To read the story of our precious Harlynn Renae, start here and follow the "next" links at the end of each post. Thank you for coming and sharing with us in this journey.

Friday, October 31, 2014

{31 Days: Day 31} Back To Crazy

WE DID IT!! Picture me saying that in my excited nerd way. First of all, thank you to all you die-hards who read every single post of mine. You're as insane as I am, and I love you. Group hug!

Now that I'm not "challenged" to publish a blog post every day, I can get back to crazy. There have been things neglected in this time as I have purposely carved out time each day to write. There's laundry that needs washing, folding, and put away. I'm pretty good with the washing and folding part. It's the putting away that proves a lifetime struggle. There are floors that need cleaned, and I pray no one looks at them when they come over. Gracious me, what a mess. There is clutter that needs to be cleaned out. Clothes that need organized. Work space that needs a little face lift. Menus that need planned. And a very special Little Miss who has patiently allowed me time each day to hammer words out on a keyboard as she snuggles and holds me accountable to my time limit, who needs some Chutes and Ladders time.

The picture above was from our family photo night. Our photographer, the one and only Michelle Warren, told Little Miss to give Mommy a hug. Little Miss hugged very tightly and actually crunched my throat. It was uncomfortable, I made a face, and Michelle clicked the camera. I love it because everything about that picture is so true to life. The kids are adorable. Little Miss is being sweet and snuggly. Little Man is gnawing on his fingers. Always gnawing on his fingers. Harlynn is still a very present part of our lives. Brent is too suspicious to smile. And I am choking on love. Ha! I'm making a face, because I always make a face. Why do I always make a face?

Our life is crazy, and if you had told me ten years ago this is what my life would be, I probably would have flipped you the bird and told you how wrong you were. Thankfully, I've grown a lot in ten years, and I've stopped flipping people the bird and immediately launching in to why they're wrong. Now, though, I have an idea for another blog post. Oooh, day 32!! Not really...I'm so taking a break! But stay tuned, because it's coming. Anyway. Circling back. I never imagined this would be my life. Married to a rock-star-saint of a husband, giving birth to three children, only being able to keep two of them, living in North Dakota, and sorting out life as a bereaved mother. Never imagined.

There are good days, there are bad days, there are middle-of-the-road days, and there are extremes of all of them. All of them have their own element of crazy. I can tell you this, and it should come as no surprise: I am a mess. But in this mess, God has done some amazing work, and written some amazing stories. If you don't know Him, or if you aren't sure if you know Him like you think you should, let Him meet you in your crazy right now. Let Him help you sort it out. I can tell you I'd be a lot crazier without Him.

The other night, I was trying to hurry and get dinner ready before a hearing specialist made a home visit for Little Man. Little Miss had heard me singing "I Surrender All" earlier and had asked to hear the song. In searching for it on Spotify, it pulled up this song. As it played, Little Miss was dancing ballet underfoot as I was cooking. I set my pots and pans down, grabbed her hand, and danced along. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle, you just have to dance in the middle of cooking dinner and expecting company. They all can wait, but these moments are so fleeting. She won't always be four. She won't always want to dance with her mama. She won't always want to listen to some good ol' gospel music. Take advantage of the crazy moments. Don't let another moment without knowing Him pass you by. It's worth it. I promise.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

{31 Days: Day 30} My Cup Runneth Over

It's a frigid day outside. The wind cut right through me as I ventured from the car to the inside of the grocery store this afternoon. The trees lay bare after cutting ties with their foliage, and the leaves scatter across the ground looking for a new home that will prove warmer than the yellowing grass or the gray, sullen, sidewalks. It's the time of year where we remember the warmth that was, and await the subzero chill that will take up residence with us for the next several months. 

As the gloom of the gray sky hovers above, and as all nature has abandoned its beauty for the sake of survival, there is warmth in my soul. My cup runneth over.

Right now, Little Miss is sitting next to me sounding out words and reading on her own. Mostly. There's still a lot of, "Is this what it says?" and other verification taking place. Little Man is napping. Dinner is waiting to be made (turkey burgers with pesto and of my favorites!). It will be a good evening.

I could sit here and list off several ways God has used others to bless, care for, and provide for us in the recent weeks. As I've been between jobs and not bringing in income, nothing we've done works on paper, but somehow, God has made a way. He has used people in varying ways to bless us abundantly. Some in ways I'll never be able to repay. Some people I don't even know how to thank, because they've blessed us anonymously. All in ways I never expected. All in ways we needed at the exact moment we needed them. My cup runneth over.

I recently was paired with a client through my virtual assistant position, and will begin logging hours for work with them in a couple of weeks. I'm not replacing the income I once had, but we're making strides in getting to a more comfortable position for our family, and I'm still able to stay home. To those who question why I haven't thrown in the towel and just gone back to corporate America, let me tell you about Little Miss' prayer a few nights ago. She prayed, "...and thank you that Mommy gets to be home and spend time with me." She followed up later with, "and help me and Mommy to spend more time together." She's four. She's full of sass. And she loves her mama. My cup runneth over.

I'm working to find some sort of schedule and balance that allows me to get it all done. The play time with kids, the mothering, the being an amazing wife, the work, the dishes, the laundry, the me-time. I know I can do it. I just need the help of a big calendar and lots of markers to make it happen. I know it's supposed to happen. My cup runneth over.

As we head in to the holiday season, which will forever bear a burden of incompleteness for our family, I have to remember that my cup runneth over. I have to remember how we are loved and cherished, and how He has provided for us in ways we never imagined. A year ago, I may have heard only a rattle in my cup: the tink-tink of the few blessings I recognized. Today, I don't dare move my cup, for where it sits, it has caught an abundance of love and care. 

It's not always easy to recognize or remember how we've been blessed. It's an exhausting task at times, to pull back the curtain of grief and peer at anything other than missing Harlynn. It is important, though, to remember there is life beyond that curtain. I'll never take it down, and I'll use it to close myself off from the world around me from time to time, but I will also venture out and remember what lies beyond its hem. Even in my grief, my cup runneth over.

If you find yourself feeling the despair of an empty cup, come sit a while. Let me share with you. Let me bless you in whatever way I can. I may not be able to fill your cup, but He can. And until He does, I will pour into you as I have been poured into. My cup runneth over. Soon, yours will, too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

{31 Days: Day 29} New Heights

This 31-day challenge has taught me a lot about writing, organizing my thoughts, creating things in a pinch, and most importantly: climbing to new heights!

The great thing about climbing, is the view gets better and better. You can't always see where you're headed, but when you turn around and look over all you've already conquered, it feels pretty good. And even when you walk through some pretty rough terrain, once you see it from higher up, it falls into place to make the "big-picture" a far more glorious sight.

