To A Place of Abundance

For you, O God, tested us;

you refined us like silver.

You brought us into prison and laid burden on our backs.

You let men ride over our heads; we went through

fire and water

But you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:10-12

 

Verses like these never used to make sense to me.  Refining, prison, fire, water, over our heads…all just words.  All just writings that I never truly laid meaning to until now.  Now?  Now those words stand out at me and penetrate deep.   Each sentence bearing witness to what our family went through, is going through, and the place we are now in.

So many days I felt like I was in prison, surrounded by four cinderblock walls that I couldn’t move if I tried to.  Huddled over with fear, disappointment, and pain half the time it felt like I was drowning and then the other half of the time it felt like I was on fire.  But what can you do?  Certain things in life are unalterable, you have to live through it.  You have to bear it and somehow live with the hope of knowing it can’t possibly be like this forever.

I think too that I used to read verses like this and have to push aside feelings of anger at God.  Afterall, it doesn’t sound like a very nice place to be!  God, why would you let your child go through things like that?  Like this?  These verses sound torturous to go through.  It used to not make any sense to me at all, these days, however, they are crystal clear.

I've spent hours staring at this picture.  Not only because I was holding Gideon skin to skin, not only because in this picture he was giving the few audible breathes I heard him take, but because I am so oddly intrigued by the fact that beyond that curtain I am literally cut open.  I was laid bare in this picture, physically and emotionally and many times I wondered if I could actually heal.  The scar is there, its a part of me now.  But God is in the business of stitching up our wounds and He has been gentle and true.

I’ve spent hours staring at this picture. Not only because I was holding Gideon skin to skin, not only because in this picture he was giving the few audible breathes I heard him take, but because I am so oddly intrigued by the fact that beyond that curtain I am literally cut open. I was laid bare in this picture, physically and emotionally and many times I wondered if I could actually heal. The scar is there, its a part of me now. But God is in the business of stitching up our wounds and He has been gentle and true.

I wouldn’t take away one ounce of the pain.  I wouldn’t trade my seconds with Gideon for the whole world and I wouldn’t change the way it molded me.  It hurt.  It hurts.  And those days were so hard.  But there was goodness in them that cannot be described only lived.  And now as I read toward the end of the passage I read about this place of abundance.  A place I wondered if it really existed.  It does.

Its like whats left is all that is good.  I still miss Gideon, I always will, and I had a silent giggle to myself in church as I decided that I was simply living history’s longest pregnancy.  Instead of carrying Gideon in my belly I carry him with me every single day, but someday he will be mine to hold.  But in these past weeks I have experienced joy, laughter, and love for my family and friends that I have never experienced before.  This place of abundance is a nice place to be.  There is freedom after the storm.  There is relief.  There is joy and there is abundance.  And it is no longer based on circumstances or happy things, times, or events.  Its joy of the soul, its a place of happiness regardless of life because it simply is.  

I think before if I had actually believed such a happiness existed I probably would have tried to find it.  I don’t think I honestly did.  But I know now, and I am thankful to be able to tell you about it too.  Its a rush.

I think my mother in law Debbie experienced some of the rush last week.  My mom made beautiful cards out of her Shades of Peace painting and gave some to Debbie for her birthday.  The day after her birthday Debbie sent me and emailing overflowing with excitement and ideas about all the amazing things we could do with these Shades of Peace cards.  She writes, “I have tears in my eyes and cannot type these words fast enough . . . I’ve had a quiet moment of reflection with only one little one in the house today and I believe God has spoken to my heart this morning.   We all know without a shadow of doubt that God wants our family to use Gideon’s life to help others.  It is so amazing how He works in such subtle ways, but here it is!!  I just want to scream THE NOTE CARDS!!!!”

I think a lot of us have been were Debbie was.  A wave of excitement, passion, energy overflows within us and in that moment we know that God is with us.  That God is speaking.  That He is real, He is here, and He loves us!  But then the moment passes.  A little time goes on and we wonder…wait…was that really God.  Hmmmmm?  I don’t know maybe I was just being crazy…Then life continues to happen and we move on, never letting ourselves fully sink into the hope and the joy that comes we recognizing how powerful God’s presence really and truly can be.

