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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Little Feet, Big Adventures

I'm now in my 26th week of pregnancy, and for about 5 weeks, I have felt my little man kicking non-stop.  Yes, the 21 week mark was a huge corner-turn for me...nausea settled down and the kicks ramped up. I never realized how incredible it would be to feel him moving all day and all night!  At first I would giggle all the time.  It felt like heart flutters had fallen into my belly.  Now it's such a routine part of my day, it's almost a subconscious feeling to me.  I think it's my favorite part of carrying this child in my womb- the kicks (and punches and somersaults) are just magical.  

Week 24 Ultrasound


As our little guy kicks his mama in the belly all day long, I wonder some days where those precious feet will go, what they will do.  Will they kick a soccer ball from the time he begins to walk? (Chances are high with his Daddy and uncles and cousins all a little soccer crazy- it's definitely in the family genes- both sides!) Will they hike mountains?  Will they travel the world?  Will they walk the straight and narrow road leading to life- that I do pray!  Psalm 119:105 says, "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." Jamie and I continually ask the Lord to put in our little man a hunger for God's word and truth as he grows up down the road- that he will mature into a man of God, following His Word and way. 

Last night at church, we were reading through Romans 10.  Verse 15 quotes from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 52 verse 7:

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'"

This spoke to me in a unique and distinct way- lying in bed last night, it hit me- I long for my son to not only be a man of God's Word and to allow that Word to illuminate every path he walks down in life, but to also carry the good news of salvation to other lives.  I want those little feet to be blessed- that every road he travels, he will carry the peace and gospel of Jesus Christ.  

So this is my prayer for those little feet today.  Sure, it would be great for him to score goals in soccer like his Daddy or hike really adventurous mountains like his uncles...but my greatest desire and prayer for my little man is that his feet would walk the road that is lit by the light of God's Word, and that he would take with him wherever he goes the glory of the gospel to share!

Week 20 Ultrasound

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Two Texts & Powerful Prayers

This morning I woke up to this precious text from my dear friend, Susan:

"One year ago today our husbands began chemotherapy and Tom and I received new friends that faithfully prayed for us. We are grateful for you both. Prayed for you this morning."

My heart had a thousand feelings as I read that text.  Vivid memories flooding back to my mind of that scary, but blessed day as we embarked on the chemo adventure.  God just "happened" to place Jamie in a corner of the chemo pod next to Tom, with Susan and me by their sides, squeezing 4 of us into a spot really meant for one patient.  My pastor has said, "Coincidence is a secular term for providence".  I do believe, this was no coincidence, this was pure providence.  After Jamie and I lifted our heads from praying that morning one year ago in the chemo pod as the infusions started, the couple next to us smiled and asked, "Are you believers?"  That question led to a friendship with Tom and Susan that would help carry all four of us on this oh-so-difficult journey of chemo and the road to healing from cancer.  I'm amazed at how God works in mysterious ways.

I'm also amazed to think of all that happened in just one year.  At that point, we were just getting by, day to day, trying to make it through each moment by faith.  We were planning our wedding only 9 1/2 weeks away, but we came to an understanding that "In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." (Proverbs 16:9)  We knew that in the physical realm, the chemo could keep us from ever having biological children, but that in the spiritual realm, with God all things are possible.  We knew that in the physical realm, Jamie would be temporarily weakened to a low state, but that in the spiritual realm, he would be raised victorious above the trial.  

These memories cause my heart to be in awe of the Living God, who faithfully is with us through it all.  The days are long, but the years are short.  This I was reminded of again before I went to bed last night, when I read a text from a new dear friend, Nicolle:

"Heavenly Father, thank you so much for the beautiful life you have entrusted to Jamie and Caitlin.  I pray you will give them wisdom beyond their years as they learn to raise this child in this world.  I specifically pray this child will have a passionate love for your Word and will constantly strive to walk in truth.  Give them patience, both with each other and their child...even in the midst of the weariness that surrounds a new baby.  Let them treasure up moments like today in their hearts, knowing that the days are long and the years are short.  In the blink of an eye, we know this new life will be making his/her own way in the world...but ultimately we pray he/she will obey and seek you.  Amen."

Yesterday, we had our 20 week ultrasound for baby.  She sent that text during the ultrasound, God's perfect timing for the prayer...Again, no coincidence.  The experience of seeing our baby so clearly on the ultrasound images was beyond incredible.  We were able to see little one in so much detail.  We didn't just see the beating heart, we saw all four chambers of the heart!  We didn't just see the legs and arms, we saw the collar bone, the femur, the tibia & spine!  Every bone, every organ in the place God ordained.  That little face with hands curled up next to those baby cheeks.  Precious tiny feet kicking- which I could feel as we saw them on the screen!  Baby was all cuddled up comfy inside of me, not really wanting to pose for pictures, but we did find out some exciting news...baby is a boy!!!!


We are just so thrilled knowing God has given us a little man to raise.  It feels even more personal now as we plan and pray for him.  In all the excitement and preparations and expectation...I want to take a moment to reflect on Nicolle's prayer.  There is some profound power in what she prayed, and I want to take it deeply to heart.

