Be Strong and Take Heart

Sunday was just one of those days.  The hard, but good, sad, but a woman made new type of crying days.  I did have a warning that it would be like this when my friend Greta texted me before church, “Bring your tissues, you are going to need them.”  It felt good to be known, to be thought of and loved and so I went to church as prepared as I could be.  Off I went with a little faster heartrate, my three kids, and my sweet sister in law Rachel.

As soon as the sermon began I knew why  it was going to be one of those mornings.  Besides the fact that it was the 31st (Gideon’s 5 month anniversary), besides the fact that Mitch was preaching (our pastor who literally walked hand in hand with us from the day of diagnosis until the day we had to say goodbye), and even if it was only for those two things I might have been weepy…but to top it off Mitch was preaching on what we should do in times of crisis.  “And you will have crisis,” he said, “if you aren’t in crisis right now you probably will be soon and you need to know what to do when it happens.”

The first time I sat in Mitch's office, I couldn't even say Gideon's name.  It hurt too much.  I couldn't imagine what was to come and everything felt like it was spinning out of control.  Months later Mitch stood as a pillar of strength for our family.        This was a precious moment, as Pastor Mitch got to give kisses to the very baby he watched change our lives forever.  Mitch is a big reason why Gideon's name is so precious, sweet and easy for me to say today.

The first time I sat in Mitch’s office, I couldn’t even say Gideon’s name. It hurt too much. I couldn’t imagine what was to come and everything felt like it was spinning out of control. Months later Mitch stood as a pillar of strength for our family. This was a precious moment, as Pastor Mitch got to give kisses to the very baby he watched change our lives forever. Mitch is a big reason why Gideon’s name is so precious, sweet and easy for me to say today.

Mitch is right.  I wish he wasn’t.  I wish that this life came with some type of “pass.”  Some type of “okay you’ve done your time and now you don’t need to worry about one more bad thing happening to you for as long as you live”type pass.  But no matter who we are, how “good” we think we’ve been, or even how close to God we are there is no such pass.  Its hard to hear, but its true.  And so we should be prepared shouldn’t we?  Not fearful or worrying everyday when it will happen.  But armed and ready and surrounded by people who will love us and care for us when it happens.  Grounded in truth that even in death, there is hope.  We will be redeemed someday.  And in all of this a weird thing happened on Sunday morning.   I listened and I cried and I missed my baby boy, but all the while deeply peaceful because  I know that even if it happens again…God will be there then too.

I heard a scream,” he said, “as my son and I were happily playing legos, in the middle of an ordinary day, the screams of my wife coming from upstairs showed me that something bad was happening.”  Well actually I lied, he didn’t say “my son and I” because Mitch likes to leave you hanging until the very end of the morning.  The whole time you thought Mitch was talking about a couple he knew, but little did we know he was talking about he and his wife.  His own story of crisis and what happened when it hit.  His son was 4 years old and his wife was 30 weeks pregnant.  Blood came, then the screams, then the rushing to the hospital.  Then the plea”God I don’t know what is happening but we need you right now!” Then the phone calls upon phone calls from friends, “Mitch we are praying for you.  We don’t know what is happening and we don’t know what will happen. But we are here for you.  We love you.”  They almost lost their daughter that day.  Now a senior in high school, ready to head to college next year, they don’t know why God chose to save Lindsay that day.  And as Mitch spoke the tears rolled, “We don’t know what happened that day, or why it happened, but we know that God was there.  And for the families upon families who have  sat in my office whose child was not saved, in their time of crisis God was there too.”

I wish I had the words to say when my sister in law held my hand and said, “Maria I don’t know how you do it?”  And so Rachel (since I know you are reading and I couldn’t speak through my tears on Sunday!) I would like to answer now!  I honestly can’t explain how I do it, but I do know that I am.  Somehow, someway I wake up each day and fight away the fears and the whatifs and the crippling sadness and I smile because Gideon was mine.  We are making it, somehow someway because of the outpouring of prayer for us.  Literally from the day we received news of Gideon’s Potter’s Syndrome and still to this day people have been praying for our family.  Praying for us in ways we couldn’t pray through our tears and providing for us in ways our hands did not have strength to do for ourselves.  All of this because we decided to lay our lives bare to the people around us instead of hiding (though in the beginning it was all I wanted to do).  Yes, there are good days and bad days sure, but our family is okay.  Better than we ever have been because life is less scary once God is proved true.  I am doing it, because He gives strength to those who ask for it.  You know it is a little funny, part of me thought the same thing as Mitch was speaking.  “How am I still breathing?”  Because at the end of Mitch’s too close to home cliffhanger story telling, there was truth.  Truth that keeps me going, and truth I knew that other people needed to hear too.

