Monday, November 7, 2011

My Tribute to Grandpa

Yesterday was a difficult day for my family. It certainly turned out to be a day of "heartache and rejoicing". We miss Grandpa dearly, but we are so happy for him, and jealous that he is face to face with our wonderful Savior and Father. 

The following is what I said at the funeral yesterday before singing "It is Well With My Soul" with my dad. I've also included the arrangement of the lyrics as we sang it. It was the hardest song I've ever had to sing, and it had nothing to do with the difficulty of the song. My desire was to honor Grandpa. I hope I honored him well.

Here is what I said:
Grandpa Wayne was a strong man, not just physically, but also in his love for his country, his dedication to his family, and His faith in Christ. He was simple and straightforward—you always knew where he stood no matter the topic. He could be quite stern, but he could also be just as silly and fun-loving, especially with children. He delighted in his grandchildren. He loved to make us laugh. His life wasn’t easy, but I know he would tell you that it was a good life.

No matter what you could say about him, that he was a proud veteran, a hard-working farmer, a delighted grandfather, dedicated father, devoted husband… all of those pale in comparison to good and faithful servant. We always used to joke that the food would be cold before Grandpa would finish saying grace. His prayers were long-winded, but they were sincere. This is something I’ve always known, but I really came to understand it a couple of months ago. In September, I had the opportunity to go through his books with my mom. There were a few books from his Navy days and a few related to farming, but the vast majority of his modest collection reflected his faith—Bible commentaries, Sunday school manuals, Christian biographies, and the like. On the same day, I found the Bible that he gave me when I was seven years old. It was the only gift I can recall him giving me directly. The day he moved into the nursing home he told me that there was something so special about God's Word, that it moved him in a way no other book could.

           When I found the Bible he gave me, I opened it and realized he had written something in it which I’d like to read to you:

                                                                        October 1, 1982
            To Stephanie: from Grandpa.
            Dear Stephanie,
I want to give you this Bible so that you might have it to read and enjoy during the years of your young life. The Bible is God’s written Word and we should believe all of it from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus said, “My Word is truth, and the truth shall make you free indeed.” The psalmist David said, “thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” So it is not what man says that’s important but rather what God says in His Holy Book. If any person tells us things, or teaches doctrines that disagree with what God says in His word, then we should not believe or follow them.
                                                                        Love and best wishes always,
                                                                        “Pa-Pa Wayne”

           Grandpa is now at peace. He has taken his place in Heaven’s grandstands, cheering on those of us who share his faith in Christ. As Mom says, he is dancing a jig before his beloved Savior. And one day I pray all of us here will join him.

          Grandpa’s greatest legacy is his love for Christ and his sincere service of our Lord. I’m so thankful for my Grandpa Wayne and the true Christian heritage he has left to us.

This is the arrangement we used for the song. If you don't know the story behind this song, it is worthwhile to take the time to read it. I think it will take on a much greater depth of meaning for you when you know the story. You may notice that we did change the verses around a bit to shorten the song a little and to utilize the lyrics that best fit the situation. Here, also the Brian Doerkson version of the song, one of the best I've heard.

It Is Well With My Soul 
by, Horatio Spafford 

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.


It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.


But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul. 

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.


It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Goodbye for now, Grandpa

Today we bury Grandpa. Today we say goodbye. It hurts to see him go, but we rejoice that he is at peace.

It's been a difficult year since he was placed in the nursing home. His deterioration due to the Alzheimer's/dementia seemed to speed up a lot. I had hoped to visit him regularly. I only got to visit him a handful of times. Each time was more difficult than the one before. The last time I saw him alive was only for about 10 or 15 minutes. I went in September with my mom and grandma.When we got on his wing, they had all the residents in the community room playing what they called, "Noodle Ball". The residents would bat a big beach ball to each other with swimming pool noodles. It looked like great fun for kids. But, when I looked around that room and realized that each one of those residents had at one time led productive lives with real responsibilities, I was saddened to see what they had been reduced to. We weren't able to stay long because he was very agitated and wouldn't acknowledge us. I think he knew that his life should be more than eat, sleep, be dressed and groomed by someone else, and hit a ball with a stupid stick. I HATE Alzheimer's! It stole Grandpa's life from him and it stole him away from us.