LIFE

This is truly a precious life inside of me- a miracle of God.  Every life is a miracle, and it is just so surreal that I am carrying a little human within me for these nine months.  As I watched the ultrasound yesterday and the doctor described the various organs and development of the baby, I thought, "How can anyone ever think or say that this is not a living human being, a child?  That is pure life I see on the screen!  Those kicking feet and the four chambers beating in that heart- that's not disposable tissue- that is a remarkable living being! 

WISDOM

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind."  -James 1:1-6

PASSION FOR THE WORD

The only way we can teach our child to desire and seek the Word of God is if we desire and seek the Word of God on a regular basis.  I pray that God would daily renew the passion in both our hearts for His Word.  "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." -Deuteronomy 6:6-7

WALK IN THE TRUTH

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." 3 John 4:4   I had this verse on my bulletin board for years, and prayed it over my sponsor children, my nieces and nephews, and other children who are special in my life.  Now I get to pray this over our own baby!

PATIENCE

All I need to say is patience is not my forte.  However, it is my husband's strength, and sometimes I think it's his middle name!  I hope he continues to model it for me, so that I can learn this fruit of the spirit and live it out in a better way!  For those "Patient Pandas" out there- I applaud you!

TREASURE UP MOMENTS

Our Lord's mother, Mary, set this example in a most beautiful way as she experienced and lived out the most marvelous miracle of the incarnation- carrying the Living Savior in her womb and birthing him in a stable in Bethlehem.  I hope to take time to be still, ponder, recall, pray, journal, reflect, and treasure up the gifts of this new season in motherhood.  "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."  -Luke 2:19

LONG DAYS, SHORT YEARS

I truly can't believe it has been a whole year since Jamie began chemo.  We both have experienced tremendous healing.  We have experienced 10 months of the extraordinary gift of marriage.  We are expecting our little one in just 4 months, and it all has flown by in a blink.  But yes, sometimes the days are long.  Like that first day of chemo, when he sat there for 5 straight hours with an IV pumping heavy doses of medicine into his veins.  Each of us has long days.  Sometimes it really does just feel like we just woke up on the wrong side of the bed- especially on Mondays.  But in those long days, we can find blessings if we look for them, and we can offer grace to those we encounter if we are willing.  I'm so glad on that long day one year ago, Tom and Susan asked "Are you believers?"  I can't imagine had we journeyed through those 9 weeks without our dear friends by our side the whole way.  

OBEY THE HEAVENLY FATHER

I believe with all my heart that our Father in Heaven longs to bless us, His children.  However, we so often stray from His will and His way.  He is a good God and a just God.  He is Holy.  "But this is what I commanded them, saying, 'Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people.  And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you." -Jeremiah 7:23 Are we listening to His voice?  Are we walking according to His will?  I can be stubborn.  We all can- it's called human nature.  It's also called sin and selfishness.  But I am learning that when I truly submit to my Father, that is when it goes well with me.  When Christ is my one Vision and my Ruler of all, that is when it is well with my soul.  

SaveSave

Friday, July 8, 2016

Desert Rocks


His name was Walter, and he was painted with old-fashioned cartoons.  He would be our ride for the next week and a half.  It was a hot day in the desert, and we were off on an adventure.  We met up with the three RVs- one had a flat tire within an hour or two of the start.  Walmart was the first necessary stop after the fixed tire episode, and 15 of us (16 counting baby inside me) made a grand entrance with our matching blue t-shirts and exuberant energy, ready to kick off this trip!


It was called the "Great Western Loop" and my family had been planning it for years, in particular my  middle brother who is always looking for an adventure for us all to share.  We had to postpone it last summer due to my steady, but slow recovery, not realizing that Jamie would be going through chemo and recovering as well!  Yes, I am so very glad we didn't attempt this nail-biting, cliff-walking trip when the two of us were hobbling around and I was still one very dizzy girl!


I remember lying in my recovery bed in Santa Monica, in February of 2015, listening to Bethel worship music at night ever so faintly out of my right ear. With my iPod across the room as a gentle soothing comfort, my head was throbbing, no sound able to penetrate my left ear except the sounds of constant ringing pulsing.  I remember dreaming of going to the desert on this trip one day in the future and being able to climb on rocks and walk and run again.  I remember imagining being able to hold my head up once again and be able to see clearly and even hear once again.  I remember these visions at night that brought me hope in my darkest, loneliest place, when all I felt was physical pain covering me.  Those visions and dreams I had set aside for a year and a half while life took us by surprise after surprise, ups and downs, challenges and blessings.  Cancer. Engagement. Chemo. Wedding. Healing. Baby. Here I am, home after our western trip and I realize the vision came to a reality, and God was faithful.


It makes me think of the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, when God answers him so very directly:

"For the vision vision is yet for the appointed [future] time.
It hurries toward the goal [of fulfillment]; it will not fail.
Even though it delays, wait [patiently] for it,
Because it will certainly come; it will not delay."
(Habakkuk 2:3)


Our Western adventure was a time of exploring creation, bonding with family, experiencing campground dirt and desert sun.  It was one breath-taking national park after another...We walked the Narrows at Zion, saw the intense pink sun setting over the land and peeking through massive rocks while exploring Arches, saw the sunrise on the magical looking "hoodoos" of Bryce Canyon, and so much more.  We truly witnessed wonder after wonder, and our hearts were stirred to worship the Living God.  



