“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matt 25: 37-40 NIV).
My first writer’s conference! I was so nervous!! I had my first headshot on my business cards, my first book proposal in my carry-on, and in my suitcase was my first “pant-suit”. They told us to dress “business casual” and that “pants would be great.” Being the rule follower I am, I went out and bought two new pairs of pants and an honest-to-goodness blazer from Target for this trip. Normally I wear skirts and dresses – I dread “jeans season” and rarely wear “pants”. Such is the life of a homeschool mom. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that jeans season is worse than bathing suit season!
And I do realize that suggestions are not rules, yet I usually feel compelled to follow them, or at least consider them. That’s probably another post altogether. Still, recently I realized that I need to be open to thinking about things differently – open to saying “yes” more often, and “no” less often. For this trip, I decided to take all the advice I could get. My husband might say that this was another first for me! So, as you see, this was a bunch of firsts, all at once. It was like a Seinfeld moment: the one where George Constanza tried to do everything the opposite from what he would normally do (I know I am dating myself here)…sometimes though, it is good to step out and embrace change.
God is a God of change. He does not change (Heb 13:8; Mal 3:6; Jam 1:17); but He wants us to change, for the better. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Rom 12:2 NLT). I always struggled with how to do this. How can a leopard change its spots? How can a worrier have peace? How can a type A trust the Lord to get the job done? How can a selfish woman learn to serve others joyfully? Well, it comes in 2 steps, and this happens to be the premise of the aforementioned book proposal…
First, we must listen to God’s voice – He speaks to us through His Word. God’s Word is a change agent: For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12 ESV). You can read more about the power of the Word here, in a post I wrote earlier. Second, you have to do things God’s way (which you learn from His Word): be doers of the word, and not hearers only (Jam 1:22 ESV). It is in the hearing and the doing of God’s Word that He changes our hearts; as we obey His Word, we are conformed to His image.
I am sure that, at some time, you must have heard someone say, “Don’t pray for patience!” The best way to learn something is to experience it. To be patient, you must endure frustration in peace. So asking for patience is like asking for frustration. But in the end, God is more concerned with our spiritual health than our earthly happiness. He will allow us to endure much more than frustration in order to grow us into the people He made us to be. There is a lesson in everything – God was the first conservationist – He does not waste anything. I saw this on my trip to North Carolina over the weekend.
On the first leg of my journey to the Proverbs 31 Ministries SheSpeaks Conference, I was seated by a large man in his late 50′s. Picture an older Troy Aikman. This mountain of a man engulfed the seat next to me on the tiny commuter plane and we sat across the aisle from his wife. His wife was next to a frail, elderly woman who was looking out the window. His wife was hunched over, arm around her mother, her face animated as she pointed out the window and quietly narrated the activity she saw on the tarmac. “We are on our way to a family reunion,” he confided. “Her mother isn’t ‘right’ anymore, and can’t remember much from day to day. It frustrates her so much. But she remembers the ‘old days’ like they were yesterday. Next week, she won’t even remember us taking her to the reunion. But when we get there, she will see all the people who live in her memories. For a few days, she will be very happy because everything will feel right again.”
I was uncharacteristically speechless for a bit, while the lump in my throat dissolved. What unconditional love. What sacrifice. The tenderness shown by a daughter to her mother…the support shown by a husband to his wife… He went on to detail the difficulties of their life: trying to get his father-in-law to quit driving, trying to get them to let a housekeeper into their lives… But he was not complaining. That was the miraculous part. He was just describing his journey.
I see God everyday in my life. I see Him in His Word and in His creation and in His blessings. But what I have realized is that to see God in His people, sometimes it takes the hard things. God is wise. He knows us so well. He knows the best path to growth is often the most difficult. When we care for others – whether they are babies or old people or sick spouses or neighbors – we must set aside our own comfort and do what is best for someone else. In fact this is what is best for us too; it helps us to be more like Jesus, who did the same thing. Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4 NLT). When we encounter difficulties, we may need to reframe them so that we see the exercise in them, the opportunity in them. The journey toward a Christlike life can be painfully slow and full of hurdles…but the hurdles are the journey, rather than the inconvenience they seem to be. The man on the plane and his wife were a display of Christlike service, not in spite of the circumstances, but because of them.
justAgirl…just like you.
I spent my high school years in New Orleans, LA – a city steeped in the traditions of the Deep South and rich in many of its own. New Orleans loves family and football and festivals. The motto of the city is Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler: Let the Good Times Roll. When I first moved to NOLA I was starting ninth grade and beginning high school there. As you may remember, my dad was a Marine Corps officer (once a Marine, always a Marine) and we moved to New Orleans from Ft. Knox, KY. Yes, it’s an Army base…that’s another story.
Anyway after 3 years in a small town in Kentucky (my favorite place that I, partly, grew up in), we moved to the Big Easy. To say I was a bit of an oddity might be an understatement. Kids I didn’t know in school would come up and ask me to talk. Y’all know a New Orleans accent isn’t really southern, right? That’s just for TV. I stuck out like a sore thumb! My Kentucky “Thank you” was more like “Thank ye”; and, no, I wasn’t channeling Shakespeare or the King James Version of the Bible. Needless to say, life was at a faster pace than I was accustomed to – but I tried to keep up…that’s another story too. I knew girls there who invited more people to their Sweet Sixteen parties than I ended up inviting to my wedding.* The school dances were more like college frat parties – it felt a lot like my favorite John Hughes movie Pretty in Pink. Then there were Mardi Gras Balls (not that I have ever been to one) – such extravagance. I was overwhelmed socially, though I faked it really well.
