Thursday, August 10, 2017

Grace For Today

I am a planner.  Nothing makes me happier than having at least 5-6 separate calendars (which by the way all say the exact same thing).  Not only do I enjoy filling in the events of the new month, but if I could stretch it out for an entire year, I'd be in heaven.  Each summer when I buy a new lesson plan book for the school year, I love filling in every single school day.  I number off the different six weeks, as well as mark all holidays and teacher workdays with a bright fun color.  As much as I hate to admit it, will find my lesson plan months of April and May written on when school starts each August (eeeeekk, in lightly sketched pencil of course).

 I've always made lists, charts, and graphs.  Even as a little girl.  I once made a chart listing every stuffed animal I owed.  It seemed inhumane and cruel to only get to sleep with 1 or 2 each night, so I came up with a logical solution.   Each got their own special turn to sleep with me, and afterwards received a colorful checkmark on my homemade graph to document the occasion.

I know I come by this naturally.  My mom still to this day is the master list maker.  She as well has 5-6 separate calendars, as well as too many lists for my poor dad to keep up with.   It's inherited.  No telling how far back on either side of my gene pool it goes.

There are numerous advantages to being like this; however, the older I've gotten and now with my own family to keep track of,  I'm finding it almost crippling at times. I quickly get very overwhelmed each new season trying to organize everyone's separate schedules and commitments.  I'm so used to looking long term, and it's hard to break that horrible habit of needing control.

This summer I came across a video from an amazing pastor/author John Piper.  His message struck so deeply with me.  I listened to this excerpt from one of his teachings over and over and over.  He talked about 2 different passages that he felt were sovereignly intertwined.

Matthew 6:34
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,  for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Lamentations 3:22-23
"The LORD's lovingkindness indeed never ceases.  For His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.  Great is Your faithfulness."

Both verses were very familiar to me.  In fact the one in Lamentations had become my go-to verse during Caed's illness.  But how Piper wove the two together, were just what I needed.  Isn't it funny how the Lord does that? Verses we've known and memorized all our life...suddenly become new (specific to our current need).

We will all go through trials of various kinds. The Bible tells us this!  It says " not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you..."(1 Peter 4:12)  It also tells us that ..."He is faithful and His mercies are new every morning."  So how do these verses apply to someone like me?  Someone who looks down the endless corridor of a new school year and quite honestly says, "I can't do it, Lord.  I know what's coming, and I know I don't have the strength to walk it again.  My mind, my body, my spirit will give way.  I just can't."

God gave me this answer (through Piper's interpretation of Scripture):

    I love you more than you will ever be able to comprehend.  I don't like seeing you in pain.  I do not take delight in allowing trials into your life.  What I do desire is seeing you become Christ-like.  When you are able to see past the various troubles in your life and know confidently they are not there to harm you; but rather grow you, mature your faith, and deepen your reliance on Me.  In doing so, you are sharing in My sufferings. Yes, I allow tough situations into your life. I do have a certain amount of troubles planned for every one of your days.  Don't add to it!  Don't pile unnecessary troubles to your day that don't belong there. Just as I have portioned out those daily trials, I equally lavish upon you mercies to sustain you through them.  I do not give you mercy today....for tomorrow's problems. Quit looking ahead.  Of course you can't do it.  I haven't equipped you to handle yesterday's troubles and all of tomorrow's uncertainties TODAY.  Focus on ME.  Cling to ME.  Trust ME.  Today.  Right now.  Then...guess what?  Tomorrow morning when I open your eyes and allow you to breathe in a new day, all the mercies you will need for THAT DAY, will be there. Not an ounce more.  Not an ounce less.  When you feel overwhelmed, are trying to handle future problems with today's graces...or you have added your own troubles into the day that were never supposed to be there.  I am the master mathematician and trust me when I tell you it can't be done.  Just breathe.  Take every minute as it comes.  When you ask for strength in the moment, I will lovingly provide it to you.  When you need courage in the moment, I will place my armor on you.  When you need rest in the moment, I will miraculously fill you.  When you need peace in the moment, I will breathe my calmness into your lungs.  Cast all your anxieties on Me.  Don't try to conquer them on your own.  Simply worrying about them, will only add to the weight you are trying to carry.  
Quit looking at tomorrow.  Just focus on 

Be still and know...I am Your God and I love you!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Through the Fiercest Battle

If given the choice on a night out, I instinctively will always go with a chic flick, comedy, or anything Disney.  I love however true stories, whether it be in film or written form.  Although in complete anguish and covering my eyes through most of it,  sitting through movies like Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, and American Sniper always captivated me.  It was real.  Not just Hollywood embellishing battle scenes to bank a buck.  In reality, I am always aware those gruesome scenes are probably mild in comparison to those who were forced to play those roles in real life.  