Two weeks ago today, Grandpa was admitted into the hospital with pneumonia. I was upset by the news and that I was so far away. I was at church when I received the phone call. I was blessed to have some of our new church family there to pray with me. From the time I got the news of his hospital admittance until the day last week that it was clear he would not be in this world much longer, I prayed that God would either completely heal him, including the Alzheimer's/dementia, or take him Home. Grandpa had such a strong body. At 87 the only medication he was on was occasional acid reflux meds, and something for the anxiety and aggression brought on by the Alzheimer's. He had never been hospitalized for illness his entire life until he contracted the pneumonia a couple of weeks ago. It would have taken Alzheimer's years and years to kill him. In the meantime he would have forgotten each one of us, who he was, all of his life, how to talk, how to walk, how to eat, until he finally forgot how to breathe. My prayer was that he would be spared all of that. My prayer is that we, his family, would be spared all of that. I'm so grateful to God that he did spare us all of that. Grandpa may not have had the opportunity to die at home on the farm, but he still had some of his mind. He still knew who he and who his wife and children were most of the time. I'm so grateful that he died with some of himself intact and that now his mind is fully restored and he is fully aware once again.

When I received the news of his passing Shawn, the kids, and I were on our way to see him, but we had been delayed by everyday life and we were still hours away. On Facebook I said, "He's gone. We're still hours away and he's gone. I'm so thankful that he is with our Jesus, thankful that his distress has seen it's end, thankful for his life, thankful for his love. I just wanted to see him again, and hug him again, and tell him one more time how much I love him." For some reason I thought I would have enough time to get there. I couldn't speak for a little while. All I could do was cry. I was so glad his suffering was over, but I was devastated. I was within hours of seeing him again and I missed the chance. I know we will be reunited one day. I know he is watching over me and the rest of our family, but I wanted the chance to say goodbye while he was still alive. I know it's selfish. He was struggling for each breath at the end, but it still hurts. My sister and I only have one living grandparent now. I wish I had valued the relationships with my grandparents more, cherished each moment with them as they were happening. I can't let myself get lost in woulda, coulda, shoulda, though, as easy as that would be. I'd rather get lost in gratitude.

I thank God for each moment I had with Grandpa. I'm glad I realized how much he loves me and how much I love him.  I'm thankful for his dedication to his family and his country, and for his love of farming. I'm grateful for his strength. He was a rock for his family. I'm profoundly grateful for the Christian legacy he left us. I am indebted to him for this. I'm so thankful that God put me in Grandpa's family. It's been good to be with family the last few days. I don't think I've ever appreciated them more than I have this past weekend.

I have reposted a couple of articles I posted last year when Grandpa was first admitted into the nursing home. This is a link to his obituary. I will be sharing a few words and singing "It is Well With My Soul" at the end of the funeral. I hope I have the composure to make it through. Please keep my family in your heart and prayers today. It will be a day of heartache and rejoicing.

Visiting Grandpa

*This is edited and reposted from the archives.

I went to visit my grandpa the first evening of his admission into the nursing home. I have to admit that I procrastinated as long as I reasonably could, afraid of what I would find, nervous that I would be alone. I had originally planned to bring the whole family, but Shawn and I decided that if Grandpa was really out of sorts that it would not be good for the kids to be there. Mom, Grandma, my aunt, and my uncle had left just before lunch, and I got there around 5:00 that evening. I'm not sure what he did in the intervening hours, but I think he may have been looking for a way home. An orderly escorted me to Grandpa's wing and told me that he had been wondering when someone would come to see him. When I got to him he had his hat and jacket on, ready to leave. He was standing at the nurses' station, holding his drivers license in his hand trying to get someone to help him go home.

He was not agitated, but he was upset, confused, and disoriented. He didn't recognize me. This was the first time that he didn't know who I am. He seemed to think that I was someone who worked at the facility, and that I would be able to take him home. He kept telling me over and over that he needed to get home and he appreciated that I was taking the time to listen to him. I had to slowly redirect him. I got him to talk about his time in the Navy, his father, his uncle, and I read Psalm 23 to him. Through the course of the conversation he started to calm down. We talked about who I am, and how I am related to him. Then they brought in his dinner tray. Before he started eating I got him to take off his hat and jacket, but he never seemed to resign himself to the idea that the bed on which he sat was now his.

I read Psalm 119 to him while he ate. Several times he would stop eating to listen. He seemed to be deeply moved by the passages. He asked me to repeat a few of them. He told me several times that there was something so special about God's Word, that it moved him in a way no other book could. I got him to tell me about the time he gave his heart to Christ. One thing I forgot to mention the other day is that my grandfather is long-winded. :) But honestly, I had forgotten about that particular trait. He has remained mostly silent when we've been together for so long that I forgot how much he can talk about one topic. (Or should I say preach?) In the past it really didn't take much to get him rolling. There was a running joke in my family that the food would be cold by the time Grandpa got done saying the blessing. I remember squirming through many blessings, waiting for Grandpa to finish so I could eat. The other night he seemed to be exceptionally long-winded. He kept repeating the same thing over and over, forgetting what he had just told me. It was good to hear him talk for so long about something again. A trait that for years had been an annoyance has become a blessing.