My background was more humble, and it kept me humble. When I went to the Homecoming dance in the fall of my Senior year, I wore the dress I had worn as my sister’s bridesmaid – the summer before, y’all! It was pastel blue and I had the satin shoes dyed to match. It was 1988, thank ye very much! Even then, I was a walking fashion faux pas; which was only exceeded in the faux pas department by something I did when I was crowned Homecoming Queen.
Yes, I said, “I was crowned Homecoming Queen.” I never have talked much about it before. But it might have been the worst thing that happened to me when I was in high school. You see, it put me right out front, where I did not want to be. I’m more the Wing Woman kind of gal. So I’m standing there, on the football field, and I feel like I have really arrived, socially. We are with our dads in a sort of a “V” formation. All the dads had suits, except mine. I’m not sure he owned a suit at the time. He practically lived in uniforms. But he was wearing his Marine Corps dress blues, and he looked sharp. I was on top of the world.
Until I heard my name. Then everything just spiraled out of control. I can still remember the shock, the turn, the apology…all in slow-mo. I had upset the pecking order, big time. See, I changed schools mid-way through my four years… you guessed it, that’s another story. I was a relative newbie there. I was just beginning my second year at this school. I was totally the dark horse. The favorite for the crown was a stunner – she still is. She was polished and sophisticated. She was a cheerleader for goodness sake! And she was genuinely one of the nicest people I went to high school with. And oh, she wore the most divine black cocktail dress to the dance…but I digress, mostly because this is the painful part.
When I heard my name, my mouth dropped open and I froze for a second. They were beckoning me to the center. They were holding a crown! The Friday night lights were so bright. As I took a step, I paused, eyes wide, and turned, and mouthed to the blonde beauty next to me, “I am so sorry!” And that pretty much sums it up. I felt like a fraud. I liked belonging to the group, but I never wanted to be at the center, never felt I belonged there. And no kidding – this was the cause of a lot of teen girl angst for me. Of course, if it hadn’t have been this, it would have been something else – you know teen girls!
So lately, I am seeing that I haven’t grown in this department much since then. When I started this blog I wanted to reach out to women who were longing to be in a Bible study or Ladies Fellowship group, but could not. I pictured women with newborns and little ones, those who take care of elderly relatives, or some who work. I also hoped to keep in touch with friends that I was separated from, and help friends and families, who were separated geographically to stay connected to each other through the Word. I had a real heart for this as a ministry because, when I worked, and later when my kids were little, I was too overwhelmed to attend Bible study. I craved fellowship with other Christian women and the chance to study God’s Word together.
As soon as I had the opportunity to participate in Bible study, I started one! Monday Morning Moms was a spiritual and social outreach for moms with young kids (still is, though I am no longer in the area). For a long time, I said it was a “young mom’s” Bible study…then I realized that some of us were not actually considered “young” moms anymore…anyway, we had our ups and downs, but all in all, it was a wonderful experience. When we were slotted to move, I started thinking about other ways I could minister and this blog/website came to me right away: to host a virtual Bible study and incorporate the social aspect too, like we had done with MMMs.
That was my intention…and I have been blogging for almost a year now and quietly writing my heart. Sometimes it has been for my Audience of One. The experience has been nothing like I expected and yet it was everything I needed. I grieved that it wasn’t growing. I grieved that it was irrelevant. But every time I wondered if anyone out there was reading, I would get an email or a phone call. It was enough to keep me going.
And I kept remembering that my chief purpose is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. God reminded me that He was enough. But I kept wondering if I was doing enough on my end. Sometimes growth is very painful and we avoid it – I worked on my writing because that was easiest and I put off the social media…Twitter, FaceBook, StumbleUpon, Pinterest and more…I have accounts, I post or tweet, but I do not understand even half of what I should by now. Some of it is sheer confusion! Another part of me finds excuses rooted in the Homecoming Queen fiasco. I am not a self-promoter. Southern women or GRITS, Girls Raised in the South, are given the message that it is impolite to brag, that it is unbecoming to court favor for yourself. Yet I know many women who can do this in a grace-filled way that is not unbecoming or pushy. How do they do it????
I still don’t know the answer! But I can say this: It took an upcoming writing conference, She Speaks by Proverbs31 Ministries, for me to overcome my aversion to “networking” enough to actually do it. As I have said, I’ve had my blog for over a year and asked friends to “like” me before (which was painful…felt like jr. high)…but SS gave me a real reason to put it out there again. I was encouraged by seeing other ladies do it, in such a gracious manner, on the FaceBook page for the group. My husband asked his friends and some of my friends asked theirs. And almost overnight, my “likes” doubled. And here’s what I have realized: networking is just part of being a good steward of this opportunity God has given me.
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.’” (Matt 25:24-28).
If we don’t appreciate the opportunities the Lord has given us, and use them well, He can just use someone else to accomplish His work. Let me not be that wicked and lazy servant, instead let me grow in wisdom and obedience.
I guess this is my Sweet Sixteen, my coming out party…and I am learning to enjoy it, just a few decades late. So thanks for “liking me”! Please consider subscribing to my website! Please, please comment!!! It can be a lifeline to a blogger :) My question is this: In what area is the Lord asking you to grow in wisdom and obedience? How’s it going?
