Friday, June 29, 2012

She has been through unthinkable pain.  Injustice has been the theme of her short life.  She is an orphan, her parents dead.  And yet - she dances.  She writes it there on her profile:

"Favorite thing to do:  dance."

It crashes into me, this feeling.  She has nothing, and yet, she dances.  Her feet pound the red dirt, even shoeless, soles exposed.  Her arms wave and a smile stretches across that beautiful brown face of hers.  Dance.  Dance with thankfulness unto the Lord.

She isn't yet nine, and her wisdom in this far surpasses mine.  She embraces the joy that comes from Jesus - and Jesus alone.  Nothing else.  Because when she has Him, she has all she needs.  And so, for Him, she dances.  For peace, she dances.

We are called to be like little children - and in this moment right here - I long to be like her.

When tears well up in grocery stores, you know your heart is just not the same.

Always painfully aware of my abundance.  Always.  Especially when the urge to whine comes upon me.  The urge to complain about the heat, the cleaning, the whatever.   But I feel the truth being pounded into me deeper and deeper.  Already, I can't shop.  My hands are bound by my conscience and I cannot purchase anything I do not actually need.  We buy food, and even still, I cry.

I have more, more, it's sickening - all this moreBut I don't dance.  Why don't I dance?

Isn't this true of our culture - that in our absolute richness, we sit still and forget how blessed we are?  We lack praises to sing.  We lack joy.  We fight to even be thankful.  We might whisper lax 'thank yous' upward - but to actually dance?

Yes, we ought to dance for joy because of all He is and all He gives.

Dance for joy for what He gives us to actually give to others.

Dance like crazy so all can see - these feet move for Him.  These arms, they flail, but they move in time to my own rhythm.  A unique rhythm.  A blessed beat.

Imperfectly striving for thankfulness and richness in what really, truly matters.

Written for:
 Five Minute Friday

Releasing a Life

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Last week, my husband chose to finish a ten year run at his job as General Manager at a large company.  The job was secure, well-payed, with full benefits and many perks.  It was a good position and he genuinely loved so many of the people he worked with.  But one month ago, Wes handed in his resignation and described to his boss his dream for a 'different' life.

This longing for change started several years ago when we began dreaming about a life apart from the long, stressful work days Wes was stuck in.  I felt very alone in my parenting and home education journey.  Wes felt he was missing out on the things that truly mattered in life - family, ministry.  We had money, but we were separated and conflicted and strained.

We felt God calling us to something very different.

Something new.

We began to ask questions like:
  • Do we really need this much money? (It wasn't that much, just to clarify - ha)
  • Are we being wise with our spending and the way we allocate our funds?
  • If we reduced our costs and consumption significantly, could our life be completely focused on non-material things - like spending time together as a family and engaging in ministry and outreach?
  • How would this affect our working hours?
  • How much of what the world tells us about 'work' is truth?
  • As followers of Jesus, how much time 'at work' is pleasing to Him vs. time focused on trusting Him and being involved in full-out ministry?
  • Really, how much money do we actually need for OURSELVES?
  • What kind of family dynamic do we really want to build?
  • Can't we choose to let God decide what our life looks like rather than having culture TELL us?

And so, we are choosing to completely change our life.  To build something different.  Part of it is the way this culture has worn us down.  We have prayed hard and talked way into the wee hours, wondering if it's wise to take such a risk with three children, a house, commitments. 

I mean, we're technically unemployed and have zero income.  It's kind of insane.

For months we actually prayed about going to Uganda and spending several months there to serve and seek God's purpose for our lives.  But as we prayed, we felt God revealing something to us.  We started seeing the truth that we can and are serving right here.  We can choose to live radically for Christ right where we are and THEN He will direct our paths.

Maybe it is Uganda for us.

Maybe it is right here.  Who knows!?

Well, God, actually.

So, here we sit.  We are completely releasing our life to the Creator.  And, no, we're not quite sure exactly what that looks like yet.  But we are desperately seeking Him to find out.  Choosing to leave the comfort of security and trade it in for the uncertainty of our own business and investment in ministry.  To sit in a place where we actually have to look up.  Where we actually don't write our own story, but rather, desperately beg God to write it for us.


And the peace that is over us right now - it's astounding.  And I know it- the peace that surpasses human understanding is only the peace of Christ.  And I feel it now as I sit here and every day as I embrace the unknown.

We want to completely release our life and allow God to do something totally unique - so we're taking a big leap of faith.  And sometimes, that's just what God asks of us.  To step out and trust He's got our backs.  And yes, there is a ton of uncertainty.  There's a portion of skepticism from those around you.  There is a heap of reliance on God needed.  And, well, you have to be just a little bit crazy.