The WW2 Battle of Stalingrad has been noted as the deadliest in history.  Estimates conclude nearly 2 million casualties occurred during the 7 month siege.  That is equivalent to the entire population of Houston, TX and averages to 10,000 men falling to their deaths every 24 hours. 

What would it have been like?  To see the devastation day after day after day.  To continue fighting knowing the odds that you had seen the sun rise or set for the last time was extremely high.

The fiercest battle.  Picture it.  Engrain those images you have either personally experienced or simply seen on a big screen in your head.  The explosions bursting all around you.  The screams.  The adrenaline.  The sights and smells of death with every turn. The split second decisions.  The horror.  The ultimate sacrifices.

Psalm 46 reads:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fail; God will help her at break of day.  Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts his voice, the earth melts.  The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations He has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.  He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire.  He says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Verse 10 is all familiar.  One you have probably memorized and seen written on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and framed art.  As I have thought of this verse many times in my life, it is usually during an overly anxious, hectic time.  As one sitting on a yoga mat, legs criss-crossed, eyes closed, pinky fingers pointing to the sky…silently chanting “be still and know that I am God.”  A calming of the spirit.  

However, after studying this verse in context, the picture I have in my head is now one of complete opposition.  Instead of a quiet calming reassurance from the Lord, I am picturing myself in the heat of a fierce battle.  The first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.  Do you remember it?  As you sat in your comfy cushioned theatre seat munching on that buttery goodness, you became frozen.  A sickening knot formed in the pit of your gut, and you wondered if you had the endurance for the remaining 150 minutes.  THAT.  That is when the LORD Almighty powerfully walks into the scene from Psalm 46.  He utters a single word and the earth melts.  He effortlessly snaps the semi-automatic rifle in half and crushes the atomic bomb with his heel.  All air raid shelters are burned to the ground. 

In the midst of all the chaos, the terrors of the night, the arrows flying by day, He boldly commands, “Be still…”  Stop!  All of it!  Every military combat strategy.  Freeze right where you are.  Do you not see?  You have no power, no protection apart from Me.  Stay right beside Me.  I am your ever present help.  Your refuge.  Your strength.  I can stop this war in a single word.  But TRUST ME if I ask you to take ahold of my hand as I lead you THROUGH it instead.  I am God.  I am in control.  And I know what is best for you.”

This summer the Lord has providentially laid Psalm 46 on my heart.  Over and over again, He keeps bringing this passage of Scripture back to me.  Why?  (maybe only an extreme analyzer like myself would ask this question)  But do you ever get the feeling something is on the horizon?  That God is preparing you for a single event or series of them in the days ahead?  I absolutely have, and to be honest, it always scares me to death.  To have a sixth sense (or a gut feeling) that tough days are inching closer and closer.   That has been my heart this summer.  ( the way, I am a public school teacher in Texas if that helps explain my possible anxiety.  ha!  The Lord tends to use the summer months for this very thing, and I am grateful for the time to mentally, physically, and spiritually refresh.)

August in Texas equates many things, but one that probably trumps them all is…high school football.  It’s the beginning.  The past 3 days, standing at the sink in my kitchen,  I have casually watched our high school boys begin 2-a-days on the practice field across the street.  Although as a girl, I have never personally experienced the blood…the sweat…the tears…and even the occasional sickness that accompanies these highly intense football workouts, I did have 2 older brothers that did. So why do they do it?  What is the purpose of these grueling (seemingly) torturous workouts? Are the coaches just evil madmen?  

Of course not.  

They have a plan.  There is meticulous strategy and purpose behind every drill.  In 3-4 short weeks, the season begins.  Hard fought battles will occur every Friday night all across this great state.  The coaches know it.  The players know it.  The opponents know it.  As well as the onlookers, we call fans.  2-a-day workouts are quite simply…preparations for battle.  They are not easy.  In fact, I’m guessing 99% of the boys do not wake up early, nor are instantly pumped and ready to go each morning.  They are keenly aware of what will be required of them mentally and physically.  There must be great discipline to continue day after day after day, as they push their bodies to the extreme.  They also must have  knowledge of what the ultimate goal is by the end of the season and have the heart to do whatever it takes to get there.