JustAgirl…Just Like You!
* In the old days, the Sweet Sixteen was called a “debut” or your “coming out”, since girls were officially coming out into society. The party was the debut and the girls were debutantes. I think of Jane Austen books or the movie Gone with the Wind. It was an important coming of age. Ok, but that was not during my time, please do not think I am that old!
This is the continuation of my dear friend’s journey to motherhood. You can read the first part here. In her life I see her mothering with gratitude and love. Read on and see how God prepared her heart to mother in that way:
When you have struggled with infertility, you think that once you get pregnant the worst is over. But that is not always the case. The day my pregnancy was confirmed, I started to spot. My doctor said not to worry, that this happens often during pregnancy. By the seventh week of my pregnancy (I know many women do not even know they are pregnant at that time), I was put on modified bed rest at home. I had to take it easy. We knew my cervix was not what it should be, but we hoped that, as long as I stayed off my feet, all would be fine.
At 16 weeks, I was admitted to the hospital. My husband was traveling. I was having lots of bleeding and I need to have a procedure to sew my cervix closed. The hospital gave me the best chance for keeping my babies. I was blessed to be in a hospital across the street from my church, so I had frequent visits from my Sunday school class and my pastor, as well as co-workers, friends and neighbors. Unfortunately my family was 5 1/2 hours away.
I had to stay in bed 24/7. It was probably the scariest time of my life. I had prayed so hard for these babies for years. Now I was pregnant and very afraid that I was going to lose them. When I had imagined getting pregnant, I had all these great fantasies of shopping for fun baby items, wearing maternity clothes, planning and decorating the nursery…well, my situation was not what I’d had thought it would be, but once again as I did during the fertility treatments, I claimed Jeremiah 29:11. I knew God had a plan for us; I just had to believe that these sweet babies I was carrying were going to be part of it.
As days turned into weeks, my sweet husband made me a count down calendar to reach our different goals in the pregnancy. And each week a NICU team came into my room to explain what would be wrong with my children, if they were born that week. First they told us our first goal was to reach viability, as they would not try to save them if they had not reached that point. Then we worked toward 28 weeks, then 31 weeks, etc. On each day of the calendar, there was a verse that gave one of God’s promises. Each morning, my nurses came in to my room to open my blinds and tear off a sheet on my calendar. I believe those nurses were just as blessed by the verses as I was. One of the scriptures our pastor reminded me of often during his visits was from Psalm 139.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mothers womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14).
It reminded me that God had created these children. I knew that He had a plan for them too.
At twenty two weeks, I had to have a second procedure to sew my cervix closed once again, and it was really scary. I just never felt like I could relax. I had a scrap book, and a pregnancy journal, but I was too afraid to write in both. In my heart, I knew God had brought us this far and I felt He wouldn’t possibly let us lose them now. Yet, while I was there, there were other women in the hospital who had lost twins or triplets pretty far into their pregnancy, so I still struggled with fear.
As the days went on throughout my pregnancy, I passed my time by crocheting baby blankets for my babies. I made a green one, a blue one, and a pink one. I was so nervous when I finished the last one. I was 31 weeks along in my pregnancy. My goal was 33 weeks. A friend of mine had triplets at 33 weeks and they were healthy – so I was praying for the same.
During week 31, I was on the telephone with a friend and I noticed my face didn’t look right quite right. I got very worried. Thankfully my friend was a physician’s assistant and told me that I must have had Bell’s Palsy. Bell’s palsy is a form of facial paralysis resulting from a dysfunction of the facial nerve that results in the inability to control facial muscles on the affected side. I pressed my nurse call button, and within minutes my doctor was in my room, and I was seeing a neurologist. I have to say it was not fun having Bell’s Palsy! My food fell out of my mouth, I looked different etc.; however I wouldn’t change it for the world. One of the treatments the doctor gave me was steroids. I had been given steroid shots earlier in my pregnancy, at 25 weeks, to develop the babies’ lungs if born early, but they had worn off by that point.
I had an emergency c-section 1 week and 6 days later, and I delivered a 4lb 6oz. boy, 3 lb 14oz. girl, and a 3lb 9 oz baby boy. They were alive! I didn’t realize how scared I had been all those months in the hospital, until I heard the medical staff say, “They are alive!” God’s plan for me was at work the whole time. Even my Bell’s Palsy was a blessing. As a result of the steroid shots, my babies’ lungs were basically healthy. They were preemies but my daughter was on a ventilator for just five days, one of my boys was on room air, and my other son was on a c-pap machine for only 10 hours. Praise the Lord I had healthy children.
And finally after four months in the hospital for mommy and five weeks for my precious babies, our family was together, and home from the hospital, for good.
Eight and a half years later, do I have stressful days as a Mommy? Of course! Do I spend so much time on my knees praying that I need knee pads? Absolutely! However, I will never stop thanking God for the precious gifts we were given. Do I wish my story were normal, easier, maybe with less drama? Sometimes yes, but mostly no, because through all the impossibilities, God showed Himself to be the Maker of Miracles we read about it the Bible. I am so thankful for my three miracle babies. I just think back 12 years ago, to where this story began, to realize how special their beginning was and how full of purpose their lives are – and because of them I have come to know God in a very personal way.
That Triplet Mom, the lady with the triplets, that busy mommy…those are the names people give me, but that doesn’t bother me. I am not a mom who fears I have “lost my identity” after becoming a stay-at-home mom. I craved those names. I have always wanted children. When I got married, we thought it would be just a couple of years until we would start our family. I married my husband 14 years ago; however it took almost 6 years for me to become a mom.
