Six years ago, I experienced one of the most challenging events of my life- the birth of my son. His birth was the start of a journey through one of the deepest, unknown valleys I have yet to walk. It was a time that should have been one of the happiest moments in my life, but it will forever be marked with fear and grief, joy splintered by shattered expectations, and one of the most incredible seasons of seeking God and fireproofing my faith.
For months, I prayed and prayed for this child and on May 6, 2013, I was waiting to meet the little man I had fervently prayed for. I had spent the night in a hospital bed wondering when he was going to leave my warm, snug womb. Very true to his personality, he was making his entrance in his own time, in his own way.
Around hour eighteen of labor, the rhythmic machines I was connected to by the snaked and twisted cords, started making louder, more quickening sounds. A blur of multicolored scrubs, nurses and doctors rushed into my room. My head felt woozy and dazed. My oxygen level started to drop. I felt far away, like I was watching all this happening through a screen. I could see the worry on the face of my usually calm, level- headed husband.
Something wasn’t right. A wave of fear washed over me. My mind was unable to keep up with the noise and movement. My body was weak from the pushing and pain of labor.
The doctor said something about a C-section, followed by a push and a rush to the operating room. The white, blinding lights glared down at me. The curtain blocked my view. The medication blocked my pain. The fear attempted to block my faith.
I can not remember when my son was pulled from my womb nor do I remember hearing his first cry. I remember seeing nurses and doctors work on him and then on me. I remember someone bringing him close to my face so I could see him, to kiss his sweet face. Then I remember them whisking him away from me to the NICU.
I was wheeled back into the very same room I labored in. I felt an incredible amount of grief as I waited for my body to regain feeling. One kind nurse took pity on me and wheeled my over-sized bed down to the quiet, darkened halls of the NICU.
I saw my son through the glass doors of his hospital room. He was so tiny lying in a closed bed, hooked up to machines that made gentler noises than the hours earlier in the labor room. He looked so helpless, so alone.
The nurse positioned me as close to him as my bed would allow. She lifted him gently out of the enclosed plastic bed, placed him and all his connecting wires securely in my arms. Only hours before we were warmly connected to each other with a living life line, and now we were separated, connected to cold machines. I felt so disappointed, discouraged and then so guilty.
It wasn’t suppose to be this way. Everything I thought this birth was suppose to be, wasn’t. Every way I wanted it to go, it went a different way. My birth plan was completely overrided by unexpected events.
Guilt was a heavier weight. I felt guilty for not being more thankful. I had made it safely out of surgery. Shouldn’t I be happy? My faithful husband hadn’t left my side. Shouldn’t I be grateful? I had a community of people praying for me throughout the whole day. Shouldn’t I be rejoicing?? My son was alive! Shouldn’t that be enough?
I knew things could have been worse, so much worse, but I was caught up in the grief of “what could have been.” It’s amazing how feelings can powerfully cloud the truth. How fear can shame you into believing lies. I was weak in mind (and body) and trying to process the whole day. I was grabbing at anything to comfort me. Self-pity, discouragement, and lonesome lies were easier to find than truth.
It took four years before I was able to look at the first pictures taken of my son in the operating room. Four years. Up until then, every time I tried to look, I felt physically sick. It was too painful, too traumatic for me to be reminded and revisit that place, even in pictures.
One day with the healing that time grants, I felt brave to try to look again. It was then I was able to see things differently. A miracle of life was birthed in that room, but that was not the only thing.
A struggle, a season of suffering was birthed there too. A season that led to a bolder, braver, more faith-filled wife and mother of three. Walls I had pridefully built, God tore down. The need for control and plans to be craft-fully perfect was replaced with an invitation to trust and obey. God gave me fresh vision to see some of the plans for my life that He had written, and with His leading they were better than I could imagine.
A heart for fervent prayer was also birthed that day. Over the next long months, in the darkness of the weariest, loneliest nights, my friend Jesus walked with me, talked with me, wept with me, comforted me, and asked me to trust him time and time again. When I couldn’t pray, the Holy Spirit took over and He taught me what it meant to seek and wait.
It wasn’t a perfect time. It was a hard, difficult time. I endured lessons of failing and overcoming, patience and endurance. As my precious son grew in a stronger in a physical way, I grew stronger in a spiritual way.
We named our son, Jonathan, which means God’s gift. And God has used Jonathan as a gift that keeps on giving not only in my life, but in the lives of others as well.