Spiritually speaking, this is what I have felt the Lord walking me through this summer.  Preparing my heart and using great friends to speak truth over me.  And reminding me "this world is not our home...we are only passing through."

I have no clue what lies ahead.  I have no idea if this will be a year of immeasurable blessings or pain like no other.   Maybe even a combination of the two.   However, the Lord has used His words in Psalm 46 to give me great peace and hope and strength. 

You’re with us IN the FIRE!
…with us AS a SHELTER
…with us IN the STORM.
You will lead us THROUGH the fiercest battle

Did you catch it?  He does not say outside the fire, away from the storm, or around the fiercest battle.  We will walk in the fire pit.  Our feet will be burning.  Pain will be felt.  We will be caught smack dab in the middle of the worst Texas thunderstorm you’ve ever seen.  Large hail stones will hit you and be felt as 1000 bee stings all over your body.  We will be asked to fight from the front lines.  Injury and death will fall all around us.  

Yet, picture it!  HE will lead us.  Not around it.  Not over it or under it.  But right through the middle of it.  He never leaves.  He never lets go of your hand.  He shelters you.  He is your ever-present help.

It’s easy to be frightened of battles you see looming on the horizon.  The urge to want to run far far away is 100% normal.  Take heart and KNOW your God is in control.  Plead for His help and ask Him to prepare you now….not after the battle has begun or the whistle has been blown and the referee signals GO!  Preparation for war begins day one of boot camp, or if in Texas…day one of 2-a-days.   As Christians, I believe we should always have the mindset that if we are not currently IN a battle, we need to be self-disciplined and preparing ourselves (spiritually) for the NEXT one coming. 

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. “ 2 Cor. 10:3-5

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” 
Ephesians 6:11-17

Saturday, July 23, 2016

No Regrets

"In 10 years when he is walking across that stage, will you regret if you don't do it?"  Without any hesitation, I responded "YES!"

That was part of the conversation my principal and I had over a year ago regarding the idea of Caleb being in my 2nd grade class.  Prior to that, I honestly was leaning toward him not.  However, out of the blue one day (toward the end of his1st grade year), Caleb asked me, "Mom, are you going to be my 2nd grade teacher, like you were for Reagan and Caed?"  I stood frozen.  His question completely caught me off guard, and I was shocked he even knew I had taught Reagan (he was an infant).

When Reagan had finished pre-school...over 12 years ago, the Lord laid heavily on my heart the desire to homeschool.  It was wonderful!  I was able to teach her at home for 3 years (Kinder, 1st, and 2nd grades).  However, it was in the middle of her 1st grade year when Caed got sick.  We recognized immediately how the Lord had providentially planned her to be homeschooled during those awful months/year.  I can't even imagine what it would have been like had she been enrolled in school during that time.  God knew...and for that we are forever grateful.

After the dust settled from the worst 18 months of my life (Caed's illness), I recognized I was going through some post traumatic stress of my own.  I knew I didn't have the ability to continue to be a mom to a critically ill child, attempt to bond with my now toddler whom I had lost for a year, and be the teacher that Reagan (and soon Caed) would need me to be.

Fast forward several years.  Now both older kids are in public school (Reagan 4th / Caed 1st), and I am back in the classroom after a 10 year break.  When Caed was heading into 2nd grade, I knew (if allowed) I needed to have him in my classroom.  Caed was hospitalized during those crucial preschool/Kinder years of 4, 5, and 6.  He missed so much and it showed academically.  I wanted to see for myself as a teacher.  As his mother.   What were his specific struggles?  How could I help him?  Little did I know what lie ahead for Caed in 2nd grade.  4 (more) abdominal surgeries, continued enteral feeding through g-tube, 2 open wounds that had to be packed, pain, disappointment, fear, over and over and over...the entire school year.  God knew, once again.  My initial priority was his struggle academically.  Very quickly I learned I would not just be Caed's teacher that year, I would also need to be his private nurse for his struggles physically.