A few weeks ago, before our trip, our pastor had a sermon on the first chapter of Romans, and he spoke about the inverted order of our day, which is so similar to that of the time of Rome.  God designed the world and He is first and foremost above all else.  It's pretty simple: Creator first, humanity second, and the rest of glorious creation third.  However, it has been twisted time and again, generation after generation.  Unfortunately, creation seems to take first place in our culture's mind, then humanity is expected to serve and worship creation, then if we acknowledge God, we put him way down in the lowest of third place- some far-off distant Being whom we don't really know personally.  The truth is, mankind was made to give glory to God.  Creation was made to reflect His majesty!  He designed it so that we, human beings, would take care of creation and rule over it.  We are not to worship the creation, but look at what He has made and allow it to inspire us to worship the Maker!  In Colossians, the Apostle Paul clearly speaks of the preeminence of Christ Jesus.


"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--
all things were created through Him and for Him.
And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."
(Colossians 1:15)


In our culture, we try so hard to preserve the incredible rocks and clay and vast array of marvelous creatures.  This is all very good, because we were appointed to take care over God's creation.  I love nature and ever since I was a little girl, spending time outside is where my heart comes most fully alive.  The issue is when geological formations and endangered species are held in such esteem, they seem to rule over man and God.  (I cannot help but be reminded that human beings are quite endangered these days- the human womb the most dangerous of all places with one third of my generation being massacred before their birth).  Well, Jesus had another point of view.  During His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Pharisees were telling him point-blank to scold his disciples and the crowd for worshipping Him and declaring aloud His praise.  

"Jesus replied, 'I tell you, if these [people] keep silent, the stones will cry out [in praise]!'"
(Luke 19:40)


There we have it- if we as people do not declare the worship and glory of our Lord, the very stones and rocks of the earth will cry out His praise!  Nothing can silence the worship of the King!  I've thought long and hard about what to write in this blog, because I beheld so many incredible sights on our adventure and soaked in so much magnificent beauty.  Whether peering out from Walter's window or hiking somewhat treacherous switchbacks, holding a niece or nephews little hand (and so thankful for my improved vision and balance that allowed me to do just that!), it all pointed to one thing in my mind:  Our God is beyond fathom in His glory and wonder.  His majesty is stunning and this world is filled with grand sights and awe-inspiring places.  He is a God who keeps His Word and is faithful.  He is the Creator.  He is the Healer.  He is the Redeemer.  He is not to be compared.  


"Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; Shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it!
For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.
Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb:
'I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself...
Who says to the deep, 'be dry; I will dry up your rivers'"
(Isaiah 44:23-27)


"A voice of one calling: 'In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; 
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  
Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low...
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all the people will see it together...

'All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers to he field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the Word of our God endures forever.'

You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain...
lift up your voice with a shout...
'Here is your God!' See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power...
"Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
or with the breadth of His hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?

Who can fathom the Spirit of the LORD, or instruct the LORD as his counselor?
Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten Him, and who taught Him the right way?...
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket...
He weighs the islands as though they were fine dust...
With whom, then, will you compare God?  To what image will you liken Him?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy and spread them out like a tent to live in."
(Isaiah 40)




Friday, June 10, 2016

Heartbeat and Heaven's Song

Today we heard the sound of our baby's heartbeat for the second time.  I'm not sure if there could be a more beautiful sound in the world.  This baby we haven't met yet, hiding safely inside my womb, the precious little heart beating rapidly, full of life... Carrying this life is such an honor and joy for me every day.  We dream of the purposes God has in store for our child.  We pray for this little one daily.  We are in awe of God's creation of life and the way He nurtures and loves and cares for the littlest of humans.  These 15 weeks have been an extraordinary journey, and I know the next 25 weeks will be filled with excitement, expectation, and not to mention exhaustion!  We are told by countless parents, "Get ready- you'll never sleep again! Or at least for the next few years!" I'm trying to stock up on that sleep now!


I remember just 16 months ago laying in my recovery bed in Santa Monica, California, completely deaf in my left ear.  I remember asking God in the stillness and agonizing pain of the night to be able to hear again one day.  I didn't know what His answer would be, but I had belief.  I had hope.  I knew my loving Heavenly Father could hear me.  I imagined hearing in my left ear the birds singing in the morning.  I imagined hearing in my left ear my future baby someday crying.  I imagined hearing in my left ear Jamie telling me that he loves me.  Little did I realize I would be blessed so soon with a little baby, and I failed to imagine during those nights the incredible blessing of hearing the heartbeat of that baby!  Oh what a glorious gift I've been given.  Thump, Thump, Thump, Thump, Thump, Thump, Thump...interrupted only by the sound of movements and kicks from baby.