Later that day, Debbie decided to ask Him.  Just straight up ask Him, “God was that really you afterall?  Were you really speaking to me?”  Debbie is our deal hunter and she frequents yard sales and Goodwill to provide all her grandkids with the world’s best and largest selection of toys.  This particular trip to Goodwill, God had something to say, and there sitting on the shelf when she arrived was a brand new Gideon Blue Peace bear.

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Yes God is there.  Yes God is speaking and Yes He does allow painful things to come in our lives.  Some pain more than we think we can handle.  But may we all reside together believing that yes, there is a place of abundance.  And its a wonderful place to be.

Have you ever had a time like this?  A moment, an hour, a day where you were sure God was with you…but then you doubted?  Go back to Him.  Maybe He is waiting to bring you to a place of abundance too.

 

Being Gideon Strong

I’ve had quite a few teary moments these past two weeks.  A little more than usual.  I think a big piece of me is moving on and another big piece of me is not ready to yet.  And so, it has felt really good to cry.  Its like when I cry I can put myself back into the moment I was holding him.  Or back into the moment when I was pregnant with him.  Back into any moment with…well…with Gideon.

During one of those teary moments I started thinking about a phrase thats become a part of our family: “Gideon Strong.”  Over and over again it rang through my head…

Gideon Strong

Gideon Strong

Gideon Strong

This precious necklace I wear around my neck, another piece of jewelry I am thankful for.  So many things I appreciate to have daily to remind me of true strength.

This precious necklace I wear around my neck, another piece of jewelry I am thankful for. So many things I appreciate to have daily to remind me of true strength.  I look at them, take a deep breath (sometimes shed a few tears) and remember all that is truly important in this life.

I became amazed at how much that phrase really means and I found myself digging back through the story of Gideon in the Bible.  Did you know, that Gideon’s army defeated the Midianites without ever going to battle?  God gave them a battle that included making the enemy so confused that they actually just ran away.  There Gideon and his army stood, holding torches and horns and without even a weapon they stood there victorious.  Without even a weapon.  With no human strength whatsoever.

All of my weapons have been taken away too.  Any sense of control I thought I once had is gone and I find myself deep in the throws of clinging to Gideon type strength and really reflecting back on exactly what that means.  Gideon type strength is God focused trust.  Thats it and thats all.

Many people through this process have told me, “Your faith is so strong.  You are so strong.”  I would like to emphatically take this opportunity to emphasize that by definition any strength of my own is the very opposite of the strength that God proved through my Gideon.  My Gideon, my son, proved to this momma, this family, once and for all that the only real strength is to have faith that there is goodness and provision through a God that loves us very much.  I write all of this mostly as a reminder to myself.  Reminders help me grieve.  Reminders help me continue to grow through the pain.  Reminders, well, they help me remember.

“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

God’s Word continues to surprise and exceed, always exceeding expectations.  Dear friends of ours sent us a thank you card today and in it was that verse.  A verse that I have always loved, but never came to the surface during these past months of trial and grief.  But today they were just what I needed, once again God coming to the rescue to bring meaning to the thoughts that have been weighing on my heart and mind.

Its just that isn’t it?  Gideon Strong, its being perfect in our weakness.  Its constantly acknowledging that in this life there is pain, sickness, death, and hurt.  These days, they are never automatic, but Christ’s power is available to anyone who reaches out to grab it.  Its there.  The difficult thing is claiming the weakness, the very thing that causes the heartache, the sorrow, the pain…and claiming it as power.  I promise you, somehow in God’s mysterious ways, claiming weakness as power is a mighty thing.  Suddenly the world cannot hurt you anymore.  Suddenly I can do it, because Christ’s power is now mine to lean on.  Suddenly, though the storm still rages, you can find something to hold onto.

So many beautiful mysteries…

Peace within the pain.

Hope despite the death.

Unafraid though trials are imminent.

90 minutes impacting a lifetime.

Strength through weakness.

 

Vacations usually wipe us ALL out.  With the kids not going to bed until 11 and activity that goes strong all day, there can be room for complaining or fatigue.  Not this time though.  This vacation was different.  From the 2 year old to the 32 year old there was always a peace with us.

Vacations usually wipe us ALL out. With the kids not going to bed until 11 and activity that goes strong all day, there can be room for complaining and tiredness. Not this time though. This vacation was different. From the 2 year old to the 32 year old there was always a sense of strength present.  A constant and ever present motivation to overcome bad attitudes, negative thoughts, or unnecessary feuds to get to the good stuff.