4 years have passed.  Now Caleb stuns me with this question.  What do I do?  With Reagan, I HAD to teach her.  I was the ONLY option she had at "Hollingsworth Elementary School."  With Caed...again the decision seemed to be such a no-brainer.  Now, with Caleb, I did not have a single reason I needed to be his teacher in 2nd grade.  He would thrive beautifully in any classroom, with any teacher.  That's just the kind of kid/student he is.  So when he looked at me with those big blue eyes wanting to know if his mommy would teach him too...I couldn't answer.

I struggled for months.  Not in my desire to teach him, but rather what everyone around me would think.  I have learned these past 6 years working in the same school as my children (all 3 campuses are connected), my main role shifts from mom to teacher.  Hugging, loving on, giving any form of "special treatment" should be avoided at all costs. First of all, I don't believe it's fair.  Not every child gets to have Mom with them when they go to school every day.  Secondly, it's not good for that child.  They must learn to deal when issues arise, like every one else, and not always be mom-dependent.

"What will people think?  Will they view me as a 'helicopter mom?'...which I detest.  Will my co-workers question my confidence in their ability to be a good teacher for Caleb?" (I do not, by the way!  They are all amazingly gifted, and Caleb would have thrived enormously with any of them!)  Over and over I continued to ask these questions.  Never once was I concerned with Caleb in my classroom, with myself as his teacher, or our relationship.  My fears were 100% based on the thoughts of others.

So, after my principal (wisely) asked me that initial question...I knew.   Deep down in my heart, I knew the opinions of others simply did not matter.  After this year, 99% would forget he was ever in my classroom.  They would move on with their lives, their families, their jobs.  And so would I.

This past school year, the majority of the days were completely routine.  He unloaded his backpack, said the pledge, turned in homework, sat in his desk, worked, tested, socialized, was both rewarded and reprimanded, had good days and bad, laughed, cried, was sent to the nurse with both injuries and illnesses, struggled, and achieved.  Unless you have been a teacher to your own child in a classroom setting, you may not fully understand this.  But personally speaking, Caleb simply became 1 of my 19 students.  I quickly learned his strengths, as well as his weaknesses...just like every other student.  As odd as this sounds, there were truly many moments throughout each day, I would almost forget he was my own child.  He just became 'Caleb' at school.  From my experiences with both Caed and Caleb, I will say the same was true for them.  I just became 'Mrs. Hollingsworth' at school.  (due from the fact BOTH boys called me that many times in class, as well as then raising their hand at the dinner table because they had a question at home.  ha!)

Then.. there were those moments.  Those fleeting memories of having Caleb taken from me at 3 weeks of age.  Those rare nights (I was home to put him in his crib) in which I cried with inconsolable grief because I did not know him.  This sweet baby did not know me anymore either.  We had been forced to become strangers.  Not being there for all his monumental "firsts" ripped my heart into a thousand pieces.  Even now, when Caleb asks me questions about things he did as a baby, I smile...I answer (typically making something up because I honestly do not know), then fight back a flood gate of tears from grief I still carry in my heart.  Those difficult memories would occasionally come to mind this past school year as I would watch him in class or on the playground.  I might even be in the middle of a lesson, when some rare haunting memory would come to mind.  It was in those brief moments, I would quietly whisper to God my utmost gratitude for giving me this "restoration year" with my Caleb.

Lord willing, I am confident in May of 2019, 2022, and 2026...tears will be falling as I watch each of my children walk the stage.  Those tears will represent many things, I'm guessing.  Enormous pride,  as well as disbelieving grief that the years flew by as quickly as they did.  But I also think my tears will be from unspeakable JOY, knowing I not only played a ((small)) academic role in their achievements, but also the pleasure of knowing I had the privilege to teach all 3 of my children.

Each of their experiences (as my student) were completely different.

Yet completely perfect...

Reagan in 2nd grade.  Univ. of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha became her classroom for almost 3 months. God knew how much her brother and I desperately needed her during that difficult time.

Caed in 2nd grade, going through 4 surgeries (including feeding tube removal!)  :)

The months in between surgeries were (for the most part) very good.

Caleb in 2nd grade dressing up for Costume Parade with his Teacher/Mom "Disgust."

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Dream Being Fulfilled

For the past 5 years, I have had a dream deep down in my heart to write a book.  Not sure a day has gone by that I haven't thought about it in some way.  It's been a constant yearning, and quite honestly there were days I questioned whether it would ever be fulfilled.  My life the last 5 years has seen very little "down time," as a wife, mother of 3 BUSY kids, and full time teacher.  However...a couple of months ago, I simply bit the bullet and began writing.  I was amazed at how quickly and easily the words flowed.  It is far from completion, but finally...the process has begun and my heart can rest.

