudgy legs to fill them. I have space where I hung dresses for a job I didn’t get.

Having empty space in our lives, doesn’t mean we’re called to endure emptiness. Once a woman wept outside an empty tomb and was met by the hope of the world.

Remember Mary, the shamed woman whose heart was seen by Jesus? In Him, she was most likely cherished for the first time. Then she witnessed the desire of her heart mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross.

Mary’s new identity was mercilessly pinned to a piece of wood. Her hope was in Jesus. And now it hung lifeless for the whole world to see.

Our desires may be holy and epic!  For me, wanting to adopt is that one desire I feel I’ve been watching die a gruesome death. It’s out of my hands.  All I can do is stand aside and feel the fool for believing. Have you ever felt this way; that God entrusted you with a longing but it seems it’s a no-go?

I’m guessing Mary may have felt this way. She proclaimed the hope of the world had come, and the next day they rolled a stone sealing His grave.

Still, she knelt outside the tomb, where her unmet expectations lay buried and dead.

Dying to self is a true death.  And it’s OK to treat it that way. As long as we don’t forget: We worship a God of resurrection!

Mary went to Jesus’ tomb, terrified and confused to find it hollow. She pleaded with the angels, asking where they’d taken him. (John 20:11-18). It’s not that she wanted Jesus to be dead, but it’s what she expected.

Sometimes, we’re so busy focusing on the hollowness of a situation…we miss the hallelujah!

We’re so much like Mary. If we’ve watched a desire of our heart be abused and buried, we visit the grave expecting it to stay that way forever.

We forget what hope looks like. When this happens, we can miss it staring us in the face.

Hope looks like Jesus.

Hope is Jesus.

Mary didn’t even recognize Him when he appeared to her outside the tomb. She mistakes him for the gardener!  (John 20:15) She was seized by the fact things didn’t remain irredeemable. The world was whispering, “What’s the point? What you hoped for is still dead.”

But the world lies. There’s always a resurrection!  Whatever’s  lifeless, looks different after revival.

Jesus looked different. He was glorified. (Philippians 2:20-21) I think it’s why Mary didn’t recognize Him right away.

It’s the same with the desires of our hearts. It’s not that they aren’t lovely, but God has something planned to take our breath away! Something we haven’t considered. Something impossible.

This. Is. Faith. Standing outside a graveyard and believing resurrection will come.

We’re completing our Foster Certification. Something mind you, we said we’d NEVER do. God, through the past five years of loss and frustration, has been tirelessly crafting our powdered dreams into something completely different than what we expected to see. The idea of becoming Foster Parents was our equivalent of Mary mistaking Jesus for the gardener. We initially flipped out, “Where have you taken our dead dream?!!” I just wanted to remain face down, ugly crying like Mary.

Sometimes, it’s easier to sit in disappointment then to step into the unknown. This is a big unknown for us! But I know the sweet face of hope. I refuse to mistake Him.

We’re approaching a desolate space and expecting the impossible to happen.

We’re expecting God to resurrect all that was lost.

We’re expecting desires to look different.

Standing right in front of us, could be the glorified, holy, resurrected will for our lives.

God has the tender ability to resurrect ANY situation in our life. Check out these Bible verses for inspiration:  God’s Word-Marked by Love -Resurrection

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Someone’s Going to Get Hurt.

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Once, I swung open the front door of my mini-van, jumped inside, heard a growl, peeked over my shoulder and found myself face to face with two black dogs.

Seriously, who the heck put their stinkin’ dogs in my mini-van?!

Um. Yeah. Not my mini-van.

It’s a bit terrifying how long it took to realize my mistake.

No one in the van was happy…and somebody definitely peed a little.

Here’s the deal: Don’t climb into someone else’s mini-van uninvited. It doesn’t matter how much it looks like yours. Same goes for our lives. Someone may appear to have a similar life, outlook, circumstance, parenting triumph or woe – but until you’ve entered in, you’ve no clue what’s really going on inside.

Never assume. It’s a waste of time. And don’t barge in. It’s too risky.

Wait to be invited.

