Word for the Year: Anticipate

Written by Amber Crafton

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Before last year, I had never participated in the new-year trend of choosing a word or phrase as a theme for the upcoming year. As 2017 came to a close, however, I found myself being drawn into a year-long observance of Advent; as a result, 2018 ended up with the de facto word, WAIT.

My year of Advent didn’t actually come to a close until the middle of January this year, but I began in December trying to think ahead to what I would do once it ended. Part of me longed to just start over and do it all again, but I think that was mostly driven by the fear of being without a plan and by the impending loss of what had become familiar and routine, even if it is meaningful routine. As I thought through what might come after Advent, I gradually found myself searching for a word for 2019, hoping it might help anchor and direct my intention. Several were in the running—I could stick with wait and continue to lean into that, but I was also considering free, whole, and rest. In the end, though, everything that resonated with me about those four words finally condensed down into one:

ANTICIPATE.

If you look up anticipate in the dictionary, you’ll find a bunch of definitions related to preparation and getting ahead of things, but the definition that solidified this word for my 2019 theme is this:

“to look forward to as certain : EXPECT”

Anticipation is a form of waiting, but it’s expectant, forward-looking. Rather than focusing on the present absence or lack inherent in waiting, anticipation holds onto and prepares for the time when the waiting will be answered, when the promise will be fulfilled. In other words, anticipation is faith:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. —Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

This fits so well for me as I proceed through 2019. Last year was all about sitting down in the spaces where I am still waiting for answers and fulfillment, about acknowledging and pressing into the pain, the lack, the confusion, and the uncertainty of my waiting instead of running away from them. But acknowledging and pressing into those painful spaces is only half the journey. I have no timetable—nor any guarantee—for the provision of the answers or fulfillment I long for, so what do I do with those things after I have acknowledged their existence and been honest about the pain they create in my heart? How do I keep from crossing the line into self-indulgent wallowing?

The answer for me is found in the definition of anticipate: I look forward. I lift my eyes (Psalm 121:1), I orient my steps (Philippians 3:13–14), and I fix my heart (Hebrews 11:39–12:2) on the One who promises to uphold me (Isaiah 41:10) in the midst of whatever I may encounter, whether it be trials, joys, or the pain of waiting.

My year of Advent taught me that my waiting is not rooted in the things of this earth that I long for, but rather in my longing for Christ to return and take me home to the eternity with Him that He has promised. But this year, I sense Him shifting my focus to how I wait for that. For me, anticipate is all about the attitude and posture of my heart in my waiting, not the reality of waiting itself. Will I allow the rays of hope to bring light to my pain, or will I wallow in its darkness? Will I dig for joy among the rubble of the brokenness in my story, or will I complain about the pain of gravel under my bare feet? Will I give thanks to and praise the One who makes my paths straight for His name’s sake, or will I shake my fist at Him for leading me through the valley of the shadow of death in the first place? Will I show up when He calls to me, or will I run to lesser lovers?

I confess that all to frequently I choose to wallow, to complain, to shake my fist, and to seek lesser lovers, but I am thankful for a tender, loving, faithful God who never gives up on me and who doesn’t let me give up on myself. I anticipate great things this year. Even if they end up being small great things, I have no doubt they will be nothing short of milestones and markers for my journey homeward, feeding my faith and reminding me every day that “He who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23).



Forever Spring

Written by Dawn Summers

Edited by Tara Sanders

There’s a plant that grows in my garden called a “Bridal Wreath”. Each spring, I especially long for its arrival. When it’s in full bloom, delicate, snow-white flowers completely cover the plant cascading to the ground much like the beautiful veil of a sweet bride on her wedding day. When it’s not in bloom, it’s a lush green bush that never pales even in the dry summer months. If you were to see this plant in the middle of a Midwest winter, you would probably assume that the snow, ice and frigid temperatures have killed this spring beauty. The bush is frail, barren and colorless from November’s first frost all the way up until the sunny, warmth finally arrives in April. Each year, I look at it and think that it may have seen its last bloom. How can it possibly come back to life when it looks dead and lifeless?