This picture shows only 1 of several notebooks my cousin graciously made for me of every blog post (as well as the comments) from the first 10 months of Caed's journey.  I have been going back and re-reading much of Caed's story to get a better timeline for the book.  It has proven to be not only extremely helpful, but also deeply painful.  To go back and read details of every single day of the worst year of your life is tough.  However, God's overwhelming grace and mercy are also flowing from the pages I'm being forced to relive.  Bittersweet.

The book is not Caed's story.  Sure, he is the main character, but it is told entirely through a hurting mommy's heart.  I do ask for prayers if it ever comes to your mind.  It is a rewarding, but rather lengthy process.  My #1 desire is to offer hope and encouragement to every person who (Lord willing) reads the book. We all face trials.  Yes, they come in many different forms, but my prayer and purpose for the book is not simply to retell the events surrounding Caed's illness, but rather point you directly to the One who is in control of not only our good days, but also our bad.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Matter of Perspective - Caed's 7 yr. Anniversary

Five months ago Todd and I had an incredible opportunity to fly to New England for the first time.  It was a much needed time to get away, and what better place to do so in the fall.  We departed Dallas very early in the morning, and as our plane took off, I took a quick glance out the window and was immediately awestruck.  The sun was coming up over a beautiful soft blanket of clouds.  It was absolutely breathtaking. hit me.  I was so captivated by the view from above that I almost missed it.  The clouds broke just enough to see what lie underneath them.  Cold.  Dreary.  Foggy.  It was indeed one of those cold rainy autumn days I knew those in Dallas waking up to it, were wishing they could avoid and just go back to bed.  The two extreme views that I was witnessing of the very same day took my breath away.  I wanted so badly to share with those on the ground...."Oh, if you could only see what is on the other side of those low lying clouds pressing down upon you.  It's beautiful!"

God spoke to me in those brief few seconds.

"Lori, this is what life is like.  You only see but a fraction of the entire picture.  You see darkness, storm clouds, uncertainty, hopelessness, and fear.  My sweet daughter....if you only knew what lie just over the horizon.  The beauty would literally take your breath away.  I know your view is limited.  That is how I designed it.  TRUST ME!  Believe that I am GOOD, and my plans for you are perfect.  I can't wait for the day when those clouds will be rolled back and you will finally SEE!  You will finally understand the plans I had for your life and how each and every day, the good as well as the bad, were masterfully purposed.   I am choosing to use YOU.  I love you so much...more than you will ever comprehend.  The tears you cry do not go unnoticed.  I collect each and every one in my bottle and record all of your sorrows in my book.  How I desire to dry your tears and show you the beauty of the final everything indeed is working for good.  Yet, I also know my timing is perfect and I have more plans for you to fulfill.  Press on.  Continue to fight.  The storm clouds will not last forever.  I love to lavish you with my good gifts.  Don't miss them....sometimes they come disguised.  One day....Lori. I will finally call you home to ME and show you beauty like you could never imagine.  One day, it will all make sense."

Today marks 7 years.....

7 years ago we were living our life, day in, day out, as normally as any family does.  Caleb was only 3 weeks old and the joy we were experiencing with our newborn was amazing.  And the blink of an all changed.  Without any warning, the flood waters crashed over our heads and swept us down a long, painful, uncertain river.  At times the waters calmed, and we were able to catch our breaths, only to be pulled under again and again.  7 years.  Seems like a lifetime ago.....seems like yesterday.

This past week we lost a sweet friend.  On one hand, Caed and Sonny could not be more different.  Almost 60 years separated them, yet their experiences over these past 6 years bonded them together like no other.  Caed and Sonny both had 1 day in time that changed the course of their lives forever.  They fought.  Hard.  They both endured more physically than most of us could dare dream of.  They also shared the very same doctor and rehab team in Nebraska.  The very ones responsible for giving them both an amazing QUALITY OF LIFE.