Close your eyes today and take a moment to hear the music around you. Hug the one you love and listen to their heartbeat.  Listen to a child's laughter as they play.  Listen to the birds singing summer tunes.  Listen to the voices of the people in your office- really listen to them.  Listen to the rhythms of the traffic and the washing machine and the copy machine.  One of my favorite movies that highlights the gift of life and the simultaneous gift of music is August Rush.  The little boy says in it, "Listen. Can you hear it? The music. I can hear it everywhere. In the wind...in the air...in the light. It's all around us. All you have to do is open yourself up. All you have to do...is listen." God has blessed us with the gift of sound, and it's not just in the songs on the radio, but the music is truly everywhere.  Today I heard the song of God in my little baby's heartbeat.  And when all is still and really silent, I even hear it in the tinnitus in my ear, a ringing reminder of the miracle story He's brought my family and me through this past year.


"Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, praise His name;
proclaim His salvation day after day...
Splendor a majesty are before Him;
strength and glory are in His sanctuary...
Worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness;
tremble before Him, all the earth...
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for He comes..."
PSALM 96


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

My Baby's First Mother's Day!


That's right...you read the title of this blog correctly!  This Mother's Day I am carrying a precious little miracle inside my womb.  I remember last spring, when Jamie faced cancer treatment, and we were thrown warnings at a rapid pace by doctor after doctor over several weeks that likely we would not be able to have biological children.  This was before we were even engaged, mind you (though Jamie secretly already had the ring!)  I remember sitting on his couch with him, reading through the papers, doing research online, with tears in our eyes, and Jamie just looked at me and said, "We need to pray.  God has a plan for our future family.  Let's dedicate our children to Him, whether biological, adopted, or whatever God has planned."  So we did pray together that day, and we laid all our worries, all the messages from the world, all the questions we had before the throne of God.  Then we just kept walking through our journey of chemo, wedding, and marriage without looking back, with peace in our hearts that no matter what, God had a plan. 

 

Little did we imagine that 6 months into marriage we would be blessed with a tiny life inside me!  Doctors told us that the first two years of marriage...having children was an impossibility.  And the years after that would be questionable.  Well, God is the God of the impossible!!  His Word tells us time and time again that the Lord can do anything, and all things are possible with God, through faith.  


"But Jesus looked at them and said,
'With man this is impossible,
but with God all things are possible."
(Matthew 19:26)  

"For nothing will be impossible with God."
(Luke 1:37) 

"And Jesus said to him, 'If you can!
All things are possible for the one who believes."
(Mark 9:23) 

"But he said, 'What is impossible with man is possible with God.'"
(Luke 18:27)


This baby is such a phenomenal surprise gift from the Lord.  He didn't need to bless us with this child.  We decided that no matter what God chose for us, we would be willing and grateful for His plan for our family.  It was not an easy moment that day when we prayed together, but it was an incredibly beautiful moment, because our faith was united and we surrendered this thing so dear to our hearts to Jesus.  We knew He absolutely could give us biological children someday, but we just didn't know if that would be in the Lord's plans for us.  Our Heavenly Father knows what is best, and His love for His children is beyond what we can imagine.  Jamie and I are two people who have invested much of our hearts and lives into children and ministries that serve children, and we knew that no matter what, children would be a part of our lives.  We love adoption, because it is such a picture of how each of us is adopted into the family of God.  We have talked about the possibility of adopting since our dating days (before we ever knew about the cancer hurdle)- if that were something the Lord would lead us to do.  We believe that children are a heritage and wonderful gift from the Lord, whether adopted, sponsored, fostered, mentored, or biological.  



"Whatever is good and perfect is a gift
coming down to us from God our Father,
who created all the lights in the heavens.
He never changes or casts a shifting shadow."
(James 1:17)

"For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
The LORD bestows grace and favor and honor;
No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly."
(Psalm 84:11)


"And we know that God causes everything 
to work together for the good of those who love God
and are called according to His purpose."
(Romans 8:28)


The previous verses all came to mind as I wrote this.  Looking back on this year's journey, we just had to keep walking by faith and not worry about tomorrow.  We had to trust that our Sovereign God is good, no matter what.  We had to believe in His plan, not our own plans.  We had to wait with patience and faith daily, in prayer.  Now we are overcome with inexplicable joy over the amazing gift God has given us, and we cannot wait to meet our little baby, who is due between the Thanksgiving holiday and Advent season this year! 



Carrying this child in my womb has made my heart more sensitive to others' stories... I think of women and men, mothers and fathers around the world...Couples who have struggled with infertility, crying out to God for months and years, asking for a child.  Other couples waiting year after year for an adoption to go through.  Mothers and fathers who have lost children.  Parents who have experienced miscarriage.  And on Mother's Day, I especially think of those children who have lost their moms.  I remember my own precious Grannie and Grandmom who are gone from this world and are home with the Lord, and how they were such anchors for our family, such strong women with beautiful lives.  Oh how I wish they could meet our little baby.  I realize that while Jamie and I experience this incredible joy this Mother's Day, there are many who are mourning, who are pleading with the Lord, who are carrying hearts so heavy.  If it is your story I speak of, my heart goes out, and I say this prayer over you:


"The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face
to shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up
His countenance upon you
and give you peace."
(Numbers 6:24-26)

Whatever your story is right now- if you're a child missing your mother, or a mother longing for a child or mourning a loss, or just a lonely soul, I say- your story matters.  Your Heavenly Father's love for you will not abandon you or leave you.  I challenge you to hold onto the promises of God's Word which I just quoted.  These promises are TRUE and EVERLASTING.  Sometimes the hardest thing in life is experiencing pain when others are experiencing joy, and it feels like no one understands what you are going through.  Even if no one does, the Lord, our Comforter understands perfectly.