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Is this not a tangible picture of the human soul? Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” Although we like to weigh the severity of our sins against the sins of others, the brutal truth is that our sin is all the same. Our sin leaves us broken, impure and in desperate need of redemption. In a sense, we experience the harsh barrenness of winter amidst the sin in our lives. However, we are not lost causes without hope. Jesus Christ, our Savior, went to the cross so that we might have forgiveness of our sins. His death and resurrection offers us healing from the brokenness of that sin and an opportunity to have a relationship with the God who created us! Furthermore, God promises all believers an eternity spent with Him.

In Isaiah 53:5, we learn “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities and the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Our Heavenly Father found it necessary for your sins and mine to be laid entirely on Christ.

Jesus is part of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) so it’s as if God himself is taking our punishment totally upon Himself! Who does that?!

A God who loves us with such ferocity is the only One who COULD do this for us! Jesus’s sinless-life, death and resurrection provided the remedy we need for our sin-filled lives.

As we see in scripture, God continually brings dead things back to life. Resurrection morning brought about a merciful new season for mankind. When we believe in power of His glorious resurrection, claim it and live a life of restoration, our souls can experience a springtime like no other! Just like my “Bridal Wreath”, our lives can shake off its brokenness and burst into bloom! In 2 Corinthians 5:17, we are encouraged, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” Isn’t that the best news ever? I am made new! You are made new! It’s all because of a loving Savior who knew the suffering of the Cross and chose to endure it for us. While the physical season of winter will come and go each year, the bleakness of our souls can forever be replaced by a forever spring!

Sown in Weakness

Written by Abby Larsen

Edited by Amber Crafton

I am self-sufficient. I am independent. I am strong. I can handle this on my own. I have described myself this way since high school.

My writing assignment was on being thankful, and in my independence, I had decided to write about being grateful through pain. (It was going to be good, too . . . real good!) But God graciously pulled back the pages of my past to show me that through all my hardships, trials, mountains, and valleys, He was teaching me to be dependent on him. He was trying to write a beautiful story, and my independence and self-reliance kept getting in the way.

I am smart, but I struggled to make good grades. I want to be a writer, yet I have a learning disability that affects my ability to process language, especially in written form. I wanted to be a mother, and I painfully walked through infertility. I want to be the active, fun mom who participates in my kiddo’s life, but I have lived with chronic pain ever since his birth. As I write this all out, I wonder how I missed all these connections for so long. In every one of those situations I needed outside help. Help from other people and, ultimately, help from God.

Recently I was reading 1 Corinthians 15, trying to make sense of my chronic pain. Starting in verse 42 the Word says,

“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body . . .”

“It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.” This brings me to tears. I feel so weak some days I can hardly breathe, much less confess my weakness. I used to consider the old me and long to get back there, to that version of me. I looked up to that girl. She was strong; she could handle anything. But the Lord is transforming my mind, heart, and soul. The old me couldn’t admit she was weak, that she needed help; the new me knows she is inadequate, frail, and broken, and she is pushing nearer to Jesus for strength, healing, and grace.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12,

“Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses . . . with difficulties for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

These words, ones I have heard a thousand times over, strike me differently and deeper this morning. I can’t say I am well content yet about my difficulties, but I’m seeing a specific purpose in them. My heart is inching closer to a grace-sufficient life and further from a self-sufficient life. And for that, I am thankful.

Weighing Life’s Compatibility

Written by Laura Moore

Edited by Janet Kibler



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Have you ever thought about your compatibility with someone? Or considered the compatibility of two concepts or objects? The question is: Can you or they “exist together in harmony”?[1] Most of us may not realize that we are not only constantly considering our compatibility with other people in friendships, work relationships, romantic relationships, and otherwise, but we are also weighing the compatibility of ideas or objects as we operate in our day-to-day lives. However, when you hear that someone or something is “incompatible with life”, it snags your attention and stops you in your tracks. Imagine that you’re hearing it from a highly-trained specialist, an expert, in regard to your unborn child. This is the scenario my husband and I encountered several times during the pregnancy of our daughter, Helen.  