When I was in my (very) early 20s, I was somehow in charge of the young-adult group at church. I had planned an overnight camping trip, followed by a hike up one of our local mountain paths. We ascended some 5,000+ feet and I thought I was going to die. First of all, I am one of the most out-of-shape people you've ever met in your life. In your life. I get winded just talking about exercise. It's pathetic. Here we were hiking up as a group, and I was breathing so hard it felt like my lungs were trying to escape out my ears. My heart was pounding somewhere above my head, and I was holding everyone back. EVERYONE. I wanted to stop for "snacks and hydration" breaks every 100 feet because I needed to catch my breath. I was trying to pass it off like I was doing fine, but I was doing horrible. Horrible! I promise you at least all of them were thinking, "Why was this her idea? Cause she really sucks at hiking."

We passed a few people on horseback, on their way down the mountain. When they heard we were planning on reaching the top, and we still had 21 switchbacks to navigate, they shook their heads and wished us luck. One said, "Without horses?" What in the world were we doing? Had I organized a group suicide in this camping trip? I wanted to jump on the back of one of the horses and tell everyone else, "Save yourselves! Ride!" but I couldn't even catch enough air to utter "help" to the horsemen. I was done in.

At one point, one of our group members asked me if I wanted to use her trekking poles. I said yes, thinking at the very least, I could run one through my temple when no one was looking, and put myself out of this misery. Interestingly enough, however, those trekking poles made a world of difference. I wasn't holding anyone up anymore, and I was keeping pace with the rest. All I needed was that little bit of support, and I was able to enjoy the rest of the ascent. It was still a tough climb for me, but I fared much better with a little help.

When we got to the top, after four hours of hiking, I remember feeling like I had just won the lottery. I had DONE it. And I had come so close - so many times - to giving up. Sticking it out and getting to the top of that mountain was an experience I won't soon forget. I remember putting both hands in the air and shouting, "WE DID IT!" like a total nerd, but I was an excited nerd. My lungs didn't explode, my heart didn't pound right out of my chest like I thought it would - I had done it. Even though I thought I couldn't, I did it. My technique was awful, but it got the job done. When we were standing at the top, looking over the switchbacks and valley we had come up from, I remember just soaking in the glorious view. It was amazing. Exhilarating. Profound.

We made it down the mountain in half the time it took us to go up. Going down was a lot easier. I was familiar with the trail, I knew what to expect, and I didn't have to climb. I just had to be gentle on my knees. I was out of breath most of the way down as well, but not because I was exerting myself; it was because my sister's ankles kept giving out and she would suddenly crumple to a little heap on the ground, and I couldn't stop laughing. Like those toys, where you push the bottom and they just collapse? That was her. I'm not the nicest sister in the world either, and even though she had encouraged me on the way up, I was the first to laugh at her for falling down. If you knew her history of weak ankles, though, you'd think it was kind of funny, too. Trust me. I'm not evil. Eventually she grew tired of being a spectacle for everyone and she went to the back of the pack. I offered her one of the trekking poles, and wouldn't you know it, she fared much better with a little help. No more stumbles. Smooth sailing the rest of the way.

Maybe the poles were magic. 

My point is this: when your path seems impossible, do not think you have to do it alone. Do not refuse help from those around you. Some of them are better equipped than you realize, and can give you the tools necessary to make it to the top. Or to find your way back. Whichever way you're headed. Don't give up before the victory materializes. The view, the rush, the shouting like a nerd - it's all worth it. Then, once you've conquered your journey, you can go forward to new heights. The world is waiting. Start climbing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

{31 Days: Day 28} Popping In

I have 45 minutes left for today. I have a commitment to write every day this month. It's been a long and busy and event-filled day. I am full, but spent. Here goes.

A Blogging Haiku

Nothing comes to mind.
I write because I have to.
And now it's bedtime.

Monday, October 27, 2014

{31 Days: Day 27} Keep Your Appetite

Every time my son gets hungry, he starts to cry. Getting him fed isn't as easy a process as simply sticking a bottle in his mouth. Usually feeding time is also an indicator his diaper needs changed, so we take care of that first. Once everything is dry and comfy and my hands are clean, I search for a bib for him. Every single time, without fail, when I put the bib around his neck, he voraciously grabs it and sticks it in his mouth. He wiggles his eager, hungry head from side to side, trying desperately to taste and consume the bib. Every single time, I take it out of his mouth and struggle to get him to calm down enough to let me feed him.

As soon as the bib comes down, he shoves his hands in his mouth. He gnaws and slobbers all over them, and gets so upset when he realizes his hands aren't what he was after, either. Finally, after fighting, struggling, and him shedding tears, he's able to eat. He drinks his fill and sits back relaxed and satisfied.

Every. Single. Time.

Usually, when he sticks the bib in his mouth, I try to remind him that's not what he's after. The bib looks and feels nothing like his usual meal, yet he so eagerly tries to spoil his appetite with it. Same thing with his hands. Instead of letting me feed him, he gets too impatient, and tries to feed himself with whatever he can get in his mouth. Nutritional value is of no concern. He's blinded by hunger, and believes if he can just get something in his mouth, it will all be better.

It can be so frustrating trying to feed him. I have his food ready and waiting, yet I have to pull his self-imposed obstacles out of the way before he'll finally eat. 

It's an interesting parallel to my own life. How many times do I get so impatient, I try to fulfill my desires and longings with whatever I can get my hands on? Whatever happens to be nearby? Yet none of them will satisfy. How frustrated must God be when all He's trying to do is feed me, and I'm crying and blocking my heart?

Don't waste a chance to savor. Don't reach for junk to fill you up when a wholesome feast awaits. Even nibbling before it's time to eat can spoil the entire meal being prepared for you. Take time in choosing what to feed your soul. The wait will be worthwhile, and your hunger will be exponentially rewarded. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

{31 Days: Day 26} Hitting the Wall

Yesterday I went to visit a new friend. She was a mutual friend of one of my life-line's through losing Harlynn. She's not from here, but her daughter came up against some serious health issues and was life-flighted to our local hospital recently. I went to pray. I went to give hugs. I went to be there. The funny thing is, even though I went to offer my support, I was the one who left encouraged. I was the one who felt supported. (Does that mean I suck at encouraging? I'm not sure...)

In our discussion, which ranged from tears to laughter and everything in between, I was reminded of those first moments, those first days, in sorting through my grief when we lost Harlynn. I was reminded of how I felt like I was walking around as a gashed, gaping, bleeding heart. No one wanted my stains on their hands. I felt isolated. I felt shunned. I holed myself up. "That's the woman whose baby died." It was if their thoughts were audible to me. I was so tired of feeling that way. I built a wall around my world. The difference, though, was when I "hit the wall" it wasn't because I had nowhere to go - it was because it was the only thing in my life I felt could take my beatings. 

So many times I wanted to call someone and say, "Come sit with me while I cry." or call them and say, "I'm just going to yell, cry, and then hang up." Though I wanted to do that, I never followed through. I thought, "Who would take that call?" or "By the time they came over, I'd be over my emotional slump and probably not want anyone here anymore after all." It was such a lonely, longing place. I know there were several friends who always offered, "Just call and cry!" and I smiled and said "Okay" but on the inside I was thinking, "Who wants to be burdened by those calls?" I knew no one would know what to do or say, and I also knew even if I said "I don't need you to do or say anything." they would still try. Then I would be annoyed or grieved more than I already was. Grief and mourning is such a tricky place. Such a finite line, yet vast valley to navigate. So I would hit the wall. 