He never did fully recognize me. He understood who I was, but that understanding seemed to be only on an intellectual level. Yet I was still very blessed by the visit that I had dreaded. It was very upsetting to see how he was when I first got there, and there were several times I had to choke down the tears, but by the end of the visit I was so thankful for the priceless time we'd had. The Holy Spirit was in that room, and the three of us had a wonderful time together. Before I left I asked him if I could pray with him. He said he would love it if I prayed with him. I prayed for his peace of mind as he transitioned into his new home, yet in my heart I was still rebelling against the thought of him staying there one night, let alone many. He just doesn't seem to belong there. That is not his home. The people there are not his family. But I know that as hard as it is, it is for everyone's best.

Grandpa's Moving Day

*This is edited and reposted from the archives.

My grandfather has Alzheimer's/dementia. We have watched him deteriorate for several years now. It's like watching someone die, one memory, one character trait at a time. Before the onset of dementia, my grandfather was a strong, opinionated, stubborn, witty, funny man. He had, and still has, a strong faith that runs deep and influenced every choice he ever made. He isn't overly affectionate, but you know he loves you by the way his eyes light up when he sees you. From my memories, his great delight was his grandchildren, of which I was the first. He loved taking us for rides on the tractor, showing us the cows, or telling us stories of the gigantic snake that carved out the road the farm was on. My favorite part of that story was when the snake stopped by his house for a drink of water. He told us that story over and over again. Now when we get together as a family he mostly keeps to himself and stays quiet. Still at times he has amazing moments of clarity. At the last family reunion he told us about a rooster they once had that figured out how to jump up and knock food out of the bird feeder. He said, "That rooster was doing exactly what God designed it to do. He was taking care of his hens." I've been fortunate to have him only an hour's drive away most of my life so I've had many wonderful times with him.

The house he lived in was the house he grew up in. That house was as much a member of his family as my mother and grandmother. It was his constant worry and love. Not long after the onset of dementia he became extremely paranoid about the house -- that it would burn down or someone would break into it. He is leaving it today. Most likely he will never live there again.

Of course, the greatest love of his life, after Christ, is my grandmother. He was a hard man to live with, even before he became demented, but she faithfully loved him through the years. She is more intimately acquainted with his deterioration than any of the rest of us. She has had to put up with all the daily difficulties of his disease, and she has done so with dignity and grace. Her devotion to him has been flawless. She is my hero. I cannot imagine being in her shoes, watching the love of your life diminish in that way, the man you invested your life in slowly dying. Her kids have given her several opportunities to take some time away from grandpa. I can only imagine the mixed emotions she must feel in those times - relief to be away, guilt for feeling that way, anxiety for his well-being when she is not with him. And his devotion to her is just as binding. She is his security, his comfort. One weekend recently they were staying with my parents. The aggressive tendencies brought on by the disease had gotten to the point that my mom and her siblings were no longer comfortable with the idea of grandma being alone with him for more than a few hours, especially at night when he is most restless. My dad and grandfather were sitting in the living room and my mother and grandmother were in the dining room. Had he known where to look he would have been able to see her through the doorway from where he was sitting. He asked my dad where she was, and dad said she is right over there. He then said, "I don't want to live if I have to live without Carol." My grandmother has said that she would rather the Lord take grandpa on to heaven than to have to put him in a home. Today they will be parted. She will be with him as often as she can, of course, but they will most likely never be together in the same way again.

My mom and her brother and sister have done what they can to help grandma and grandpa through this time. They have supported them as much as they can and helped figure out the details of his care. I know that today is a very difficult day for my mom and I'm sure it is for her brother and sister as well. They are all going to the home with grandma and grandpa to help with his transition, though I'm sure none of them want to be there. I can't imagine the turmoil of watching one of your parents disintegrate in this way. I think the hardest thing of this for my mom has been seeing his mental deterioration while his body continues to be strong and healthy. Unfortunately this fact has made the need to put him into a long-term care facility inevitable. His body refuses to quit, even at the age of 86, but his mind has not withstood the passage of time so well. It has now gotten to the point that his needs are beyond my family's abilities to care for. So the fateful day has now arrived. The future means spending less and less time with him, and going to visit him in the nursing home with the noxious smells, and unnerving sights and sounds. I have many memories of visiting great grandparents in nursing homes, few of them pleasant.