This can be so tricky. Especially if the door of their life appears wide open.  Dusty goldfish are pouring out, the leaking juice box under the backpack has puddled next to a runaway credit card. You just want to offering a suggestion…right?! Stop. There could be some snarling teeth in there. Someone’s going to get hurt.

I can’t tell you how many friendships in my life have been strained because we’ve felt judged by one another.  It makes all of us shut down and pull away. Ask yourself two questions:

  1. Have I established mutual trust with this person?

If you haven’t known this person long, and you get all up in their business, it can feel like judgement. It may not be your heart! But remember, they don’t trust you yet. It’s not fair to expect them to know your intentions. Be wise and hold your tongue. But love them like crazy. Be a constant in their life.

  1. Has this person indicated they want your opinion?

I have friends who I know don’t want my opinion- even though they love and trust me. Bummer is, I’m still prone to give it. We’ve got to know our audience y’all.  It’s hard for this Italian/Irish girl to shut it down! I’m learning at the speed of molasses – I need to discipline myself in this area.

Does your friend let her kids watch rated R movies at the age of nine…guess what?!

That’s not your mini-van!

Or maybe a friend doesn’t believe in vaccinations, or home-school, or private school, or public school, or any school!!

Yeah. That’s not your mini-van either. Get out girl!

It’s hard to be a mom these days. Everyone and every book out there hisses, “You’re doing it wrong” or, “You can do it better.” Our generation has trouble trusting God can equip us properly.

We turn to the next, “How to…” book, before we turn to God’s book.

We ask Siri before we ask the Spirit.

I believe the enemy’s in this; undermining our God-given instincts to parent our children well. He uses social media, articles and most aggressively- he baits us to tear each other down. We don’t need to be another blasting horn of judgement towards our sisters! God’s heart is for us to, “Encourage one another and build each other up.”(1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Don’t know how to do this? I think it starts with less worrying about getting into someone else’s life, and inviting them authentically into your own. Living out grace is a powerful witness and gift; loving people regardless of their parenting choices. If a friend does ask your opinion, it’s a safe place to practice honesty. Any fiery pups in her mini-van should know you well enough not to snap.

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P.S. If you feel convicted that God truly wants you to speak into a certain area of someone’s life, be obedient! But pray over it. Then pray again…and then three more times. Be sure it’s from the Lord and not your inner-conscious.  When this happens, frame the conversation cautiously and with grace, “I’ve had you on my heart lately.”  That’s it. Then pray God leads the conversation.

Keep the Advice…I’ll Take the Sucker

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Sometimes Mamma’s need help. But all the time, they need grace.

Once upon a time, at Trader Joes, I allowed my three angels to push their own mini-carts. So…they decided to play bumper carts down the aisle of wine bottles. Smack in the middle of the horrific scene, another mom sauntered by, her two children peacefully pushing one cart and said,

“You know, it’s really not the best idea to let each of your children have a cart.”

I don’t remember what I said. But I did not say,

“Wow, that’s such wonderful advice. You’ve helped me feel like a non-idiot. You clearly care about me and the six shattered Merlots I’m about to pay for.”

Yeah. I did not say that.

Moments later, a heroic Trader Joe’s worker, rushed to my side as I confiscated the horrid mini-carts. I was attempting to balance all three on top of my big one.  She gently offered the kiddos a sucker while I completed my mission.

I look back on this day and ask myself- Which character in this embarrassing story do I want to be? Our words and actions, even well intended, are pathways.

Here are key questions I’m learning to consider:

  • Is what I say or do, leading someone down a hallway to God’s love? Or, is it a route to my own self-validation?
  • Will this help them feel better, or me feel better?
  • Which corridor am I nudging people towards when I come to their aid?

I don’t think the mamma at Trader Joe’s had a heart to help me.  She wanted to make it clear, she knew more about this parenting thing than me. I’m super guilty of behaving this way, too. We all struggle with insecurities when we seek validation outside of God’s love.

Once I shamed a mamma for packing her daughter marshmallows as a ‘healthy snack.’ Not my finest moment. But advising her how not to feed her children, validated the way I chose to feed mine.  It was vain. God’s word makes it clear, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

Holding my tongue is just as hard as the Bible says. God’s shown me, sometimes I don’t really want to help, I want to be heard. If being heard by others becomes more important than loving them, we’ve missed the mark big time. This is true in our friendships, marriages and everyday encounters.

