Jesus is Better

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written and I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to share all that has happened now. But I do feel like I need to share, more for myself than anyone who may stumble across this little piece of the internet. I’m so forgetful. I need to be able to look back and see God’s goodness & faithfulness to me.
This pregnancy was my most difficult. I was very sick, all the time. Eating made me sick, no matter what I ate. Not eating made me sick. Water made me sick. I was just sick. I started trying everything I could to hurry this babe into the world at around 36 weeks because I was just that miserable & that made it very difficult to care for my tribe like they need & deserve to be cared for. But also, my delivery with Leo was traumatizing. I don’t use that word lightly. It really was traumatic for me. My anxiety would increase exponentially whenever anyone even mentioned me having another baby. So Lou came as quite a wonderful surprise. I’ve never felt so thrilled and frightened all at once in my life. As her delivery grew closer, I became more & more anxious. As much as I wanted this babe to arrive, I equally wanted to avoid the whole delivery part. I had everyone praying for a peaceful & safe delivery.
The day after her due date, I went for a check-up & was told they needed to deliver her that day. My blood pressure was high {it had been fine the entire pregnancy} and they needed to deliver for safety reasons. The midwife told me to go straight to the hospital, do not pass go, do not collect $200. To say I was a mess is the biggest understatement of the year. I called J sobbing. He had just arrived to his campus and said he would turn around immediately. I sent out a mass text to my friends & family letting them know that we would have a baby later that day. I was an anxiety-ridden mess. I desperately did not want another c-section and I was told previously that they couldn’t induce labor because of the risks. I just kept praying for peace. Over and over and over. Ultimately, I wanted a peaceful, safe delivery. The more I talked with Jesus and our medical staff, the more peace that flooded my heart & mind. Lou came quickly and it was absolutely amazing. My very favorite delivery. It was peaceful & beautiful & perfect. Everything that I prayed for & more.
The next morning, our midwife said we could probably go home later that evening, as long as pediatrics discharged Lou. I was feeling great. Better than I had after my other two deliveries. And I wasn’t sick anymore! Hallelujah. Pass me all the food. Pediatrics wouldn’t discharge Lou until Thursday morning because they had to keep her at least 28 hours to do some testing. So we had to wait. At the time, we were disappointed. Looking back, it was a good thing because I would have never known something was wrong.
Thursday morning came, Lou was discharged, but my blood pressure kept rising. I was frustrated. I just wanted to go home. I felt absolutely fine. Then the midwife came in around 5pm and said they needed to keep me longer & give me some medicine that was going to make me feel absolutely awful in order to prevent me from having a stroke. I started bawling. I didn’t understand. Everything was great. I felt fine. I wasn’t in any pain. My vision was fine. But my blood pressure just kept rising. Nurses came in & started moving very quickly, at this point. They gave me emergency IV meds to drop my BP quickly. Then they started the meds that make you feel like you’re dying. By this point, I was very scared. I started begging God for my life. I kept telling him how my kids couldn’t handle it if I were to die. How they’ve already endured a lifetime of pain. They couldn’t bear one more hard thing. As if He didn’t know them better than I. I asked J to hold my hand and I just kept telling him that I loved him. I’m sure he thought I had lost my mind. But then Saturday came and they decided I was well enough to be discharged. I had strict instructions to monitor my BP at home and to call if it got past a certain point.
Sunday night, a little more than 24 hours after being discharged, we found ourselves back at the hospital thanks to this pesky BP of mine. They started giving me more emergency meds and started a drip of the death medicine again. I felt defeated. I told God I was ready for Heaven and I begged Him to show my kids that Jesus is better – even if mommy’s gone. Even if and when the worst happens. And that became my prayer for the next 4 days.