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.”

Psalm 27:13-14

In the upcoming weeks I am going to start talking a lot about fear.  This fall I am teaching a class at Lake Forest Church in Huntersville NC called From Fear to Faith.  You can read about it here and sign up to come join me if you are around.  I mention this, because a sermon like Mitch’s used to instill great fear in me.  I had never experienced great loss or crisis before this and the logical part of me felt like it was only a matter of time before the hammer fell.  I would rationalize myself in and out of fearing what could come and I lost a lot of minutes of my life living in fear.  The ironic part of it is, that in the wake of one of my worst fears coming true I realized so clearly the reasons why fear is a sad waste of non-crisis times.  I will unpack this a ton more in the coming weeks, but for now I pray that my words and Mitch’s words, don’t instill fear but instead inspire an action plan.  Afterall, even if crisis never knocks at your door…there is so much love and help to be given to those to whom it has.

If you want to listen to Mitch’s own words, you can listen to it here.  (its second from the top called Reel Community: Gravity).

 

 

Give A Listen

Permission to be blunt?  I believe that there is power unseen.  I believe that God visits us in ways that cannot be touched or explained.  I believe that He comes boldly and loudly to anyone who is willing to listen.  I believe that He offers encouragement, comfort, joy, peace, and strength by the supernatural presence of His Holy Spirit.  I believe it… because I lived in it.  Swam in it and clung to dear life to it over this past year.  On the day of Gideon’s birth God’s presence was as tangible as I’ve ever seen on this earth and I can rest well at night because I now know that such power exists.

To give it a name, I believe this powerful presence is called the Holy Spirit.  I grew up in a church where we always threw around “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” and even this very Sunday we talked about the three, the Trinity, the amazing ability God has to be our Father, our Savior, and our Counselor all at once.  It might just be me, but I feel like we most of the time emphasize God talk and Jesus’s role but not too often to we give heed to the Holy Spirit.  Maybe people think its weird?  Maybe its hard to tangibly grasp its meaning and purpose and so we skip over it?  Maybe, if you are like my husband, you think the Holy Spirit has been overused in some settings and so at first glance don’t trust what people say about it.  All of these completely understandable and reasonable…but …then…you go through something.  You die on the inside, your whole world around you crashes down and yet somehow you know God is there.  You can feel Him and hear Him and there, to me, is the undeniable important and life giving role of the Holy Spirit.

I mention all this today because I’ve been sad the past few weeks thinking that some people might never get to experience this power in their lifetime.  Some people because they simply don’t believe in its existence.  Maybe others because they simply didn’t know what to look for.  Others maybe because they have been scared or timid of what is unseen.  And so, at least for today, my prayer is just to give honor to the part of the trinity that took me through deep sorrow and pain.  The part of God’s character that is an everyday source of power, one whose mere existence helps me rest my head in peace every night.

The Holy Spirit is…

our advocate  

My live and breathe and die verse that I have clung to through these past trials and pains was John 14:27, one of these days I will be tattooing it on my forehead, but for now “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  But this verse is a part of a paragraph.  Its Jesus talking to his disciples right before he was about to die and verse 25 and 26 say this, All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

our overwhelming joy

Every so often joy fills me up in a way that doesn’t make sense.  I credit this joy to the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells a similar story “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” Luke 10:21.  I love that Jesus’s joy is about how God chose to give gifts to people the world would deem small.  I love that even Jesus finds a million things to praise God for and so I seek for that joy.  Because even in the midst of tragedy, only through the power of the Holy Spirit, there is room for joy.

Pure joy regardless of circumstance

Pure joy regardless of circumstance

our teacher 

If we listen long enough to learn, He will even guide and provide words  when we need them most “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”  Luke 12:11

our tangible hope “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Hope that runs out fear.