It never occurred to me that I might not be a mom. That was always just the plan: get married, have kids. When I imagined being a mom, for some reason I always felt like I would have twins. I can’t explain why, but I just saw myself with twins. One thing that never occurred to me was that I wouldn’t have children at all.
Once my sweet husband and I had been married a couple of years, and I had completed graduate school and started working a bit, we decided it was time to have kids. So we started trying, knowing that it could take us a few months to conceive. According to our timetable, I would get an extra year or so of work under my belt, before I began to stay at home with our children. Lucky us! We got an extra three years of me working. Hah, that was our first indication that we were not the ones making the plans!
Each month, I eagerly anticipated the day that I could take “the test”. I have never been the most patient person. I would take the test on the earliest day possible. Month after month it was the same result: not pregnant. I began to get really discouraged; I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t happening for us. I would mentally go through all the reasons why it should…we were happily married; we loved the Lord; we both had jobs and a stable income; we loved children… What was missing? Why couldn’t we conceive? Why could a sixteen-year-old high schooler get pregnant by accident but I, a late twenty-something married lady, couldn’t get pregnant on purpose? Why?
My sweet husband just kept telling me, “Relax, it will happen. These things take time.” But I knew he was starting to get frustrated as well. Finally after over a year of trying to have children with no success, I went to see my doctor. He suggested I have surgery to take care of my endometriosis. I had the endometriosis surgery and a few more procedures that followed, but months later, we were still not pregnant.
We finally decided it was time to seek the help of a fertility specialist. We met with a wonderful doctor, and decided to start with a procedure called IUI. IUI is intrauterine insemination, which is also known as artificial insemination. This is an in-office procedure, whereby sperm is placed directly into a woman’s uterus to aid in conception (justmommies.com). I had this procedure and we were very excited about the possible success. Sadly, the IUI did not work. I was “not pregnant” once again. We met with our doctor and he recommended IVF, In-Vitro-Fertilization, which involves combining eggs and sperm outside the body in a laboratory. Once an embryo or embryos form, they are then placed in the uterus (WebMD.com).
Fertility treatments are very expensive and we were so blessed that I was working for a company that completely covered all of my procedures. This allowed us to be free of financial strain though we were still under stress from the treatments. So many couples are faced with both, and it makes the process that much more difficult. At this time, I started going to an infertility support group. It was very helpful to have women who understood my plight, but also very scary to hear the other women’s stories of failed attempts at various fertility treatments. I tried not to get discouraged. During the entire process, I felt frustrated and often sad, many times I asked God, “Why me, why can’t I have a child? What could possibly be the reason?” I just really didn’t understand.
I have to share with you that during the time when we were trying so desperately to have children, many of my friends were having babies of their own. I have always been told I have the gift of hospitality and so, you guessed it! When my friends were having babies, I was the one hosting and planning their baby showers. It was really tough to pull up my big girl panties and put on a happy face, but I knew that I could just not be that person, you know, the bitter girl in the corner. However, if my true feelings during that time were known, I probably was that bitter girl on the inside. I remember once, after a baby shower at my house, I was cleaning up and chatting with the mom-to-be. She thanked me for the shower. But before she left, she asked me if it was hard for me to give a baby shower when I was struggling to have children of my own? She was not trying to hurt my feelings, she was just concerned. I remember that night crying to my husband, “Is this really how it is going to be? Will we really not ever have any children?” I spent many hours on my knees, in prayer, during that time.
We started the injections to prepare for IVF and I turned into a very crazy person at that time. God bless my sweet husband, I’m certain that I was driving him crazy too! We had the retrieval procedure on the day before Thanksgiving and the transfer three days later. When our embryos were transferred, our doctor was concerned that they were not of “good quality”. Because of this, he recommended that we have three embryos transferred. The doctor thought we would have been lucky if just one of them implanted.
Two weeks later I had the blood test to confirm my pregnancy in my doctor’s office. Patience-challenged me, I had already taken 12 home pregnancy tests with positive results. But it wasn’t until the doctor confirmed the pregnancy, that I could believe it was true! We were ecstatic! The most exciting part was our doctor told us that he had a feeling there were twins given our extremely high blood values of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This hormone is produced by the placenta shortly after the embryo attaches to the uterine lining and builds up rapidly in your body in the first few days of pregnancy (americanpregnancy.org).
The day before Christmas Eve, we had our ultrasound. As our doctor was looking at our baby on the screen, he informed us we were having, not one, but two babies. It was twins! We were ecstatic. A few minutes later, his nurse asked him to look again. To the surprise of us all, I was carrying TRIPLETS! That was the best Christmas present we could have ever received! We were thrilled! We couldn’t wait to tell our families! We were so thankful. Somehow, I had always believed I was meant to be a “mother of multiples”, and I was thrilled that it was three. The Lord had answered my prayers above and beyond what I had asked. I am three times blessed! While we were going through our time of infertility, I couldn’t understand why could not have a child. But during my prayers, I claimed Jeremiah 29:11. I had to trust in God’s plan. I just didn’t realize what an amazing plan it was!
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
After all of our struggles, we thought we were in the clear, but that was when my pregnancy got a little tricky. More on that next week…
The WEBlog…A blog (a portmanteau of the term web log) is a personal journal published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first. Blogs are usually the work of a single individual, occasionally of a small group, and often are themed on a single subject. Blog can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog. (Wikipedia strikes again!).