I wish we could have grandpa back, the way he was five or ten years ago. I wish his mind had stayed as keen and strong as his body. I wish he could have died with dignity at home on the farm. But that simply isn't the reality. I cry and I grieve. I will move on. This Thanksgiving I am so thankful for the times I have had with my grandpa, even the difficult ones. I'm grateful for the investment he has made in my life. I'm grateful for the legacy of faith, love, and perseverance that he has passed on. I hope my life can be a tribute to his legacy.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Gratitude Journal, Days 1-4

I have decided to start posting the contents of my gratitude journal, hopefully daily. Occasionally I may include a quote or scripture as well. I try to write an average of 10 blessings each day. I plan to go to 1000, but I anticipate that I won't stop there. So here are the contents thus far...

I've entitled it: "Things For Which I am Thankful or Ways That Jesus Loves Me"

       1.  Salvation
       2.  Repentance and forgiveness
       3.  Blue orbs peeking out beneath spiraled blonde tendrils
       4.  The crocodile smile embracing the face of the first-born
       5.  The boy’s unabated curiosity 
       6.  The privilege to mother kids with special needs
       7.  The man with whom God has joined me 
       8.  Heaven’s great assembly—my FAMILY—cheering me on from Heaven’s
            grandstands. Lord, allow me not to disappoint. 
       9.  His grace, His strength, His breath, His beauty.
     10. Air’s substance filling my lungs
     11.  The enablement of determination 
     12.  The curious mind of the seven-year-old and her eagerness to learn 
     13.  The crying eyes that seek me out for comfort 
     14.  Eighteen-inch arms that wrap me in a tight embrace 
     15.  Blue eyes with short, sometimes spikey, hair that shine with pride over 
            accomplishments small and great. 
     16.  My husband’s leadership into this next phase of our journey 
     17.  The changes that will take place during this next phase 
     18.  Renewing minds, cleansing Word water, changed hearts 
     19.  Four-legged tail-wagger that starts each day with her eager greeting 
     20.  Gentle purrs from the soft, black-as-night kitten 
     21.  Silly Bandz on the floor—each a uniquely shaped footprint—each a 
            reminder of the beautiful little lives sleeping aloft 
     22.  The charger plug that keeps falling out of the back of my computer—a 
            reminder that I have a laptop computer that needs to be plugged in. 
     23.  The discovery and implementation of this gratitude journal 
     24.  Little man’s good-morning cuddles 
     25.  How smoothly the packing has gone so far for this move 
     26.  The chance to live a God story 
     27.  Clean, folded, and put away laundry 
     28.  The father of my children 
     29.  The power of life in the seed 
     30.  Big girl’s easy ability in friend-making 
     31.  Curly girly’s uncanny talent for sleep

"God's finger can touch nothing but to mold it into loveliness.  "
~ George MacDonald

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Learning to Live a God Story

I can’t believe it’s almost here. Two more days… Two more days. It’s been difficult to watch my life be packed away, one box at a time. Rooms that were once filled are now emptied caverns, echoing with the memories of days past. A simple sign placed in the yard, "For Sale", the signal to all that we're living in someone else's home. And now the tears that have been held back for months fall – warm, wet kisses on my cheeks.

The purging and packing has been good for us. We’ve reduced the quantity of extra baggage, unneeded things, parts of our lives that once were, but are no longer. I had a four-drawer file cabinet that was completely full that I was able to reduce to one file box. Ten years ago it seemed necessary to keep every article I had photocopied for grad school research papers. Ten years… really? I’m not sure what’s worse, that it’s been 10 years, or that I held onto that stuff, that clutter, that chaos, those space bandits, for 10 years.

A new life will begin soon; one that, frankly, scares me. We will be living in a new place. A place largely unfamiliar. Once again we must change our address and go through the rigors of procuring a new church home, doctors, a dentist, an optometrist, library cards, places to shop for healthy, wholesome foods, IEPs, advocates, therapists... The list seems as long as a country road.

We will be consolidating from a wonderful, spacious house to two bedrooms, one bath, a living area, spare room, and kitchenette in a finished basement. A sacrifice for the future. A way to ease the transition. A temporary stop on a journey to our new home. For a (hopefully short) time we will no longer be living autonomously, but will be sharing space at the charity of my in-laws. I am so grateful for their generosity in this, but I now realize how I’ve taken our house and this little community for granted. I know now that I haven’t truly appreciated it, haven’t truly been thankful for the gracious gift from our Father. And, I wasn’t done with it… I had plans – plans for a wonderful garden, beautiful renovations, needed improvements. But God has said, “Not now. Not here.” I am so thankful for the time He has given us here, for His provision, for the memories made here. So it is with gratitude that I will move on.