Hope that runs out fear.

our power “you will receive power when the Holy Spiritcomes on you” Acts 1:8

our confidence “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:31

If there is anything I pray for my children its confidence, that nothing life brings is greater in He who is in us.

If there is anything I pray for my children its confidence, that nothing life brings is greater in He who is in us.

our message of God’s love “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:5-6

our guarantee of what’s to come And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”  Ephesians 1:13-14

I think I could go on for forever and forever.

You want to know what is even better?  The Holy Spirit is not just for weirdy, touchy feely, emotional people like me.  My husband and I very much compliment each other.  He is logical, I am emotional.  He takes 15 years to make a decision, I take 15 seconds.  He doesn’t believe it ’til he sees it, I am overly gullible.  And the same differences go for how we live in our faith.   In fact, when it comes to the Holy Spirit he and I will debate for hours on its place and purpose in our lives.  However, together we stand confident and in one voice shouting to the mountain tops say…if it weren’t for the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit we would not have survived this past year.

So maybe, just maybe.  If you never have before, or maybe you just have’t lately…would you give a listen?

Ask God to show up.  Ask Him and then listen.  Watch what happens.  Hear what He says.  It might be a day, it might be a week, or a month…but He WILL show up.  When I was young in my faith I would ask God to show up in the most trivial ways.  I mean like I lost an earring will you help me find it can I see a rainbow today if you are hearing me ways.  But God knew where my heart was and He knew what I needed to hear and so He always came through.  He knew I needed all those little listens so when it came for the big time I cannot get out of bed because my tears won’t stop flowing I need you here now God are listening times came…I knew without a doubt He would be there and that I would hear His voice of hope when my bleeding heart heard nothing but sorrow.

Today I heard the dreaded words spoken to me, the one sentence that can cut right through the heart, the one phrase you never ever want to hear, “and you call yourself a Christian?  You are very disappointing.”   My heart sank.  Butterflies multiplied in my belly by the thousands.  My eyes welled up and I wanted to curl up in a ball and die.  Before I could crawl away I paused, and I listened.  See even in the midst of misunderstood words and misplaced promises, I somehow found confidence.  As I listened I heard God whispering gently to me, “Maria, it doesn’t matter what they say.  It matters what I say.  My peace I give you, don’t let anyone else take it away.”  Deep breath and keep moving.  Scratched but not beaten.

I pray that for you too.  I pray that for my church.  I pray that schedules, routines, song sets, and preconceived notions stop getting in the way of just asking…then listening.

 

 

 

Trust Without Borders

As I stood there in the audience, feelings of both sadness and joy ran through me as I sang the words to the very song that immediately brings me back to…

the diagnosis

the struggle

the pain

the fear

the baby feet kicks

the wrestling to finally trust God fully in the season of suffering we found ourselves in.

It really was amazing be there.  At the Hillsong concert the entire arena sang at the top of their lungs, hands raised high, for two and a half hours straight and I couldn’t help but be reminded of how big and powerful God is.  Its a grandeur that I want to sink into, to tackle, to continue to ask questions about, and never stop pondering the things that are possible through a daily time spent with Him.  Once you get a taste its hard to ignore, but if you are like me, you have ton constantly fight to keep God at the top of your priority list.

The name of the song is Oceans.  Its a song I’m sure many of you are familiar with and its a song you probably have heard me mention, and for many of you who have walked this road with us even the first few notes can immediately ensue tears.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard it.  I was at a benefit concert for a family in our church, a family of 6 including four little girls, two of which are twins, who were about to embark on the unforgettable journey of becoming missionaries in India.  To think, what confidence it takes for a young, large family to leave everything they know behind…everything they own, all whom they love, and the life that is theirs to go serve people whom they have never met.  The presence and the power of God has always been undeniable to me when you think about what their family is doing.  There is just simply no way apart from the presence and power of a real and living God.

Here is Dan and Stephanie and their precious little ones. Please pray for them in their ministry. Right now they are training in Colorado and in September they will head to Bihar India. There they will love, empower, and engage all those whom live there. To me they are an amazing example of faithfulness without borders.

At their benefit I heard Reeve  sing Oceans for the first time.  I could do nothing but sit down and cry as I listened to the lyrics and as my heart overflowed with the prayer, “God I want you to call me out on the water too.  I want to go there too.”  Little did I know that weeks later He would ask me to do exactly that, the concert was two weeks before Gideon’s diagnosis.