Crazy Love.  I read that somewhere.  That's what we're called to - to break out of this status quo 'normal' life and run crazy after our King.  It's what we're clinging to - what we're striving for.

So, we're jumping.

Daring to ask the hard questions and let God author our lives completely.  Let go of our own ambitions and our own dreams and put everything at His feet.  Look around us and stand amazed at all we have and all we have to give.

To think deeply and profoundly about the way we are to live this one life... 
this one life that is only preparing us for eternity - for our real life.

Embracing the truth - a life truly lived is a life truly released.

Sitting in awe of the wonder of how small we are, and yet how much God loves us and how amazing His plans are for every one of us.

"For I know the plans I have for you... plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jer. 29:11

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?"
Matthew 16:24-26

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A Holy Experience

Worry and Truth.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I'm so angry and worked up, I pitch a pair of sunglasses at the back of my husband's head as he walks away.  Luckily, my aim is horrible and I mostly miss.  Shame burns my cheeks as I slam a door and fight back tears.

My heart stirs and stews and I worry about things I cannot change.  I stress about things I don't know the answer to.  I let my breath quicken and my heart tremble. I worry about our children, our neighbor's children, and children far, far away.  I weep through ipod sermons at the grocery store and count up how much I've spent on cookies.  I whine to God about how (how?) can I live for Him when I'm filled with selfishness.   I throw my head back and rub my still throbbing neck, worried about the endless headaches - willing away the pain that has followed me for months.

Sometimes, it bubbles up.  All the long days.  All the responsibility.  All these little hands and feet who need me.   All the people who count on me to be a certain somebody.  Once in a while, all the feelings of I'm just not enough completely boil over and ruin an afternoon.  And I wind up pitching a small object at a bewildered husband.


We mount our bikes and pedal down winding roads in a warm breeze.  I don't really want to go, but I force myself to just get on the bike.  The smell of wild lilacs and river mist fills my aching soul and I feel my shoulders ease loose.  I breathe deep, intentional breaths as we park our bikes and, on foot, descend into a green and blue paradise.  Cascading waterfalls glisten over layers of rock and moss, toads hop freely between our toes, trees hang low to bubbling waters and logs are painted with pistachio green.

My feet hit the water and I gaze all around me.  Nothing but the sound of roaring as the river rushes past us.  I watch a Salamander slither between rocks.  I awaken to the cool, freshness hitting my ankles, soothing and rejuvenating me deep within. 

And then, right in the middle of all this, I begin to sob.  My hand to my mouth, tears pouring fast - I realize it - my worry breaks me.  I break myself with the weight of worry.  When I get angry and uptight and lose my temper and fall into despair, I break myself.

    I worry about all these things, yet, what control do I have?

When I survey this amazing world God has created with his mighty hands, I can't help but feel incredibly small.  Yet, why do I build my worries up to be so incredibly big?  So big that I am momentarily hopeless at the thought of the things ahead of me and all around me and the thought of all the hurt and all the pain and all the people who lack so much.  I sigh a deep breath and release it all.

The water rushes over me and carries with worry with it.  I melt into a puddle of realization that I've forgotten (again) the Truth.

"Jesus said, 'Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear...  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more valuable than they?... And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.   So, do not worry... For... your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matt. 6:25-33)

I've gazed at patched of wild lilies.  I've watched them sway in the breeze.  I've embraced the Everlasting.  I've surrendered to His care.  But today, I do it again.  Right in the middle of this rushing river with a toad beside my toes.  And I'll do it again tomorrow.  And again the next day.  This forever surrender to Jesus who wipes tears and carries away the worries with a soul soothing stream of Living Water.

The truth is, I gain nothing through worry.  Nothing.  But God offers us something amazing.  Something you cannot believe until you've experienced it.

"Do not be anxious in anything, 
but in everything through prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
offer your requests to God.
And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding 
will guard your hearts in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:5) 

I've felt this peace that surpasses all understanding.  I felt it today in a mossy wet-land.  I felt it the moment I surrendered and said, "I can't do it alone God.  I hand it all to You.  You are the Author.  Help me to drown this worry and embrace Truth."

Surrender today to the One who carries you in His very hand.  The One who is the beginning and the end - who knows every tear you cry and every concern of your heart.  Lay it at His feet and give it to Him as an offering of obedience and thanksgiving.  And then, feel the peace wash over you and feel His strength refresh your spirit...

Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings, O Lord.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:7-8 

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Teach me Tuesdays


Saturday, June 9, 2012

I spent this whole week in anticipation of the weekend.  I had already wished the days away on Monday morning.  Ironically, it was one of the worst weeks I've had in a while.  I spent every day preparing for what was coming, rather than engaging in the present.  I was grumpy, tired, and disconnected.

Every day I woke up hoping it was over, to just get to the next thing.  Why do we do this?  Why do we wish our lives away?

"I can't WAIT until Friday!"

"When will this day be over?"

"Only FIVE MORE DAYS until..."

"When the kids are older it will be easier."

"If only they were 3-4 years bigger..."

"When we're done with the baby stage..."

But when we do this, we will ourselves to forget about today.  We live expectant that tomorrow will be better.  We ignore the gift of this very moment.  When a gift is ignored, it is left unwrapped - unloved.  We neglect to experience today and be expectant of everything this very hour holds.

We aren't promised the weekend will ever come.

We aren't even promised tomorrow will come.

I know these truths, but why do I so often forget what God has already taught me?  I throw away truth and exchange it for so much less.

Finally, Friday came and I realized our children just needed me to stop cleaning, stop preparing, stop anticipating tomorrow.  So, I climbed into their world played like a child for a long while, just gobbling up what today was serving.  And peace came over us.

Some throw a decade away, expecting the next will be better.  Some throw a life away, anticipating something more and more never comes.

I throw a week away - but it is all the same.  Precious gifts of time here on earth, gifts we ought to hold tight and cherish as if they are the last gift we could ever be given.

These children will grow.

This husband will age.

This body will decay.

And Friday might or might not come.

Cling to today.  Sit in all its glory - expectant only in this very moment.

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Five Minute Friday

Into the hands of the lonely...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I'm selfishly uncomfortable as we walk through the old age home's entrance.  Already I see it - locks on the doors.  An alarm sounds an ear-piercing blare when our group takes too long to get inside.  I wince and look around.

It feels like a hospital.  It looks like a hospital.  I hate hospitals.

Our group is made up of mostly children and their parents, all part of a community volunteer day.  Our mission is to deliver small bags of cookies to seniors at a local long-term care home.  It seemed simple enough.

Some of the precious children involved with our Cookie Walk - our three are in the front row.

 As we move through the corridors, I linger in the back.  My children (bless them) walk fearlessly from room to room, carefully placing ribbon-topped bags of sweets in wrinkled hands.  Some women refuse the gift, others melt at the sight of children.  Some can barely speak, others are keen and bright.  Most, though, are dying.  Our daughters curls bounce as she shyly answers questions about her name, age, and what she named her stuffed puppy (Samson).

My soul chokes as I peek into a small lounge.  Half-conscious men gaze blankly from reclined wheelchairs.  I wonder what they were like when they were young and strong.  I wonder what they are thinking.  A sweet young girl in our group begins to cry, overwhelmed by all the pain, the tubes, the glossy eyes.  I feel for her and fight tears myself.  This is where we keep our aging.  Our sick.  Our Mothers and Fathers.  Our Grandmas and Grandpas.

I see life fire up in a couple's eyes as they tell us how they love children.  They had nine.  They are here alone, but at least together.  One tiny room, stale air, and each other.  We run out of cookies so we sing them "You Are My Sunshine" instead.  I fight the urge to just break right down in the middle of it all.

A tiny lady with all kinds of needles and tubes attached to her gushes over our three.  "Oh!  What gems.  Oh, how lovely.  Oh, dear, what lovely children!"  I smile wide and touch a frail arm. "Thank you so much."  We chat briefly but I feel helpless and so incredibly full of regret as I (for the first time ever) visit these beautiful, lonely people who are ecstatic at the prospect of simple company.   I was nervous I wouldn't know what to say.  I didn't have to say anything.  It wasn't about me (thank goodness).  I just had to be there.  Be present.

I met Mrs. Coles just as we were almost leaving.  She took it upon her spunky self to follow us downstairs.  She beckons me from afar,

"I'm trying to figure out who to thank!?"

I pause.

"For the cookies.  Who do I thank?  Who are you?"

I hesitate.

"Well, I'm Cassandra.  And this is my husband Wes, and our children Simon, Audrey, and Alex."  She beams as I explain we're part of a community day organized to spread love and light in our town.

"We need more people like you," she says, and I feel uncomfortable.

We actually need less people like me. What we need is more people like Jesus.

I liked Mrs. Coles immediately.  She was funny and sincere, and open.