As I sat there visiting yesterday, we talked about our shared and similar experiences. We talked about the good intentions of others. We talked about the blessings that were above and beyond what we ever anticipated. We talked about favorite tv shows. We talked about life. We talked about nothing and about everything. 

It made me want to talk to you - the one reading this who may have been sent my link because you lost your baby. Don't compare your journey right now, to where I am in mine. If you've just said goodbye to your precious child, don't read my recent writings and think "She has so much faith. She's so much better able to handle this than I am." Go back to my beginning. Read along with me from there. Don't let these sentences today deter you from where you are right now. It's been 18 months for me - and while I still struggle daily with the fact my daughter is gone - I'm looking through a different pair of lenses than what I had 18 months ago. Don't read my words and think this is where you need to be, or what you need to feel, or how you need to cope. Your mind and your heart will guide you to the exact right place, through the exact right process, as you experience it. Go ahead and hit your wall. 

I remember so many people sent me links and stories and articles and all I could think was "There is no way I can be as 'together' as this parent." At that point in my grief, I couldn't. I still can't hold a candle to most of them, but I'm in a completely different spot from where I was in April of last year. Or even in December of last year. 

It doesn't get better. It does get different. Your perception, your perspective - it will change as each new day dawns. Don't be discouraged with your discouragement. Don't be put off by the words or appearances of others in the journey. You'll get to where you need to be, in the time you need to take. Go ahead and hit your wall. 

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about or speak the name of my baby girl. My Harlynn. I still cry, I still choke up, I still ache. But I'm not still in the same frame-of-heart as I was. 

There will come a day when you reach a point, look back, and think, "Wow. I made it through that. Even that." And you'll sit with a new friend. You'll chat, you'll cry, you'll laugh, and you'll hug and know no matter what - your life and your journey haven't been for naught. You will find blessings in the billows. You will find strength in the storms. You will find answers in the asking. But it doesn't have to be today. Pace yourself. Allow yourself to feel everything you need to feel in all the time you need to take. Go ahead and hit your wall. 

There will come a day when you can breathe again. Let that day come to you. Don't rush to make it happen. 

And if you need to call me just to cry, yell, and hang up - - I'll answer. I'll let you. I'll understand.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

{31 Days: Day 25} Let's Talk About Love

How many of you, after reading today's title, have the Celine Dion song stuck in your head? I know. Me too. You're welcome. 

Ugh, but now I can't get it out of my head, and I really need to focus on writing, because this post has been weighing heavy on my heart. For months. I've not been quite sure how to articulate it - mostly because I hate confrontation, and this could stir controversy, so I've been avoiding it. Lately, though, my prayer has been to know when God is speaking, and to be obedient when I hear Him, so...there's this whole conviction thing. 

I hope, if you're reading this post right now, you know me. Like, really know me. And I hope, you can picture me sitting across the table from you, with my gigantic vanilla latte from Northstar Coffee (the best in Fargo, in my humble latte-connoisseur opinion), and you can imagine my voice, and insert the intentions of my heart, and see the weird faces I'm making as I speak because I want to make sure I'm being understood for exactly what I'm saying. Please, remember who it is who's writing this. It's me. It's Val. I am no scholar, I am no activist, I am no opinion pusher (except in the way of lattes). I just want to get to the truth, and protect others against believing falsities. 

I tend to rile easily (surprise) and one thing that is sure to get me riled up within seconds, is hearing Christians be slammed because we're "not loving" or because we're "judging." I've heard, "I'm not a Christian, but what I do know about Christians, is they're supposed to love, and what they're doing isn't loving!" I hear it all. the. time. On TV. Online. In public. In writing. It's everywhere. Non-Christians have decided to proclaim authority over the definition, action, and acceptable display of love. And guess what, believers? We're falling entirely short of their standards. Anytime we express Biblical insight, we're not loving someone. So I get riled up. Their definition of love has somehow superseded the scriptural explanation, and because we are not all-encompasing-accepting, we are not loving. Because we have moral objections against ideas, practices, and choices others make, we are unloving. Because we not only disagree with them, but defend our beliefs, we are judgmental, unloving hypocrites who are intolerant bigots. Have I summed it up accurately enough? 

Here's the thing. That is wrong, wrong, wrong. Off-base. Completely untrue. And we as believers are, as a result, walking a slippery slope in the name of trying to be known as "loving". 

Seriously, I have a knot in my stomach typing this, but I have to keep going. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7  "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Mark 12:29-31 "'The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

Let me unpack these - quickly and concisely enough to make my case.

To love as a Christian is called to love, you must first love the Lord your God with all of you. Every ounce of your soul and being. Second, love your neighbor as yourself. Do you hold yourself accountable? Do you make choices between right and wrong? Do you care for your needs? Love others in the same way. When your child runs into the street, do you not run after them in full-out panic, to ensure their safety and protection? Would you not do everything in your power to keep them from harm, from wrong, from making unsound decisions? And why is that? Because you love them. If your child comes to you and says, "I'm going to play in the street." and you just smile, nod, and "accept" that from them, and let them play in the street, YOU WOULD BE INSANE! But in the world's eye, that is how we are supposed to love others. We can't disagree, we can't protect, and we can't argue. No matter how dangerous the choices they're making may be, they consider us unloving if we at all try to minister to their mind. To their heart.

No!! We minister out of love! We discipline our children to protect them and keep them safe. God forbid anything happen to anymore of my kids ever, but have no doubt I'm going to sacrifice life and limb to the ends of the earth and back again to protect my kids, because I love them! As I should do for the soul of any other person God put on this earth. I don't disagree or reject or take an opposing stand out of spite. It's not because I'm judgy. It's not because I'm holier-than-thou. It's not because I'm self-righteous. It's because God gave me a heart to love them and fight for their soul, and because I do not hold a world-view of love.

When someone does, says, acts, whatever it is - completely against your knowledge and heart as a Christian - do not turn a blind eye "for the sake of love". That is not loving. That is shameless negligence. They are right in saying we, as Christians, are called to love. They are not right in their perception of what that love is, or should look like.

Love people enough to stand up for what's right. Love your God enough to fight for His people. Love yourself enough to equip yourself with truth, and to stand firm in it. Do not forget what love is. Do not forget how to love. Do not forget the greatest command.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

{31 Days: Day 24} Work In Progress

One week from today I will be posting my 31st blog in this 31-day series, shutting my computer and taking a blogcation. I have learned a lot about my writing, about my own thoughts and opinions, and about finishing something I started. 

When I was about eight years old, my grandma started teaching me how to knit. Every time she came to visit, she was working on some sort of project, and she decided her grandkids should try their hands at a little knitting. She began teaching my sister and I how to knit a simple dishcloth. The only time we worked on it, however, was when she was visiting, and most of that time was spent re-learning, or fixing our mistakes. It remained an unfinished project for eight years. Eight. Years. I didn't finish a dishcloth until I was 16 years old. But I finished. That was a big year for finishing projects - I also finished a tiny cross-stitch project I had started when I was about 10. But I finished.