From the very beginning of his life, he’s been loudly making his opinions known. He’s bold, brave and persistent. He’s playful and joyful, and his laugh and his giggles are contagious.
He’s makes me question my parenting skills more than any of my other children, but he has helped me know and stand firm in my convictions. He’s curious and asks the most interesting questions and this encourages me to research and know the most interesting answers.
On top of all these things, he has a heart of compassion. He is not afraid to go up to someone who looks lonely, say hello and even give them a hug. He can strike up a conversation with a stranger, and he asks the most poignant questions that goes straight to the heart. He teaches me more about child-like faith. Oh, and his prayers. He thinks nothing of laying hands and praying over people, and often we are following his lead in bowing our heads at any give moment, in any place, for any certain thing.
I am so thankful I get to be Jonathan’s mom. I’m so thankful for the son who God has made him to be and how Jonathan is growing up to be strong in so many ways. I am thankful for this journey of motherhood with him.
Although I wouldn’t want to go through the challenging beginning again, the valley of the sleepless nights, I can confidently say all of it was for my own good. It taught me a lot about myself and even more about God’s faithfulness and His love. God’s love is a strengthening, restoring, renewing, never fails, type of love!
If you are going through a valley, or a time that hasn’t gone the way you had hoped or planned, don’t give up. Keep moving forward, one step at a time. Maybe in a few more steps ahead, you’ll be able to look back and see something in the situation that wasn’t there before. A bit of new bravery, a root of resolve, a lesson learned. Often the best of what’s to be found is hidden in plain sight, but requires a fresh perspective to see.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Happy Birthday, Jonathan! You are a precious gift more than you ever might know! xo
“Like sands through an hour glass, so are the days of our lives….” The signature words and distinctive tune flowed from the TV. It was one o’clock and I sat comfortable and warm on my aunt’s couch. With a bright smile, my aunt came over to serve me lunch, a turkey sandwich and a cup of Folgers instant coffee. She sat down beside me like she had done on so many other weekdays.
Over the next hour, we allowed ourselves to be swept up into the drama of Salem and followed the unfolding of the Horton family’s stories. We watched the trials and triumphs of Bo and Hope’s love. We laughed over ridiculous storylines and plots, and debated which characters the writers would bring back from the dead. This was our shared guilty pleasure and this time turned into one of my fondest memories. Memories that had little to do with the soap opera and everything to do with the time we spent.
I didn’t have the years or the perspective to appreciate it then. I knew my aunt was a busy woman- a wife, mom, personal trainer and volunteer- but I didn’t know what it really meant to choose people over to-do lists.
My aunt made it seem like there was nowhere else more important than serving me lunch and spending time with me. She made me a priority. She gave me her full attention and time. How much I wish I could go back and thank her. Thank her for providing me a safe place. Thank her for her hospitality and presence. Thank her for her gentle guidance and inspiration. Thank her for taking time to stop, look, listen and linger.
I can’t go back or even tell her now. My aunt was stolen away from us twelve years ago from complications due to cancer treatments. Even when she was in her hospital bed, weak and in pain, she still managed to smile and made you feel as if you were the only person that she wanted to be with. Her presence offered hospitality. She wanted to hear how you were doing and made sure you knew your situations were just as pressing as what she was going though.
Although I can’t go back, I can move forward. I can be thankful for the time I had with my aunt and put into practice what she modeled. I can be thankful for every day, and what it brings, the good and the disappointing. With intention and sacrifice, I can see each person as an opportunity to encourage and build up, to make them feel valued and special. And make them feel like there is no other place I would rather be than with them in that moment.
Like so many of us, my schedule is busy, expectations are high, the demands and distractions seem unlimited. It’s hard to stop. But time seems to be slipping through my hands more quickly than ever and I’m more of aware of this than ever before. Time and people are precious gifts and to treasure them is wise.
So with these realizations, I’ve been making difficult and intentional choices to stop, look, listen and linger. I’m making space in my schedule by saying no to things and saying yes to people. I’m trying not to be swept up into ridiculous dramas or the fantasies my imagination writes so well. I’m debating over things that need to be let go of, handing them over to God to overcome, and not letting the destructive ones make a reappearance from the dead. I’m always, always, continuing to work at presence with people- with littles and bigs.
It is here I raise my Ebenezer. Thanking the Lord for His help so far. Thanking Him for the strength, energy and grace to get through my days and the reminder that time and people are special gifts. It is here I thank the Lord for the people in my life, like my aunt, who took time for me and modeled what it looks like to stop, look, listen and linger; and what it means to use our precious days wisely before they slip away.
