Bedtime Songs Part Four

Standard

So I (Joel) am finally finishing this series of blog posts. This is the fourth and final song. If you have been following the last few posts from our blog, you know that I am writing a series of blog posts about the songs that I sing to Jonah at bedtime. I have been writing about how the lyrics are revealing more truth in the words than I have ever understood before when singing these songs over the years. If you haven’t read the first three posts of this series, I encourage you to go back and read them in order as I think that reading them in order would bring the most clarity and meaning.

This final song is by far the most profound song that I sing to my son. It has impacted me most deeply and there are even times that I choose not to sing it as the words can cut so deep into the hurt and pain of our story that it can be too much to bare. It is again a song from Andrew Peterson, which you know by now is my favorite artist. Andrew Peterson has a way with lyrics that tell the most beautifully raw and intimate stories.  In fact, his latest album – Light for the Lost Boy – speaks so perfectly of my story start to finish that it rips me apart when I listen to the whole album in order, which is something I don’t do often. We went to his Light for the Lost Boy concert right about the time when things really fell apart and I sat in the church pew and wept the whole concert. Never has a concert laid me as bare as that one did. However, this blog is not about that concert or that album. This is about his song entitled – Just as I Am.  The first couple of lines of verse one starts like this:

What’s that on the ground? It’s what’s left of my heart. Somebody named Jesus broke it to pieces and planted the shards.

This line in the song had always confused me till now. I wondered why Peterson would write that Jesus breaks our hearts. It always seemed truthful, but I just didn’t really understand. Now I do… You see our hearts can be so lost, so messy, so not what they are supposed to be that Jesus allows for the tragedy to fracture our hearts. You see he has to sometimes start over – sometimes breaking the very thing that he is here to restore. If that doesn’t seem to make sense to you then I will just point you to the cross. Jesus came to give life, but his very life had to be broken to restore it. This is a very hard truth – Jesus at times will allow your heart to break and in some extreme cases will do the breaking. You see, he is making all things new. Our hearts have been severely damaged and wounded by this life.  Jesus breaks our hearts wide open not to destroy them or to purposely hurt us but so that they can be remade.

Only here is the thing. The pieces don’t necessarily get put back together. Why, you ask? That is a great question. Here is what I have learned so far: when Jesus fills our hearts with his love and grace – our broken hearts can’t hold it in so that love and grace spills out of the cracks which flows into other broken hearts only to be spilled again and again. I know that my broken heart has much more of a capacity to love and for grace. It is really unbelievable. It is a truth that has been such a comfort to me.

The other part is spoken about in the lyrics. Jesus plants the shards; he places the broken bits of our heart into fertile ground. You see he is making all things new. There is purpose to your pain – purpose to your brokenness. Something new is coming. Here is the rest of the first verse.

And they’re coming up green and they’re coming in bloom. I can hardly believe this is all coming true.

Yes new life is coming from the broken pieces. This new life is not for the one with the broken heart – at least not only for them. This green, these blooms are growing for others. This is something that I have seen over and over again. God is bringing  life out of our pain. God is using the hurt to change others. I know that I can hardly believe it. It truly seems not possible. But we are talking about God here, Creator of the universe. I know that anything is possible with God. And the truth is what we have gained through this eases the hurt of what has been lost. Now the chorus:

Just as I am, just as I was, just as I will be he loves me he does. Showed me the day that he shed his own blood. He loves me oh, he loves me he does.

Do you hear the truth? So many times we feel that our brokenness and pain, that our wounds, that are messiness – prevents God from loving us. But that is just NOT TRUE. He is not waiting for your life to matter, waiting for you to do something, waiting for you to get your act together to love you. No, no, no. He loves you just as you are, just as you were, and just as you will be, PERIOD. He proved his love for us by dying on a cross when we didn’t have it all together. When we were broken and used up. Jesus sees what he intended for you to be not what you are. That is why he can love you. When he looks at you – he sees the true you, not the false you that has been constructed from years of sin, death, decay, wounds, losses, troubles, etc. It is like a master sculptor looking at the block of marble. Everyone else just sees the block of marble, but he/she sees the finished masterpiece. To him/her it is not a block of marble at all, but the perfect form that has always existed beneath the layers of waste rock. To free you, to get to the masterpiece, to excavate to the finished beauty underneath – brokenness and pain are necessary. Here is the second verse:

All of my life, I’ve held on to this fear. These thistles and vines ensnare and entwine what flowers appeared. It’s the fear that I’ll fall one too many times. It’s the fear that his love is no better than mine.

This happens in everyone’s story of brokenness and pain. There is fear, fear that his love is not true. That this love is not to be trusted. The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. The weeds come to steal the nutrients to our flowers, they come to choke us out – to take away the life we are being given. Those impostors don’t want you to believe that his love is true and can be trusted. They speak lies that instill fear that we have fallen too much to be loved. That Jesus’s love couldn’t possibly be better than anyone else’s love. Couldn’t be better than the love we have received from others much of which has hurt us, neglected us, abandoned us, rejected us, abused us, etc. Jesus’s love is just too good to be true sometimes. We feel this fear the most when we are at our darkest hour. But the night is coldest and the darkest right before the dawn. You see Jesus comes to us – offering us life. The enemy offers death – but Jesus offers redemption and restoration. He offers us, not merely survival, but purpose and meaning. He gives us the gift of mattering. That our life matters to someone else. That we are worthy of someone’s love and affection. We must choose to believe in life, not death. Early in our trials, Anna and I had to really decide if all of the things we had claimed to be true in the triumph are still just as true in defeat. If the promises of God only were true on the mountaintop and not in the depths of the valley. We had to decide if we truly believed in these promises. Were we going to continue to follow him or turn back? Was God who he says he is? Does he truly love us completely just as we are? –   Jesus offers life. Jesus is the real deal – his love is true. He loves us just as we are.  Here is the third verse:

It is time now to harvest what little that grew. The man they call Jesus has come for the fruit. But the best that I’ll got isn’t nearly enough, but he is glad for the crop but it is me that he wants.