Over the years I dabbled here and there again in knitting, and got pretty good at squares or rectangles. All straight things with straight edges and no deviation from repeated, monotonous stitches were right up my alley. I even learned how to crochet. I made a few scarves, a few blankets, and a ton of dishcloths. Grandma would have been pleased. 

When we moved to North Dakota, I took a knitting class at a local yarn shop. I made a purse, and learned extra techniques, and decided I could venture out of my square/rectangle boundaries. I started making hats. Sweaters. Booties. I would take my knitting everywhere, and if I felt I could have gotten away with it, I would have knit during church. I turned out project after project, made items to give away as gifts, had people purchase scarves or hats I had made - plus I really enjoyed it. Knitting is relaxing, keeps my hands busy, my mind focused, and it produces such beautiful garments!

If you look around my home now, however, I have about six or seven projects I've started and subsequently stopped. For whatever reason, when it comes to knitting, it takes me an exceptionally long time to finish what I've begun. Once, I started knitting my mom a sweater to give her for Christmas....and I didn't finish it until the following year. It took me 15 months to make her sweater, because I kept putting it down and neglecting it for long periods of time. The sweater was gorgeous and I wanted to keep it for myself, but then I knew "I can just make another one for myself". I still don't have it. Right now I have a half-finished sweater, two partial hats, the collar of a sweater, a small blanket (that's supposed to be a big blanket), and tons and tons and tons of yarn, just begging to be wrapped around some needles and fashioned into something worthwhile and functional. 

I don't know what the deal is. I don't know why I have so many unfinished projects. Maybe I get bored. Maybe I get frustrated and just need a break. Maybe my determination isn't as strong as one might think. Maybe I'm just a lazy blob. I really don't know. I, myself, don't understand how I love to knit yet refuse to take the time necessary to complete what I start. It's a little disheartening. A lot disappointing. It seems I can't even finish something so simple... I know it will be so worth it when it's done, and it will look so nice and make me feel so accomplished... yet, I postpone. I procrastinate. I sometimes stop caring altogether.

I am so thankful not everyone operates the way I do. I am especially thankful God has promised to complete a good work in me. I'm okay with being a work in progress. The difference is: He is continually working on me. He doesn't begin, set me down, neglect me for a while, and then pick me up again when the fancy strikes. I am continually being refined. Perfected. I know when He's finished with me, I'll be more spectacular than a fancy hand-knit sweater. I know when He's finished with me, I will be complete.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

{31 Days: Day 23} Blast From the Past

I'm working on a big post that's giving me a big headache, but it's a big deal, so I need to take a big breath... It's not for today, though. It's for another day. When I can really listen to the whispers of what I'm supposed to say, and say it the way I'm supposed to, not the way that comes out the second I sit down and start typing.

I'm still writing today and fulfilling my 31 days, however! It's a gorgeous day outside (which for our neck of the woods this time of year, is pretty fantastic!) so I'm going to try to get the kids out and about in the neighborhood after I take care of some paperwork and brush up a couple of to-dos. 

Here is a blast from the past, though, in case some of you weren't around back in the day when I began this blogging journey.

Good Samaritan Gone Sour?

We've all heard the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. The person who was least expected to help a neighbor in need, went above and beyond in restoring an individual to health and wellness. It's a gripping parable told by Jesus about living and giving mercy and compassion.

I'll never forget one night I went to WalMart in Wyoming....I was walking from my car to the store entrance when I heard a "Ma'am?" from behind me. I kept walking because of course, I was too young to be a ma'am. I heard it again, "Ma'am?" so I turned around. Some poor soul had mistaken me for a ma'am instead of a "pretty young lady". "Me?" I asked.

"Yes. We've run out of gas. We need to get to Powell. Is there any way you could spare some cash?" He was tall, burly, and unkempt. He had bushy, curly hair and a thick wiry beard, both cinnamon colored. His denim shirt was half untucked and he stood offset to one side, like it was painful for him to stand fully erect. His eyebrows were furrowed and I could tell from the vehicle he pointed to, that he had lived a hard life, and made some hard choices along the way. I eyed him from where I stood to see if I could pick up on any glimmer of genuineness.

I had a $10 bill and a $5 bill in my purse. I stared. So many thoughts ran through my mind before I asked, "How long are you planning on staying out here?" I was stalling. I was trying to decide what course of action to take. He shrugged and replied, "Until I can fill my vehicle."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

{31 Days: Day 22} Unicorns & Rainbows: Lisa Frank-ing Life

If you're anywhere close to my age (us young whippersnappers...) you fondly remember Lisa Frank and doing everything in your grade-school-power to get a hold of everything she produced. Trapper Keepers. Folders. Stickers - lo, the stickers! Everything was beautiful and peaceful and fantastic, and chic! So chic! It didn't matter that unicorns aren't real; plastering them on our school supplies gave us renewed hope and energy!

But those images did nothing to actually help us in school. Those pictures and ideas and dreams didn't do anything to help us study, or keep us focused. They didn't do anything to help us pass our tests, or drive home the importance of education. We got all-things-Lisa-Frank because it was what we wanted. Any folder would have held paper the same way, but we wanted the unicorns. We wanted the rainbows. We wanted the stickers. We wanted to be cool like everyone else. And because that's what we wanted, that's what we got. 

Lately I've been convicted of living as, or being, a surface-level Christian. I pull out a verse or two, but throw a whole lot of "God is" and "Jesus is". I serve up a lot of spiritual potatoes without the meat. I want to apologize to you, and repent of shallowness. Lately in the words and fruit of Little Miss, I've realized I need to be a more intentional parent with regard to my faith. I don't want her thinking church is a thing we do so we can get Taco Bell afterward. I want her knowing and believing church is a place of fellowship that furthers us and encourages us in our way of life, and in our way of worship. I don't want my kids to walk away from faith later in life because it lost entertainment value. I want it to be what they live, not what they do because their parents do. I want it to be my life. My reflection of His work in me. I want them to see Him, at work, through me, daily. Moment by moment. Not just on Sunday. Not just one day when they pull up my blog and think, "Wow, Mama sure did talk a good talk..."

The truth of the matter is, being intentional in my faith - especially as I try to sort out what my faith looks like after losing Harlynn - is hard work. Some days it's more work than I want to put forth. So I sit and say, "Okay up." And He does. But then instead of delving deeper, I accept it, then replicate it, strictly at surface-level. I don't dig deeper. I don't seek the root of His fruit. I talk a good talk, but it has no depth. I've become content with my complacency. I've become comfortable in my stagnant position. This is a scary place for any Christian to be. Yet here I sit.

I've been Lisa Frank-ing my faith. Adorning it with stickers of fanciful flare, I focus on the appearance of what I want my faith to look like, rather than the contents of what it actually holds. Look at my Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper! But don't dare open it. It's a mess in there, and I don't want you to see what might spill out.