Honestly, though, there is some trepidation about sharing space, living in someone else’s house. Our personalities have been known to clash – a human grappling for control that often seems so necessary in the moment, but in reality is an attempt to usurp God’s authority, to live our own stories rather than His story. I recently heard Todd Nighswonger of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, CA say, “The greatest way to be shaped by the renewing of your mind…is living among people that you don’t get along with well.” I know God will work through these relationships to strengthen all of us and to make us more like Him.

But, what scares me most? Daily life without my husband for 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. I love, and I have taken advantage of him working from home for the last couple of years. To have his presence, his stability, his help at home has been such an amazing blessing. That he will be traveling four hours a day is unnerving. So much could happen. I long for his safety. To spend those twelve hours a day while taking care of the kids and the home, while homeschooling our three children is terrifying. Yes, I know many women do it daily, but just like everyone else, I am myself with my unique challenges. I know how poorly I’ve handled his occasional absences in the past, and now he will be away from home more than he is at home, during the waking hours at least. He’ll be gone 60 hours a week, asleep for 56, leaving 52 hours out of 168 to be with us. I know how I have handled things in the past, and I don’t want to continue with that conduct in the future.

But this new venture is not without hope. God has told me, “Fear not. Only have faith.” He has said that this is an opportunity to learn to rely on Him as I never have before, to learn how to stand on my knees. Frank Bishoff, the pastor at the church we’ve been attending for the last few weeks, Awaken City Church (another refreshing stop on a long journey), spoke a couple of weeks ago about living out of a revelation of how much Jesus loves us rather than striving to live a godly life because of how much we love Jesus. Sound simple? What’s the difference? Really it’s a profound, life-changing difference. If you live out of a revelation of His love for you, you will have true freedom and your love for Him will be effortless. In my own life I have struggled with God’s love for me, and have striven to live a godly life out of my own strength, out of my finite love. I want to learn how to let His infinite love become the foundation and strength of my love for Him. I want to walk in the revelation of how much God loves me. I have recently come across Ann Voskamp’s blog A Holy Experience, and book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Already I am approaching this move with a different attitude than I would have in the past. Both, Frank’s sermon, and Ann’s testimony, have convicted me that I need to begin keeping a gratitude journal in which I write down thanks to God for all the ways He shows me that He loves me.

I love it when God speaks the same thing to me over and over again from several different channels. Perhaps I’m too dense to listen at first so that He needs to repeat things to me until I start to pay attention, but I love the sound of the echo of His voice in the voices of His children. The Bible says that His voice is like the sound of many rushing waters. You know the sound of a large crowd saying the same thing in unison? That is like the sound of His voice. We, His children, are His voice in the earth, speaking together as with one voice as the Spirit directs.

So, I have heard His voice, and I am taking to heart the love message delivered. I have begun my gratitude journal. Even now I can feel my attitude changing. I am little by little seeing things from the positive, beautiful angle. My tendency is toward pessimism. But I’m learning to see through the lens of the half-full glass. Again, it seems so simple. But really, it is so very profound.

I have no doubt that I will encounter many difficulties as we move and take residence in our new life. Yet, I know that with God all things are possible. I know that His plans are to give me a hope and a future, and to prosper me in all areas of my life. I know He has many things for me to learn, many ways for me to grow, many ways for me to change. I know He is preparing us for an amazing future and a wonderful present. To quote Master Oogway, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift – that’s why they call it ‘the present.’” I’m finally learning how to be content with what God has given me now instead of focusing on the things I do not have or betting on a future that I assume will be better. I am learning to truly accept everything life brings me, both “the good” and “the bad”, knowing that what we assume to be good is not always good, nor is what we assume to be bad always indeed bad. Often the blessings of God are a double-edged sword and the goodness does not always reveal itself at first glance. We have to search out the true good. We have to learn to hone our focus and filter out the superfluity of distractions the enemy of our souls throws along the path to trip us up.

So why is God doing this for me? So my life can be more blessed? So I can be happier? No! It’s so I can become a better teller of His story with my life. The blessings and happiness are side effects to His grace working and moving in my life. I can read tons of books, listen to sermons and worship music 24 hours a day, seven days a weeks, 365 days a year, and never really change. Change must come from within, through the inner workings of the Holy Spirit from my heart, into my thoughts, and out through my life, my hands, my feet, my mouth. Now, I gladly take His hand and walk with Him along this path on this phase of my life’s journey, the journey of transforming my life into a God story.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

In Sight of Beauty

Dear Father,

You messed up my plans this morning. My first plan was to sleep. I have a big day ahead of me, a day in which I must have strength, energy, and alertness. But, at 4:00 this morning I was awakened for no apparent reason. Though I tried to return to sleep, it has been evasive. I must now rely on You, Dear Father, for the physical, mental, and spiritual strength to carry on today.