They kept upping meds until they had me maxed out, declaring that these protocols usually work. They brought in the cardiologist who declared my heart perfectly normal. Still, my blood pressure wouldn’t calm down. They mentioned bringing in the ICU team to try to figure this out. They vowed they would figure this out. I wasn’t so sure anymore.
I started racking my brain for people I could ask to stay with me the next week when J would have to go back to work & making plans to spend Jud’s 8th birthday in a hospital room. I kept clinging to the truth that Jesus is better and that God’s ways are perfect. I sang songs declaring God’s goodness. I meditated on Psalms. I prayed for my kids’ hearts. I prayed for J to remain faithful even in the darkness. I prayed peace over my own heart & mind. My frustration turned to resignation. My resignation turned to peace & oddly, thanksgiving.
I have always wondered how I would face adversity like this. It seems that the past few years, our lives have been turned upside down & tossed in a never-ending spin cycle. And some days, I declare God’s goodness through gritted teeth & white knuckles. This was no different. As I lay in my hospital bed, in and out of sleep, I kept saying, “God, Jesus is better. Please make me believe. I know He’s better than all this world has to offer; success, failure, health, sickness, heartache. Please make me believe.” That became the cry of my heart. Please make me believe. Over & over & over again.
Thursday morning arrived. My expectations were low by this point. Then the doctor came in & said she was discharging me. Wait. What?! I couldn’t believe it. The night before, they were talking about consulting with more doctors and trying different medications. I was so confused. And honestly, anxious. I’ve never been symptomatic. No swelling, no headaches {except what their medicine has caused}, no vision problems, no abdominal pain. If I go home where I won’t be monitored all the time, how would I know if something was wrong? But my desire to be home with the rest of our kids trumped my anxiety.

So we came home. I wasn’t sure how long it would last this time. I wasn’t sure it was entirely safe. The first few days, I would hold my breath when checking my BP. But I’ve decided to believe that God has already determined my days; therefore, I will trust in Him. He is who sustains me. My life is not my own, after all. And when my heart grows anxious & weary, I will fix my eyes on Jesus, the founder & the finisher of my faith.

 

 

*We would not have survived the past few weeks without our family, friends, and perfect strangers who have held us up in prayer, who have watched our kids, who have provided meals for us, and who came to sit with me in the hospital room. I could never offer adequate enough words to say how thankful we are for each one of you. Thank you for loving us. You helped us see Jesus during some really dark days.

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A bit of News from our Tribe

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I’m not entirely sure how I should start. So I’ll just jump right in. We’re moving. Yes, you read that right. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. We are, in fact, moving once again. This time, we’re moving back to a place that became home to us almost as soon as we rolled in, back to Georgia. I never imagined I would consider Georgia home, but it kind of is just that.

Part of me fears that we’re just giving up. Because life way up here close to our Canadian brothers & sisters has been a challenge. Not just the weather, as you all, if you’ve been following along, could quickly tell was not my favorite thing. But all the parts were just a challenge. It’s a different culture up here, one that we have learned we’re just not suited for. I hate that disappointment in my gut when I think we’ve failed, when I think I’ve failed. And that’s what this feels like to me: a big, fat failure. And I started walking through all the reasons we {read: I} should just suck it up & stay. Life is not guaranteed to be easy. Maybe we’re supposed to be uncomfortable & unsettled & unwelcome. Maybe we’re supposed to struggle with feelings of isolation & loneliness & depression the rest of our days. This is just silly. Why would God move us allllllll the way up here for 9 months. It makes zero sense. We’re going to look like fools. And there it was. The real reason I struggled with this decision: what will other people think of us. It’s quite funny to me that I struggle with wanting others’ approval too much & J struggles with not wanting it enough. But it’s also extremely nice when you’re husband can simply say, “Who cares? They aren’t the ones living our lives.” Those words were freeing to me.

But I was still so concerned that people would think we’re choosing a life of ease & comfort for ourselves. I mean, isn’t that what we’re doing? And then J reminded me of how difficult our home life is on a daily basis simply because we’ve chosen to bring the very brokenness of the world into our own family & embrace it as our own. And then something whispered, deep in my soul, “You let go of comfort & ease a long time ago.” And I wept at the thought of having people holding our weary arms up once again. Because this path is a difficult & treacherous one.

And so, after much prayer & deliberation, we’re moving back. Back to chic-fil-a & sunshine. Back to family & friends who love us & support us. Back to jobs we both love & are passionate about. Back home.

When you get What you have been Praying for

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I have so much stirring around in my heart and mind that I just had to put pen to paper to flesh it all out. I haven’t written in quite some time for several reasons. We’ve been extremely busy. Parenting alone for 8 weeks, packing, moving, adding a new kid, getting kids started at school. And those are just the big things. But I also haven’t written because I just didn’t know what to say. I needed to sit with all that has happened for a while.