I had the most beautiful, most vivid experience this week. Every month, my church joins with other churches in our area to pray for families, churches, and our community in strategic and relevant ways. Each church takes one day to pray for twenty-four hours in what we call One Church-One Day. ¹
On Wednesday morning, at 6:00 AM, my church’s prayer chain ended. Morning time is my favorite time with its quiet, peaceful sounds and the songs the birds and insects make. I walked out onto my deck to sit down to enjoy the morning with my coffee and my thoughts. About fifty people from my church family had been praying, one hour each, over the twenty-four hour period, and I love to think about all those people united in prayer.
The morning was dark gray with threatening storm clouds hung overhead. The air was still and there was no sound. No birds tweeting, no crickets chirping, no crows cawing. Just stillness and silence. I thought it strangely wonderful to have such silence after twenty-hours of offering up words and petitions to God.
At almost exactly 6:30 AM, the silent morning was abruptly transformed into a rushing, loud crescendo as the heavens let loose and rain poured from the sky. It was almost as if all of our prayers, every single word uttered, had saturated the atmosphere, collecting in a great cloud, and God replied in the music of the rain- as if saying I hear you, every word I heard, and now I will hold your prayers safe in my hands and will respond in my timing for my perfect plan.
What a comforting thought! God the Provider- Yahweh Yireh- sending the rain to refresh the earth, support new growth, and wash things clean. I enjoyed the rhythmic raindrops on the roof and side of my house. And peace washed over me.
Fast forward through a busy day of homeschool preparations, housecleaning, kid-caring, errands, and cooking. The rain had stopped sometime during the day and the kids had been outside playing, enjoying the sun. I was in the middle of making dinner when I stopped to glance out the window. Misty, quiet rain was coming down but only one side of our yard. It was an odd sight, and I wondered how a rain cloud could be so precise.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of my name, “Mom, Mom, come quick!!!” It’s a rainbow!!! Mom, Mom!!” I ran out of the house to join them and looked up…across the sky, right over our house was a bright, beautiful, complete rainbow!! If it wasn’t for my daughter, I would have completely missed it. Its sight was an extravagant gift, one more reminder of God’s promises and His faithfulness. God sees, God hears, He responds, and He is faithful.
I wanted to share this story as an encouragement. The Bible tells us:
1.) God hears our prayers. He listens to our concerns, our petitions for loved ones and He wants us to tell Him our desires. God cares.
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14
“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13
2.) God responds… sometimes not in the way we want, sometimes not in the way we think, but He always answers. And when it seems silent, keep praying, because He is still listening. In His timing, He will break through the silence.
“He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.” Psalm 91:15;
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Luke 11:9–10
3.) God uses others to remind us of His faithfulness and promises…and we all need reminders now and then. If you are reading this and do not have anyone who can remind you of such things or do not even know where to begin looking for God, find a local church. There are beautiful communities of Jesus-loving people who would love to tell you their stories of God’s faithfulness, pray with you and help you find Him right in your own neighborhood.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25
“They all joined together constantly in prayer,” Acts 1:14
¹ Here is a helpful information and an amazing model of One-Church, One Day that we used. http://onehopenetwork.org/about/
The quieter you become, the more you can hear. –Ram Dass
It couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to the day. The light breeze rippled over the surface of the lake creating a watercolor reflection of the peachy-blue, dusk lit skies. Gentle waves lapped up against the shore in a relaxing rhythm inviting me to slow my breath to its beat. My family’s silhouettes bobbed up and down in a canoe as they paddled out toward the sunset. Echoes of their laughter bounced back to me with joy. I stood at the water’s edge to take it all in. The scene before me seemed like it was painted just for me. Painted with attention to detail and brushed with peace and love.