When sleep eluded me, I decided to research some of the things I've learned in the past two days, things that will have a profound impact on my family. Instead, you lead me here, and I wept. I confessed. I repented. I prayed.

You stirred up the desire within to hear Beethoven's "Moonlight Sanata". I listened, and I wept. I was convicted, my heart caught in the web of your gentle grace and love.

I have avoided You of late. For that my heart is in sorrow. It is to You alone I must cling, in You alone I must hope, for You alone I must live. Yet in recent months it is myself for which I have lived. I have allowed my vulnerability to be hidden, my heart to be masked by a lack of discipline. I have confessed and repented over and over again, yet closeness has remained elusive, and I have been at a loss as to why. But this morning You gently chastise and show that there is no one thing or time that was the beginning of the slipping. I simply allowed myself to be lead away and enticed by the lack of discipline that so easily entangles. I have drifted away from You on a sea of distractions, deceptions, and misplaced priorities.

The husband You placed in my arms, for whom I have been ungrateful, of whom I have taken advantage is now awake. It is now time to remove the ear buds and allow myself to be surrounded by the haunting melody, my entire being embraced by the music, my heart enchanted by Your grace and mercy. Let it wash and refresh me as it carries the Blood of Forgiveness to my heart. Now the Hand of Your Spirit gently scrubs away the filth, the death, the sin, and resurrects me once again.

I'm sorry I allowed myself to drift away from You. It wasn't fully intentional, but in honesty I must also admit that neither was it entirely unintentional. I became afraid of the closeness and allowed myself to take one step backward, then another and another. My eyes were still set on You at first, but somehow, without even being fully aware of what I was doing, I turned aside. Not 180 degrees away. I had allowed my course to become parallel to Yours, and I could still hear Your voice giving direction, yet my course was no longer Yours--not really. I continue to receive Your confirmations that, again by Your grace alone, the big decisions made in the last few months have been the right decisions. But I don't want to walk in these new adventures without holding Your hand, without feeling Your heartbeat, without hearing Your breath.

Bring me back to the closeness with You I once knew, and even beyond. Let me ever be diligent and alert to my missteps. Forgive me for allowing myself to be so undisciplined and for taking You, and those You have placed in my life, for granted. Thank You for leading me in spite of myself. Thank You for giving me exactly what and who I need in my life. Thank You for graciously loving me despite my ingratitude and complacency. Thank You for the path of conviction and repentance that lead to righteousness. Thank You for showing me how to slow down this morning and breathe in the intimate details of life. Let me ever live in the sight of Your grace, in the sight of Your live, in the sight of Your beauty.

It is in the Name of

Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, that I humbly and boldly ask these things.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Morning Musings

If any of you follow me regularly at all you've probably noticed that I don't post nearly as regularly as I used to. There are several reasons for that, some of them might even be considered good reasons. As with most people, time is a premium commodity in my life. Sometimes I simply have too much going on to take the time to lay down and write a blog post. (I say "lay down" because I'm usually laying in bed with my laptop when I blog. Heehee!) I am not someone that can crank out a post in 15-20 minutes. No, I'm a perfectionist, so it usually takes me an hour minimum because I have to reread it several times until I'm satisfied that it's right. Perhaps I should allow the ocassionul mestak so y'all can see that I really am human, and not a robot. But then it will eat at me until I fix it, so I think I'd rather not do that.

Another "reason" ("excuse" is probably a better word) is that sometimes I don't feel like going to all that trouble. I really feel that I need to take the time to organize the blog better, put ads up of companies I actually support rather than allow the random Google rabble, put up pictures, make it look better, etc. I'm not very good with delayed gratification, so it can take a monumental effort for me to do something I don't feel like doing. Yes, I know, it's stupid and undisciplined. Like I said, not everything in this list could be considered a good reason.

Probably the main reason, and really not a good one at all, is that I've given in to discouragement regarding the blog. The response has been smaller than I'd hoped, I haven't followed through with all the plans I've made through the blog, and I listened to whispers that said, "Who am I to be writing spiritual lessons?" However, after a surprise word of encouragement from my neighbor last night, I felt convicted. She told me that I have a voice, and that my blog has ministered to her on several occasions. She reminded me that even if the response is small I only need to touch one life, and I have touched hers. I was humbled, thankful, and did I mention convicted? After Todd crawled into our bed and woke me up at 5:00 this morning, I realized that I was wide awake, and that once again I would not be going back to sleep. So in trying to decide what to do with my time I thought about the blog and what my neighbor had said. God reminded me, "Despise not the day of small beginnings." I did mention before that I felt convicted, right? Well, God had laid the double whammy on me, so I decided to blog this morning, and I made another decision: I need to treat this as a job, even if it never pays. Before I sift through facebook posts or read a bunch of informational articles, as much as possible, I need to spend some time every day building up my blog, even if I don't post anything. My tendency is to think, "I'll do ______ first. It won't take me very long." (Fill in the blank with some form of procrastination, be it facebook, or email, or read a blog or an article or two, etc., etc.) Of course I end up losing track of time, and before I know it I'll have wasted an hour or more. (What was that I said about not having enough time? Oops!) So this will be an exercise in discipline. I had lost sight of the fact that it was with God's leading that I started this blog, so for me to neglect it equates to disobedience. So with prayer and humility, I will start blogging regularly again. Probably not everyday, and maybe only once a week at first, especially while we are in the middle of moving, but regularly just the same.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Change: Transition from Something