You see the truth is that our purpose isn’t that big in the scheme of things. The fruit we bare is minimal. This can make us feel that Jesus’s love is proportional to the fruit we bare. It is just not true. God’s love abounds! His love is not based on the fruit. The fruit is not the point. Our hearts are. The purpose for all of it is that our hearts belong to him and him alone. The fruit is not what he is after, the fruit is just the outward revelation of the inward changes being made. God wants your heart, your whole heart. If he has to break it to get access to it, to do some healing, to draw you closer to him, to bring you into his work, to fill it with his love and grace – then he will do that.  Don’t worry though. It is ok. It will be ok. He is trustworthy. He is making all things new. He is giving you love and life.

Just as I am, just as I was, just as I will be he loves me he does. Loves me he does, loves me he does.

Here is Andrew sing the song if you want to have a listen.

Advertisements

BEDTIME STORIES PART THREE

Standard

Like I (Joel) stated in the previous two blogs in this series, I have sung to Jonah at bedtime since day one of his life. I decided that I wanted to share the music that I sing to my son on a regular basis. If you missed the previous two they are linked below.

Music is special, isn’t it? It has a way of sneaking past the walls and barriers we place surrounding our hearts – it creeps into the deeper parts of our souls and does its work there. It seems that melodies and lyrics speak to these lost and forgotten places in a way that nothing else could ever come close. Music has been a big part of our journey over the past four years or so. There have been many songs that have put into words what we have not been able to say ourselves. Singing has been a way for us to express our deep feelings and desires to God about our circumstances – to purely communicate our pain to him when simple words just won’t do. So it is not a big shock that the songs I have sung to Jonah since he was a tiny baby (the “tiny” part lasted about a day) have begun to take on new meaning. They have spoken to me in brand new ways. God does that doesn’t He? He takes something familiar and simple and turns it on its head – blowing our minds.

This particular song is a little more specific in its meaning. It is written by Andrew Peterson. It is written to little boys and to the little boys found deep in each man. It speaks of adventure and triumph but also struggles in life. If you know Jonah this song describes him to the letter. He is your typical live-life-at-full-throttle kind of boy.  It is a great song but I am only going to share parts of it. If you would like to hear the full song I have posted it here. I am going to focus on the pre-chorus, chorus, and one of the bridges as they seem to applicable to most of us. I think it describes what following Jesus is truly like.

The pre-chorus goes like this:

Feel the beat of a distant thunder…It’s the sound of an ancient song…this is the kingdom calling…come now and tread the dawn…

There is a deep sound and rhythm that has been present since the beginning of time. It is the sound of the Trinity calling us back home. As soon as the relationship was broken through original sin – God has been ever calling and pursuing us. This ancient song has to filter through a broken world and broken hearts so it doesn’t always come through crystal clear. But we get glimpses, don’t we? Sometimes it comes in so clearly forcing our eyes wide open and we see the kingdom in its full and intended glory. This of course leaves us wanting more. It is truly what gives us our hope – really one of the only hopes we have – that the kingdom is coming. God is calling us to join him there. It doesn’t start when we die. It starts now. The kingdom comes to earth through our hearts engaged with the Father. When we tread with him we can join in this ancient song – calling others who have strayed too far. It is that sweet melody that brings us home.

Now for the chorus:

Come to the Father, come to the deeper well, drink of its waters. Come and live a tale to tell.

The pages are turning now, this is abundant life. The joy in the journey is enough to make a grown man cry with a little boy heart alive.

This song is calling us to the Father – the deeper well. We can drink all day and not run out of water. His waters are  everlastingly deep and when we fully immerse in him we find a full life. This then becomes our tale to tell. It is truly the only thing we really have; our story to tell. I am understanding that more and more clearly. The gift I have to give the world – really the only one I have to give – is my life, my story, my tale to tell. God is writing the story and it is a real page turner. I am not sure how it is going to turn out. But the story is a full one. It is rich and deep. There is so much there to digest, to take in. I am not sure I am even getting half of what is really there. Oh and there is joy in this story such joy – I don’t mean happiness; happiness is fleeting, but joy, true joy which overflows from my heart. It pours out on those that are hearing and experiencing my story, enriching their own stories as they enrich mine.  

I would love to skip the last part of the chorus but it is no use. This “grown man” has cried, boy have I cried. But most of the tears really aren’t from sorrow but from surrender and peace; from love and joy; from deep in my heart where the little boy lives walled off from all others. You see he is full of wounds – wounds that have not fully healed. He is afraid to come out – afraid to live. Innocence has been lost. His heart is broken all to pieces. But this is not the end of the tale. A great Hero has come – Jesus came to restore ALL things to himself. He came to restore that little boy, to awaken him from his slumber so that he can live again. Allowing this Hero to free him from captivity and allowing Jesus to bind up his broken heart is the only true gift I can give the world – the gift of my presence fully alive, fully restored.

And finally the bridge:

Take a ride on the mighty Lion. Take a hold of his golden mane. This is the love of Jesus. So good but He is not tame.

What would that be like? Riding a lion… Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I can’t say that following Jesus is not the same. If we take a hold of him he will lead us on quite a journey. Ultimately the journey will be good, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be a wild ride. You will have to hang on pretty tight. But you can trust this Lion. He knows exactly where to take you.

Come to the Father. Come to the deeper well. Drink of his waters. Come and live a tale to tell. The pages are turning now. This is abundant life. The joy in the journey is enough to make this grown man cry with a little boy heart alive.