There are thousands and thousands of blogs. Fashion blogs. Food Blogs. Political Blogs. Hobby Blogs. And lots of mommy-blogs…mothers blogging about their children, families, faith, the list goes on. I only follow a few blogs regularly and four of them are bee-u-tiful blogs by mommies just sharing their lives and hearts. They tell their own HERstories. They all have neat photos and posts. Coincidentally, they all homeschool – like me! But that is not why I follow them. I have enjoyed getting to know about the hearts and lives of these special women. I think you will too!
Ree Drummond shares the Confessions of a Pioneer Woman. She lives on a ranch in Oklahoma now, but she was a city girl right up until she married “Marlboro Man” (name not so much about the cigarettes, really about the icon from the advertising campaign). Ree, a.k.a. “Pioneer Woman” a.k.a. “PW” a.k.a. “P-Dub” a.k.a. “P-Widdy-Dub-Diddy”…and the list goes on…is an awesome cook (has TWO cookbooks published, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from and Accidental Country Girl and The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier), an “amateur” photographer (the photos look professional to me!), star of a Food Network Show, a big-hearted momma, a loving wife and a wonderful writer. She is hilarious, colorful, imaginative, and humble. She loves her animals and her people too. Did I mention she is hilarious? I think the thing I love best about reading her posts is she is really, really, real. And SO hilarious (you HAVE to click the link to read my all-time favorite).
Ann Voskamp…I ran across her name so many times on (in)courage. It is a Christian blog network and website that seeks to build community between christian women, bloggers and readers alike. I saw her book everywhere One Thousand Gifts…it is a smashing success. It still sits on my nightstand, so close, waiting for me to carve some time out of my schedule. I plan to bring it with me on the girls retreat next month (I am making good on my goal to get over my fear of traveling alone). The only thing am worried about is all the crying on the airplane – from the book I mean. Then I decided to read her “journal”. Every post she writes tears at my heart. She is vulnerable and wounded, yet triumphant and grateful all at once. She shares her deepest hurts, composing word-pictures and poetry along the way. Her posts are…lyrical, I guess is the best term. Here is how she describes herself: I’m Ann Voskamp, a plain Ann without even the fanciful “e”, wife to The Farmer, mama to six, and honestly, I’m a bit of a mess. It’s okay, really. Grace is the most amazing of all. She blogs at a holy experience. And lately she seems to be everywhere! Oh and she takes amazing photographs too – now I don’t know anything about the technical aspect. Just the tug at your heart part. Funny, though she is an overnight success in the publishing world, at home she lives a quiet life (if you can ever call being a mother to six “quiet”), on a farm, in Mennonite country in Canada. It looks like a beautifully wild place to live.
I stumbled across We are THAT Family…you know the ones. I loved reading how she came to realize that SHE, Kristen Welch, had become a mother to “THAT Family” – the ones making all the mistakes. She shares about how all of her aspirations to be the “perfect” mothers were shattered when, well, when she actually had kids! I SOOOO get that! She was always a supporter of Compassion International and so she was asked to visit Africa and blog about it, to share the personal stories with her readers. It changed her life and she has never looked back. She met Maureen in Kenya, a phenomenal young girl rescued from poverty by Compassion International on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that relationship launched a ministry. They opened The Mercy House to save young Kenyan girls from back-alley abortions. These girls are very often rape victims. They are castoffs in a society full of castoffs. Mercy House is making a difference. Spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially, educationally and financially - these girls are cared for during their pregnancies, during their time at Mercy House. They are taught life skills, heart skills, soul skills, and they learn to earn an honorable income by creating jewelry and art, which is sold at The Mercy Shop. Kristen’s hope and Maureen’s story compelled my husband and I to sponsor two boys through Compassion and support the Mercy House monthly. God is making a difference, through big time operations like Compassion and small mom and pop (Kristen’s husband Terrell is behind her 100%) ministries. God is working in the lives of those in need and those of us who have been blessed so that we may be a blessing to others. Oh, and Kristen also has a book! Don’t Make Me Come Up There: Quiet Moments for Busy Moms.
Finally, I have an old friend. Ok she is NOT old…unless I am, which come to think of it… Anyway, we were friends when we were chasing after the wrong kind of approval, searching for our self-esteem, thinking we knew who we were, but totally off track. And God worked mightily in both of us, separately. And when He brought us back together, almost twenty years later, we were amazed at how our different journeys led us to the same place – at the feet of Jesus. She is Grateful for Grace, GFG. Like me, she does not use her name when she blogs. She is a passionate homeschooler to six funny, loving, incredible kids. Unlike me, yet like all my favorite blogs, she posts TONS of pictures of her family doing all sorts of creative and amazing things. Like making bread, the homemade-grind-your-own-flour-kind, and salsa, the homemade-cut-up you-own-homegrown-peppers-and-tomotoes-kind…and those are just two of her KIDS! She has her own skill-set. Or should I say skillet-set? She stunned her small town community when she, on her first try, ran away with the skillet-throwing trophy from the country fair! The action photos are the beeest! I really need to get some more time with my camera! But what I really love about GFG is her heart. She is painfully honest about her own journey and full of grace and compassion for others. She also has an unflinching, uncompromising faith. She is unabashedly loyal to her husband (like all of my favorite bloggers). But my most favorite posts (I know y’all, that is sooo southern), other than the skillet-throwing (which is better for me because I can totally imagine her doing that!!), are about her dear mom, who she lost a few years ago to ALS,Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the step-father who walked her mom home. GFG is a fun blog about real life and how God can make miracles out of everyday life – I think all the blogs have that in common too!