"You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book."
(Psalm 56:8)  

Your tears and pain will never go unnoticed in the eyes of your Heavenly Father.  You can be sure that He is with you on the journey, picking you up and wiping your bruises and healing your scars each time you get scraped on the way. He longs to cradle you with compassion, and to show you hope on the horizon.  




"The faithful love of the LORD never ends.
His mercies never cease.
Great is His faithfulness;
His mercies begin afresh each morning."
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

As Jamie and I sojourn these 9 months of expectancy, our hearts praise the Lord!  Big miracles sometimes come in little packages!


Thursday, April 28, 2016

My Name is No Longer Guilt

A few weeks ago I woke from this strange dream.  If you're anything like me, you often have strange dreams that might be a bit frightening, or might just be plain odd, or might be just very exhausting, so when you wake up you feel like you've been on this epic adventure, climbing mountains, beating up the "bad guys" and saving the world in an apocalyptic type age.  You would think I watch crazy movies, but I'm actually very guarded in what I watch- this artist brain can only handle so much!  Well, when I woke early in the morning after this one particular dream, I was stunned.  The details were hard to make out, but there was one specific moment that was crystal clear.  I was a little girl, and there was a man there with me, and he gave me the name Guilt.  That's right- he took it upon himself to name me, and the name rang loud and clear "GUILT."  Not guilty, but I literally took on the personification of Guilt. It's not what I did- it's who I was.  Then I woke up.  I didn't know what to do with this strange experience, but I knew this dream was no joking matter, and there was an issue at the core of my heart that I needed to address.


For as long as I can remember, I always felt very accountable- to myself, to my family, to my teachers and peers, and mostly to God.  My parents were fairly laid back, very kind, and always quick to forgive, but I put so much pressure on myself to always "do the right thing."  Maybe it had to do with growing up in a Christian school where competition was keen for grades and extra-curricular activities.  Maybe it had to do with proving myself as a youngest child.  I think it had more to do with the awareness that I am a sinner, that I won't ever measure up, yet I want to do something good with my life- I want to make an impact.  I remember there were days in high school when I was so stressed out about homework and grades and even pulled all-nighters so that I could participate in athletics, drama, music, student senate, and church youth group and pull off those A grades.  My mom would challenge me, "Why don't you skip school and have a personal day?"  "Why don't you not do your homework or not study for that test?  Does it really matter if for once in your life you fail?"  Don't get me wrong here- she wasn't advocating for laziness or saying that education doesn't matter- rather, I believe she was trying to get me to realize that the most important things in life are not always achieving, and that even if we fail here and there, it's going to be ok.  We're not perfect- we are human.  We can't juggle everything- only God can.  There are times when we are weak, but He is strong.  There are times when we fall down, but He can pick us up again, and we will be ok.


I've seen this "guilt" trend carry over into the first few months of marriage.  Thank God I have a wonderful husband who always reminds me that I don't have to be perfect, and he can laugh with me about my mishaps and failings.  I love being in the kitchen, finding new recipes to experiment with, and I so enjoy taking care of our home when I'm not working on music.  I was so excited about this one recipe I found for crock pot made-from-scratch chicken and dumplings.  We went to the store together the night before to get all the ingredients.  I got up early and cut all the vegetables, prepared the chicken, and turned on the crockpot.  I checked on it a few times and was a little baffled because it seemed like the chicken wasn't cooking very fast.  A few hours went by, and I was really confused- the crockpot wasn't even hot!  I checked and I had turned the dial on- so I turned it up to high instead of low.  Then I realized when I moved some kitchen appliances out of the way of the electric plug- that I had actually plugged in our smoothie blender instead of the crockpot that morning!  Our chicken had sat there for hours, and dinner was wasted!  Ruined!  I had failed!  I called Jamie at work, in tears.  He burst into laughter, and was so relieved that I was crying about that and not something more serious.  He came home, and fixed us dinner.  His unwavering love and understanding and sense of humor lifted me when I felt like a failure as a wife!

About a week or so later, I was making pasta, and my hand slipped, and it all fell into the sink of dirty, soapy dishes instead of the strainer.  Once again- husband to the rescue- he helped me make dinner all over again!  And then there's fish...I've overcooked it, undercooked it, and the worst was the night I left it out on the counter because when he came home he asked if I wanted to exercise instead of eating dinner right away...and the fish went bad!  I have to admit, a few tears might have been in my eyes, and Jamie just hugged me, laughed in his kind, care-free way, and let me know that it wasn't my fault- it was an innocent mistake, and everything was ok!  His words during one of my teary-eyed "I'm a failure" moments were, "I'm your husband.  I love you unconditionally, no matter what.  It's not about what you do or don't do.  I will always love you."  In that moment, it struck me in a way like never before in my life- that is how Christ loves the church, how our Heavenly Father loves His children.  God's love is without condition.  UNCONDITIONAL.  EVERLASTING!