 

For those who have been following along, you know J was unemployed for 18 months up until July. This job loss landed us in a small town in West Georgia and to a year of healing for our hearts. We fell in love with our new town and the more time that passed with no job on the horizon, we began to make plans to settle there. We loved our church. We loved our friends. I loved my job. We loved our life there. And then God answered our prayers for a job for J. Completely unexpected. I cannot tell you just how thrilled and devastated we were in that moment and in the days & weeks to come.

 

It’s funny how we can pray so hard & long for something and then when God finally brings forth provision, we want to scream, “BUT I DIDN’T REALLY MEAN THAT!” Maybe I’m the only brat. But that’s exactly what my heart felt. I wrestled with God. I couldn’t understand {and still don’t, honestly} how He could possibly think this was best. We wanted a job for J. BUT NOT THAT JOB. I mean, we’re practically in Canada, y’all. {Which could prove useful given the main party candidates this presidential election.} Please let me tell you exactly how to answer my request, Lord. You don’t really know what your doing. Here, let me help you.
The state of my heart is so ugly, you guys {I’m trying to embrace the North}. Like I’ve said before, God has to drag me kicking & screaming sometimes. But one thing I have learned, it’s always for my best. And my best absolutely does not equal the picture perfect American dream. What a lazy faith I would have were it so! I have learned that Jesus is better, y’all. I thought I knew this before the last few years. But I am serious when I tell you, He really is better. He is better than heartache and death and brokenness and raging kids and food stamps and accolades and success and opinions of man and cold weather and stability. He is so much better. And I needed to really deeply know this in the core of my being in order to walk through some of these days with our new little man.
The last few weeks have been incredibly difficult. Those who know our journey intimately know just how difficult some days have been and these days have been exponentially harder. We are heartbroken and frustrated and tired and embarrassed and weaker than we thought we were. I thought I was pretty strong and brave after walking through actual hell the past few years. Turns out, I’m not. And these days are even more hellish. But it’s in these moments when I realize my own limitations that I also realize how limitless our Father is. As I was sitting on the floor last night staring down the demons that torture our sweet boy, I just started claiming the victory that Christ has already won over the powers of hell. Some days, that’s all I know to do. That and cling to the promise that Jesus is so much better.

The Cost of Obedience

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It’s so hard not to become jealous. You see all of these amazing things happening for your friends – amazing trips, great jobs, new business ventures, shiny new toys, sweet & precious children, nice date nights – and you are extraordinarily happy for them. And then the not so savory thoughts creep in. Why not us? We’re decent people. We do good things. We are intelligent. We seek you, Lord. We follow you, Lord. Through all the muck and mire, we still follow you. And yet here we are. J still doesn’t have a job. I barely have one. Our savings are nearly depleted. We are snippy with each other more often now. I am extremely lonely. We are scared. We have zero direction or purpose. We are exhausted. We are so exhausted. And maybe it’s because I have an infant who actually hates sleep and a toddler who wants to use the bathroom literally everywhere except the toilet. But I think it’s more because for the past 4 New Year’s beginnings, we have found ourselves thinking that the following year has to hold better things for our family because they certainly can’t get any worse. And then they inevitably get worse. And so as I sit here thinking about what the rest of this year could possibly hold for us, I’m lacking a bit of hope about the road ahead. Because the past almost 4 have held more heartache than I honestly care to re-live.

And I’m here trying to reconcile my faith with it all. I see how people look at us with our 4 kids of different colors as we pull out our Medicaid cards in the doctors’ offices. I see how people look at us when we pull out our food stamps card. I hear the tone of voice as people cock their heads to the side and declare their sympathy for us and promise to pray. I see your faces when I declare J still hasn’t found a job. I feel your pity. And it hurts. We used to be respected. Our lives were not supposed to be like this. I said I would follow you anywhere, Jesus. But I absolutely did not mean here. I told you I would adopt a bunch of babies and work as a missionary in another country. I chose how I wanted to die to myself. I told you how I would serve you. This was not it. I have followed you and it has cost me my very life.