And so, I hope you might find something here that you did not know about…because if you do, you’ll see how much you’ve been missing! I am inspired and encouraged regularly by these Christian women. We do not live close to one another, attend the same church, or even homeschool the same way, and except for GFG, I have never met any of them. But we all have a mutual friend, Jesus. And God has helped me through a bit of a lonely spot this year, as I have learned to find my own writing voice and have loved to listen to theirs. WEBlog? WeBLOG…
justAgirl…just like you! a.k.a. “britta” :) a.k.a “I need photography lessons!”
Caleb. I liked him from the very beginning of her story. He was the outsider. He was a slave. He observed the plagues in Egypt and he saw an awesome God in them. So he believed. Once he believed, he never looked back. He just couldn’t. Not after all he had seen. He was the one to lead the charge. He was “all in”. He was Joshua’s biggest advocate. He could not look away when wrong was done. I know this story by heart. My heart.
The desert is hot and dry. But mostly it is discouraging in its expanse and in its monotony of sameness. Mean sun beating down burns through the hope. Day after day…the struggle to wade through the wilderness. Sand-walking makes for progress so slow that it feels like going nowhere. They were going nowhere because their destination was not a place, but a time, 40 years.
The never “getting there” was Caleb’s whole life. It seemed like forever before he would gain their acceptance, before he could get there. Even after that, he couldn’t sway the people to see God’s power. He and Joshua saw what God could do for them, the others saw what men could do to them. The other voices were louder and birthed a fear and a disbelief that ripped the Promise right from the children of Israel. No, they would not enter His rest. They had looked the Promise in the eye and turned away. Instead, they would wander and plod along, 40 years. 40 years of walking in sand and getting nowhere. They would die and be buried, but the march would go on. Only two who had seen Egypt would taste the milk and honey – Joshua and Caleb. They had believed God’s Word. They trusted that His Promise was true and that He would make good on it. In spite of the odds against them, they knew that God is the one who decides. And yet even when Joshua and Caleb finally got “there”, they did not completely enter a rest. Rather, it was a struggle they entered. First to fight the inhabitants of the land, “For the Lord!” Then to fight the disobedience and waywardness of their own people. It was another kind of wilderness.
The new wilderness of war and of falling away was more discouraging than the desert had been. In the desert they had come to depend on the Lord. Those who did not obey or believe were weeded out along the way. Some fell by plagues, some by stoning, some by fire and some were swallowed up by the Earth. And the others walked a long death march. Those who remained had learned to depend on God for everything. Just before they entered the Promised Land, Moses declared, “He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord”. Deut 8:3.
Francine Rivers draws a picture of what it was like to follow closely after the pillar of cloud and fire.
Everyone worked and prepared with practiced precision. The years in the wilderness, of watching the cloud rise up, move, and settle, had trained the people to move quickly when so commanded p. 225
That sort of obedience is the result of true submission. It comes when your pride has been stripped and your will has been broken. And day after day you have no other choice but to yield. This desert is hot and dry. Mean sun beating down wears me out. Day after day…the struggle to wade through this wilderness. Sand-walking makes for progress so slow that it feels like going nowhere. But this is a training ground. And on this Earth, whatever looks like the Promise to me will still require the same discipline as the wilderness demands. That He might make [me] know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord”. Deut 8:3.
justAgirl…just like you
So I am not theologian…I just find that God speaks to me from His word when I study it. I get some help when I write my posts and I wanted to share some great resources with you that I have discovered. These are all FREE and available online – my fav! Here goes:
Biblegateway.com is a great website that lets you search the Bible by passage, keyword or topic. There are other helps there in the way of biblical commentaries or dictionaries and there are reading plans and newsletter that you may subscribe to. This website is something I could not write my posts without…or I would not be able to write so many per week – it just saves me so much time! I created a tutorial for using it for a class I am teaching at church. You can find it here on youtube. I have a youtube channel now that lists my favorite videos…just got started but – get out your Kleenex!
Openbible.info has a Topical Bible Search service that is easy to search. Just enter the topic like “Obey Parents” or “Honor God” and a list of verses that apply to these will be generated. The verses are shown on the page, but you can also click on the hyperlinks and they will bring you to that particular passage on Biblegateway.com. The thing to remember is that for this website (Openbible.info) the answers are compiled by other readers so there are sometimes errors or omissions…you have to just take the good with the bad! It also has some other really neat features I have not used much, but that you might like. It has a page, Bible Geocoding, that utilizes Google Earth to show the “location of every identifiable place mentioned in the Bible”. It does have a search feature that allows you to search through thousands of posts of Bible verses to Twitter and Facebook…I just found this feature and haven’t checked to see if any of mine are on there…small world if they are!
A new one I like is the Online Greek Interlinear New Testament and Online Hebrew Interlinear Old Testament available at Scripture4all.org. Scroll down the home page and click on the links below these words, “Online Interlinear (PDF format)” to test it out…so cool! Here you can look up a particular verse and see the original words in the original alphabet, the original words in our alphabet, and the direct translation with all the word variations, alongside the King James translation. You may have to download the special fonts for Greek and Hebrew to see them but that is easy peasy. Now you can feel like a bible scholar with just a few keystrokes!