The love of God does not depend on us, on how good we are, on how perfect we are, on what we do or say or don't do...it is all about HIS PERFECTION AND GOODNESS.


I felt in that moment the name GUILT lifted from me, and the name LOVED bestowed upon me.  It's like when God told Abram he would then be called Abraham.  Or when He told Saul he would be called Paul.  A new name was given to me.  The name the enemy has wanted me to embrace my entire life is Guilt.  The name that God is teaching me to identify myself as is Loved.   I haven't earned it. I don't deserve it. I don't even comprehend it, but it is who I am as a child of God.  My dear friend, LOVED is who you are if you have received the gift and inheritance into God's Kingdom.  It's simply a gift.  He shall name you LOVED and you will be His child.  No matter what you've done. No matter how much you don't measure up.  No matter how many times you've failed or fumbled or fallen.  No matter how weak or clumsy or unnoticed you feel.  No matter what your past is or what family you came from.  No matter where you are now or what opportunities you've let sail by.

You are Loved.

Your name is no longer Guilt.  You are a child of the Living, Holy, God, and He created you in His incredible image!


In a sermon recently, Pastor Gary Hamrick challenged my heart on a very important point- reminding me that I am not perfect, but my Savior is perfect, and I am perfectly justified and loved!  He reflected on the fact that the law only exposes my sinfulness.  The rules cannot save- they just show how sinful I am!  I can't possibly keep all the rules- nobody can!  "The law is a mirror that brings us to Christ."  Because I believe in Christ, I am justified (Acts 13:39).  Being justified is truly "just as if I never sinned."  I did sin. I did make mistakes. I did fail, but because of Christ, and the faith I place in the power of the cross, my name is no longer Guilt.  I can rest in the finished work of Christ.

Let this excerpt from Carolyn Mahoney sink into your heart: "[Let's] direct our attention toward Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross...Robert Murray McCheyne had a wonderful antidote to self-focus.  He suggested that we should take ten looks at Christ for every look at ourself.  Every time we are tempted to be discouraged by our own disappointing performance, we must look to our Savior whose perfect performance has been credited to us.  Jesus died to redeem us from both the penalty and the power of sin in our lives.  May we revel in His grace and marvel at His mercy in our lives!"


Verses for Meditation

1 John 3:1 "See how very much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are!"

Romans 8:1-2  "Therefore there is now no condemnation [no guilty verdict, no punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus [who believe in Him as personal Lord and Savior].  For the law of the Spirit of life [which is] in Christ Jesus [the law of our new being] has set you free from the law of sin and death."

John 3:16-18  "For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so the whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge and condemn the world [that is, to initiate the final judgement of the world], but that the world might be saved through Him.  Whoever believes and has decided to trust in Him [as personal Savior and Lord] is not judged [for this one, there is no judgment, no rejection, no condemnation];..."

1 John 3:19-23 "By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God...And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us."



Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The LORD is my SONG!


A few weeks ago, a friend at church, Lauren, was telling me how the idea of the Lord being our Song really moves her spirit deeply- an idea that is difficult to even grasp, yet so beautiful.  I'm ashamed to say, that was the first time the concept really had captured my attention- how could I have passed by this incredible truth, poetically pictured in Scripture?  The interesting thing to me, is that every time it is written in God's Word that the Lord is our Song, it is also written that He is our Strength and Salvation.  Take a moment and fix your attention on these verses from the Old Testament, and let your mind and heart be unlocked to this unique and breathtaking image of our Mighty Lord being our song.


"'Behold, God, my salvation!
I will trust and not be afraid,
For the LORD GOD is my strength and song;
Yes, He has become my salvation.'
Therefore with joy you will draw water
from the springs of salvation.'"
Isaiah 12:2-3

"The LORD is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
'The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.'"
Psalm 118:14-15

"The LORD is my strength and my song,
and He has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise Him,
my father's God, and I will exalt Him."
Exodus 15:2


Another friend, Joan, went home to be with Jesus recently.  She gave me the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young a couple years ago.  It is a devotional written as if from the perspective of Jesus speaking to one of His followers.  This is an excerpt from one page:  "Trust Me and don't be afraid, for I am your Strength and Song.  Think what it means to have Me as your Strength.  I spoke the universe into existence; My Power is absolutely unlimited!  Human weakness, consecrated to Me, is like a magnet, drawing My Power into your neediness....Remember that I am also your Song.  I want you to share My Joy, living in conscious awareness of My Presence.  Rejoice as we journey together toward heaven; join Me in singing My Song."

Not only are strength and salvation bound up with the image of our Lord being our song, but joy and praise are also both inextricably interwoven into this truth.  When God becomes the song of our life, we find strength and salvation in Him.  When we praise the Lord in song, joy naturally fills our soul.  The joy of the Lord is our constant strength if we abide in Him, and we cannot help but burst into song when our hearts are overflowing abundantly with such joy!