We have been in a season in this foster care world where we have not been taking in new kids for a while now. A little over a year to be exact. For various reasons. J lost his job. I got pregnant and really sick. We moved states. And we’ve just kind of been in limbo with where we will land for a long while (I’ve learned better than to presume anywhere will be a permanent dwelling space for us). In these seasons of just focusing on the kids currently under our roof, it’s easy to lose sight of the sheer brokenness and evil we face daily. We truck along and everything is status quo and we forget that it’s still there, right below the surface, just waiting to rear it’s head again.

So you swim along, treading water, but at least still above the enormous sea. And you think your family is doing alright despite it all until suddenly you’re pulled swiftly and forcefully back under the raging waters of brokenness and evil that are always there, even if they appear quiet for a time, when you decide to care for kids from hard places. And suddenly you can’t breathe again. You kick and kick and kick and can’t seem to ever get to the top. The waves crash down on top of you, each one seemingly bigger, fiercer than the last. And you can’t get your bearings. You have lost all sense of direction. You can’t tell which way is up. So then you just fight like hell to hang on.

This world we live in is ugly, friends. I can’t describe it adequately enough for you to realize just how ugly. You see our smiling, filtered faces on social media and just think we’re all ok and we’re such a “neat” family. And sometimes, I believe we are, too. Until we’re absolutely not. I don’t let many people into the dark depths of our world. I’m afraid our family will just be too much for people because honestly, it’s too much for me some days. I want to throw my hands up, wave my tattered, white flag, and call it quits many times. It’s just too much. I didn’t agree to this. I. Want. Out. My heart is utterly broken for my kids. And by them.

They behave in ways that are terrifying and exhausting because they have been deeply, deeply hurt by people that said they loved them. They only know love that is conditional and live in a constant state of fear that they are going to do something that will cause us to leave them, too. So they lash out. They break things. They break us. All in an effort to reject us first. I wish I could describe to you the pain and trepidation in their eyes. And in my own. I wish I could describe to you the tremble in my voice when I declare our love is truly unconditional because some days it’s just not. Some days, I would pack up and run far, far away from it all, if I thought I could truly escape the overwhelming brokenness. But like I’ve said here before, I can’t un-know what I know.

And so we are living in those “some days” once again. They are all too familiar. We’ve been here many times before. But they are never easier. They still feel just as raw as the first ones. And so we keep putting one wobbly foot in front of the other. Clinging to Jesus. Clinging to each other. Clinging to dear friends who have been kind enough to enter these dark places with us and advocate to Father on our behalf when we just can’t anymore. And clinging, ever so tightly, to the sweet promise that Jesus will make all the sad things come untrue one day.

 

On raising black kids

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I was asked by a friend to write about being a white mom to black kids a while back and I thought Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was an appropriate time to finally post it. At first, I was eager to write. And then I sat down to write and I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to sum everything up in a single blog post. Not to mention, it’s a huge possibility that many of my friends and family will be offended by what I have to say and I just don’t like confrontation. So, I give you my words with trepidation. And I ask, as I speak about my family & my experiences, that you be kind in your responses. My experiences are real along with the feelings they evoked and still evoke. Please treat them with respect.

Let me begin by saying I grew up in a white, middle class, southern family. I knew black people and would have even said I had black friends. But as I sit here and recall my childhood, I can’t think of a single black person that ever entered my house. I would have guffawed at the accusation of being a racist, but black boys with sagging pants and hoodies made me wary and I would tell my friends that I was going to become the 1st white Ms. Black America because “they” would be the ones discriminating if “they” didn’t allow me to participate.

Like many of you, I thought I was ok because I didn’t actively participate in discrimination or saying racial slurs. But like I tell my kids- if you see someone being bullied, the good thing is to not participate but the better and right thing is to stand up to the bully and for the bullied.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that racism still existed. Some things you just can’t understand until you personally experience it – I would venture to say racism is one of those things. I would listen to my black friends and my friends who had black kids talk about their experiences. I listened and was aghast at some of the things they told me. But I never really understood until I experienced it myself. This is why we need to and we must listen to those who have lived this thing called racism, day in and day out. We need to take our cues from them, rather than from our own experiences and perceptions. Because as white men & women, our own experiences and perceptions are vastly different than our black friends and neighbors, I can assure you of this.