There is another option to both Biblegateway and Scripture4all in one website called Biblos.com. It has a parallel Bible is available here - you can search from this page by entering your query in the boxes. It also has an arsenal of online Bible Study Tools including an Atlas, Concordance, Dictionary, Encyclopedia, Devotions, Commentary, a Mobile Feature (a great free App), a Library of online Christian Books (many very old and important works), and Newsletters to subscribe to – whew! This website is one-stop shopping, a powerhouse, and I do use it sometimes, but I prefer Biblegateway because I am able to copy and paste Bible verses without interfering with the html on my website. Also, I am more used to it! :) Biblos is more ecumenical in its options, meaning it has sources from all walks of Christianity. Biblegateway has a smaller range of sources, but they are from a more conservative, Reformed perspective…maybe that is what I like about it too!
I have found so many other great resources during my searches but these are the very best I have encountered! Try them out and you will be amazed at the ways you can enrich your devotional or Bible study time. If you are called upon to teach a Sunday school lesson or prepare for VBS, you can access all that you need very quickly. I have also used the searches at times when I have had to correct my kiddos with the Word – this has been a great thing for our family. I can send them to their room and take a minute to compose myself and pray. If a Word does not come to mind then, I can do a quick online search to share God’s perspective with them. They respond very well to this…it is because we have learned the value of constructing our responses to problems together, with God’s help!
Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the Rock. Matt 7:24-25
JustAgirl…just like you!
This is the HERstory of an incredible young lady. When I was her age, I was a prodigal daughter to my Heavenly Father…I am thankful that God is compassionate and merciful and will use the choices we make (good and bad) to build us up into the people He planned for us to be. Hallie’s choices are so different from those of many people her age (and beyond); and in sowing obedience to God, she has reaped a harvest of faith and love. She is a credit to her church (of which I am a member), her earthly parents, and her Heavenly Father. I know you will enjoy meeting her!
Hi! I’m Hallie. I’m 20 years old, a junior at Mississippi College, and I just got back from a semester of a lifetime. Over the past year and a half God has done incredible things to bring me from belief in Him to a relationship, walking day by day, with Him. I was so excited when Britta asked if I would share my story because it’s one that couldn’t have possibly happened without God’s hand in every step of the way, and I love sharing it with the hope of inspiring others to step beyond their comfort zones.
My sophomore year was one of a lot of growth and change in my life. I had gotten super involved on my small college campus at the beginning of college, signing up to do anything and everything that was offered. By the middle of sophomore year, I was burned out. I remember hearing God whispering to pray for something bigger, and as I began to pray, almost immediately, He began to show Himself in my life in incredible ways.
I now realize that I had been giving all of my commitments a place that was actually God’s, and He wanted to take the place that was rightfully His. The first weekend back from Christmas break, I prayed for God to change my heart to reflect His will instead of simply giving me the things that my human heart wanted right then. The next weekend, my roommate Kristen came back from a weekend away with the news that she was going to Africa for two weeks this summer. I was thrilled for her but impatiently wanted God to reveal His plans to me like I saw Him doing in Kristen’s life. My small mind couldn’t see past the immediate present to what He was preparing me for.
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him. 1 Cor 2:9
In late February, my mom sent me a link to a blog that God has since used in incredible ways to focus my heart as well as change my parents’ hearts. KissesFromKatie.blogspot.com –if you haven’t read her story, stop now and go read it. This girl has faith…and thirteen daughters…in Uganda…at the age of 22. After reading her blog, my heart wanted nothing more than to jump on a plane and head to Uganda, so I asked my parents if I could take a semester off. My dad said a resounding “No” to Africa at first, and asked me to pray some more about even leaving school in the first place. The one thing we agreed on was that God would have to do something incredible to make him change his mind and allow me to go to Africa, and God did. Less than a month later, I had permission from my dad to explore the options of going to Africa for a semester.
Through another divine appointment involving my parents and our associate pastor, the Rafiki Foundation was brought to my attention. This was the same organization that my roommate was going to Ghana with. I knew almost immediately that this was probably the organization that God had in mind for me. My parents wanted a stable and reputable foundation that we had connections with. Rafiki had all of the above. I got accepted to be a mini-missionary and attended training in May.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27
After training, I got the final approval from my parents, only after convincing my mom to come with me for the first two weeks. We left for Uganda on September 7th, and it was an experience that will continue to shape my life for the rest of my life.
Rafiki is not what you think of when you think of orphans in Africa. There are no starving kids here. These children are thriving. Children that were once orphans now have a home and a mother and knowledge of Jesus, their Savior. Rafiki’s goal is not to feed thousands, but to take in and educate and raise up a few in each country (101 in Uganda) to improve the future of Africa. They are beautiful. They love to play and laugh and love. Each child lives in a “cottage” with a Ugandan woman who they consider to be their mom and eight to ten other girls or boys. They function as a family, eating dinner, doing laundry, studying the Bible and playing together.
While at Rafiki, I basically lived life with the missionaries. I taught Kindergarten, coached P.E., organized the library, read to children, tutored sixth grade math (which is ironic because I probably would fail sixth grade math), went to doctor’s appointments and spent hours in Ugandan hospitals, and fell in love with each and every smiling face. The poverty is incredible, but the people are beautiful and have more joy than most Americans. It was incredible to see such faith in the Lord when I have found myself doubting in much less severe situations.