I love and cherish the timeless hymns of the Christian faith. I've so enjoyed adding some of my favorite hymns to the set list of songs at my recent concerts.  The Hymn, "Be Still My Soul", was an anchor to my soul last year when I faced brain surgery, as well as during my recovery and during Jamie's cancer treatment.  The celtic hymn ,"Be Thou My Vision", was the song we chose for our wedding day, led by my Father-in-law's rich, booming voice.  There are a few hymns that my mom always says to me with nostalgia, "Your great-grandmother used to play this on the piano!"  "Of the Father's Love Begotten" was a hymn dating back to the 4th Century A.D. which defended Christian truth against heretical teachings.  These hymns have lasted the test of time, drawing from the deep wells of Scriptural truth as well as the experiences of saints through the centuries.  The worship songs coming forth from songwriters today are being released in an exponential way, song after song after song, limitless in praise to our Mighty God!  Could there be one song, a chord tying them all together in timeless fashion?  Randy Peterson, author of Be Still My Soul: The Inspiring Stories Behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns, seems to express such an idea:

"So as we worship, we are entering an ongoing song, composed long before our time and continuing into eternity...The music itself lifts us and calms us, drives us and stretches us...There's a language here beyond words, but it also works with words.  Together these tunes and texts lead us to worship even when we don't know how."

Have you caught the tune?  Has His song captured your heart and become your strength and saving grace?  Has His joy turned your heart to praise?

In Pope John Paul II's Letter to Artists, he quotes this succinct and stunning statement by Paulinus of Nola:  "Our only art is faith and our music Christ."  The depth beyond these words lies in eternity.  Our Creator God made us to bear His glorious image, and designed us to take part in His work by creating new art and new songs.  Each one of these songs, though, is meant to be a reflection of His Song, His masterpiece of art, and His gift of salvation.  I encourage you to read this letter by Pope John Paul, as well as to dig into the perennial hymns of the faith.  May your soul be refreshed and your heart be singing the Song of our Lord!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hope Springs Forth

It's that time of year again...(at least in the parts of our country that have four seasons) where the sun is sneaking out and blossoms are bursting forth and muddy trails have the brightest green coming up from the ground!  One of my favorite questions that I always receive from my sponsor children is, "What season is it there for you?" and they go on to tell about the rainy season and dry season and how so much of their lives, as well as their crops, depend on the weather.  It is amazing...we don't realize how many around the world truly have to trust God with the weather every day, to know if they will make a living or even have food on the table.  I tend to take for granted the weather, the seasons' changing, and the food on my table!  The part about the letters that makes me always laugh a little bit, is that often it takes a few months to receive their letters...and then a few months for them to receive mine.  Let's say my sponsor girl, Namata, writes to me at Christmas from Uganda...and I receive it in February and write back...and then she receives her letter in April.  There is much confusion about the seasons and when it is winter, spring, summer, and fall here!  And then there is the way we date our letters.  I would date mine 3/10/16 to signify March 10th, 2016.  Well, for many people in other countries, including Namata in Uganda, the date 3/10/16 would signify October 3rd, 2016!  I had to figure that out a few years ago when the seasons and the dates were really baffling me in our letter exchanges!  All this to say, writing letters back and forth with my sponsor children has been a joy...ever since I first sponsored Mercy in 4th grade!  I wish I could go back and see what I wrote to this dear sister-like pen-pal across the ocean in Ghana then.  We had a special relationship that launched a passion deep inside me for this sponsor-a-child thing...and led me to meet my children/students in the Dominican Republic, Uganda, and The Philippines!  (It's hard to always call them children, when some of them have been my peers or just a few years younger!)


Speaking of season, I wish my sponsor children could step into a real North Eastern United States springtime!  It is so lavish with life.  The great outdoors teeming with warmth and color, and gracing it all, there's a breeze that refreshes the soul.  Jamie and I took a walk on one of our favorite trails recently...and I felt the signs of spring all around me- signs of hope that warmth would return and bright days would be ahead.  Last year, in a way, we felt like we missed out on spring, due to my recovery and Jamie's bout with cancer.  We spent most of our time convalescing inside...but those days when we could get out and take walks (both of us hobbling around- we were quite a sight to behold!), the fresh air revived our souls like never before.  It was really our one highlight if we could get out and take a walk.  There is something about God's creation that is so healing, so filled with hope, especially when it is the spring season which births incredible life again!


This spring, my spirit stirs within me, with an expectancy of all that is renewed and all that is born again.  With my window open, I hear birds singing.  Yesterday, I even heard cicadas singing at the park.  There are buds outside our kitchen window that have opened in the past few days and begun to bloom (I believe it is a tulip tree!)  The beauty of these blossoms has captured my attention.  The cold and dark and silence of winter is evanescent- hope springs yet again, and with seasons' change, we are reminded that God makes all things new.


"Sing a new song to the Lord!
Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!...
Each day proclaim the good news that He saves!
Honor and majesty surround Him;
strength and beauty fill His sanctuary...
Recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong!
Worship the Lord in all His holy splendor.
Let all the earth tremble before Him...
Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
Let the sea and everything in it shout His praise!
Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
Let the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord,
for He is coming!"
(Excerpts from Psalm 96)

"And He who was seated on the throne said,
'Behold, I am making all things new.'
Also He said, 'Write this down,
for these words are trustworthy and true.'"
(Revelation 21:5)


 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sing for Life!