            Long ago, before I was even pregnant, I whispered a desire for a little girl with blue eyes and blonde curly hair. While I did actually pray for a little girl, I never truly asked for any specific features. Yet God lavishly gave them, answering my unspoken prayers with a resounding and delighted, “Yes!” It was just the right bit of whimsy thrown into the mix that comprises Helen, masterfully designed by my loving heavenly Father.

            But something else coming in the mix nearly crushed us. We were truly unprepared for the onslaught of poor diagnoses and prognoses that followed each high-risk OB visit beginning at 17 weeks of pregnancy. Our sweet Helen was diagnosed with a severe form of skeletal dysplasia in utero, then ever so easily and swiftly declared “incompatible with life.” In the same breath, we were offered termination. It felt like we had the wind knocked out of us. The shock was palpable. For a human to be labeled “incompatible with life”, one is claiming that this being cannot “exist together in harmony” with the natural laws that order and maintain life in the womb and on the planet. And that’s exactly what they meant about Helen. We were specifically told she would likely die in the womb, but if she survived, the chances were high that she would die shortly after birth. We lived in this space for nearly half of the pregnancy, which was miraculously carried to term.        

            Many tests were recommended and termination was offered multiple times . While we did allow some genetic testing, we declined several key tests that the experts wanted to perform. Our viewpoint was and is that God actually determines compatibility. He chose Helen; thus He made her compatible simply because she exists. Any test we allowed would further enable us to anticipate and care for her needs. We chose life because it had already been predetermined for us. It is a gracious gift and we have all received grace upon grace.

            We had all of the expert doctors on our case: the doctor “who wrote the book on reading ultrasounds”, the best maternal-fetal medicine doctors from the children’s hospital in our city, and other high-risk OBs weighing in. At least two of them used the term “incompatible with life” without consulting one another. Using the latest technology, including a fetal MRI, Helen was given another bleak diagnosis in the third trimester, albeit less severe than before. All of these experts believed our daughter was severely deformed and that she would certainly have a difficult life ahead.

            It was at this point that my high-risk pregnancy got even more complicated. I was developing a placenta abruption and began to bleed. This is an obstetrical emergency, and it happened multiple times, but with just enough days without bleeding so as to recover in between. All-told, Helen and I spent 37 days total in the hospital while this abruption was slowly tearing the placenta away from my uterus. We had several Level II fetal ultrasounds per week, including a specific test where the sonographer needs to document certain markers of healthy growth and development. The baby must move during the ultrasound, the heart must beat a certain number of beats per minute, and the baby must hiccough or breathe during the test. These are measures of compatibility with life and they are used to determine if the baby is failing to thrive, which then leads to recommending termination or pre-term delivery. We must have had about 30 ultrasounds in total and nearly all of them were stressful and discouraging. But we chose to cling to the signs of life, like watching Helen hiccough during the ultrasound, having the sonographer point out her curly hair, and feeling her kicking vigorously inside the womb. While we listened to and thoughtfully heeded most of the advice of our doctors, we prayerfully relied on our Great Physician who sovereignly knew every detail of Helen’s growth and development. We leaned heavily on the One who was in control over the seemingly uncontrollable bleeding.

            It must be said: doctors are good and necessary in this life. Yet the best of them will be the first to tell you that they do not know it all…that they’re not always right. They were wrong about my girl —thank God-but I shudder to think of all of those other expecting mothers and fathers who unquestioningly trusted their doctors’ misdiagnoses and fearfully aborted a perfectly wonderful, though flawed and needy human being…one like Helen or you or me. They bought into the misconception of “incompatibility with life.” They didn’t know the peace that flows from resting in God’s knowledge of us as He created our innermost being, knitting us together in our mothers’ wombs. His eyes saw our unformed bodies as He made us in the secret place, skillfully and thoughtfully crafted in the depths of the earth. All of our ordained days are written in His book even before one of them comes to pass! We each are fearfully (reverently) and wonderfully made because all of His works are wonderful.[2]

            The hope we have as Christians is that every human being is compatible with life— whether it be long or short in duration, or atypical here on this earth — because we know every soul is wrought for eternity. Thus we are all ultimately compatible with life because God is the giver of life; we are merely stewards of it.