As I close in on the last few days of this 31-Day journey, I want you to know, I have done a lot of reflecting. In my quest to feed your souls, I've been led to examining mine. I started this journey with the arrogance of thinking I needed to do this for others, when the reality is, I'm the one who needs to delve deeper. I'm the one who needs to live out the implications of the words I minister with. I need to live out loud. 

Day 22. It only took nearly a month for me to realize. While I believe everything I've said in previous posts to be truth, I believe I wrote it all with an arrogance of exempt-ness. Do as I say not as I do. Trust God because I say so, but that's all I'm going to say. 

One of the many reasons I love our church home so much is because they take the Word, and they base all things around it. Sermons, activities, fellowship - everything begins with scripture. They don't choose a sermon topic and pick verses to support it, they choose scripture and unpack it in a sermon. It's time I get on board with doing that myself. It's time I stop living at the surface, hold my breath, and dive a little deeper. Stay a little longer. 

No more unicorns and rainbows. No more Lisa Frank-ing it. So hold on, because I'm about to open up my trapper-keeper, and sort out the mess I've stuffed inside.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

{31 Days: Day 21} When the Road Keeps Going

You've got month at the end of the money. Energetic kids at the end of your energy level. You've given all you can give and there are still so many events or responsibilities that require your attention. How on earth can you make it to the end of the road, when you're out of gas and the road keeps going?

I've been there. Not only have I been there, but I am there. Right now. Today. I was so pumped up because I had both kids fed and bathed before 6:00 p.m. Then I realized there was still more than two hours until bedtime. I was tired, they were not. Lord, sometimes the road seems so long.

Some days it's longer than others. There are some days when I get to the end of the road for that day and then start laying pavers, cause I have a bunch to accomplish, and the energy with which to do it! That is not often, however. That is not usual. 

More often than not, I reach a point in my day where my legs buckle beneath me, I crumple in to a ragged, worn out pile, and try to catch my breath. I turn my head and see the road keeps going. I'm nowhere near the end. Somehow, I'm expected to walk this journey and finish with fervor. But I am so spent. Between being a parent, striving and stumbling to get it right, being a wife who feels like she falls so short in so many aspects, and just plain living - with sickness, tiredness, too much to do, too much to minister to.... Why does the road keep going when I've given all I can possibly give?

Yesterday, as I was driving Little Miss to preschool, she exclaimed, "I feel my heart lighting up!" I asked her to explain and she answered, "We're supposed to let God's light shine through us, and I can feel it in my heart, because He lives in my heart, and it's lighting up right now!" I smiled so broadly and told her that was wonderful, and I was so happy for her - and I was. Little pieces of our ministering to her are taking root. My tank was filled a little fuller and I had encouragement to take a few more steps in my day. So much so, that I busted out of my woe-is-me shell, and walked down a few houses to introduce myself to our newest neighbors. Little Miss, in her quest to out-socialize me, went down a few more houses, knocked on the door of our neighbors (who are "new", but we've been introduced and visited a couple of times) as she thought I was there. When they answered the door she said, "I'm here to introduce myself, but I need to use the bathroom first." So in she marched. To their house. To use their bathroom. Thank God it was them, and they're wonderful people, and there was no resulting incident. That took a little wind out of my sails. Then at dinner, however, Little Miss wanted to pray and asked God, "Please don't ever let me run off like that again," to which Mama uttered a hearty "Amen!"

Even today, as we drove around she asked me if she could pray "thanking God for the blue sky and the sunshine, and the pretty leaves". I said of course, and she started praying right there in the van. If you only knew the struggles we've had in getting her to understand and appreciate prayer - her initiating it is not a victory for our parenting, but a victory for God doing precious work in her heart. After her prayer, she started singing along with the radio. Every song that came on, she would lift her voice, praising right along with them. Melt this mama's heart.

I asked her later if she was ready to roll. She said, "You mean rock and roll?" I said, "Sure." 
"Mama, what does that mean, rock and roll?" 
"It means get a move on." I answered.
"Or does it mean we go to our studio to record and be awesome singers?"

Sometimes when I can't muster up any more energy, when I can't find the strength to take one more step, no matter how tiny, I'm given treasured moments. Moments where I'm reminded why walking the road, continuing the journey, is so important. Moments when my strength comes from Him, through others. These last couple of days have shown exactly that. There is more road left at the end of my ability to journey, but somehow, with His help, I end up crossing the finish line. Each and every time.

Don't give up. And if you do give up, let someone help you the rest of the way. He'll provide the means to get you to the end when the road keeps going.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

{31 Days: Day 20} Facing Fear

I detest bats. I think they're gross, creepy, evil, and have I mentioned gross? They eat bugs, I get it. They are amazing creatures in their own right, I get it. But I cannot stand them. I say again: gross. I remember one time I had a dream there were bats chasing me, and I ran into a car and shut the door, and I ended up closing bats in the door. Yuck...even remembering that makes me gag a little. I have no soft spot in my heart for bats. So there's that.

One day a few years ago, I showed up to work and my colleague said, "Did you see our little friend?" I had no idea what he was asking and responded, "What do you mean?"
"The bat."
"What. Bat. What? Where?" (trying not to panic)
"Above the door."
"As in the door I just walked in through?"

He walked me outside and pointed. Sure enough, there was a furry, creepy bat, roosting above the door. This was not the first time I had seen a bat on a building where I work. It happened a couple of times in Wyoming, but this was the first time I was aware of at a bank, in the middle of town, in North Dakota. It was high enough above the door that I didn't feel entirely threatened, so I made it a point to march a few unsuspecting souls outside to see our new resident. That was a big mistake.

Within an hour, there were people feigning illness, people dropping from anxiety attacks, and an entire drama-induced incident because there was a bat on the outside of the building. One person exclaimed, "It better not go in my car!" Because bats tend to leave their roost in broad daylight to seek out a sedan with a cracked-open window. Puh-lease. Soon enough, three business-suited men marched outside to assess the situation.  They were discussing which one of them was going to smash the little dude with a shovel. Because nothing says, "Welcome to our building" quite like bat blood splattered all over one of the entrances. Business 101.

Are you kidding me....

I had to do something to save the disgusting bat. Lord have mercy.

The local president at the time had a huge collection of large plastic drink cups from area eateries like Subway. I went in to his office and asked to borrow a cup. He wanted to know why, and I told him, "I'm going to get rid of the bat." He handed me a cup and wished me luck. I went to the bathroom and filled the cup with water. Walking back outside, I stood at a pre-determined distance where I felt I was far enough away from the bat, yet close enough to accomplish my mission.

I had to give myself some self-talk and really pump myself up with confidence. I let out some kind of weird "oh crap" quiet groan, and threw the water on the bat. It got wet. It lifted its head and chattered it's teeth and started breathing fast. "Oh crap." I ran back inside, filled the cup with water again and ran back out. Standing in the same place, making the same groan, I threw the water again. Bullseye. The bat made a hideous chatter noise, and flew away. 