The rush to get to camp and the busyness of the day melted off every tense and tired muscle leaving puddles of unwanted, unnecessary stress on the shore. I felt lighter, freer. Peace quieted my mind and made space in my heart to hear. To hear is so much more difficult to do than to listen. At home, I listen to the noise of the world and responsibilities at high volume. But here, at camp, God had cleared my schedule and removed distractions. He quieted the noise and had my full attention. I was ready to receive and hear. And here are a few things I heard…
“Be still, know I am God.” Psalm 46:10
“Let me teach you and give you rest.” Matthew 11:28-29
“You are mine.” 1 John 3:1, 1 Peter 2:9
“I made you in my image, wonderfully and fearfully made, with a purpose.” Psalm 139:14, Ephesians 2:10
“I delight in you.” Zephaniah 3:17
“I have great things planned for you and your family. “ Jeremiah 29:11
“Let me go first. You are not alone.” Deuteronomy 31:8
“Rest in the confidence of my faithfulness.” Psalm 91:4
“Enjoy life and all I have given you.” John 10:10
And, “I love you. Abide in my love.” John 15:9, Jeremiah 31:3
God wants to paint a scene of peace and love just for you too. It might not be a lakeside sunset, but He KNOWS how best to get our individual attention with a pursuit of love, grace and mercy. God wants to help quiet our noisy hearts to embrace a quiet one, to move from half listening to wholeheartedly hearing. So, be ready to be caught off guard (in a good way) and be ready to receive what He wants to you to hear.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
I bravely and joyfully walked up to my unknown neighbor’s walkway and stood ready to ring the doorbell. The feeling was a familiar one. I felt as if I was fifteen-years old again, carrying the tattered Romans Road prayer card in my hand, confidently uncertain I had the right words to lead anyone to the One who could save their soul from eternal damnation. Now much older and more confident, I held another tattered book in my hand and looked out over the beautiful faces of my group. It wasn’t the First Baptist Youth Group Evangelism Team that stood in front of me. It was twenty-five, enthusiastic, joyful church members holding matching tattered books-caroling books ready for adventure. They were my fellow companions on an adventure of song through the church neighborhood. Our mission, to spread Christmas cheer and joy to our neighbors.
Up until today, my caroling experience was limited to junior high choirs and visitations to nursing homes. I had never been caroling door to door before. We only had a loose plan. Walk, sing, and ring a doorbell here and there. It seemed easy enough and I was fairly confident it would be great fun. I was not prepared for what God had prepared for this day.
At each house, we sang a few songs, presented a kid-made Christmas card, and asked if there was anything we could pray for with them. No questions about knowing where they were going when they died, no judgments, and certainly no expectations. To our surprise, many people shared their stories of hurt, pain, and loneliness and so many people accepted the invitation for prayer. Humbly we prayed, lovingly we hugged, and joyfully we sang and smiled.
The world needs more HOPE, LOVE, and JOY.
I came back home on a Holy-Spirit high! I was so grateful and so humbled that God entrusted us with this type of “work.” In between my thinking and praising, I started to visualize a red line, like a ribbon, that stretched back to my childhood, trailing through present time, and continuing on through my unknown future.
Following the red ribbon back in time, I came to many different situations, opportunities, and experiences which seemed normal at the time. Everyday living, everyday interactions, everyday moments now seemed sacred and holy. Some of those encounters with people, places, and experiences specifically prepared me for the work God has for me to do now AND the work He has for me to do in the future.
My family, the church I grew up in, the correspondence Bible classes at age eight, prayer meetings that lasted long into the night, Christian friends/non-Christian friends, Southern Baptist summer camp, street evangelism with my youth group, college, separation from the Lord, teaching, and marrying my then teacher-now pastor husband. Some of these moments were fun, great, and exciting. Some of these moments were trying, painful, and paralyzing. But each of these moments stand as a marker, an ebenezer, of God’s help and faithfulness on the red line of my life.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
I have no idea what’s in store for me next but God does. Some days, I am guilty of spending enormous, wasteful amounts of time feeling anxious, worried, and fearful about what the future will hold. I dwell on the next big thing the Lord is calling me to do, all the while almost missing out on what He has planned for me to do right at that moment. I can drive myself loopy with all that thinking. And while, it is good to think about future plans, dream, and prepare; it is wrong to be so caught up with worry and fear that you cannot seek the Lord with your whole heart.
We have a short time left in this year. This season comes so many emotions. If you are dealing with an anxious, hurting, fearful heart, I encourage you to ask God to replace the worry, fear, and weariness with peace, hope, love, and joy. If it is difficult to do, try following your red ribbon back in time, searching for markers of God’s faithfulness. You might be surprised what you find. Some markers will be easy to locate, wrapped in lots of red ribbon and right out in the open; but others might be hidden, tied with a simple bow waiting to be pulled out and discovered. Each marker is a gift from our Lord and our hope and assurance that our future rests in Him.
Live out each day for what it is. Embrace the people and interactions that come into your path. We may never know how God will use them in our future or in the future of another person. Lastly, enjoy! Enjoy this season for the hope that it brings and the peace that is offered. Embrace it all with the Lord’s help.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[for those who are called according to his purpose.”