I learned just how real this difference is when I became the mom of black kids.

I will never forget the disappointed look on the man’s face when I told him our son was from Louisiana instead of Africa – like it made my son less important. Or the man on the train when he found out we adopted our son from the foster system asking, “Oh. Is he a crack baby?” Or the numerous people who ask if I’m babysitting or running a daycare- because the idea that I, as a white woman, would actually take care of these kids in any other capacity is absolutely foreign. Or the lady who only saw our son’s feet at first and just thought he had “really dirty feet.” Or how our black teenage daughter is frequently asked if our son is her kid when we are out. Or how my teenage daughter is watched more closely when we’re in stores. Or how the store clerk looked at me, with my daughter by my side, and said, “What language does she speak?” Or how my daughter, very loudly, yells “Mom!” in my direction when we are out so people know she is with me. Or how the eyes quickly dart down to my left ring finger after noticing my family. Or the pit in my stomach after a social worker told us the kids hardest to place are black boys- because black boys grow up to be black men. Or the look on my daughter’s face when a relative firmly declared that interracial marriage is wrong because it’s unfair to the kids they might have. Or the intense fire that burned in my belly as I came to my daughter’s defense. Or how sick I felt when our social worker told us that our son is classified as special needs just because he is a black male with an unknown father. Since when did the color of someone’s skin make them special needs? Or how I can never allow my black son to play with his new Nerf gun outside. Or the subtle, hesitant looks I get when I suggest my black son marry your white daughter one day. Or how the looks and comments became worse when we became parents of a black teenager, because there comes a point in society when black kids are no longer seen as cute but as trouble makers and threats.

I wish I could explain the grief and fear that seizes my body when I hear of another black person killed simply because of the color of their skin. I wish I could convey to you how I’m scared for our teenage daughter to be out without us, because someone might think she doesn’t belong. I wish I could help you to understand how I want to protect my kids from anything that could ever harm them, but I’m not quite sure how to protect them from the color of their skin. I want you to know I never imagined how fiercely I would have to fight for my children to be viewed as equals, even by family members, and how diligently I would have to guard their hearts & minds from the evil of racism. I want you to know I never imagined being verbally attacked for protecting my kids. I want you to know how keenly aware I am of our surroundings, all the time. As a white woman, I want to believe that the 9 lives lost in Charleston, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Renisha McBride, & Dajerria Becton are isolated incidents and that there are more important issues to be concerned about. But as a mom to black kids, I know they are not isolated and there are very few things you could convince me are more important than the safety of my kids.

I want you to know that as a white mom to black kids, I carry around both deep embarrassment & disappointment for my own past racial biases and extreme fear & grief over my children’s future. I want you to know that I don’t have all of the answers. I am not an expert on racial issues. I haven’t been at the racial reconciliation table for very long and I’m disappointed it has taken me this long to pull up a chair. But I am committed to staying, continuing to examine my own racial biases, listening to those who have been here a while, and giving my voice to the voiceless. I am committed to standing and working against racism wherever I see it, even if it makes me uncomfortable or unpopular. My kids have opened my eyes. It is my prayer that many more eyes will be opened to truth that I learned and many more would stand against injustice. I pray that God would raise up more black men like Dr. King and more white people to stand beside them, working together for racial reconciliation and justice.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. – MLKJ

Let my losses show me all I truly have is You

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**Many people in my life have encouraged me and prodded me along to write a book. If you were/are one of those people, thank you. I write because it is healing to me and it brings those dark spaces in my life to light which is transforming me as darkness cannot dwell where there is light. You hope as a writer (it feels weird making that self-proclamation) that your story somehow resonates with others, as well. I am grateful and humbled that mine has found that with some of you. I have decided to publish my little book here on my blog for several reasons. I will publish a chapter each month. With that being said, I humbly give you my introduction.**

I am the baby of the family. Not only the baby, but the baby girl. To say I was (am) spoiled would be an incredible understatement. I get my way. And when I don’t, oh man. I invented pouting, dear ones. If it were an Olympic sport, I would gold medal every.single.time.