 

Rainy Days and Flat Tires

Standing in the middle of the parking lot at 10:00pm with a flat tire did not feel very hopeful.  Especially since the said flat tire was completely my fault.  Who knew high curbs could literally pop your tire like a balloon?

I stood there, a litany of blame and embarrassment whirling through my brain wondering how on earth we were going to be able to leave at 5:00am the next morning as planned.  Its hard when a thoroughly thought out plan suddenly gets completely derailed and with three kids, three states, and four places to sleep over we had a pretty tight schedule.

I couldn’t change it, I couldn’t control it, and I couldn’t get what I wanted.  But as our days on vacation continued to unfold Dave and I over and over again thanked God for that flat tire.  He made our vacation much much better.  Much more peaceful and slow.  Much more enjoyable for our children, for us, and for all the people we love that we got to spend time with.  Yes, travelling is hard and there have been plenty of moments of havoc and chaos.  But in between those moments there have been memories being made.  Memories that we pray will outlast any nuances like flat tires or rainy 4th of July’s.  But swimming in the rain made it that much more awesome and we got to swim with precious family that we would not have seen if it weren’t for the flat tire.

So even the ones that are embarrassing, even the ones that derail seemingly good plans…even those changes are worth the deep breath and the embracing of all that is out of our control.

So here’s to good memories, hard memories, and the ones that you we will remember forever.

This is Dixie, Faith's new best friend.  This awesome German Shepard let Faith hold her tail and pulled her all around the pool.

This is Dixie, Faith’s new best friend. This awesome German Shepard let Faith hold her tail and pulled her all around the pool.

Daddy's favorite past time, The Orioles Bird and an O's game at Camden Yards.  This one was especially special because it was a first for his two boys.

Daddy’s favorite past time, The Orioles Bird and an O’s game at Camden Yards. This one was especially special because it was a first for his two boys.

Aunt Rachel always seems to come to the rescue.  In our unplanned day in Baltimore we visited the National Aquarium, Aunt Rachel came to lend a much welcomed helping hand.

Aunt Rachel always seems to come to the rescue. In our unplanned day in Baltimore we visited the National Aquarium, Aunt Rachel came to lend a much welcomed helping hand.

Here is baby Ethan, just one month old he has given our family a much needed baby blessing.

Here is baby Ethan, just one month old he has given our family a much needed baby blessing.  He is in PA with his parents and his brother Caleb.

Next up a stop in New York to visit with Nana and Popie and the rest of the fam.  A visit there is not complete without a full piled plate of dessert.

Next up a stop in New York to visit with Nana and Popie and the rest of the fam. A visit there is not complete without a full piled plate of dessert.

And Bre and Maria in a much needed, literally one second long, break on the beach.

And Bre and Maria in a much needed, literally one second long, break on the beach.

The first of many times Aaron passed out in random places.  This one on the beach.  The one missing flipflop is so adorable.

The first of many times Aaron passed out in random places. This one on the beach. The one missing flipflop is so adorable.

So many times I have reflected back on where this family has been and how far life has taken us.  We are so thankful to be on vacation together and all the moments, even the chaotic ones, are cherished.

Do I Trust God With My Tomorrow?

As I sat there on my couch, fervantly writing my prayers, it hit me…these are the last pages of this journal.  A prayer journal that started like this:

8/18/2013

“The Lord will keep you from all harm – He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:7-8

You see when I journal I simply read a few passages of Scripture, write down the verses that stand out to me the most, and then pray through them.  On August 18, 2013, after reading and writing down the words to that Psalm, I prayed this…

How quickly I doubt in this promise.  Though I am bruised I am not crushed, for you are always with me.  Today is a special day…A POSITIVE PREGNANCY TEST!!!  My heart leaps Lord! I am so grateful, excited, overjoyed, thankful and more thankful!  I praise you Lord for this life and praise you for the peace and trust I have in you.  I can rest knowing that this verse is true, that you are good and that nothing happens in our lives that is not by your knowing.  My dear God thank you!  Protect this little life, even now a child of yours…

I promise you, I cannot make this stuff up!  There it is, my hearts cry on August 18th 2013 and I sob even today as I read those words.  That little life I prayed for was Gideon!  And that verse promises to watch over our lives, our coming and going and if you flipped through the pages of my journal you could say, “What happened Lord??  What happened to the prayer from page one?  What happened…”

This is the excerpt from my prayers after Gideon's diagnosis.  Two days later, on November 24th, I fell on my face and begged God for mercy and compassion on my son and on me.  I was scared and in despair, and though I was in the worst hours of my life I ran to Him, laid at His feet, and wailed.  I had no where else TO go.