Some very tough painful conversations occurred this week as we told Caed that Sonny had gone to be with Jesus.  He had questions that completely shocked me.  As much as we have not only lived through but also talk about frequently....I couldn't believe the details of his story that Caed did not know.  Maybe as he is getting older, things are being comprehended differently.  One such question was:  "Mom, did they ever tell you that I only had a few hours left to live?" (with tear filled eyes boring a hole straight through me)

It was something I thought we had talked about many times.  Yet, somehow it was new to him.  I had to look my son in the eyes and say, "Although Dad and I didn't know how serious things were while you were in surgery,  Dr. G  told us a few days later that she thought you were going to die on the operating table.  Caed, medically speaking, you should have died that night.  YET....GOD SAVED YOU!"

I'm not sure words can adequately convey just HOW overwhelmed I get with this thought.  Yes, even 7 years later.  MY GOD EXTENDED GREAT MERCY ON MY SON!  I could write for a thousand years on the ways He has done this.  From March 1, 2008.....through the entire journey with our incredible team here at Covenant, Nebraska.  I am speechless when it comes to the IRP team there.  Had we not gone to Omaha, we are convinced Caed would have been put on the multi-organ transplant list (which had already been discussed with us a few times).  The Caed we know today...would probably not be the same child (if he even was still alive).

Receiving great mercy also comes with great guilt.  (at least for me)  I know too many Mommies that do not share the same ending to their child's story.  It is not that God didn't extend mercy to them, He simply chose to show it in a different way by healing their children in heaven.  My head knows this is truth.  My heart cries oceans for their loss.

As unexplainable as traumatic anniversaries are, we will once again CHOOSE JOY today.  Our tradition has been to make March 1 a fun day for Caed.  To celebrate God's goodness and thank him for his mercy.  We may not understand (this side of heaven) why God chose to allow that "awful" event to occur in Caed's life, but we are confident of God's heavenly perspective and how He has and is still using it for our good and His glory.

He has given us 7 BEAUTIFUL MORE YEARS with our sweet boy.  That's exactly 2, 555 days not being taken for granted....

Saturday, December 13, 2014

He Only Writes Good Stories

Each December our church hands out Advent Family Devotions.  The purpose is to begin in Genesis and hit approximately 22 of the major stories/themes in the Bible leading up to Jesus' birth.  The stories are familiar, yet tying each of them to the coming Messiah is amazing.  Our kids LOVE doing Advent, and it truly has become a highlight of the Christmas season each year.

This year has been a bit different as the Lord has laid on my heart something new.  (I love how He does that....takes the "familiar" and turns it into something you have never thought of before.)

"He only writes good stories."

I first heard this simple sentence a few weeks ago from my dear sister-n-law, Megan, as we were talking on the phone one night.  They live in China, so having heart to hearts and yet being on the opposite sides of the globe is pretty special.  This is something she has repeatedly taught her two (adopted) daughters, who at one point in their young lives found their homes in Chinese orphanages.  As the phrase easily rolled off her tongue in reference to a topic entirely different, it penetrated my heart...DEEP!  It has remained there ever sense.  In fact, I can't get it out of my head.

Do I truly believe that?  God ONLY writes good stories....  My head screams no!  I have either lived through myself, lived along side of others, or simply been a bystander of some incredibly horrific life events.  The loss of your young child, or worse....the loss of FIVE of your children at the same time!  Unfathomable pain, loss, heartache, betrayal. Events that even Hollywood couldn't make up.

How then could my sister-n-law so easily teach this to her daughters?  Girls who I'm certain will have MANY questions (some very painful) the older they get, regarding their "tragic" beginnings.

Then over Thanksgiving my other sister-n-law, Tamara,  absolutely blessed my socks off when she handed me an unexpected gift.  A beautiful bracelet.  The message ("bullets to blessing" Gen. 50:20) behind the craftsmanship truly brought me to tears.  There it was AGAIN!  That same message.  Apparently the Lord was trying to get my attention with this one.

So as my family has been reading through the Bible each night, this truth has been at the forefront.  Keep in mind, these stories are not for the faint of heart.  They are not feel good, cute little Bible stories.  In fact, they too are filled with tremendous sadness, hardship, tragedy, betrayal...  Not sure what could be more unimaginable than Abraham being told to sacrifice his little boy?  What about your own brothers selling you as a slave and being unjustly imprisoned?

This is the major theme of the Bible.  God wrote a beautiful story.  Even though the characters are flawed, and time and time again, it seems evil will doesn't.  From the very beginning, He has a plan.  A plan to redeem.  To fix everything that is broken in this world.