Wow! There's been so much going on in the Stevens household since last September! I'm homeschooling for the first time and trying to adjust to that life. We're trying to change the way we eat and be more conscientious for our part in stewarding the beautiful planet God has given us. We are changing the way we steward God's financial provision and we are paying off our debts. In October our washing machine flooded, and we've been trying to put the house back in order ever since. Since December we have been praying about our church home, and this spring decided it was time to find a new home. And last week we found out that in less than three months time my husband will begin a new position in Washington, DC, so we will be moving to Northern Virginia in June.

Apparently in our lives it is the season of transition. Two of nature's seasons are transitional, spring and fall. One is the transition from rest to growth. The other is the transition from growth to rest. Spring is the season for new things. Fall is the season for harvest. I think for this time of transition in our lives we're experiencing spring. A lot of new things are being introduced. New seeds have been planted. We are being pruned. The dead growth is being removed from our lives to make way for new growth, to make way for a bountiful harvest.

Changing churches... A ridiculous notion in many parts of the world. In nations of persecution there may be one Bible-believing and professing church in a community if there's one at all. Yet here in America there is such an over-abundance of churches that we can pick and choose like changing your favorite restaurant. Is it a blessing that there are so many churches in America? I don't know. I think instead of the existence of a multitude of churches, and the existing churches growing and growing and growing, new churches should be planted in areas of the world where there is little knowledge of the Gospel so the Kingdom of God can be established throughout the earth. I am willing to go wherever in the world God wants to send me. Unfortunately, I haven't lived that way in the past, so I have to follow through with the consequences of past mistakes so that I am available to go in the future.

I also believe that instead of moving from church to church it's important to find a church home and be planted there. Yet here I find myself in a situation where we were no longer prospering (I'm not referring to finances) in the church we had called home for seven years. We didn't leave because we were offended or because other people who were close to us have left. If either of those things were the case we would have left a long time ago. It was an agonizing and heart-wrenching decision to leave. But we felt we have grown as much as we can within the four walls of our church. We have become root bound. We need more room to grow. We know God wants us in a church that actively involves its congregation in direct community outreach and missions. Our former home did some financial outreach, but as I've said before my heart's desire is to see and touch and smell and talk to the people I'm ministering to. I want to actively obey the Great Commission, but I'm not very good at it on my own. I need people around me that will go with me. That just wasn't the culture of my former home. I continue to pray that one day it will be the culture there. I want nothing but blessings for them. They are still my family and that will never change. The relationships there are precious.

So it was with tears that we left, not tears of anger, but tears of sadness and desire. God reminded me that those who sow with tears will reap with joy. We're sowing a new direction. We're sowing obedience to God's will for our lives. However, we need to find a new home in which to be planted. We've tried a few different places, but nowhere to call home yet. It will be wonderful to put down roots again, even if only for a few weeks until we move to Northern Virginia. I wish the timing to leave the church had coincided better with the timing to leave the Triad, but that simply wasn't God's timing for us. I can't begin to understand why He did it this way, but I trust Him and I follow Him.

And so I follow, too, to Northern Virginia. There's so much we'll be leaving behind: family, friends, our home, our garden. We've worked hard to get the services we have for Todd and Sadey. Now we'll have to find new ones. I've worked hard to find sources for good, sustainable food for us here, too. Now the search begins anew. We have to find new, good health care providers, something else that hasn't been easy to obtain. We also have to leave behind the luxury of having Shawn work from home and his short commute when he goes to the office. And I'll have to find a new homeschool association.

But I know a fresh start will be good for us. God has already blessed us with many connections in Northern Virginia. Shawn's family is there. We have many friends up there, and most of them have kids the same ages as ours. I already have leads on good food sources through my friends who live in the area. Shawn's parents even have a house we can move into for now. Shawn will no longer have to travel out of town, and there is a gym at the office in DC. We'll see an immediate pay increase and Shawn will be eligible for a promotion when it is offered that he'll never be eligible for here. We will finally be able to see real progress in paying off our debts. Shawn will be able to make good network connections through the contacts he will make in DC. And I may be able to take part of the garden with us, too. We've even visited a church we like a lot and may be our NOVA church home.