This is the excerpt from my prayers after Gideon’s diagnosis. Two days later, on November 24th, I fell on my face and begged God for mercy and compassion on my son and on me. I was scared and in despair, and though I was in the worst hours of my life I ran to Him, laid at His feet, and wailed. I had no where else TO go.

As I open up the cover, August 18th is the very first page and as I close it June 28th is the last.  Oh the life that happened through those pages.  The tears shed, the heart broken, the life redeemed, the true faith realized.  My heart is literally enclosed on those pages.  My Gideon is enclosed on those pages.  Everything that I have known and lived and learned is on…those…pages!!

4/1/2014

“You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with Joy.” Psalm 30:11

On April 1st, 2014, it was the day after I met, fell in love with, and lost my baby son, I prayed this…

Father, even through my tears I know this verse to be true and I praise you Lord for yesterday.  Thank you for gifting me with Gideon’s life.  Thank you for providing him with comfort and peace.  Thank you for giving him a place in your arms.  Thank you for sending and army of angels.  Thank you for using Gideon to touch so many…Father will you give him hugs and kisses for me?  Please tell him his mommy loves him and misses him so so much.  My heart aches, my body aches, my soul aches…but in you Lord I know you will be here.  Be there for my family too.

Why is it that I so hesitate to leave this book behind?  This season of my life that has carried so much pain and loss is the very season I am not sure I am ready to leave.  I saw first hand heaven on earth and I saw what happens when, in weakness and desperation, you forget all of your own pre-conceptions, fears, prides, opinions, and controls and simply fall into Him with the only thing you have to give…your trust.  These pages, they contain none of my strength.  There is no strength of mine to be found in one single utterance of these prayers.  Only a drowning woman, lost in sorrow and broken dreams with her head barely reaching the surface of the water and gasping for air.

I hesitate to leave these pages behind, because for the first time in my life I realized I really…I mean REALLY…cannot do this alone.  I don’t think anyone can, but I know I did a good job pretending.  But my choice, the choice to trust Christ, the choice to believe that Christ died so that unity in Heaven could be realized.  The choice to humbly acknowledge that I am not perfect, never have been and never will be.  The choice to dare to trust that God does not desire evil for my life.  The choice to fall into His trustworthiness.

My body literally trembles as I write the final prayers in this book.  But I take a deep breath and remember that if I can trust Him in my today then I can trust Him in my tomorrow too.  And until the day comes when I get to leave this world and run head strong into the arms of  those I love, until that day…He is not finished with me yet.

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5

If ever there were a picture that captured my life, I think it would be this one. I often let my kids write in my prayer journal and they were particularly artful inside the back cover. Over their crayon and through the scribble I penned my next project “From Fear to Faith.” Nope, you cannot read a thing. Nope, no one else could interpret a thing on these pages. But to me? It represents God’s workings despite my mess and I love it.

The Bittersweet Closeness

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted…”

Over these past couple of weeks grief began to trickle out in my oldest two children.  Faith at 6 years old and David at 4 years old have been handling our loss in deep and mature ways.  Gideon is a household name for us.  We talk about him, think about him, and share memories of him on almost a casual, regular basis.  No one is crying or sad, but we smile in sweet remembrance of his special role in our family.

For example, one day Faith setup for us to have a “Gideon Parade.”  She made banners that said “We love you sweet sweet Gideon” and on we marched singing “We love you Gideon.”  In our driveway, there we went, marching in a circle and singing to our much missed member of our family.  Its hard, but we are doing it.  The kids are doing it, and we as a family are more peaceful now.

Gideon's marker finally came in and we as a family were so excited to be able to go and see it.  We decorated it with blue flowers and blue pinwheel that peacefully blows in the wind.  It reads "Our Sweet Sweet Gideon Matthew Furlough March 31, 2014."  One one side there is a star and on the other a little Teddy Bear.  Its perfect.

