Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Manger Seen

“Hurry to the manger!” Asa chanted under his exerted breath. 

Up the lantern-lit path, into the woods he ran ahead of me. I followed after, straining to see which way the dark, leafy trail would turn next. 

I could have lost sight of him in the night, had he not felt compelled to pause at every single lantern. Peering down into each sand-filled paper sack, his face gleamed at the flickering candle, “Another Light. More lights.” Then back on task, he would race to the next one, “I wanna see the manger!”

In anticipation, we walked with a random group of friends and neighbors through this live nativity. The winding trail offered several narrated scenes commemorating the first Christmas.  

At each stop along the way, Asa would work his way through our small rambling crowd to see the action, and hear the Word. He wanted to see the angel. He wanted to pet the sheep. He wanted to be the announcer! In his excitement, I repeated my hushed reminders of being a good listener and keeping our voice down. He did his best;) *And when we lingered too long in one place, he experimented with dead leaves and open flames. It’s fine. 

At last, we rounded a cluster of rocks to see a manger aglow by a tree-mounted flood light. There were Mary and Joseph holding a mysteriously small, motionless bundle. But the quasi-realistic staging still somehow whispered, “Messiah has come.”  On cue, three costumed shepherds rose from their rock and entered the scene. 

“And the shepherds said to one another, ‘Come let us go to Bethlehem and see …” 

And there they went - all four of them. The last little shepherd boy, kneeling before the infant king was much smaller, and dressed in an Old Navy hoodie and his Bass Pro Shop hat.

My prideful preference for a two-year-old to behave and be subtle was overshadowed by the divine beauty of it all. Despite all my self-consciousness, I could not possibly rip him away from his curiously pure worship. After a moment, it was those standing quietly at a distance who seemed almost inappropriate.

Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me.” 

On an evening, where I set out to show my son something about Jesus, Jesus had something to show me through my son.

How often do I sincerely search for glimpses of glory? Do I consistently pause to take in the wonder of Light shining in the darkness? When have I rushed to discover and share the place where Jesus rests? What crowds do I need to edge my way out of in order to get a clearer perspective? What is my part to play? Why do I stay back too often … placing premium on propriety? 
Perhaps my intentions should be to BEHOLD instead of to BEHAVE. 

*Beholding is becoming, then behavior follows supernaturally.

At Christmas, and every day …
I pray we find our way … to the Way … from light to light. 
From glory to glory, I pray we are changed.

I pray we light the way for others. “Another light. More light.” 

Offering peace while the world around us strives and contrives, 
Promising hope where darkness crowds, and 
Showing love when so many are in need. 

May this season reveal surprisingly beautiful aspects of His story in and through us. 
May we chase toward the meaning and purpose of it all with humility and reverence … 
and receive the selfless courage to step in and bow low.  

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Joy of My Desiring

I like to believe I live a reasonably contented life. There are very few things "I want". But one exception comes to mind.

There is a nativity set that I have seen in stores for years. It is absolutely lovely. A new character is created and introduced to the collection each season and they never go on sale. Every time I see it, I stop and worship for a moment. Then I walk away - grateful for the opportunity to experience the beauty again. I love it and want it so badly, but when it is on display, my attention and monies are usually already allocated. No time to splurge...

Two weeks ago, a large, mysterious package arrived at my front door. I opened it and began to weep. The UPS box contained dozens of smaller cardboard boxes. Every available piece of my longed-for nativity set! I continued to cry. The kids asked me what was wrong. "I've wanted this forever!" I sobbed. "I could never afford to buy this. It's so beautiful. I love it." Luke said with bewilderment, "Momma, I've never seen you cry happy." Over the next half hour, the kids helped me unpack each figurine. They carefully displayed them in the stable while placing the stars and angels in "just the right spot".

As I stared in adoration at the cast of nativity characters, the extravagance of the gift overwhelmed my heart with gratitude and joy. When I called the mystery sender, she was careful to explain, "This is not because of any of the wonderful things you do. It's not because you're such a very fun girl. It's just because I love you and you are special to me."