As Christmas quickly approaches, I know the busyness of the season can overshadow the very reason we are celebrating.  Instead of focusing solely on the birth of Jesus (which is AMAZING!), I encourage you to think back.  Think of all the stories that preceded it.  Each one, as "tragic" as they were many times, had a purpose.  They all had a role to play to set the stage.  Then when the timing was perfect, God sends his son, Jesus.

So, does it end at the manger?  At the cross?  No.  The story is not over.  He is continuing to redeem.  Continuing to make it all right.  The Christmas Story is only one of the middle chapters of God's amazing storybook.

 Take heart.  I pray PEACE and HOPE over the ones reading this right now that are in desperate need of it!  Your story is not over.  The heartache you are currently living in is but only a "middle chapter."  Let this truth sink in your heart:  HE ONLY WRITES GOOD STORIES!

He is merely setting the stage...the BEST is yet to come!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Hard Lesson Learned

For those that know Caed best, know he is passionate about sports.  Any sport.  Whatever the season, that's what he is spending the majority of his time doing/watching.  He has been this way all his life.

The one sport we were not sure Caed would ever get to play was football.  Last year his doctors in NE cleared that, and said it would be no different than anyone else playing.  His lack of intestines would not be a cause to sit out....other than dehydration (which SBS'ers can get easily).  From Caed's point of view, it was as though someone told him he won a million dollars!  From Mom's....there was a bit of anxiety, yet I remember a time he could not even walk and was hooked to machines.  Therefore, I would be thankful he was able to do the very thing he loved most.  It was a successful first year.  No injuries.  Just pure joy.

This year, however...turned out a bit different.  Back in August when the high school football boys were beginning 2-a-days, Caed came running home asking me if he could be a "lil manager" for the team.  Wow.  What a perfect job for a kid who not only LOVES football, but also being around teenagers (probably from growing up as a youth minister's son).  He was very dedicated to the job.  Got up early for all 2-a-day practices, went to every single after school workout until 6:00pm for almost 3 months.  He traveled not only with the Varsity team, but also the JV...which meant being gone every Thurs. and Fri nights.  He was in absolute heaven.  That is until..... was time for sign-ups for his age division football.  He loved it so much the prior year, so it was a no-brainer that he would play again this year as well.  Todd and I got to thinking.  He is 11.  If he has already committed to helping the "big boys" out every single day after school, and then add in a couple a practices until 8:30-9pm for his own team.....we were about to sign him up for total exhaustion.  So, we threw him a tough card and made him CHOOSE.  Either you can continue to help out the high school players, or you can play yourself on a team with your best friends.  To say this was an easy decision or that no tears were involved would be a lie.

With a heavy torn heart, he chose to stay committed to the high school team.  Todd and I knew this truly was the best choice.  It wasn't easy, the season progressed I think he even saw how wise it turned out to be.

It was a hard lesson, but 100% worth it!

Watching Caed on the sidelines being a "lil manger" this year was almost as fun as sitting in the stands cheering him on as if he had been playing.  He walked up and down the line as though he stood 6 feet tall.  Often he would stretch up to give a pat on the back to one of the Varsity players for a job well done.  And at times, he ((might)) have been guilty of drinking more water himself than offering it to the very ones who needed it most.   A HUGE THANK YOU goes out to our wonderful coaches here in Idalou that allow these little guys to be apart of the team.  I'm sure there are many times they probably get in the way more than actually "help," but the experience the coaches/players give them by allowing these boys to be down priceless.  Todd and I believe Caed learned WAY MORE by being on the sidelines for the Wildcats this year....than if he had put on pads and a helmet and played for his own age group.

One thing in particular I saw over and over from Caed this season was this.....

Whenever a player got injured, Caed was right there.  So concerned.  Waiting and watching the team trainer do his thing.

Since Caed's illness, we have seen great empathy/sympathy from him towards whoever is sick, hurt, hospitalized, etc.... It can even be for other SBS kids who live 1000's of miles across the country whom he has never met.  They can be young or old.  The details do not matter.  The burden he feels for them is the same.

I have NO clue what God's plans are for Caed as he gets older.  I suppose he could be a successful businessman who works in a suit each day on the 80th floor of a high-rise building.  However...knowing Caed and the loves of his life, his passions, his talents....I would not be surprised if the past few months were not a foreshadowing of his future.

Isn't it funny how God can use the worst days of your life in preparation for THE BEST?