Gideon’s marker finally came in and we as a family were so excited to be able to go and see it. We decorated it with blue flowers and blue pinwheel that peacefully blows in the wind. It reads “Our Sweet Sweet Gideon Matthew Furlough March 31, 2014.” On one side there is a star and on the other a little Teddy Bear. Its perfect.

Then…

Every once in a while…

Night comes and the sorrow hits hard.

One night I was snuggling the kids to bed when Faith just sat up and started bawling.  It being two and half months ago, I thought that the worst crying might have past.  But for Faith and David the grief seems to only have recently be fully settled in.  Her questions were real and bold “Why did Gideon die, but we don’t?”

“What was wrong with him to make him die?”

“Was he breathing when I held him?”

“Where did he go?

As this mother held her sweet daughter, this deep deep sense of closeness overwhelmed me.  In her crying, her sorrow, her questions I felt closer to her than I ever have before.  My body was telling me to scream!  That this wasn’t fair that my six year old daughter had to experience such pain!  That a mother should never have to watch her child cry over such a penetrating loss!  But my soul…my soul said something different.

My soul prompted me to sink into this with her.  To hold her and comfort her and bring fruit from the pain.  To draw her near, nearer to me than ever before and rejoice that there was closeness available for the brokenhearted.  That no, I could not take the pain away but yes, I could show her that she has a Mommy and Daddy that are there for her always and a God whose peace and comfort are real.

Just one week later my husband and I were sitting on the couch when we heard loud, heavy sobs coming from upstairs.  Faith sweetly came to the balcony and said “Mommy, I think David needs you.”  As I walked into the room there lay my son, David, face red with hot tears and sobbing so loudly that his whole body shook.  Through the crying, he had a lot to tell me.  In his cute little voice that resembles a British accent he said…”

“Mommmmy!  I have three things I want to tell you! One…I really miss Roxy and Gideon right now and I want to see them (Roxy was our Golden Retriever that died a year ago).  Two…I am worried that Faith is going to die…”

After that one he paused.  And I paused to.  What do you give to your son when no answer in life is guaranteed?  My mind is racing as I am literally wondering “Truly what assurance can I give him?”  Then like a download I remember my own nights of deep torment and what got me through.  I help him close and told him all about the God, our God who promises to never leave us or forsake us.  That we have nothing to fear, no worry when we rely on Him everyday…all the time.

Another pause.  He accepted the truth I offered him and it felt like such a peace came over the room.

Then I remembered…”David, what was the third thing?”

“Mommy, I’m worried that if you get pregnant again that something will happen to that baby too.”  That’s when the Mommy tears came.  “My Son!  My sweet, precious David that I love so much.  Mommy thinks about that too!  You are so precious and special to even be able to worry about that, nevermind communicate it.  David you and me together, we are not going to worry about that okay?  We are not going to think about it either.  We are just going together, you and me, trust that we are going to be okay and constantly thank God for the blessing we have in eachother.  Okay?”

“Okay Mommy.”

Have I ever held children tighter than I did that night as I watched them drift off to sleep?

In all of these moments I simply could not help but fall on my knees and thank God for these conversations.  Thank God that they trusted me with the deepest and hardest.  Thank God that I was there.  Thank God that they needed me and that I was able to help them.  Thank God that in those moments we experienced a closeness that no moment before that could compare to.

Then, like a cool breeze it came over me…”Sweet child, that is exactly how I feel about YOU.” 

Nothing has ever been truer to realize.  That the tender closeness I had with my own children, was but a glimmer of a reflection of the way God is there for us when we need Him to be.  Even more than that it was a living breathing reminder of how much he hates it when we cry, but how precious it must be to Him when our choice is not to run away from Him but to run TO Him.  To trust Him with our deepest and hardest.  To fall weightless into His arms with loud sobbing and pour out all of our questions and worries.

Yes, God is close to the brokenhearted.  This brokenheart tells you so.

Psalm 30:5 "...weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."

Psalm 30:5 “…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

 

(Congratulations to Brittnie at http://ajoyrenewed.blogspot.com/ who won the giveaway!  Brittnie I think literally was the very first person to start this True Worth journey with me years ago and she is currently facing a trying season of her own with her oldest daughter.  May the Shades of Peace portrait and the Gideon Strong bracelets be sweet reminders that God’s peace is available to any and all who desire it.  All you need to do is ask for it and believe in Him.  Much love to you Brittnie!)