Ever the road goes on and on. Ever the road goes on and on and on…

What kind of tale are you going to live? What is your story to share with the world?

 

 

To the others.

Standard

I’m surrounded by beautiful mothers.  There’s my own mother, and mother-in-law, both of whom bless me over and over and over with their support and love.  There’s many wonderful mothers in my family, including my sister, Gina, who is an intentional, silly, creative and engaging mother.   And a whole bunch of women in my cohort titled “We’re all just doing the very best job we can do to raise our kiddos.”  I am blessed by their honesty and humor. (I’m blessed even more when they help me process the fact that Jonah almost electrocuted himself a week ago. Oh yes he did…)  Yes, there are many beautiful, strong, intelligent mothers in my world and I adore them so very much. I honor them.

However:

This entry is not for them.

This entry is for the women, who, like me, skipped church this morning…because you know that your heart is just tender today.  And because the LAST place you want to be is in a room full of people who are talking about how “blessed” they are to be mothers- because they have one of the things you-want-but-can’t have.  Or for those that did go to church…and wept in the back.

Believe me, I am fully aware that even as my fingers move over the keys to type this entry, I can hear my son near me playing with legos.  That’s what makes this secondary infertility thing so weird…it’s this strange combination of guilt and gratitude.  (You’re so extremely thankful for the child you have and you feel guilty for wanting more.)

Yes, this entry is for me, and for others like me who fall into this weird category of infertility.  But it’s ALSO for the women who can’t get pregnant at all. For the women who have lost babies before they were born.  Or after.  Who’s families are incomplete.  It’s for the women who had babies and gave them up for adoption to be raised by others.  For the women who are doing beautiful work of fostering.  It’s for the single moms. It’s for dads, raising their kids alone- who are both mom and dad. For the women who choose not to have kids. It’s for the women who are single, and who don’t want to be.

I honor YOU today too, because I see you.  And I know that you, too, are trying to do the very best you can.  And I think you should be honored for it.  Let’s all keep up this good work.  Let’s keep doing the best we can every day.  You- you’re doing a good job.  And I’m proud of you.

BEDTIME SONGS – PART TWO

Standard

hurricane-ivan_200_600x450

This is the second in the series of posts about some of the songs that I sing our son Jonah at bedtime and how the lyrics are connecting to my heart in a way that they have not done before. There is a new depth to these lyrics due to the path of pain that we have been on. Like I stated in the first post in this series, most of these come from my favorite artist Andrew Peterson. However, for this post I would like to talk through a song from John Mark McMillian that has had a powerful influence in my life this past year or so. The song is titled “How He Loves Us” and is sung on the radio by several artists including David Crowder but was written by McMillian. By far my favorite version is the one that includes an extra verse from McMillian. It can be found here. McMillian is fast becoming one of my five favorite artists. His raw and honest style is so moving to me. I feel as though he tells it like it is. He doesn’t pretty it up but lays out the mess for all to see.

This song is no different. The first verse goes like this:

He is jealous for me. Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree. Bending beneath the weight of is wind and mercy. When all of the sudden I am unaware of this afflictions eclisped by glory, and I realize just how beautiful you are and how great your affections are for me.

I think we often forget this first line. He is jealous for me. Our God so deeply desires our attention and focus that He is jealous of all other things that can take his place. He so wants our love and attention that He is willing to risk our happiness. Sometimes his love can be so intense that it can feel like a hurricane. We can be come overwhelmed by it. Bent over but not broken. Jesus is willing to allow for pain to come in to our lives which disrupts our happiness but exposes our deep need for him. Once we are finally attentive to the weight of his glory those afflictions are eclipsed – not necessarily taken away but removed from our direct experience. The moon just went through an eclipse last month. The moon was not gone, it was where it always is but we were less aware of it, it was removed from our direct view. It is then that we see his full beauty – what a beauty it is and in that we experience the full affection He has for us. Something he wants to reveal to us each day. In fact, it has now become part of my practice to ask for its revelation. I have begun to include in my morning prayers: “Lord please reveal your affection for me in a way that I can see it”.

Chorus: Oh how he loves us so. Oh how he loves us, how he loves us all.

Verse 2: And we are his portion and he is our prize. Drawn to redemption by the grace in his eye. If is grace is an ocean we’re all sinking. And heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest and I don’t have time to maintain these regrets. When I think about the way….

He is our prize. We forget that. We have been awarded with the presence of Jesus not because of who we are or what we have done but simply because we are his portion. We belong to him. We are drawn to our redemption. We don’t choose it, we are drawn to it. We forget this as well. We try to force redemption and grace on people. This is not the way it works. The Holy Spirit draws us to him by is deep and unending, graceful ocean. We drown in his grace. He gives so much grace to us that we are drowning in it. And we need to. I need to drown daily in his ocean of grace.

I really like the part with heaven meeting earth with a sloppy wet kiss. Some versions have changed this. I am not sure why. I think that God’s affection is direct and somewhat messy at times. I think that even at times the affection we feel from Jesus can be overwhelming and uncomfortable making our hearts turn violently inside of our chests. This can pour over us in a way that we really can’t hold onto regret. We try and we try to grasp it tightly because we think it is a part of us and defines us. However, when we fully immerse in the water of his unending acceptance and everlasting flowing stream of his love we can’t help but let them go realizing that his acceptance and love is what is true. It is what should define us.

Chorus 2:  He loves us, oh how he loves us, oh how he loves us, oh how he loves us. Yes, he loves us, oh how he loves us, oh how he loves us, oh how he loves us.

Take the leap. Drown in is grace. Allow for the regrets to be released. Allow the hurricane of his love and affection bend you low. Allow your afflictions to be covered by his beautiful and pure glory. 