I had this picture of how my life would be. I was going to have 6 kids, 3 biologically & 3 adopted. I was going to be married right after I graduated college. And we were going to be missionaries in Indonesia. Sounds lovely, right? And then God started messing with my lovely plan. And I have had to learn that God doesn’t much care that I’m the baby girl and supposed to get my way. I have also learned that I’m not a very quick learner. I still pout and stomp my foot and demand God do things my way or else. And when that doesn’t work, I just flat out say, “No.” Besides, I was going to adopt babies! And move to another country! All for You, God! Don’t You see? I’m doing ALL OF THIS SACRIFICING FOR YOU. Just leave me alone and let me do it.

I told y’all. I am the Michael Phelps of pouting.

I’m not quite sure how God has put up with me this long. Honestly. We have had a teenage daughter for 3 months and I have wanted to feed her to the wolves only about 56778 times because she likes to get her way all the time too. Whew. God has His work cut out for Him with me.

This book is my humble offering of my story. It’s not anything spectacular. I wasn’t a meth-head hardened criminal. But this is my redemption story. I don’t have life all figured out. I can’t give you 3 easy steps to an awesome life. My story is not my own and it is not complete. My story is wrought with pain and sacrifice and beauty and redemption and truth. What I do have to offer is Jesus. And Jesus brings hope. Because one day, He will make all the sad things come untrue (Jesus Storybook Bible). One day, all the pain and heartache and messiness will be worth it. Because Jesus is our reward. And Jesus is always worth it.

Thank you for coming along on this beautiful, messy, chaotic journey that God has led me on, sometimes kicking & screaming.

Losing

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I have been fearing this first week in November for a while now. It is a painful reminder of loss for our family as we approach 2 years of being without Scott (read here for more about my personal grief process – it hasn’t changed except that I’m out of those styrofoam cups now;) and specifically our daughter as it ushers in the first anniversary of a very painful death in her biological family.

As I was pondering this week and what it signifies for our family, I started realizing that there are painful reminders of loss all around us. As we chose to follow God on this journey of foster care and adoption, we also (without knowing the entire extent at the time) chose to welcome loss into our lives. The loss of innocence, the loss of lives, loss of sanity some days, the loss of family, the loss of jobs, the loss of belonging, the loss of comfort, the loss of ease, the loss of convenience. We have been losing our very own lives.

And isn’t that exactly what we’re supposed to be doing as followers of Jesus? Laying down our very lives. Holding loosely to the things of this world, even the people we love. Lowering ourselves. Considering all that we have rubbish compared to Jesus. Turning everything we know about success upside down because that is the way of Christ’s Kingdom.

I’m not very good at living this upside down life. I was asked by a dear friend if I would share about suffering. And I keep coming back to how terrible I am at what most would deem suffering here in our lavish lives in America. I’m still holding grudges against people that landed us in our current circumstance and against those that refused to help along the way. I still wish I could go back in time some days and un-do all of the little decisions of obedience that led us to this spot. I still want to just walk away from it all. Christians like to talk about suffering well and let me tell you, dear ones, I don’t have the first clue as to how to do that. I wrote this blog about how I have been frustrated because I need guidance in this area and there’s just not any. The ones who have been given a microphone are the ones who have found great success in the world. I am tired, friends. I’m tired of walking this path. But I I find myself continuing to say, “Yes,” to Jesus even though I just don’t want to anymore. Even though I want to take the easier way.

So here we are. We know a lot about suffering but very little about suffering well. Ours is not a path I would recommend following because we stumble and fall and curse and shout and harbor grudges and cry out to God for another way. All I do know is to look to Jesus. He was obedient even to death. He prayed for the cup to pass but suffered & died still. And He is strong enough to keep us. Even when we don’t want to be kept anymore. He will keep us and He is worth it. So we will continue to follow in obedience and proclaim His upside down Kingdom. Even when we can barely lift our hands anymore.

On being Homeless & wanting to punch Jen Hatmaker

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Almost 7 months ago, J lost his job. He has been searching and applying furiously since then to no avail. Our backup plan was moving in with my mom for a little while if he didn’t have something by June. We never expected to actually have to use that backup plan. Along the way, we have had friends, family, & acquaintances show tremendous kindness to us. And we have had others that have made me extremely angry.