Jesus didn’t say, the greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with your heart…And the second is to give judgmental advice to all the tired moms on your street.”

Nope. He said, “‘Love the Lord your God…  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)

How did you feel loved when you were in this bleary-eyed stage? Consider those things…and then do them for others. Next time you see a crazy mamma balancing mini-carts in Trader Joe’s, help her get the third one up with a smile.  She doesn’t need your advice, she needs your grace.

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Don’t Hoard “What Could’ve Been”

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I have papers filed, stuffed, and strategically tucked away…much like the grief attached to them.

I have official binders of completed Home Studies, one for Ghana, one for Domestic. Another folder filled with the remnants of our Ethiopia dossier. Love letters addressed, “To Our baby from Africa, From Big Sister Ciana,” randomly skydive out of shelves when I tug at a book. It’s routine for me to tenderly tuck them back in the crevice they escaped. It’s routine for me to cry as I do it.

God pressed my heart yesterday,

Why are you keeping all these papers?

Papers have no power.

I struggle releasing the hope that the International Adoption Program in Ghana will re-open. What if it did?! Even if I made gazillion copies of these documents…they’re all expired.

Yet, there’s no expiration date on hope.

When God calls the Israelites to enter the Promise land, He tells them…

“You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” (Deuteronomy 1:6)

It was time to move forward to the new place God had prepared; A land of hope. If you’re familiar with the story, they had major trouble trusting in God’s promise.  They’d rather be literal SLAVES in Egypt then to trust God’s call to move forward.

We all do this. We make ourselves slaves to the past. We’re terrified God doesn’t have a better way. So we remain on timed-out mountain-tops and needlessly wander the wilderness.

His word reminds us, “As for God, his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30)

Don’t hoard what could’ve been.  It devours valuable soul space.

Stop asking, Lord, what-if…

Start asking,  Lord, what- now?

If we don’t, we may miss the new thing God has for us.

“ See, I am doing a new thing!
   Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19) 

Snapshots of the past 5 years have indeed, looked like a spiritual trudge through wasteland. I want to perceive new things God’s springing up in my life. Physical things can clutter the halls of our spiritual house. I’m making room. But it’s not easy.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw all the papers away. I’m constantly handing my heart over for God to complete his work in me. However, I did consolidate them and move them into a garage space. Now they can’t ambush my peace. I’ll only revisit them if God calls me to.

God’s faithfully held me as I’ve mourned on this mountain for a season. But  I’ve been here long enough. It’s time to follow Him to new territory.

Honestly, there’s still sorrow in the descent.

Honestly,  I have no clear vision of where He’s leading.

I know it’s a land of hope.

I know in order for him to make a “new way”…He’s asked me to move all the papers off the path.



Don’t Cry Mom

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Don’t cry Mom.

I know you and Dad saw a piece of our early childhood bruised and lonely. The owners neglected it like a stray cat. Its ribs poking out, its rosy complexion, pale and lifeless. Your nostalgic ‘drive by’ led you to the ugliest house on the block. The cushy grass you trampled to scoop us after a fall, is crunchy and brown. The sidewalk where Dad chased close behind as I learned to ride my bike, is cracked and uneven. Not a trace of tender attention you’d poured into it was reflected in the rear-view mirror.

Don’t be sad.

That house wasn’t built to last. The space where your grandchildren gather to giggle and bake, won’t last either. The olive tree in the front that every neighborhood kid triumphantly climbed, has already passed away. The gaping hole where it once reached to the sky, reminds me, life is a breath.

Houses of wood and stone and brick crumble. The branches of epic climbing trees rot away.

I want you and Dad to know one thing…

You’ve built a house for me more gorgeous than any Zillow listing; 

A house built on Christ, the solid rock.

When you prayed over dinner, over sickness or at the foot of my bed as I drifted off…

 A strong foundation was poured-

Prayer wasn’t only for hard times.

Prayer was for all times.

Prayer was for everything in my life.

When you brought us to spend long afternoons piecing together puzzles with widows like ‘Grandma Myrtle’, I didn’t understand…

 A thoughtful frame was being pieced together-

Love is patient & kind.