Bedtime Songs – Part One

Standard

Ever since Jonah was a few-day-old baby, I (Joel) have made it a regular occurrence to sing to him as a part of his bedtime routine. It is something that he has come to expect and it is something that brings him comfort when he is upset. Right from the beginning I did not choose to sing the traditional lullabies to him but chose about four or five songs that I enjoyed singing – most of them coming from my favorite musician, Andrew Peterson. Andrew Peterson is a folksy artist who has a narrative style in his songs. I enjoy the lyrics and soothing melodies. The songs are so real; they speak of truths in a way that cuts right to the core. I think Jonah mostly enjoys the story aspect of his songs as well as the familiarity of their words. The songs I choose to sing are not necessarily all nice and fuzzy. They instead speak of the troubles one experiences in life. They speak of hardship and pain but also speak of a great adventure that Jesus wants to lead us on and of the great redemption that comes from giving your life over to him. I wanted Jonah to know at a young age the realities of life but the hope that we can have when we align our lives to the Author of our stories. When we surrender the pen and allow Him to write.

Over the course of this past year, I have been listening to the lyrics a little closer as I sing them. The words have taken on new and deeper meaning. I am amazed by the depth of truth that I am finding in these words and phrases – truth I was not able to discern over the past six years of singing them to my son. There is a new power to the words as I have to really decide if I am going to stand firm on what they say. These lyrics have never been more real to me. They speak of a reality that I thought I knew my whole life. Now am I realizing that I was only looking at a small piece of this reality. I am starting to see more of the whole picture. This picture is quite beautiful; but as more and more of the picture is clearly revealed to me, it is also unnerving and unsettling. It is not what I thought it would be. But there is a deep peace in my soul to see the whole picture. This peace is not comfortable, it is actually more disruptive. Even if the whole picture disrupts my life, it is a holy disruption. And I am finding that holy disruptions are the purest thing we can experience in order to get to what things are really supposed to be like.

For the next few blogs I write, I would like to share with you some of the song lyrics of the various bedtime songs that I sing to Jonah. I am hoping to be able to share the new clarity I have received about the truth they tell. This clarity has come as a result of allowing their lyrics to penetrate my heart into the places that were long forgotten or purposely sealed off.  I am hoping that maybe, just maybe, the lyrics might get a hold of you too. That they might disrupt you a bit. That they might penetrate your heart.

The first song is the one that I sing to Jonah most often. It is a song that Andrew Peterson sings but was written by Mary Chapin Carpenter. It is called “Why walk when you can fly”. (Additionally, we chose this song as the music for his dedication/baptism)

It starts like this:

“In this world there’s a whole lota trouble, baby. In this world there’s a whole lota pain. In this world there’s a whole lota trouble but a whole lot of ground to gain.”

Do you hear the truth in those words? In the Bible, Jesus tells us “in this world you will have trouble”. Sometimes I want to say that that is a big understatement. I mean, no kidding that we will have trouble! We will have wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night, push-you-to-the-cliff-of-despair, make-you-question-everything-you-believe-in kind of trouble.  With that trouble comes so much pain. In says in the Bible, Jesus came to “bind up the brokenhearted.” With that statement he defines us. We are the brokenhearted – every one of us. We have all had our hearts broken.

“Why take when it could be given, why watch as the world goes by, it’s a long enough life to be living, why walk when you could fly…”

Jesus comes to bind up the brokenhearted. He didn’t come to take; he came to give, to give his very life. All we have to do is receive it.

The second verse goes like this:

“In this world there’s a whole lota sorrows, in this world there’s a whole lota shame. In this world there’s a whole lota sorrows but a whole lota ground to gain.”

By now you are probably wondering why in the heck I would sing this sad song to my son to put him to sleep. Here is the thing. This world is full of sorrows. My son’s heart may be mostly intact right now but it will be broken. He will experience sorrow. We try to protect our kids from this, heck we try to protect ourselves from experiencing sorrow, but it is no use – it will come. The truly sad thing is that often it is connected to our shame. Shame is deeply connected to our wounds. Wounds from the trouble, the pain, the sorrow, our mistakes, from those that should have loved us… We feel that there must be something wrong with us. If this weren’t true then we would experience trouble, pain, sorrow, wounds, rejection, neglect, abandonment, the list goes on.

“Why spend your whole life wishing, wanting, and wondering why? It’s a hard enough life to be living why walk when you can fly.?

We wait around for something to change. We wish and wish for things to be different. We want things to be ok. Then when things don’t change – when things are not different and are more of the same – when things are not ok. We wonder why? We return to shame. There must be something wrong with me or things would be different. The truth is that reality is what makes you broken. It is what is wrong. You were made for a different existence. You were made for so much more. You were made to fly in a world that tries to force you to walk. You were made to soar in a world where flying seems strange. You were made to spread your wings in a world bent on keeping you in a cage.  

The last verse goes like this:

“In this world there’s a whole lota of golden, in this world there’s a whole lota plain. In this world you’ve a soul for a compass and a heart for a pair of wings. There’s a star on the far horizon rising bright in an azure sky. For the rest of time you are living, why walk when you can fly? High… High….”

We see glimpses don’t we? We get little peeks at what life is intended to be. Sometimes we even witness someone flying in a world bent on walking. But our hearts are broken; our wings damaged; our compass not true and trustworthy. Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted. Sounds like you and me, doesn’t it? Jesus came to fix your wings. He came to reorient your compass. He came to teach you how to fly. The question is – are you going to let him? Are you going to give him access to your heart, to penetrate the place long forgotten or walled off and sealed never to be opened again? Are you going to let your wings be fixed and your compass made true? If you do, then for the rest of your life you can fly. You can soar. You were made to fly. If that is true, if that is really true – then there really is only one more question to ask. Why are you still walking?