THE BAT FLEW AWAY! I stood, watching it, as it left the area. I felt pride, but mostly I felt relief. I hate bats, but I didn't think the guy needed to be splattered on the side of our building.

I walked back inside and back to the president's office. I proudly proclaimed, "I caught him!" and then pretended to trip and throw the "bat" directly at him sitting in his desk. It was really funny...until I realized he was on a conference call and everyone who could hear (he was on speakerphone) was then inquiring as to what was going on. Whoops. 

The important thing was the bat was gone. There was no bloodshed. And I had gone out there in spite of my intense dislike of the creepy bat to begin with. I had done it.

When Little Miss gets scared at nighttime, we remind her she can sing "Jesus Loves Me", and in calling on the authority of His name, and knowing she is cared for by Him, fears can dissipate. Yet, I'm entirely hypocritical. I fear constantly. My pregnancy with Little Man was 35 weeks of fear. My life since, has been filled with fear of the unknown. I fear constantly. And while I tell my daughter to call on the power of Jesus' name, I somehow feel like I am an exception. Like His power won't work for me. Or rather, like I don't deserve to call on Him. 

I know. Absurd.

It's time I face my fears. Whether I stand there making strange groaning noises, or stand confidently in my convictions, I have all the strength I need to face my fears. His name holds all the power I'll need. Do not be timid. Do not be afraid. Face your fears. Or come hold my hand while I face mine.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

{31 Days: Day 19} Jesus, Take the Wheel

Much to my husband's chagrin, I've made an art out of being the navigator in the vehicle. If he doesn't slow down soon enough, or pass someone fast enough, or if he doesn't drive like he's going to turn where we need to turn, or when he does something remotely different from how I would, he hears about it. "Babe..." is how it usually starts. If it's more serious or pressing, he'll get the frantic, "HONEY!" or if there's no hope for the situation at all, I'll gasp loudly as I clutch the dashboard. There are also desperate times when I cover my face in hopes other people won't see or recognize me in an effort to disassociate myself from his driving decisions. It's a real treat to ride with me. Just ask him.

When I was an inexperienced driver, I wrecked. A couple times. Like, five. Dad always says, "Yeah, but how many cars did you wreck in those five times?" Well...ten. But really, who's counting? It was a long time ago, and I've learned a lot and let me tell you - in inclement weather, there's no one you'd rather be riding with. I've got it down now. Due to my previous experiences, however, I tend to get a little antsy when I'm not the one in the driver's seat. I still get physically uncomfortable on gravel roads. If I'm in the driver's seat, at least I know I'm the one to blame if things ever go awry. If anyone else is in the driver's seat and something happens, who's to say it wouldn't have been avoided had I been driving?

I'm a control freak. I know where I want to go, I know how I want to get there, just let me drive. If you don't let me drive, expect me to navigate for you from the passenger seat. Determinedly. 

The problem is, I cannot say I have surrendered my heart to Christ if I insist on staying in the driver's seat. If I claim Him as Lord of my life, I have to actually let Him be Lord of my life. Huh. Fancy that.

He may take some roads I don't want to take. He may drive a little faster or a little slower than I would. He may lead me around horrible turns. The ride, however, would go much smoother if I quit trying to reach over and yank the wheel from Him. If I quit wrestling, quit insisting I know better, quit fighting against the One who is for me, the ride will go so much better. It won't be without incident. It won't be without detours. It won't be without jams in which I would have to sit and wait it out. I also won't wreck five times, with ten cars. I won't put myself in harm's way. I won't get lost.

I won't get lost.

I might not always like the road. Or the scenery. Or relinquishing control. But when I arrive at my destination, it will have been the most beautiful journey I could have embarked on.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

{31 Days: Day 18} Onward, Upward

First of all, I have the greatest friends. I asked one of my Wyoming buds to take a picture of a very specific thing in a very specific place for me - and without questioning why, or what for, or why him, he just went and did it and said, "I hope these work." He's known me a long time, and he knows I'm a little kooky, a little unconventional, a hazardous driver (in my younger years) and he loves me anyway - enough to just go and trust I have a purpose for making an odd request. Gosh, I love the people God put in my life. Thank you, Darrell - they absolutely work (perfectly), and you're amazing. 

You see, I had an idea for a blog post during this series, and the visual that came to mind was a very specific scene I had driven by multiple times growing up. This is a tree on the Northfork highway; my old stomping grounds in Wyoming. Just before you get to the tunnels that run alongside the river and the Buffalo Bill Dam, this tree grows out from under a giant rock. It is a sight to behold, and one of my favorite landmarks along this stretch of road.

At first glance it emanates perseverance. This giant rock fell from goodness knows where, and covered the little seedling as it sprouted up from the ground. Instead of giving up, instead of allowing itself to be crushed by the weight of its obstacles, the tree kept growing. Onward. Upward, No, it isn't perfect, it isn't the poster-child of healthy looking trees, but in its abstractness, it is breathtaking. It is beautiful. The rock definitely shaped the tree, but when all is said and done, it's still a tree. It's still growing. It's still full of life.

Isn't that how our life happens? Our obstacles begin to shape us. We either crumble beneath their weight, or allow them to somehow shape us into our unique calling. We may not look anything like we imagined we would when we come out the other side. The important thing, however, is we push on and keep going.

Believe it or not, I am non-confrontational. Most of the time. If I look down the path and see something other than what I planned on or imagined, I will most likely avoid it if I can. I don't like hurdles. I don't like obstacles. I don't like trouble. I want easy. I want simple. I want painless.

Yet, when you look at this tree, at this rock - for whatever reason, it is so inspiring. Wondrous. Powerful. And as I was in scripture, God put this passage on my heart.

You see....that rock is not an obstacle. It isn't a deterrent. Rather, the Rock is support. A stronghold. The LORD is upright, he is my Rock.

Life might look uncomfortable up ahead. It might look nothing like what you had planned. It also might not be what you fear, however. Instead of a boulder blocking your path, it may be the Rock, waiting there to hold you up. When you keep growing and reaching upward, you may not end up at all as you had imagined. You may be bent out of shape. You may bear the scars of your ordeal. But you will not be left to fight alone. You will not be without Him by your side.

When you continue on the path chosen for you, you can turn around and see one of the most beautiful partnerships imaginable. You, your God, together. You can remember this journey and the landmarks He provided. The thing about predictability, and pristine-ness, is it does not set you apart. When you continue to grow despite your perceived barriers, embracing them, your life becomes more beautiful, more unique, more purposeful than it would have otherwise.

Onward. Upward. Lord, help me trust, and lean on your understanding.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

{31 Days: Day 17} Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear

I don't need a tape recorder. I have a four-year-old. Anything I say can and will be used against me anywhere at anytime in front of anyone. She remembers and repeats most everything that slips out of my mouth and settles upon to two sponges we call "ears". As such, I've learned to really be intentional and careful about the things I say. Not just with regard to my words, but with regard to my expression of opinion, truth, and discipline. You see, I don't want my children growing up merely repeating the things I've said or done. I want them to be cognizant of truth, always seeking to know and do what is right, and impressing those things upon their heart. Not just because Mommy says so, or because Pastor says so, or because this really good book said so. Because it's truth.