Everyone is worthy.

 I was worthy.

When you’d order bags of extra hamburgers at Burger King to hand out to the homeless man after church, I was unsure of the filthy, life-worn hands grabbing at the food…

Strong walls were being raised in my life-

God sees everyone.

God loves everyone.

God sees and loves me.

When I woke up exhausted the morning of my baptism burdened with bad dreams, you helped me get dressed. You rolled down my ruffled sock whispering, ‘There’s an enemy. He doesn’t want you to get baptized. You cannot let him win’…

The roof of my spiritual house was secured-

I would experience fierce battles in my life.

My God was stronger and fiercer.

God made me strong and fierce.

Now that I’m a Mommy, I want my precious kiddos to dwell in a solid spiritual house like the one you created for me.  I thought of this as I baptized my children, your grandchildren, in the very pool you’ve generously opened up to friends and neighbors for the past 32 years. I felt God beaming with pride as Aaron and I dipped their precious heads back into the water.

The Great Commission starts in the home. I learned this from you. I’m aware God will equip us to build a spiritual house with a unique rhythm and calling.

But it’s not a new house.

We’re expanding the construction you’ve started. Just as you added a fresh wing to what your parents crafted for you.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock”. Matthew 7:24-25

Mom and Dad, the rain has fallen, the floods have come, winds have blown and beaten on the house…but it has not fallen. It never will.

One day, we’ll dwell in the house of the Lord together, forever.  The grass will never turn a dusty brown and paint will never peel. There will be more than one olive tree for your grandchildren, and their great grandchildren to climb. I imagine we’d have tears of joy…if tears were allowed. But they’re not. So don’t cry Mom.



Church and State Separated by a Foot

 

feet1-3“I HAVE TO GET BAPTIZED! LIKE…RIGHT NOW!’

The rambunctious audience hushed. It was a stuffy 98 degrees, egg salad stench elbowed it’s way down the aisle. I might throw up. But this. Every annoyance slipped into the background. My eyes welled up, looking at this 10-year-old girl who had just catapulted off her seat.  She was serious and passionate. Having given her heart to Jesus just weeks before, she meant business.

Emily, if you want to get baptized, we’ll make sure it happens!

You may imagine this took place during Sunday school. Nope.

This scene played out on the side of the road, in a 20-year-old trailer…outside a Public School.  This is my first year teaching ‘Chapel on Wheels’. If you’re not familiar, public school kiddos get permission from their parents to trek out to a hot, crowded, sometimes smelly, propped up, blessed trailer.

Church and state are separated by 12 inches out on the curb.

All across Orange County, kids give up their lunch recess to participate.

Why?!

To hear about Jesus.

To know they’re loved.

To believe they matter.

Last week, a woman from South Africa peeked in utter confusion, Is this a Church?!

Well…kind of. For 45 minutes…it’s church to these kids.

She threw her hands up, AH! Can you believe it?! They took God out of schools and kicked him out on the street!!

It made me laugh out loud. It does sound ironically sad. But believe me, God can’t be kicked out of any place. Satan is such a liar. It’s both laughable and infuriating.

Joseph was told there was no room at the inn for Jesus to be born. (Luke 2:6-7)

Guess what?

No room, did NOT mean, No Jesus.

He still came.

We may not like the thought of our precious King being born in stable. Many grieve that there is no longer room for Jesus in the Public schools. But guess what?!

No room, does NOT mean, No Jesus.

He still comes.

People we love may fix a ‘NO ROOM FOR JESUS’ sign atop their relationships.

No room, does NOT mean Jesus hasn’t come for them, either. He may be waiting a foot away from their heart-wrenching defiance.

Joseph and Mary didn’t go far from those that denied them space. They stayed close to the walls that kept them out, confident Jesus would be delivered.

At times, God will call us to remain near to walls, circumstances, governments and friendships that have no room for Jesus. I want to encourage you to stand strong and don’t give up on them! God knows you love them. He loves them more. He passionately desires to be delivered into their hearts. He may be asking you to be the midwife. Jesus is coming!