 

It is what it is.

Standard

I’ve been doing some speaking lately, about our story.  I’m preparing tonight for a talk I’m giving to a MOPS group on Friday.  I’m looking forward to the intimacy.  The last speaking event I did was on a larger scale, and I gave my talk multiple times in one weekend.  Therefore, I had the details of our story in a video that one of my girlfriends shot for me.  Playing the video was not an option for Friday’s event, so tonight I am writing out the description of what happened.

The timeline is killing me.

I don’t think about it as much anymore…you know?  I can get through my days now without constantly thinking about what has happened to us.  Not like a year ago.  We found out we’d never be able to get pregnant just over a year ago- last March…so long ago, and just yesterday all at the same time.

Here is an excerpt of the talk I’ll be giving on Friday:

“I’ll never forget that day…  We had an appointment with our ob gyn earlier in the day.  We made a plan.  We ran some tests.  Joel and I had a conversation driving from the doctor’s office in to work.  “We could be pregnant as early as next month,” I said.

A few hours later, my cell phone rang.  I stepped out in the hallway to take the call.   When your caller ID says it’s your doctor’s office, your heart skips a beat.  Best case scenario- it’s a nurse or receptionist letting you know they need to reschedule an appointment.  When I heard our doctor’s voice on the other end of the line, I knew- something was terribly wrong.  He had just received the results of Joel’s sperm sample- a routine test for any couple facing infertility.  “I’m so sorry I have to tell you this,” he said “but there was no sperm in the sample.”  A specialist later confirmed that- for an unknown reason Joel was now sterile.

I’ll never forget getting that phone call from our doctor.  The one that forever changed our lives in the worst way.  I was shocked.  Heartbroken.  For many weeks after I simply could not get control of my emotions.  I would start crying at any given time.  I would have a breakdown in any location.  At home, at the grocery store, in my car, at work.  There were times that I was so very desperate that the only prayer I could pray was the word “Jesus.”  Over and over again.

At the worst of it, I would have to will my feet to move throughout my day…one foot in front of the other.  One foot in front of the other.  It became like a mantra, the only way I could move forward.  I learned that I couldn’t trust my mind- it was filled with discouragement.  Despair.  There were times I was desperate for scripture, any bible verse.  Times where I knew that if I didn’t get a Bible verse in my mind NOW, I would go to the place of despair and very likely not return.

One day, during a breakdown at work, I knew I needed a break, I needed air, I needed something.  I grabbed my cell phone and ran out of the building.  I’m not kidding.  I ran.  I ran across campus, right out on the campus green.  I’m sure I looked like a madwoman, running that way.  Luckily, it was the summer, so there were very few people on campus.  I knew of a trail through the woods on the west side of campus, a place where my husband does biology research with his students.

I had an urgent need to get into the wilderness…There is a trail head, but I just couldn’t take time to walk to it.  I had to get there NOW.  So I kept running across campus, and down through the thick of the woods.  It was ridiculous, I knew.  But I was functioning out of an irrational place.  I walked on the trail, praying, sobbing, yelling at God and desperate for freedom from my circumstances.  When I reached the end of the trail my soul had an urgent need for scripture- any scripture, to hold onto- I pulled out my cell phone- as it was all I had.  As I opened my Bible ap, I said to the Lord- whatever the verse of the day is, I’m clinging to.  No matter what it says- I need an anchor for my soul right this minute.

This is what came up and it changed everything:  “Go ahead and be angry.  You do well to be angry-but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge.  And don’t stay angry.  Don’t give the devil that kind of foothold in your life.”  Ephesians 4:26,27

God said to me that day, “Yes, you’re angry.  You have a right to be angry.  I’m angry about this too.  But do not stay angry.  You will get stuck there.  And that is not the life I had planned for you.”  

 I don’t even know what else to say tonight.  Yes, outlining the details of our situation is painful.  Of course it is, it is a PAIN FILLED situation.  So now I’m just sitting in my living room, typing away and working on that balance between leaning into the pain and putting the pain in its proper place on the shelf of my heart (because it could very likely take over my entire heart if left to run rampant).  And again I’m offering up this story to the Lord, hoping and trusting that He’s going to use our ashes to create something beautiful.  All I know to do is to be honest about it.  So- here we go…

8th Caroline Project: 8 Months of Giving

Standard

Well, the 8th Caroline Project has come and gone. I don’t think I’ve written an entry for a hundred years…because life has been so full of both good and overwhelming things.  (Good:  spring break, preparing for and delivering a talk at a women’s conference, lots of family time as well as time with “our people”.  Overwhelming: my computer crashed and our plumbing backed up.)  Consequently there has been very little time left for things like writing.  Such is live and the beauty of an informal blog – breaks are totally okay.

Here’s the scoop on this month’s Caroline Project:  A friend needed some money for something.  That’s it. There’s really nothing more to it than that.

So instead of any information about an organization, I want to unpack the things we’ve been gleaning from the past 8 months of giving.

It seemed so crazy/weird/dumb in the beginning…what a strange thing we were led to do.  It felt pointless even.  But now…I never want to stop.

You guys, I cannot even tell you how amazing it has been to know that we will be giving; to know that there is money available, set aside already, with only the intent to be given away.  That when we see a need (because they are THERE) we will be able to do something.