I saw God do miracles in Uganda. While I was there, the propane that is used to make almost 700 meals a day at Rafiki got impossibly low, and there was no propane to be found. For weeks, the kitchen ran on what should have lasted a very short amount of time in a modern day version of 1st Kings 17 story of Elijah and the widow. At another point, one of the guards was saved from illness through modern medicine that he wouldn’t have been able to access without Rafiki. Those are just two of many examples of the ways God worked in just the short time I was at Rafiki.
More than anything, God taught me to depend fully on Him in my three months in Uganda. When He is truly the only thing you have, you realize that He is the only thing you truly ever need.
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. Matt 19:29
If you’d like to read more, visit my blog where I updated the world (and mostly my mom) during my trip at dotheyhavesweetteainafrica.wordpress.com. And just in case you’re wondering, no sweet tea in Africa, but I did bring my own Lipton!
God really likes to turn things upside down! How many unlikely heroes fill the pages of His Word? Francine Rivers’ account of Aaron’s story reminds us that God calls ordinary people to do great things. Moses, who wasn’t enough of an Egyptian to stay in the Palace; nor enough of a Hebrew to be accepted in their culture (p.17); he relied on his older brother Aaron to help him carry out God’s plan. Aaron, a slave, probably brick-maker/bricklayer, was thrust before Pharaoh, the diety-king of the great country of Egypt to make outrageous demands. In addition, he brought Moses’ message to the Hebrew leaders and people who did not receive him favorably either. But our story suggests that Aaron’s role was not only to be his brother’s mouthpiece. Aaron was a trustworthy companion. Francine Rivers draws him as An Encourager. Moses, who was called a “friend of God”, leaned on Aaron from the beginning of the book of Exodus, through the desert, on the way consecrating him as high priest (in the picture above), until Aaron breathed his last breath. What a journey! This is a wonderful story, so rich in detail. Rivers “fills in the blanks” for us. She uses scriptures as a basis for her fictional account and adds in cultural and historical detail while bringing the characters to life. Rivers’ close friend Peggy Lynch writes, “This finely woven tale by Francine Rivers is meant to whet your appetite. Francine’s first and foremost desire is to take you back to God’s Word…” (p.135).
Reading Aaron’s story did take me back to God’s Word, to Exodus. I can’t remember where I first heard the comparison between (1) the Hebrews’ Exodus from Egypt and journey to the promised land and (2) a sinner’s redemption and Christian walk. But I cannot read Exodus without thinking of it; and this story had the same effect on me. About two-thirds of the way through, something dawned on me. The parallels between the Exodus and man’s Redemption are deep and multi-layered. Here are a few that I noticed:
- God sends the Hebrew people a long-awaited deliverer to lead them from captivity…and they rejected him: They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Ex 14:11-12).
- God sent Jesus to be the long-awaited deliverer to free His people from the bondage of sin and death and they rejected Him: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. (Luke 4:18-21). When His life was hanging in the balance, people did not believe He was who He had said He was, and they despised Him. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If You are the king of the Jews, save Yourself.” There was a written notice above Him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” (Luke 23:35-39).
- God, Himself, spoke His Word to them at Mt. Sinai and they rejected Him and refused to listen: When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Ex 20:18-19).
- Jesus is the Word, the Good News, but many refused to listen; they rejected Him: He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:10-14)
- God gave Himself, to be their God, but they rejected Him and fashioned for themselves a Golden Calf to worship: I am the LORD Your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Ex 20:2-6)…Later, when the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Ex 32:1).
- Jesus gave Himself, to be their God, but they rejected Him, and went their own way: [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:8-11). He was ”in very nature, God” (Phil 2:6). Yet at the end of His life, they not acknowledged that He was Lord. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against Him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising (John 18:36-40)..“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered (John 19:14-15).
I see how we are so much like the Israelites. Even once our Deliverer has rescued us, we doubt. Even when He written His Word on our hearts, we falter. Even when He has given Himself to us, we do not acknowledge His authority; we do not make Him Lord or put Him first in our hearts. But He does not give up on us, and continues to lead, whether we follow or not, because God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change his mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? (Num 23:19).
I could write so much more about this topic – I may do a series on “Deliverance” once we have time. So, if you had to pick one thing, what was your favorite thing about the story?
JustAgirl…just like you
I have been working out six days a week – three times with Debbie Siebers’ “Slim in 6″ and three times with Jillian Michaels’ “Yoga Meltdown”. On good days, I do it before the kids are up. On bad days, I get it in somewhere before noon. I used to say, “I only run when I am caught in the rain” and “Exercise? A lot of good people get hurt that way.” I’m reformed now. It happened a few months ago when I decided to start exercising to take good care of my health rather than exercising to lose weight. Yay! Go me! Until this week…
So this week started out as a bit of a bummer. I couldn’t exercise, or do my regular housecleaning, or drive to the extra-curriculars (need that right foot/ankle complex to accelerate and brake). Then I realized the upside: permission to underachieve! So I decided to stop feeling guilty and enjoy the down days. Somehow, this was God’s plan for me. To decompress. To enjoy homeschooling the kids, snuggled up with them on the couch. To cook dinner from my frozen stash – Tortilla Soup and Red Beans and Rice. To let my Sweetie do the dishes. To skip vacuuming. To remember that: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17). Especially down days. :)
JustAgirl…just like you