Last summer when we were visiting Shawn's family in NOVA (Northern Virginia), we were able to make some strong connections up there with old and new friends. Since Shawn works for the Federal Government, there has always been the possibility that we would live there someday. Last summer, I began to wonder if God would soon be opening that door for us, one He had kept closed for several years. Then when the washing machine flooded in October, the mess that was created was really a blessing. With the insurance money we received we were able to make some much needed upgrades to the house, which will make it easier to sell, and we'll be able to get more money out of it. Thus through the sell of our house we may be able to take a big chunk out of our debts. Other pieces both here and in NOVA began to fall into place, and then we got the call last week that Shawn got the position.

We are definitely moving in faith. We have to pay for the move and we can't sell our house to the government. We have to sell or rent it on our own. We are blessed to have a friend who is a great realtor. When we bought the house we were able to take advantage of the First-time Home Buyers Tax Credit. But we have only lived in the house for two years, not three, so we may have to pay it back. But we know that the Federal Government is not our source. It is simply the vessel through which God's provision flows to us. We are open to receive provision from other vessels. God knows of what we need. He will supply all our needs according to His riches and glory. We live in the economy of His Kingdom, not the world's economy.

I gladly follow Him as He transitions us from something old to something new.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reaching Out

I'm finally doing it again. It's been a long time, but I'm doing it tomorrow. I'm stepping outside of the four wall of my home and I'm taking Christ to the people around me. Pretty much since we've lived in North Carolina, I've only been involved in outreach a few times. None of those things were repeat projects. All of them took place within the four walls of my church.

I've been growing restless for some time to do something. I've been very active in church, but I wanted to escape those four walls and see, and touch, and talk to the people I ministered to. I tried to come up with something for us to do as a family for the holidays, but most of the projects I came up with enabled other people to see, and touch, and talk to the ministry recipients. I suppose we could have gone to a soup kitchen, but that's really hard with small kids. So by the time the holidays were over, we had once again done very little to help our community.

I'm not very good at talking with people I don't know about the weather, let alone Jesus Christ. I knew a girl for whom it was so easy. For her talking to people about Jesus was just like breathing. I wish I could be like that, but it's just not me.

So my restlessness to do something has been increasing, and I struggle with striking up a conversation with people. I have been singing and praying lately for God to use me. It's what I trained for since I was a teenager. I've been reading Conspiracy of Kindness, by Steve Sjogren off and on since the fall (I tend to read several books at a time, so it takes me a long time to finish one). I feel like my contribution to the Kingdom has been very limited the last few years. I woke up around 2:30 Monday morning and started praying. I was just praying pretty generally, about church, reaching out, the lost, family, our place in the Kingdom... While I was praying God dropped it in my heart to take cookies to our neighbors to sow seeds of His love.

WOW! A light bulb went on that morning! So simple! I make some pretty darn good cookies, if I do say so myself, and I know how to make them so they are fairly healthy (or at least not as unhealthy), and still taste good. I had no plans at the time for this weekend, so I made a plan to do the deed on Saturday (tomorrow). I figured the kids and I could load up the wagon with bags of cookies and hand them out to our neighbors, telling them we simply want to show them the love of Christ. Shawn suggested that I check the weather forecast. Well, it's supposed to rain this weekend, so the wagon idea was out, but then I heard firetruck sirens for umpteenth time (the number is really beyond counting since we live about a quarter mile from a fire station). I realized that those guys deserve thanks and love, so I altered the plan a bit to drive around to the fire stations and police station in my town and deliver cookies to them. (If I hadn't been reading that book, I probably would have never thought of this. It's all about servant evangelism and how to use simple acts of service to share God's love with others.) I decided to put it on facebook and invite people to participate either by coming with us or at least by praying. I'm glad I did because the response was really encouraging, and I hope to inspire other people to do the same where they live...and now I'm obligated, so I can't think myself out of doing it.

Would I like to do more? Certainly, but at least I'm taking the first step. I hope to take cookies around to my immediate neighbors one weekend, and then wash a few cars in the neighborhood another weekend, and maybe mow lawns, or trim bushes, or help power wash and paint porches... I want to have a block party, too, this summer. I also want to help my friends do the same things in their neighborhoods.

But, most importantly, this is not about me. This is about Christ. This is about being His hands and feet and simply loving the people He loves. My friend did it through her conversation. I'll do it through my cookies. God only knows where this will lead.