I can be so self-focused, you know?  When the crap hit the fan last year, one of my reactions was to hide in my bed with the covers pulled up over my face.  Definitely there have been times where I did that very thing.  But that only works for so long, really.  Five year olds don’t raise themselves.  Life goes on.  And I don’t want to miss out on even one moment of my life because I’m stuck in a place where I’m only able to see how things are not going my way.  The beauty in The Caroline Project is that it is constant.  It’s a way of life, really.  Month after month we are committed to thinking outside of ourselves.  In the beginning, it took that accountability, that promise we made to ourselves to do this, in order for us to give…when all we wanted to do was think about ourselves.

I know that we’re in the category of the wealthiest people in the world.  If you makeover $50,000 a year, that applies to you as well.  That being said,  Joel and I are not wealthy people.  We have jobs.  We get paid.  But we are not rolling in the dough, you know?  So to add a serious financial donation to our budget every single month for a year seemed downright insane.  Like, CRAZY AND DUMB AND COMPLETELY POINTLESS.  

But I have to tell you something about that, the financial piece.  If we were in the same room, I’d make you lean in just a little closer so you were paying attention.  And then I’d lift my hand up to the side of my mouth and I’d whisper:  “Here’s the crazy thing: It’s working.  Like, financially…  It’s working.”  It’s as if God is filling in the gaps or something (duh, I’ve only heard 200 sermons in my life about this very topic ).  For real, our budget is stretching.  Plus, we have had many extra opportunities to earn more money each month.  Yes, there have been months where we have had to go without extra stuff so that we can maintain our promise to The Caroline Project (think:  sorry friends, we can’t go out to eat with you because we have no extra funds after The Caroline Project).  Big whoop.  Shouldn’t it be like that sometimes?!?  But overall, it hasn’t  been like that.  More often than not, we’ve kept up our usual lifestyle.  We’ve never been big spenders and we’re always pretty budget conscious.  But we’ve done things like buy new (new to us) living room furniture and a truck.  We’ve gone on our regular small vacations.  We’ve done things like eat out and go to movies pretty much the same amount as usual.  The point is:  I’m surprised that our lifestyle hasn’t really needed to change that much.  Like, really surprised.  Like, if that’s the case than I ALWAYS want to give more than I think I can give.  Because, apparently I CAN give more than I think I can give…

I’m not so naive that I think our small financial contribution really makes any difference in the bottom lines of the organizations and individuals we’ve given to.  Not really.  No, this is being done for us; to bring us to a different place than when we started.  You see, The Caroline Project has created room.  Room to grieve.  Room to heal.  Through it we have been allowed to pause…to take time.  We’ve been able to somewhat remove the pressure to have it all figured out. And we’ve been allowed to reassess what we thought we needed to be true, that we could make our own plans, that we had control over the details of our lives…

I think part of why it took me so long to write this post is because I didn’t know what words to use to fully express what The Caroline Project has done for us…and I still don’t.  All I can say is…that it’s just really good…

Tough Questions

Standard

Kids are something else, aren’t they? They just experience life so pure, so free. They fully engage and are not afraid to mess up. It makes sense that Jesus used them as the purest example of what it means to fully embrace following him. You see, kids grow up. In some ways, it is sad to see the transition to “maturity”. We can lose so much as we age. We can get stuck. We can become more afraid. We can forget others. We can become too cautious. We can stop dreaming. And most importantly we can stop asking questions. We specifically stop asking tough questions. I am not sure why this happens. Maybe we become too afraid of the answers. Or worse yet, we think we know the answers. Or even worse still, we don’t believe that there are any answers or at least we don’t think we will like their answers.

Kids have no problem asking the tough ones; it is just in them to do so. Jonah is the king of asking the tough questions. Often I am the one charged with answering them. Many times it is because he asks them when we are one on one. Other times I think Anna chooses to be silent out of curiosity; she want to hear how I will answer them. Like the time Jonah asked how babies get out of Mommies. Anna just sat there looking at me and smiling. She was especially enjoying it when he wouldn’t accept the first few blow-off answers I gave him. I finally had to be as direct as I could be while still protecting his innocence.  It is, of course, one of our favorite stories.

The past few months Jonah has been asking some doozies . In some ways, I wonder if it is Jesus asking questions through him. Kind of in the backward way that he did in many stories of the Bible. Like the time he was asking the disciples “who do people say that I am?” or when he kept asking Peter if Peter loved him. There have been several good ones that Jonah has asked recently. There are two that really stand out that I would like to share.

The first one came a few months ago when I was home with Jonah alone. I can’t remember where Anna was but we were having one of our “boy only days”.  Anna and I have been intentional about making these days be a common occurrence ever since Jonah was born. Because of this things tend to be pretty organic and comfortable between us. He knows that he can talk to me and that I will listen. He knows “dad knows a lot” so he isn’t afraid to ask me questions trusting I will do my best to answer him and if I don’t know the answer that we will discover it together. We had been playing and were having a quiet moment in the hallway of our house just sitting there on the hardwood floors in opposite doorways. He said to me, “Dad, why hasn’t Mommy had any more babies?” Man, that cut right to the deep of it. I sat there for a few seconds not knowing what to say but knowing from previous experience it was best to give it to him straight. He likes direct answers and is not satisfied by a distant or fluffy answer.

Oh if we could all ask each other these kinds of tough questions. I mean why don’t we? Actually, there has been many times throughout this journey that I desired just that. For someone to look me in the eye with love and ask me how I was doing, how I was feeling, what I was struggling with and not only that; but to really want to know the answer. You see, Jonah really wants to know the answer. Kids know when we are blowing them off. But it is like adults are just ok with some fluff answer or we don’t ask the questions because we expect to be blown off. Obviously, first we have to have the courage to ask the question and the person has to have the courage to answer honestly but that is a whole other topic

So I sat there and prayed a little prayer to help me answer my son honestly and directly.