From now on - until my grandchildren come gather around this nativity scene and worship the King - I will have this precious memory of lavished love in my soul. The clarity of strong desire. Knowing for certain what would bring me joy, but not being able to meet that need on my own. Knowing the sadness of living without, then surprised and humbled to receive the gift that I could never repay. And from now on I will remember those priceless words on the telephone.

The Christmas message that comes straight from the Father's heart: "This gift - the life of my own Son -is not because of anything you do, not based on whether you're bad or good. It is just because I love you and you are special to me."

*originally posted Christmas 2008

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Follow Through

Love is here! God is absolutely GOOD. (But you knew that.)

I share this with gratitude for days turning to years, the gift of patience, and the opportunity to glance back and see how far He has brought us. 

He has actually transformed my heart (in this tiny little area - please hold while we reach the fullness you are looking for) and healed this relationship. Yay for grace!! 


March, 2013: Welcome to my breakthrough!

Lately, God has been rephrasing the same question, and repeating His desires over and over ... as if something important is happening and He wants to make sure I don't miss it.

For days and days,
through conflict and crisis,
sermons and sisters,
guilt and grace,
scrolling ads and Bible study,
He has been speaking.

I love you. Love Me. Love Others.

Not a new message, right?
But a fresh word to renew my mind, refine my motivations and heal this deceptive heart of mine.

I love you.

He really loves me - not the "best-foot-forward" me ... the "just-as-I-am" me.
I have nothing to offer Him in return, and basically, my selfishness is a daily slap in the face to His provision. My impatience is a hindrance to His perfect will. My chronic unkindness towards Him and willful resistance toward His priorities prove my unworthiness.

But His kindness leads me to repentance. His grace is sufficient. 
He loves me with a love that never ends. He never gives up.

Love me. Love others.

All that He asks of me is that I love Him back and love other people in the same sacrificial way that He already loves us.

It will obviously take me the rest of my life to fully know and understand and live out the wisdom in this divine relationship.

Right now, there is someone in my life who doesn't seem to love me. (It's not you and it's not her either, so we're good.) I have spent too much time dissatisfied in this relationship ... wondering what I could do differently to earn or deserve their love. I'd even settle for kindness or just baseline human respect.

I've been praying for them.
And it's not working.

But today's breakthrough is this: Guess what? I don't love them.
I say I do. I've always said I do.
But I still want something in return. I have expectations. I am hurt. I feel unloved. I want to be validated and appreciated.
I. I. I.
(which is barely appropriate for opera singers with lemon wedges before a show)

I must LOVE this person. I must love them WELL.
Not waiting for them to deserve my efforts and concern.
Not waiting for them to reciprocate or return the affection.

This is not something that can be fabricated or faked.
God is going to have to do a miracle deep in my soul. He will have to change the way I see this person, the way I hear this person, the way I speak to this person. He'll have to give me a genuine desire to be around this person ... to want them to be near and dear to me ... like they are to God.

I believe God can and will do this because it aligns perfectly with His greatest desire.
I'll find my satisfaction and joy in Him.
He'll fill me up and I'll offer myself to be poured out.

He sets the example, supplies the strength; we humbly submit and joyfully serve.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." -John 13:34-35

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Special Dedication

Mother: to care for or protect; to act maternally toward.
Motherhood: the qualities or spirit of a mother.

I am a mother.
I've birthed a child or two.
I've miscarried a tiny precious baby.
I've had more C-sections than wisdom would advise.
I've adopted a child. 

I am the full embodiment of the noun mother.

The world is filled with noun-mothers. Their kids play at my house. Their kids are in my choir. Their kids teach my kids. Their kids are in class with my kids. In some cases their kids are lonely or uneducated or fending for themselves because life is hard.

This fallen world allows noun-mothers to exist and be honored to some extent without always being verb-mothers.
And God's creative providence allows for women to be verb-mothers without actually being noun-mothers.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Adoption Journey: Part 3

[Click here to read "Adoption Journey: Part 1"]
[Click here to read "Adoption Journey: Part 2"]

We finally scheduled [read: hounded CPS relentlessly until they caved] a personal visit to meet Asa. We only had a two-day break between two consecutive weeks of ministry travel, and we needed to get our hands on that little guy! The girls were at "Grammy Camp" at my mom's, and Landen was away working at summer camp, so Luke went with us.