In the beginning, one line in particular ran over and over again in my mind “Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You’ve never failed and you won’t start now.”

You’ve never failed and you won’t start now…

Was it true?  I found myself asking that question.  Looking back frantically through the pages of my entire life looking to see if I could find a time, an instance, a circumstance that I had felt God had failed me.  I couldn’t find one.  Not one.  And while I knew that did not mean that life always went painlessly, I could see God’s presence in it all.  Yes it was true, and since that was the case…shouldn’t I even trust Him now?

Reeve and Matt Glass singing "Oceans" at Gideon's Memorial Service. We video recorded it, but wouldn't you know the battery ran out right as the song started. But you know, I really wasn't that sad about it. I don't think video would have done justice to the presence of God in that room that day. I will hold in my heart forever those moments of praising God for Gideon's life.

Reeve and Matt Glass singing “Oceans” at Gideon’s Memorial Service. We video recorded it, but wouldn’t you know the battery ran out right as the song started. But you know, I really wasn’t that sad about it. I don’t think video would have done justice to the presence of God in that room that day. I will hold in my heart forever those moments of praising God for Gideon’s life.

As I sat there in Bojangles Coliseum this past weekend, a different line stood out to me, “Spirit lead me when my trust is without borders…”  Faith without borders is what happens when you survive hell on earth because God was there to carry you through.  And if He can do that then He can do anything.  If He can call and carry a young family of 6 to missions in India, if He can bring a smile to the face of a mother whose child has died, if He can bring hope to where all has been lost then lead me anywhere you go Lord because I trust in nothing more than I trust in you.

This Bible verse is plastered to my bathroom mirror Psalm 73:26:

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.”

A reminder daily to live in the trust that God has fully earned in my life.  Though He never had to prove it to me, though the death and life of His Son was far more than enough, because He loves me like a good Daddy does He showed me.  May you see it too.

Just in case you didn’t see it the first time, or just needed a refresher, or wanted to shed some tears with me…

Running Towards the Difficult

Is it weird that I find myself attracted to difficult things?  Its almost as if I have gotten a taste of how powerful it is to know the presence of God in a time of trial and pain, and I wonder if a part of me is trying to grapple for more.  Like making totally sure I am in impossible situations that only God can get me through, who does that?  Apparently I do lately.

A good friend of mine Julia and I recently went through a season in our friendship of silence and hurt.  It was unlike anything I had experienced in a friendship before and a part of me shut down because I simply did not know what to do.  I knew none of the hurt was intentional and I grappled constantly with what to do.  To talk about it would be difficult, transparent and honest in a way I think we were both more comfortable with avoiding.  To not talk about it would have been terminal to our friendship, I didn’t want that either.

To be honest, in many ways I was mad at myself.  Our families have been friends for years, our oldest children were babies when we met and our kids have multiplied and grown through the years.  If only once or twice I had been brave and shared more of myself, I think the silence and hurt could have been avoided all together.  But I was chicken.  Always chicken.  Always worried about this or that, never wanting to put myself in an uncomfortable conversation or situation and so I never opened my heart much.  Stuffed it, buried it, and made my thoughts a field day of assumptions and judgements instead of truths.

I’m thankful that God was whispering to Julia too, challenging her (like me) to not shy away from something just because it is hard.  Instead sink into it.  Grab onto it with all your might, pray for God’s wisdom and then trust that He will give you what you need.  “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7.   So many times during our truth sharing I praised God because I could see that He was bringing new life and friendship out of the silence and the hurt.  That there was freedom and new confidence, not only in eachother and in our friendship, but in the power of being open and honest regardless of how uncomfortable it feels.

Yes, I think I’m starting to grow to really appreciate the difficult things in life.  With big things like friendship, but I think also with the smaller things too.  Smaller things like…puppies.

I kept on rolling this over and over in my mind.  The questions kept sounding like this…Do I love cleaning up poop and vaccuming up hair? Nope.  Do I love my moldings and socks just the way they are?  Yup.  Do you think it will be fun having to wake up in the middle of the night for little puppy potty runs?  Not really.  Are you going to get a new puppy?  Yes.  Yes we are.