A stinky stable didn’t keep kings, wise men and shepherds from coming to see Jesus. And apparently, a stinky trailer hasn’t kept rowdy 5th graders from him either! God can do his thing anywhere.

‘KEEP OUT’ signs are really ‘KEEP PRAYING’ signs.

We can sit outside public schools, government buildings, brothels, broken relationships, fractured families and pray. No wall, no law, no enemy can keep Jesus out.

I say this confidently!  Twenty kids accepted Jesus as Lord in our funky little trailer this year. I never imagined this happening. Emily is getting baptized, along with other kids from Chapel on Wheels this Sunday. We didn’t have to go into the schools. We simply had to nestle ourselves up against the cold curb and deliver Jesus. He came.

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

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Encouraging Facts:

Chapel on Wheels (aka Released Time), came to LA in 1942. Yorba Linda started the program in 1953, starting with just 3 schools and 1 trailer. NOW, the Placentia/Linda School District has 7 trailers, 21 schools and a staff of 52 volunteers! The program averages 356 students in our local community. So awesome.

Mamma Crossroads & Pinterest Fails

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The night before Micah’s class party, I noticed an unread message in my Inbox.  The Class Mom was thanking me for volunteering to bring the Carrot & Celery Turkey Cups…

Turkey Cups?! UGH! I thought I’d signed up for carrot and celery sticks.

Apparently, I didn’t scroll down to the bottom of her previous email. I’d missed the Pinterest example she’d attached. How could I make such a rookie mistake?!

If having elementary school kiddos has taught me anything, it’s ALWAYS scroll to the END of email messages. For real. Read. The. Whole. Thing.

If you don’t, you’ll miss crucial sentences:

  • Please have your child dress like his/her favorite super hero
  • RSVP yesterday or your kids won’t get a party favor
  • Shhhhh! It’s a surprise!!

It was too late to make a frantic Michael’s run. A crazy-lady-mental- inventory would have to suffice:

Plastic cups.

Brown paper.

I THINK I have orange paper.

But those eyes…no way I was cutting teensy-tiny circles this late.

I’m pretty sure I have sticky googly eyes in the closet. Although, I’m not sure why…

Ah, yes…I had googly eyes. But not one was the same size!

I was at a Mamma crossroads: Do I use what I have, or just throw in the towel?

Isn’t life like that? We don’t have the ‘perfect’ thing to offer, so we’re tempted to offer nothing.

If it’s not mismatched googly eyes, it’s a house that’s too small for gatherings, only an hour a week to write or lasagna that’s not as good as mom’s.

So why help in the classroom?

Why invite people over?

Why write a blog?

It’s hard to give from areas we feel less than. The enemy hisses in these shallow spaces, God can’t use this, don’t even bother.

Really, Satan?!!

 Because, I remember a boy who offered five small loaves and two small fish. Jesus used it to feed multitudes. (John 6:9)

I know a story about a widow who offered a little oil and a handful flour. God never allowed her jars to run dry. (1 Kings 17:7-16)

There once was a man slow of speech and tongue. He was hesitant to offer his voice. God used him to stand against Pharaoh and set his people free. (Exodus 4:10)

As a Mamma, sometimes all I can offer is a pile of dirty dishes, never-ending laundry, sick kiddos and pets I forget to feed. We all have moments like Moses saying to God,  Are you sure you want this? I don’t have much to offer you.

Offer it anyway.

He sees every scrap of bread, shaky insecurity, dirty sock and mismatched googly eye we raise up to him.  He’ll use it! He delights in making small things significant.

God gives us joy when we give from our shortage, rather than our supply.

This creates space for God to show up, not only in our lives, but in the lives of others. Jesus fed hungry masses in response to a boy’s meager offering. He provided security for the widow’s child when she presented a handful of flour. Moses set people free, laying bare his shortcomings, trusting God to use them.

The kiddos and I giggled up late finishing those silly cups.  Life isn’t always dramatic. Those awful turkeys didn’t set any captives free, but God handed us back layers of laughter that overflowed into the classroom the next morning.

We used what we had. It was enough for God to turn into joy.

A Marked Life:

Share how God used something small you offered and multiplied it into something unexpected! Click on ‘Comments’ on the top left.

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