My husband and I have stressed for a long while to be mindful of the spiritual leaders you listen to. What they're saying may sound really great, and even be totally powerful, but if it doesn't align with the Word, just because they're professing to be in the Word doesn't make it so. Who is the author of your faith? Is it Jesus? Or is it someone who said this super cool quote who claims to be Christian and therefore would never lead another believer astray? Be careful little ears what you hear.

I'm one who has music on as background noise. I don't pay attention to the words, usually, unless it really grabs me or I finally take the time to listen to it. For whatever reason, I started listening to the words of a catchy tune played on our local Christian radio station. Once I realized what this song - this Christian song - was saying, I got a knot in my stomach. "No way...." Perhaps you've heard the song. Perhaps you've even been encouraged by it. The words are: "He said I won't give you more, more than you can take; and I might let you bend, but I won't let you break. No-o-o-o-o I'll never ever let you go-o-o-o-o-o. Don't you forget what He said."

If you're a new believer, or if you're a believer who is really struggling in circumstances and situations in your life, do not believe the words of this song over the words of the Bible. Do not. Sure it's a positive, upbeat song. But it isn't truth. The implication that we will only suffer a teeny bit compared to those who don't believe, is preposterous. Does the name Job ring a bell? He lost everything. And everyone. Job was broken. He cried out wishing he had never been born. He was broken. How about Jesus? Remember that guy? The son of God. He was not only physically broken as he was beaten, bloodied, and crucified, but He - though He knew from the beginning what was coming - cried out in brokenness as He breathed his last. There is a reason we have coined the phrase, "I've reached my breaking point." Because we break!! Anyone who would imply that I was or am simply "bent" and not "broken" over the death of my daughter is a moron. Flat out. These last 18 months have been spent trying, desperately, to reassemble myself. My life. My family. I can't take it sometimes, but I have no choice. It isn't because I'm tough or I'm strong or I'm somehow protected from experiencing the worst of the worst. 

David cries out in his Psalms, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted." and "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Not the bent-hearted. 

God never says - not anywhere in any Holy Bible I've read - that we will never experience more than we can handle. That we will not break. God never says that. Again - and yes, I am a broken record, Jesus says in bold red letters in John 16:33, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." You will have trouble. Lots of trouble. You might lose your job. Your car keys. Your mind. You might lose your health. Your child. You will reach your breaking point. And you will break. And you will wonder when it will stop, because you cannot take anymore. 

Do not let yourself be fooled or falsely impressed upon by promises that do not exist. Your God promises to restore you and give you rest. Your God promises to never forsake or abandon you. Your God promises to be there for you when you're up against the worst of the worst. He promises these things because we're also guaranteed problems will happen. Trouble will rear its ugly head. Satan will wander back and forth in the earth, prowling for prey to devour. He will go for our jugular and do everything in his power to rip us apart from the very faith that grounds us in truth. And he's good at it. Really good. Do not let him win. If he can dismantle your faith by giving you false hopes, feeding you little white lies, and feeding your need to suckle positivity no matter the source, he will feed it. With poison. He will taint you, little bits at a time. 

I'm not saying trust no one. I'm not saying disregard songs you've heard or books you've read or quotes you've posted on your Facebook wall. I am saying be mindful. Be aware. Be careful little ears what you hear. Be in the truth, always seeking the truth, and pursuing it with every ounce of strength you have. Do not let someone create your truth for you. Seek it out from The Source. 

It doesn't matter if its a song played on Christian radio. It doesn't matter if it's someone speaking from the pulpit. It doesn't matter if it's ME, writing something in a blog post that claims power and authority - if it doesn't line up with Scripture, it does not need a foothold in your faith. Throw it out. Be on guard. I don't think the group who sings that song intended to lead people astray. I don't think they realized the danger they pose to believers with their words. I hope, though, we would all be armed "with the belt of truth buckled around your waist" (Eph 6:14). 

Don't stop seeking. Don't stop pursuing. Don't let anyone other than the Author, pen the truth in which your faith rests. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

{31 Days: Day 16} Gentleness....Self-Control

I am tired. I am emotionally exhausted. I am drained. I am spent. Yesterday was the peak of a lot of work, running around, emotional investment, and teamwork. We pulled off a memorial last night for babies gone too soon. Tears were shed. Hugs were shared. Names were read. I let my own tears fall, but powered through to share words of encouragement, to read poems of hope. I wiped away my tears and pressed on so others could grieve the way they needed to. I helped people in their healing. Or so I hope I did.

Last night when we came home, and things were put away, and the kids were finally in bed - I fell apart. I couldn't find any pajama pants because my house is a mess and laundry is here, there, and everywhere. I've let my home fall to shambles. I commented on being a loser as I slid into bed without proper pajama attire. Brent lovingly reminded me I've been sick, I've been planning a memorial, and I've been busy with two kids. 

I started crying. Hard. It was finally my turn to let the tears flow. "I never imagined this would be my life." I told him.
"What part?" he asked.
"That my baby would be dead. That so many babies would be dead."
His hand on my shoulder, he squeezed with that silent understanding. Sometimes there are no words.

Oftentimes Little Miss is so enamored with her baby brother, she tends to love him a little roughly. She gets carried away and handles him a little harder than I am comfortable with. I'm constantly reminding her, "be gentle!" Now, as I sit to write on the fruit of gentleness, I realize I need to be reminding myself. "Be gentle!" Coddle. Cradle. Hold delicately. Whether it be my infant son or the heart of others, I need to be gentle. With my words. With my thoughts. My actions, for sure. Gentle. Brent putting his hand on my shoulder last night as I cried those broken mama's tears - that was gentle. Little Miss snuggling on her brother and not retaliating with shouts when he grabs fist-fulls of her hair - that is gentle. Me instructing with soft words instead of frustrated, exasperated raised voice - that would be gentle. Lord, help me be gentle.

I had spent the night catering to the hearts of other bereaved parents, and when the room was cleared and everyone but us had gone home, I changed into a mission-driven nincompoop. My stress level took over and I wanted everything to be done just so, and I wanted Little Miss to stop running around underfoot, and I wanted (desperately) for Little Man to stop crying, and I just wanted EVERYONE TO SETTLE DOWN! I was not gentle. I went from being a poster-child of genuine gentleness to a controlling b-word. Lord, help me to be gentle.

Guess what I have to practice in order to be gentle? Self-control. Yup. You think there's a method to the madness of spiritual fruit? When those verses were penned hundreds of years ago, do you think the Spirit said, "Hey Paul...make sure you include this, cause there's a gal, Val, who is gonna come along and she's gonna need to meditate on these words right here...cause she's gonna lose her crap a lot, and go bananas, and we're gonna have to reign her back in with these verses right here." Probably not, because the Holy Spirit probably doesn't use words like "crap" or "gonna". Even still. 