On a bright and steamy morning in July, we drove to the social services office in Smith County. And we waited.

Eventually we were led to an out-dated little room ... stale with musty smells and muffled noise. The room was equipped with a small play table, a crate of old toys, a sunken sofa, a creaky glider, and a camera mounted in the corner. With holes in the upholstery and a sticky film on the floor, to me it felt like a neglected thrift shop.

Soon the case worker walked in with a child who had been woken from a nap, taken from his car seat, and dropped-of by his foster mom. We wanted to pounce, but needed to be patient.

He began to cry. I looked at him and gulped back tiny hot tears.

Philip took him and held him close, but the stranger-baby who seemed supernaturally familiar continued to cry.

I watched helplessly (while shutting down emotionally ... ever-so-slightly ... it's what I do).

We tried all the tricks in our six-kid book. Nothing would soothe his frantic cries.

Ultimately he gave up and fell asleep ... his face sweaty and swollen from emotional exertion.

At one point, he opened his eyes and looked up at me. It was disturbing to me that he was neither soothed nor scared by my holding him. He just lay there still, slowly blinking those gorgeous big brown eyes at me ... ... still interjecting mini-gasps for every other breath.

We gently took turns holding that warm, wonderfully squashy baby boy. We rocked and took pictures and whispered words of hope.

Our two hour visit seemed both brief and eternal - over an hour of emotional strain mingled with many faint rays of hope and glimpses of bright possibilities. 

I remember a few details...
His shirt smelled like fresh laundry. His big brown eyes had a sad glaze that didn't quite match the cheerful photos that had filled my mind to that point. He seemed healthy and strong. I remember Luke being quietly helpful. And Philip was amazing - confident and nurturing and strong.

The social worker came in and announced that our time was up. We packed up the baby and his gear, and soon the foster mom walked in. We introduced ourselves, thanked her for her kind efforts and care, awkwardly kissed Asa goodbye, and handed him back over.

I will always remember the shirt Luke wore that day. I read it a hundred times while I bounced and paced and shushed that sweet baby boy - feeling so completely inadequate.

"Protect this house, I will."

I know I can be SUPER cheesy ... but God made me this way, and He knows how to speak straight to my dairy-laden soul. And so I believe - that in that moment of weakness - He gently reminded me of His promise ...

"Protect this house, I will."

The car ride home was pensive and silent ... except for the Casting Crowns cd in the background.

Lift your hands, lift your eyes.
In the storm is where you'll find Me.
And where you are, I'll hold your heart.
I'll hold your heart!
Come to Me, find your rest
In the arms of the God who won't let go ...

The next day Philip and I drove back along the same stretch of highway to take a flight out of Dallas. As we passed the Tyler exit, I thought about how close we were to Asa - and still so far away.
My emotional dam found fault, and gave way.
Tears steadily streamed down my face onto my shirt for more than an hour.

The gravity of this beautiful mess.
It was almost too much.

God had mercifully ordained that we spend the next few days at the Celebrate Recovery National Summit. A marvelous place where brokenness is encouraged, recovery is celebrated and messes miraculously morph into messages.

Surrounded by soul-level companions, [and exactly zero children, ahem] we were able to process all that God was doing. We worshiped and learned. We looked at Asa's photos often, and phoned our kids at night. We dreamed big dreams, believed the best, thanked God for being in charge, and prayed for grace to trust Him more.

* to be continued

[Click here to read previous posts on Adoption]

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Adoption Journey: Part 2

[Click here to read "Adoption Journey: Part 1"]

In July 2013, we got a call from CPS that Philip's sister had relinquished her rights, and a judge had placed 5-month-old Asa with us. 

I wept.

For how heart-breaking and selfless a decision that must have been for her. 
For that precious little boy with all his hurts and healing.
For me. Heart-broken and yet thrilled. Scared and yet determined. 
Silencing selfish thoughts one by one as they attempted to have a voice. 