If you have followed along for any length of time, you know that the past 3 1/2 years have been far from easy for us. In fact, they have been the hardest few years of my life. Trying to reconcile that with my faith has been a challenge at times. And having to face the realization that our days may forever be difficult (by our extremely selfish, American standards) has been even more of a challenge. I walk around on the verge of tears everyday now. We just can’t seem to catch any kind of break. This has caused me to think a lot about how you can still love Jesus and love other people, even when you’re homeless. Even when you literally have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I have walked through moments of extreme panic during this pregnancy because I just expect our lives to be plagued by hard things for the rest of our lives. I literally laid in bed, barely moving, for 2 days early in this pregnancy because I thought I was miscarrying. This anxiety is new for me. I have never been a very fearful person (except when it comes to snakes). I have never struggled with not knowing what’s to come. I have always been a very go with the flow, whatever happens happens kind of person. But then I have had 3 years of bad news over and over again and suddenly I can’t shake the feeling that I need to constantly look over my shoulder for the next bad thing.

We have had to give up so much in the past few years and we have had much just taken from us. And it is hard. And it is extremely lonely. I have honestly never felt so alone. So what do you do when you are in the trenches of life and it seems that you will be there for quite sometime? I’m not exactly sure, if I’m honest. I have looked to my favorite people who are honest, even when it’s hard and I still feel directionless.

And here’s why: I love Jen Hatmaker. I turned the Today Show on this morning just so I could watch her 20 seconds of fame (my anxiety level rose 45% watching her have to talk so incredibly fast, my brain does not work that fast). She is hilarious and honest and I think we would be great friends if we ever met in real life. But she has a bad day, she goes out and buys herself a pair of boots. She floats off to NYC or Rome or wherever. She has an HGTV renovated home. And all of these things are lovely. They are not bad things and they do not make her a terrible, greedy person or Christ follower. I have done a lot of soul searching and this is truly not coming from a place of envy. But more of a place of hopelessness and lack of guidance. She can’t tell me how to still love Jesus & love other people when you’re homeless and forced to go to the only OB in town who accepts Medicaid because she hasn’t been there. She can’t tell me that serving Jesus & serving other people is still worth it because she doesn’t honestly know. And it’s not just her. It’s any of the talking heads in the Christian world. Last I checked, no one is banging down the proverbial door of the weak & needy to hear what they have to say. No one wants to hear what they have to say because no one wants to end up like them.

So I find myself sitting here, extremely lonely on this journey we’re on. Wanting someone to tell me how to do this whole thing right. How do I love Jesus & love other people when I don’t have a whole lot to offer. And then I’m reminded what Jesus says about His Kingdom. The first will be last. The weak will be strong. Those who lose their lives, will find life. Pick up your cross & follow. It’s so backwards. Jesus takes our “white picket fence American good life” and completely flips it upside down. If we want to have life, we must lose our lives. If we want to follow Jesus, we must carry the cross. If we want His Kingdom to come, we must lose our American Dream.

I was filling up my car with gas the other day & this guy asked me for a dollar because he had run out of gas. I brushed him off and I got so angry with God in that moment. Really?! The person with no home, living with her mom, with no income, and really no end in sight of these “hard things” – that’s who God has this man ask for money? You have got to be kidding. This is some big joke and God is having a good ‘ol laugh about this one. Then it struck me, I have never known what it must feel like to not be able to fill up my car with gas. I have never known what it must feel like to not be able to feed my babies. I have never known what it must feel like to not know where I’m going to sleep at night. So I put some gas in the guy’s car. I didn’t do anything great or life-changing. I just put a little gas in some dude’s car. Sometimes God has to drag me kicking and screaming into His service. Ok, a lot of times. I am so selfish and self-centered.

How do you love Jesus & love other people even when you’re technically homeless? You die to yourself. You set your pity party aside and think of the person to right & your left. You get up out of the muck you have been wallowing in, put your big girl panties on, and keep loving the unlovely, the least of these – even when you think you have nothing left to give. You cozy up beside the widow and ask her how she still trusts Jesus. You scoot a little closer to the truly homeless man & ask what wisdom he has to share. You befriend the fatherless and learn from their faith.