Self-control - discipline. It's been a prayer of mine for ages. Not just to reign in the impulse-behavior and off-the-cuff-reactions. Those are great to exercise self-control over, absolutely. But discipline, in its very heart, is the practice of commitment. Self-control. It's not only the"don't do this" items of our life. But the "stay the course" items as well. Ever sat on your duff and wasted an entire day doing nothing? Me too. Sometimes we need those days of rest - absolutely. But if those days of rest are starting to get in the way of our drive, desire, and dedication - we need to reign it in. Be disciplined. Get off our duff. I can speak to this now, because I'm in a season of wanting to do nothing. I'm tired. I'm exhausted. I'm in a funk. So I sit. Self-control...I need to exercise self-control over my pouting. Over my disobedience. Over my lack of enthusiasm and energy.

Or what about self-control from over-commitment? Do you tend to double book yourself? Do too much? Wear yourself out? What happens? For me...I lose my ever-loving mind. I snap at my kids. My husband. Whoever else might be standing around. I harden my heart. Dear gracious. Reign it in. Lack of self-control leads to a lack of gentleness. (and lack of every other spiritual fruit...)

Gentleness. Self-control. Thank God He exercises these fruits with and for me. Now to emulate Him and His example.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

{31 Days: Day 15} Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness

Today I'm taking a little different approach in my blog post, because today is a different day. Today is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day, and a day I join with other bereaved parents world-wide to remember and honor our babies, and give a voice to the littles who never got to cry with their own.

Today, while I have much, and am thankful for it all, I still take pause. Today, as on every other day, I speak her name. I remember her face. I miss her. Harlynn.

I would like to thank those who bore fruit to us in the days since losing her. For those who went beyond being "nice" and demonstrated kindness and goodness in the fullest of all senses. For the mortgage payment. For the funeral costs they covered. For the meals. For the visits. For the jewelry. The blanket. The gifts at her grave site. For visiting her grave site. For speaking her name. For giving me room to grieve messy. For loving us. For supporting us. Thank you.

Kindness and goodness aren't about buying the person behind you in line a coffee. Not about letting someone turn first at a four-way stop even though you had the right-of-way. It isn't about holding the door open for someone. Those are all nice - and great things to do - but not a display of kindness or goodness. Kindness, goodness - those are things that require rolling up your sleeves and getting down to the nitty-gritty of ministering to the needs (physical, emotional, spiritual) of those around you. Anyone can be nice. It takes heart to truly be kind. To be good. To all those who did, and are doing that for us - thank you.

It was in those moments and so many more I realized the faithfulness of God. When I couldn't allow myself to be vulnerable enough to explore or depend on my faith, His never wavered. It was because of His faithfulness I learned that sometimes, faith is all one has to cling to. Faithfulness may be a fruit to bear, but it is also one to consume for the sake of survival. A thousand times I can turn my back on God and a thousand times I can turn around to find He is still there. His faithfulness to me far surpasses mine to Him. Because of that, however, I know today more than ever before He is present. He is real. He is alive.

I can only hope, as I'm required to go on living in this world, I can bring forth kindness and goodness in a manner that blesses those I bestow it upon. I hope I not only maintain faithfulness, but display it with fervor and reckless abandon. These fruits of the Spirit aren't merely what I need to strive for on my own. They're what I need to allow Him to produce in me. I assure you, I have seen the fruit in so many others. With all we've been through and have experienced, I want you to know, I see your fruit. And so does He.

Moving from nice to kind. From decent to good. From following to faithful. Those are my dreams today. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

{31 Days: Day 14} Fruit of Forbearance

While fruits of the Spirit listed in the Galatians verse include patience and self-control, it also includes forbearance. Forbearance is self-controlled patience in superhuman levels. At least that is how I portray it in my mind. Also known as "longsuffering", it is not only the practice of patience and self-control, but the refusal to act impatient or on impulse.

Guess who is an impatient spur-of-the-moment reactor to most everything? I am quick to retort. Quick to sass. Quick to point out the flaws of others. Quick to give up on the things and people who disappoint me. Impatient. Done.

Since losing Harlynn, however, I've been better able to reign in my reckless reactionary behavior, and give myself a second or two to decide if spouting off in one way or another is going to improve the situation. Most often, it won't. Forbearance, in a nutshell, is turning the other cheek. 

To the idiot who cut me off, I might only sigh and shake my head rather than honk my horn and show my tallest finger. To the family member who dropped an egg on the floor, I clean it up for them rather than yell about the mess and the salmonella germs floating on my floor. To the person who says the wrong thing, at the wrong time - especially while trying to be a "friend" in my grief moments - I give them the benefit of the doubt. 

It's going beyond biting my tongue. It's showing mercy. Forgiveness. Giving myself grace so I can extend the same to others. God demonstrates forbearance towards us (Romans 3:25). Rather than throttling us, he calls us to repentance. 

Forbearance is letting go of my road rage. Smiling and waving rather than yelling and calling names. Letting those who have hurt me see over the walls I've built around my heart. Even letting them in a time or two. Extending grace to those who drive me batty. Finishing 17 more consecutive days of posting my mind mumbles. Longsuffering. Dear gracious. Forbearance is a fruit worth bearing, though I find I have a lot of pruning to do to get there.

Monday, October 13, 2014

{31 Days: Day 13} Peace

There is an old hymn that comes to mind every time I think of peace. Fittingly, it's called, "Peace, Perfect Peace." The words are as follows:

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.
Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus' bosom naught but calm is found.
Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus' keeping we are safe, and they.
Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.
Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.
It is enough: earth's struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call us to Heaven's perfect peace.

Pretty much every question that weighs on my heart, Mr. Edward Bickersteth Jr. answered with a promise of peace when he penned this hymn in 1875. It shouldn't surprise me that the questions I ask today in 2014 were on the hearts of people in 1875. It shouldn't. But somehow it does. My problems, my fears, my anxieties are not unique to me. They are age-old, incredibly mortal, and common. The reflection of peace, however, is not a first resort.

To bear the fruit of peace, you must allow yourself to savor it first. Instead of being consumed by worry, anxiety, fear, anger, bitterness, must allow yourself to be consumed by peace. Believe me...easier said than done. I know. Oh, how I know. When presented with any scenario, my immediate and initial reaction is to counter with, "Yeah, but...." 

And do you know what I've realized? I try to produce my own peace. Half of my anxiety is developed because I'm frantically trying to whip my own peace out of thin air, and I can't, and it makes me angry. I search inwardly instead of upwardly. I cannot give myself what I cannot create myself. His peace passes all understanding. My peace doesn't exist. I'm looking in the wrong place. I don't have peace, I accept it from Him. I don't make peace, I seek it from Him. Peace is a gift. Being a peacemaker is a fruitful act of obedience. 

Our Harlynn-verse, John 16:33, begins with "I have told you these things so that IN ME you may have peace." (emphasis mine) 

To produce the fruit of peace, you must first receive it. To receive it, you must be in Christ. He is the vine, we are the branches. Branches waiting to bear fruit. Fruit of peace.