Shortly after hearing the news, Philip and I headed to Florida with the youth choir.  Riding in the front seats of a church van, we processed together ... asking sideways questions then staring down the road ... wondering when we'd arrive at the answers.

I realized I was battling my own attachment issues ... Whole-hearted, life-long commitment to a child I had yet to hold. 

(Besides the solitary newborn photo with Philip, I didn't even know what he looked like.)

God knew precisely what I needed ... hour upon hour of riding down a highway ... staring straight ahead with road noise and backseat chatter muffling into a strange, loud clarifying silence. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Adoption Journey: Part 1

Philip & Asa, Feb '13
Wow. A little over two years ago, Philip was out of town watching the boys play baseball, and stopped by to see his younger sister and her newborn baby.

From Aunt & Uncle, to foster parents, to forever Mom and Dad. What an adventure this has been!

At the first of March, 2013, we learned that, at 5 weeks old, Asa was in foster care. I asked my Friday morning small group to pray with me for this child. I remember sensing a strange attachment to the situation ... not knowing what God might ask of me, but begging for His strength to give me courage, and His love to overshadow my selfish fears.

By April, I was growing more certain of our calling to get actively involved. I checked out a STACK of library books on fostering, adoption, high-needs children, prenatal methamphetamine exposure, and abandonment/attachment issues. I knew nothing ... and I could only live with myself in that condition a few moments more.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Common Ground

I am a griper and complainer. I’m sorry. I try hard not to be, but critical commentary seems to just leap off my tongue if I’m not careful. 

But there are a couple topics you will seldom hear me complain about in public. 

At the top of the list is my husband. And here’s why. Out of all the men in the world, I chose him. No one forced me to marry him. I did that all by my big-girl self.  

He’s not perfect, but he’s mine. So when an issue arises, my response matters. Very little is accomplished by verbally dogging him. It might make me feel better in that tiny warped moment, but it certainly doesn’t lead to a solution. 

I must embrace the idea that the solution to our problem likely involves me.
(I mean he totally needs to change his ways, but …)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Thrilling Agony

I don’t know a lot about victory. I’m neither an athlete nor a conqueror. I know about hard work and careful preparation. I have won some awards and there are a few music-related trophies with my name on them. 

But to fight and struggle in order to win … this gives me a rash.

My short list of "successes", includes mostly the things that come naturally and easily to me.

My husband leads a small group of men who LOVE to win! But, he grieves over all the obstacles and snares our culture presents. He is well aware of the temptations John mentions in the Bible: “Lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life.”

With his best inspirational coaching voice, he has admonished them, “Guys, this is going to be a battle … every, single day of your life … so learn to be victorious today!” 

I know he means to inspire and equip them, but my passive, squeamish ears perceive discouragement when I think about this daily struggle we call ‘life'.

Monday, April 06, 2015


Finally, friends,

whatever is true,
I am falling short, but God made me and loves me and hasn't given up on me.

whatever is honorable,
God chose to send His Spirit to live in MY body.

whatever is just,
When I misuse food and neglect my body, there are natural consequences.

whatever is pure,
God designed my body to work hard and be nourished by food.

whatever is lovely,
My identity is in Christ. My soul will always be more important than this body that is wasting away.

Saturday, April 04, 2015


Abba, Father,” he said, 

“everything is possible for you. 

Take this cup from me. 

Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 
Mark 14:36

What a great model for prayer! Jesus, on the eve of his crucifixion, prays to God the Father.

He affectionately relies on relationship.
“Abba, Father,” he said,

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Not to Say

When Landen was 5, we were shopping and he saw a woman whose torso indicated she may or may not have been expecting a baby.

With no social filters in place, he pointed and exclaimed, "Wow! Look how big her belly is!"

Heavens to sunshine, I was mortified. One minute later and two aisles over - in hushed tones - I tried to explain that we never, ever point our fingers at people. And we only say words that encourage.

Cut to the following week's grocery run. Cue extra-large person numero two.

Landen smiles up at me with a self-imposed sense of skill-mastery and finesse. He extends his closed fist toward our fellow shopper of girth, and cheers: "His belly is AWESOME!!"

Just Please.
I know.


Anyway ...