Because, dear ones, these are the ones Christ promised His Kingdom to.

His Kingdom come. Not mine.

Tiny Apartments & Jesus

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Hello, old friends. I haven’t written in a while because I have been in a very dark place, honestly. I have been so angry. Angrier than I have ever been, I think. And there are only a very few people in my life that I trust with my very raw emotions. So I just kept quiet for a while. I hunkered down. I prayed a lot of very bitter, angry prayers. And I talked to my people who have seen me at my very worst and love me anyway, who just let me throw myself a pity party over #firstworldprobs for a while and who didn’t tell me that God works everything out for good because they know that sometimes, all the time, what we humans see as good isn’t what God sees as good. And though I can’t say I’m not still angry or scared or hurt. I can say that my faith has been made stronger and my hope has been renewed.

The past 3 years have been, well, not easy ones. And the past 5 months have been some of the most trying and I think it’s because it seems we have lost the ground beneath our feet. We’re no longer stable. We still have no direction. We are living in a tiny apartment that we were graciously allowed to rent month-to-month because we, very literally, have no idea where we will be in a month. And that is scary, terrifying actually. When asked if we want to stay in Lafayette, I laugh because while I really do love our life here – the kids’ schools, our church, our friends who are more like family, the food – Lafayette has not been good to us. A big part of me just wishes I could disappear with my little family and just forget these horrible, no good, awful, very bad few years. J said a few weeks ago that he thinks we’re at the place where Abraham is holding the knife above Isaac’s body and God is going to provide a ram at the last minute. And I said that I wish He’d just go ahead and let the knife drop and put us out of our freaking misery. I’m not dramatic at all.

The truth is that God does provide. But sometimes He doesn’t. And that’s the hard part. Wondering if you’re the sometimes. Wondering if your faith will remain if you are the sometimes. Wondering if you are able to distinguish your wants from your needs. Wondering if you can demonstrate God’s goodness despite your #firstworldprobs. The hard part is realizing that you are so self-absorbed that you think you deserve relief from these minor (in the grand scheme of life) inconveniences more than believers who are experiencing actual suffering for the name of Jesus. The hard part is knowing that God will provide what you need but not necessarily what you want. The hard part is realizing what you desperately need God to provide is more faith, more strength, more patience, more Kingdom focus. The hard part is realizing that you decided a long time ago that there are certain things you were willing to give up and these current things were not included. The hard part is realizing that living in a tiny apartment with a creepy maintenance man that insists on being called Captain Tony crosses the line of what you’re willing to sacrifice. The hard part is realizing that your faith, indeed, is very small. And that it is the thing you desperately need. More than a job for your husband and a stable life. More than the ability to go grab a cheeseburger if you want. More than bigger living quarters. More than comfort and ease. What you desperately need is Jesus.

I hear the Savior say,

“Thy strength indeed is small,

Child of weakness, watch and pray,

Find in Me thine all in all.”

I Just Don’t Know

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After almost 3 years in our lovely little house here in Lafayette, we signed listing papers today to sell her to a new family. This is the longest we have ever been in one place since we got married 7 1/2 years ago. We have laughed here. We have cried here. A whole lot. We have grown our family here. We have made lifetime friends here. We have messed up here. A lot. We have forgiven here. A lot. We have loved here. A whole lot. But most importantly, we have fallen deeper in love with Jesus here. We have tasted and seen and we can’t go back. And for that, we are forever grateful.

In true Sampler family fashion, we, quite literally, have no idea what is next in our adventures. People keep asking where we’ll be moving. And I can almost hear their hearts speed up a little when I tell them that I just don’t know. It seems God has brought us to this “just don’t know” spot over and over and over the past 3 years. And to be honest, I’m not exactly fond of it (read here for more on how I just don’t like God sometimes). But I do know that I have become more dependent on our gracious and ever-faithful Father. More dependent than I ever thought possible. And though it is painful and ugly and scary and lonely sometimes, it is also beautiful and redemptive and humbling and full of grace.

So here we are. Praying our prayer of resignation along with Jesus. Please let this cup pass from us, Father. We want to serve you. Just not like this. Nevertheless. Not our will, Father. Not ours. Yours be done.

Grace has led us safe this far. And grace will lead us home. Amen.