I said to him, “Mommy and Daddy can’t have any more babies.” He sat there with a sad look and I knew what was coming next. He asked, “Why not?” So I swallowed hard and explained that Daddy’s body was broken. He then asked why that would matter. So then things got really interesting because I am not quite ready to have that “talk” with him yet. So I explained that he is a mixture of Mommy and Daddy. That Daddy gave Mommy part of himself so that he could be made and could be born. I explained that I can’t give Mommy what she needs to make a baby; that my body doesn’t work the way it is supposed to. I explained that we don’t know if Mommy and Daddy will have any more kids and that right now we think that he will be our only kid.

I could see his little, wonderful brain at work. I could tell he was working it out. He accepted the answer even though it wasn’t the answer he expected or wanted. It is not that he was okay with the answer. He was disappointed. He wants a sibling pretty badly and, in his own way is grieving that loss. However, he accepted my answer. I told him I was sorry and he told me that it was okay.

My little boy had just taught me some valuable lessons. He taught me that we need to ask the tough questions. But not only that, we also need to accept the answers. We don’t have to like them. We can certainly be disappointed – especially when the answer is different than we expect or want. I mean, this is huge. How would our relationships change if we did this? If we asked tough questions.  How would our faith change? We would certainly be much farther along in the journey.

The second question came a few days ago. I was getting Jonah ready for bed and something he thought off scared him deeply. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, he has a hard time letting the scary thought go and he gets really upset. It is quite troubling for me as I can’t always figure out how to calm him down and help him find peace. So I talked with him about what we should do when we are scared. We prayed to Jesus and asked Him to take away Jonah’s fear and to remove the things in his mind that was causing him to be afraid. I lay down beside him and began to sing to him.

He interrupted me with a question.  Don’t our deep questions tend to do that, to interrupt our lives? It is easy to not ask them when we are going through the motions of life, but then all the sudden things change and all we are left with is those deep, dark questions that we have tried to avoid at all costs. There are times in our lives that we smack right into these tough questions. So Jonah asks me one that completely stops me in my tracks. You see I was getting a little frustrated that he wasn’t calming down, but in that moment it was like Jesus had different plans and through the mouth of a child comes a question that Anna and I have been facing for quite some time now. Only I was charged with giving the answer. Jonah said to me, “Daddy, I prayed to Jesus about my scary thoughts and he didn’t take them away. Why didn’t Jesus take them away?” I mean isn’t this question at the very core of many of our stories?

So I said to Jonah, “Jesus is with you and he will protect you”. Jonah said back, “But Daddy, Jesus is just standing there; he is not taking away the scary things.” Man, you have no idea how many times these thoughts have come to me. I know that my circumstances could be different. I know that God could have given us more children. I know he could have saved each of lost babies and he could have prevented what has happened to my body. But he didn’t. Jonah was verbalizing what many of us struggle to bring to the surface. He was being really honest with his view of the moment. Frankly, I can totally see where he is coming from and I wanted to be like “yeah that is right he isn’t taking away your fear, what is up with that?” But instead I needed to guide my son through this faith rocking moment. It was my responsibility to be honest with my son about how God’s thoughts and ways are not ours.

So I said to him, “Well, son, you are right. Sometimes Jesus doesn’t take away the scary things we face. Sometimes Jesus doesn’t take us away from the hard, difficult things that we are facing. Sometimes Jesus just stands with us. But you know what? We can trust him. He won’t leave us. Sometimes he helps us to walk through the scary thing, to face it and move through it. And if bad things happen to us, Jesus will be there and he will help us through it. Jesus does this sometimes so that we can be stronger and be brave. Courage is not about not being afraid. It is about trusting it will be ok.”

Again Jonah accepted the answer even though I could tell he didn’t like it. Of course he didn’t, he wanted the scary thing to go away. He didn’t want to have to face it, walk through it. Who does? I began to sing again. Jonah was still a little unsure and so he asked me a second time the same question. Sometimes we ask the question again hoping that the answer has changed or that we heard it or understood it incorrectly. I explained again that Jesus was with him and he would help him. I also explained that his daddy was with him too and his daddy would protect him. Again even though he accepted that answer he still was unsure that he could trust Jesus to come through for him. Don’t we all struggle with this one? I explained that one of the names for Jesus in the Bible is the Lion of Judah. I asked him if lions were wimpy or weak. He said no that they are strong and powerful. I said “if a lion is standing beside you and is there to protect you, do you have to be afraid?” He said no and I agreed with him.

After three more songs he finally was asleep. I left the room a few moments later. The question had shaken me. First it shook me because it was the first time my son questioned God’s acting. I was afraid to answer him. Second it shook me because it is one of the core questions that I have deep in my soul. The question of: Jesus , why aren’t you doing anything? Thankfully, the question was asked by my son during came at a time in my journey where I have had more clarity on my suffering, pain, and loss. The words I said to Jonah that night were the very words I needed to hear. It was the very words that revitalized my trust in Jesus.

What I know now is that we need to be like children. We need to be brave to ask those depth-of-our soul type questions. They might be some of the most important questions that we ask. We only have one chance at this life; only one chance to live it to the fullest. We have to engage. We have to get real and stop avoiding the tough question. They will not just go away. Jesus can handle our questions; in fact He is waiting for us to offer them up to him. What questions do you need to ask? 

On sharing the Pieces.