I received a call in October from the March for Life planning team.  It was only eight months since my brain surgery, and I had sung no more than three times in public during that recovery period.  The first time was in August, when I sang "Broken Vessel" at the funeral of a dear friend, Nancy, who lost her battle with brain cancer, but won her glorious eternal life in Jesus Christ.  (That week when Nancy went home was the week Jamie was hospitalized due to chemo wiping out almost all of his white blood cells.)  The second time I sang was at my home church, where I shared the timeless hymn, "Holy Holy Holy" at a worship service, just three weeks before our wedding.  The third time was at my cousin's wedding, two weeks after my own (the three of us girl cousins grew up together, close in age and close in heart...we each got married within a four month span this year!).  It was an honor to share the gift of music on their beautiful wedding day.


Each one of those events- the funeral, the wedding, and the worship service- was so precious and treasured.   Outside of those occasions, singing was not something I was able to do much in my recovery.  In fact, for months the headaches were so intense, every time I would try to sing more than one song my head would just pound.  I hardly even walked into the living room to touch the piano.  The long road of surgery's recovery, Jamie's cancer and chemo, and starting out beautiful married life was anything but "normal" and I was not exactly ready to sing again.  Of course I wanted to sing, I wanted to jump back in to this gift God had given, but how could I pick up all the pieces and start all over?  When would I feel strong enough to get through more than one song?  Would people even want to book me for concerts again?  Back in 2014, before my diagnosis, things were going so well and my music ministry was growing and everything seemed great, but when a year of hospital visits and recovery hit, I have to admit, some days my heart doubted.  What would the future hold?  Was it all lost?  God had miraculously restored my hearing, but would He allow me to truly offer up this music again on a regular basis in worship?  Would it come back to me like riding a bike?


I received that call from the March for Life out of nowhere, and what a surprise it was when they asked me to sing at the rally in Washington D.C. before the 2016 March!  Somehow I remained calm on the phone, but when I hung up, I hit my knees and the tears streamed.  All I could do was praise God.  I called Jamie at work and told him the news.  I felt the Lord's presence and blessing so intensely in that moment, restoring all things, and making all things new.  He wouldn't let all the setbacks over the past year define my future.  My future was in His hands, and He would open a door to once again use my voice to worship, to proclaim truth, and to share a message of hope and life.


January 22, 2016 was a March for Life I'll never forget.  I was so humbled and honored to walk on that stage and sing our Nation's beautiful Anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner".  I was so moved to hold hands with other pro-life leaders and proclaim blessings over this country through "God Bless America!"  I was thankful for life, more than ever before, and ready to begin ministering through music again with all the passion in my soul.  After everything I have been through, I see life through a lens I didn't see through before.  The precious gift of life I now thank God for in such a personal way, every single day I wake up and breathe.  I will not stop being a voice for life until every life is protected and given rights.  Every life!  The unborn, the born, the young, the elderly, the impoverished, the wealthy, the educated, those without an education, the abled, the disabled (who, for the first time, I have such respect for, after all the hurdles I went through in recovery, and now as I wait for my vision to heal, I realize how much those with disabilities have to overcome on a daily basis!)


The March for Life was blasted with a blizzard, and yet, still D.C. was flooded with thousands upon thousands of people who came, courageous in the storm, willing to do anything to peacefully proclaim the message that every life is valuable, and that we not only march for the babies, but we march for the women.  We march for every life.


I will look back on January 22, 2016 as a moment in time when God truly gave back my music ministry and platform to sing for His glory.  He didn't need to give my voice back.  He didn't need to give my hearing back.  But He did, and I am compelled to use it to worship Him and lift the hearts of listeners toward truth and lasting life.

"For Christ's love compels us,
because we are convinced
that one died for all,
and therefore all died.
And He died for all,
that those who live
should no longer live for themselves
but for Him who died for them
and was raised again."
2 Corinthians 15:14-15 


Isaiah 62 is a chapter in the old Testament where Isaiah prays over Jerusalem- God's Holy City.  This passage is specifically about Jerusalem, and I don't want to misplace that context, but I think at times we can use prayers and writings of Scripture and apply them to our current day, current time, and current place.  If all God's people around the world prayed this prayer over the nations and capitals, I just wonder how God might answer those prayers...What if we chose not to remain silent, but prayed without ceasing over our nation here, the United States, and we earnestly expected that God would bring righteousness and salvation and lasting-life to Washington D.C. and every corner of our country?  Take a moment to read this passage, and if your heart is compelled, say a prayer over your city, over our nation, and over the world today.  It is only God who can truly awaken the darkness with His blazing light. We, His people, must not keep silent or give up hope!  

"Because I love Zion,
I will not keep still.
Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem,
I cannot remain silent.
I will not stop praying for her
until her righteousness shines like the dawn,
and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.
The nations will see your righteousness.
World leaders will be blinded by your glory.
And you will be given a new name
by the Lord's own mouth."
Isaiah 62:1-2