"You know," she started, holding herself up with a walker.  "I feel grateful.  Being in here - it's made me realize what I have.  I can walk - I've got my mind.  I've got my sense of humor."  She smiles through creased eyes.  "I really am doing alright compared to most here."

Thankfulness.  Eucharisteo.  Even hereHad she read the book?

Some days, though, it's like a jail.  "I just wish I could feel the sun on my face," she glances at white-washed walls, all around us.  She leans in and whispers, "... but I had to fight for that.  I put up quite a fuss about letting me sit outside.  Finally they let me - with a PSW.  Always someone watching."

I see her despair, but only for a moment.  She quickly forces a smile.

"What if I came and we sat outside?"  I offer quietly, not sure if she'll believe me.

She smiles and assures me it's not necessary.  I don't know what to say.

All these days on earth I've lived - so many for me.  For just me.

I claim to love Christ, yet I do not love like Him.  I have watched TV while beautiful souls like Mrs. Coles sit alone, longing for someone, anyone, to just care enough to say hello.  And she thinks the world needs more of me?

Tears sting my eyes while we talk about her family and the so many who never have a single visitor.  I promise to write and come again.  And I will.

Mrs. Coles follows me out - she waits too long for the door to shut and the yowling alarm follows me down the path towards the road, my eyes filling up as I walk, my pace quickening.  My heart burns inside my chest.  I march into the breeze of a cool June day.  All these lives - locked away, and I walk free.  What do I do with my freedom?  With my youth?  With these hands and these feet?

I awaken to much more than the plight of the elderly today.  I awaken to my own selfishness and the depth of it.  And the insane grace poured down on me - so undeserved, so unexplainable.

I awaken to the call to actually get up and respond to the need right here in my own town.  The need that is so often ignored.  To face fears and trust God.  To not worry about it when I don't know what to say.  To just show up and hand myself to Him.

He does amazing things through the broken.  And who knows what can happen through a simple gift? Even homemade cookies carefully placed into the hands of the lonely.

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Good Morning Girls



Saturday, June 2, 2012

Our bikes skid down a narrow gravel path as we approach the newly re-landscaped green space.  I  never understood why they dug it up to begin with - we loved it just the way it was, all wild and natural.  Rocks dropped everywhere, toads and fish under every surface.

Then the destruction came.  For months it was a massive pile of mud and rocks.  What was once a gloriously green wetland brimming with wildlife had been reduced to a dry, lifeless mound. When I saw what workers and diggers and bulldozers had done to our precious space, I wanted to cry.  It was as if they were destroying my backyard - this gift is withing a moment's walk from our home and we cherished it.

What WAS this:

Had become this:

It was hard to see what would become of such a mess.

The above photo was taken a few weeks ago.  The machines were now gone, and a hawk circled overhead, her cry ear piercing.  My heart was broken to witness what was left of the project.  The free running water had been completely redirected.  It looked nothing like we knew.  Like we loved.

Patience.  Sometimes it is so hard to see what will come.  To see past the dry dirt.  The dry days.  The unknown.

Slowly, as if God is blowing his very life-breath into that parched ground, our favorite place is coming alive again.  I'm starting to see what is to come.  And this week, I even uttered the words, "I think it might actually be even better this way..."

Ah... the deeper truth to this realization.

And I know - rebirth is a gradual process.  In most areas, the grass is still fine and delicate.  The bushes planted are not much more than thorny sticks poking two feet out of the ground. So we anticipate what we are yet to see.  What will bloom over the next months will be teaming with the miracle of God's amazing natural world.

In the middle of all this waiting, my eyes wander to the small pond in the middle of what should be a field.  Two weeks ago it was loaded with squirming tadpoles.  Thousands of tadpoles.  As I move towards the brown water, I notice something odd.

Bouncing.  Little brown things bouncing everywhere.  Bugs?

"What is that...?"  I whisper as I crouch lower and realize it.

A miracle has taken place in this dried-up, dug-up place.

"Oh my goodness!  Guys!!!  Kids!  Little toads!  Little toads!  They're everywhere!"

I sound like a child in my giddy excitement and our three come running, shouting and screaming with sheer bliss.  We carefully get low and witness it closely - the Creator's design.  The tadpoles had become the tiniest, sweetest little amphibians you could ever imagine.

I see.  I see that miracles happen in the dry places.  In the still-growing places.  In the messed-up places.  Even here, where we still anticipate what will be, there is unthinkable joy in the very, very small.

Beauty is all around us, if we only open our eyes to see.

(Five Minute Friday)

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