Standard

It’s three o’clock in the morning.  I’m awake because I just had this dream.  The aftermath of which left me knowing that it was intended to be shared.  I was standing on a road, a country road very similar to the one that runs in front of my house.  I was in a line of people, hundreds of people before me and after me.  Each one of us was holding something in our hand, something small.  I couldn’t tell what it was at first.  Each one was less than a foot in length, but they all looked quite different than each other.  It took me a little while to figure out what they were, what it was that I was holding.  And then I knew.  The thing everyone was holding was their story; a small picture describing  the life God had given them to live.  We were in this line because we were bringing our stories to the Lord, desperate for Him to use them for something good.  And then I looked for it- the end of the line,  I could see it in the distance.  Our pieces collectively fit together, in just the right way, a huge puzzle.  Each piece, each story, once given over to Him, could be used to show the most beautiful picture of the Lord.  Looking down at the piece in my hand, I couldn’t make out the picture, because it’s entire purpose was to be placed in it’s spot in the greater picture, shared with everyone.  That’s where it could make sense.

I woke up an hour ago.  And I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  We each have one puzzle piece; the story of our life, that thing that God wants to use to bring Him glory.  It’s when we show each other our pieces, talk about them with each other, that they are used in the manner they were supposed to be used- pointing to Him.  But we look at each others pieces, don’t we?  We compare them to ours, and we decide that ours can’t possibly fit into the puzzle because it’s edges are too jagged.  Or they’re not jagged enough.  Or, we deem the other person’s piece unworthy to fit into the puzzle- Because their piece looks like it certainly won’t fit into the same puzzle that our piece fits into…

Believe me- showing your puzzle piece to the line is the scariest thing in the world. Sharing our stories with each other is vulnerable.  And there is a strong chance that the people around me could mock it.  But it’s not about what the other people in the line have to say…whether they like my piece or don’t like it…whether they love my story or they “don’t get anything out of it.”  This puzzle piece was meant to fill it’s greater purpose- to be part of a greater picture that points the world to Jesus;

7th Caroline Project: KIVA Loans

Standard

Well, it’s time to write about our most recent Caroline Project donation.  I mean, it’s almost been a month since we’ve done the donation… I’ve been feeling a little guilty about not writing sooner.  I’ve been hesitant about writing anything else until I write about the next Caroline Project, and consequently blog entries are stacking up in my mind.  Writing this post started to become an ominous thing on my to do list- hanging over my head.  But then, last week, I remembered some key things- The Caroline Project is supposed to be something that keeps us accountable on a regular basis, but not something that is intended to be done on a strict time table.  Most importantly:  It’s not something we’re doing so that other people can read about it… the Caroline Project is meant for US.  To change us.

And it IS changing us.  We can see it.  We can FEEL it.  Again and again it is happening…us looking beyond ourselves, beyond our disappointments and even beyond our successes.  The result is this really cool healing.  I cannot wait to tell you more about it.  Here I could easily digress to one of those aforementioned blog entries that are stacking up in my mind.  Focus, Anna, focus:

For Christmas, and for the seventh Caroline Project, Joel and I chose to give each other microloans from Kiva.  In case you are not aware, the very brief explanation of micro loans goes like this:  A person who owns a business, usually in an underprivileged country, applies for a loan with an overhead company.  That person (the borrower) indicates how much money they need, and what they need it for.  Other people can then become lenders and contribute loans to the borrower in $25 increments (by paying the overhead company and choosing which borrower will receive the money).  Those separate $25 increments add up to whatever amount is needed.  The borrower then repays the overhead company.  The idea is that once the loan has been paid back, the lender can put their initial $25 into someone else’s loan.

IMG_4202  IMG_4204

There are many different microloan companies.   We picked Kiva based on recommendations from others. Kiva tracks things like the percentage of the total that is already funded, the borrower’s repayment history, etc.  The lender can read a detailed explanation of  the borrowers business.

What I love is that you, the lender, can choose which person you’d like to support.  You can sort by gender, country, specialty, etc.   What I love even more is that $25, the amount of money I can get by cleaning out my car and going through the pockets of our dirty laundry before it goes into the wash, can actually help someone make a different life for themselves and their family.  A hardworking, brave person can maintain and improve his or her business because of a very small sacrifice on my part.

Plus, we had a blast choosing for each other!  For me, Joel chose to loan to Silvia, who is with a group of women in Cuenca, Ecuador.  She applied for a loan to raise money to grow her chicken business (her goal is to have a bigger pen).  I mean, for REAL!  Way to go Joel!  For one- It was important to him that he chose women.  He knows that I firmly believe that the empowerment of women = change for the better.  (I cannot say enough about this, and yet I am finding that I can barely formulate sentences about this conviction…the empowerment of women- from my backyard to the most remote places of the globe…it’s as if for the very first time I’m seeing how urgent this is)  And…I mean, chickens….come ON!  As you may recall, we got chickens last spring and I’m kinda crazy about them.  Additionally, Joel chose this because he was born in Ecuador.  I was going to choose a place in Ecuador for HIM, but he nabbed it first!  (There was only one loan in Ecuador when we sat down to choose.)

For Joel, I chose to loan to Hipolito, a pastor in the Dominican Republic, who runs a water project that provides purified water to the 30,000 people who live in his community. The $9,000 loan helps the company invest in supplies including a truck, five-gallon bottles, sterilization supplies, etc.  I chose this for Joel primarily because it is environmental in nature.  Our bold conviction is that Christians (rather- everyone) need be thinking and taking care of the environment.  40% of people in the world lack basic water sanitation.  Water- something that is NEEDED TO EXIST… a basic human need and right.  We are convinced that, with proper environmental stewardship, this major injustice could be greatly reduced.   If people in all parts of the globe had access to clean water, their lives would be changed forever.

The other day I got an email that Hipolito has made a loan payment of $0.64.  Sixty four cents, you guys…  Consider that 1.2 billion people in the world live on $0.23 a day.  Consider that Hipolito’s payments are being divided between the 227 other people who have also loaned to him.  To me that $0.64 is a MAJOR DEAL.

I’d love to keep highlighting microloans.  If you’d like to share your experience with Kiva or other microloan companies, please leave a comment on this post.