I am not kidding when I say that during the entire 3 hour drive to pick up our little new addition my brain was still going “What are you thinking??”  But the fact still remained, both Dave and I were on the same page that this little family and I wanted and needed the joy that comes with a new little four legged friend.  And as the days have passed I can see it now, the hard becomes less hard when it is put in perspective.  Also puppy training is way easier when your daughter doesn’t put her down long enough to even have an accident in the house.

We proudly introduce to you Gracie.  She has brought much joy and giggles to our home and she already fits right in.  I am so thankful we didn’t run away from the difficult.

So here’s to the freedom that comes in honesty.

The joy that is birthed from surviving the difficult.

The faith in God that is solidified through seeing Him come through.

And the sweet childlike giggles that come from smelly puppy licks.

photo (16)

Gracie is a mini Australian Shepard and I have no qualms with being way over dramatic and saying that God created her especially for us. She fits right in being the baby princess Faith has always dreamed of taking care of, the snuggly lap dog mommy always envisioned, and the spunky fun furball for the boys to enjoy.

 

photo (15)

The Non-Decision

Its weird, I know its weird and TMI so I apologize in advance…but I know the date Gideon was conceived.  It was my birthday last year, August 3rd 2013.  Its another little kicker.  I haven’t the foggiest clue the day, week, or hardly month my other children were conceived in.  But of course, because the medical chart always clearly stated my birthday, it stuck in my head.

I wasn’t sad on my birthday.  I celebrated and laughed thankfully with my husband and children.  Ate some yummy funfetti cake too.  In the back of my mind though I kept creeping back to last year.  How different it was, how different I was.

This was probably my favorite place we went to last week.  I love looking out on oceans, any oceans...they remind me of how small I am and how vast God is.  Muir Beach California.

This was probably my favorite place we went to last week. I love looking out on oceans, any oceans…they remind me of how small I am and how vast God is. Muir Beach California.  Being able to celebrate, laugh, and live with my husband for a week was a blessing beyond compare.

Planning for the future of our family used to be a very extensive process for us.  We would break out white boards, chalk boards, excel sheets, calculators and calendars and get to planning!  Okay if we try to have a baby during the front half of this year then I can avoid being pregnant in the summer, the morning sickness will be gone by Christmas, and we will finally get the spring birthdayed baby we had always wanted.  That sounds good, yup good plan ready…set…go!

Sure I prayed about it.  I always prayed for God to bless my plans.  I figured God gave me a brain and excel spreadsheets so why wouldn’t I?  And trust me, I am not condemning this method, I just know my own heart well enough to know that for me it was a complete disregard for God’s plans over my own.  I always mouthed the words “I trust you God,” but my decisions hardly ever reflected it.

So here we are now.  The doctor has given me medical clearance for our family to plan again.  We have the green light to decide to try or not to try for another child.  Many of you have asked me, others I am sure are wondering, so I feel comfortable sharing with you.  We have decided…not to decide at all.

No trying.  No preventing.  Just living.  Our decision is to try and focus less on what tomorrow will bring and more on what today has in store.  This non-decision has changed our prayer lives and has transformed our fears.  It has given us freedom from worry and a reveling in today.  Its a decision, however, that last’s years Maria was incapable of making.

Part of me wants to regret.  To wish that I had learned earlier on what it looks like to give up control and not rely so much on analysis, reason, and personal preferences.  Instead I am going to try to be thankful that I arrived at this place at all.  Thankful even wayward planning can lead to blessings.  Afterall, Faith, David, Aaron, and Gideon were the result of all those plans (well not Aaron but that is a different story for a different day).  You see for me, it was not the planning itself that was harmful, it was all the fear, worry, and stress that I allowed in when my plans seemed to be even a little bit derailed.

Tomorrow yes, its full of potential and hope of dreams come true.  I have that deep down Mommy desire to hold a baby again, kiss them to sleep, and take in big deep breaths of that sweet baby smell.  But the safest place for me to put that desire is in God’s hands and there it will stay.

I am often so thankful for you.  Honored that you follow in this journey with me and humbled that even one word would bless you.  I pray for you today, that maybe any decision you are facing today could become a non-decision.  I pray that you too would find the peace and respite that comes with relinquishing all final outcomes to a Heavenly Father and Savior who loves you very much.

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