            To Helen’s doctors, she was only a cluster of (mis)disgnoses. To us, she was a gift and a member of our family. On the day she was born, we were frankly expecting to see a grossly deformed person. My first thought when I saw her was, “She’s beautiful!”, because I was honestly surprised that she looked normal…in truth, compatible. Life is surprising, isn’t it?

            Her diagnosis was a blessing disguised as something wrong or unpleasant. But because God is in the business of resurrecting life from death, beauty from ashes, wholeness from brokenness, joy from sorrow, blessing from cursing, hope from despair, peace from turmoil, healing from pain, we do not lose heart. Helen is a living testimony of Romans 8:28 which states that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” It means that God’s limitless power is at work and He is able to take what is messy and broken and make it into something astoundingly beautiful if we are willing to entrust it all to Him. And He’s proven Himself trustworthy.

            There are so many other aspects to this story, but the most soul-stirring, confidence-boosting moments came from a strong sense of the nearness of God as we cried out to Him. As we draw near to God, He draws near to us (James 4:8). There were many truths He impressed upon my heart, but the main one that often comes back to my mind is when He told me, “I have the last word.” Not expert doctors, not anybody else.  My confidence in Him soared because of His knowledge and ability to create and sustain life even though I was shaking in my boots over all the surrounding negativity and uncertainty. 

            Our Helen-girl carries a different but potentially debilitating diagnosis in her  frame, though she has a much brighter prognosis than in-utero. As it turns out, her slightly atypical skeletal structure is perfectly (imperfectly?) compatible with life as she functions and grows. Mercifully, there is even a treatment to aid her bone development. And all the experts didn’t see it coming!

            She is the embodiment of where brokenness and beauty intersect. There is so much more to the story, and we pray there’s even more to come. We are so grateful she has joined our family and we get to journey together in this wonderfully messy, painfully beautiful, blessed life.

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[1] Merriam-Webster

[2] Taken from Psalm 139

A Humble Response

I was mad, hurt, and embarrassed. For no reason at all, she had called me out; disagreeing with my leadership and causing me to question every decision I had made. I wanted to run and hide. I wanted to scream. I wanted to ban this person from my presence forever!

My pride was hurt.

I felt flushed.

Then worry set in. Did I handle the situation correctly? What were the other people in the room thinking about me?

My reaction surprised even myself. How could I get so defensive so quickly? Did I possess any patience at all? What was wrong with me?!

I struggled for several weeks over the situation. I had been leading a committee meeting as Chair, and when I presented my ideas for an event, it seemed that I hit a nerve with another committee member. I was completely taken off guard by her strong response and left feeling like a huge failure.

During the weeks that followed, I wrestled with how to handle her, the situation, and how to move on. I felt guilty, though I had meant no harm and was simply presenting the plans that had been previously approved by those in authority of me. Unfortunately, her reaction left me feeling like a joke; an inept, immature, weak leader not knowing what to do or how to change.

What came next was one of the greatest revelations from the Lord that I have ever experienced as a ministry leader. God is always so faithful and this circumstance was no different.

As I sought the Lord for wisdom, and the words to say to help mend the situation, God brought me to this all too familiar portion of scripture.

I Corinthians chapter 13

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

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

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I had read these verses before. In fact, I had even memorized this chapter at one point in my adolescence, but this time the words had a different ring to them.

As I read back through the verses slowly, the Holy Spirit started to work on my heart. I realized that no matter what I did or how well I did it, it really meant nothing if there was no sincere love behind it. I could graduate from seminary with flying colors. I could sing beautiful songs every Sunday. I could give to the poor, rescue the orphan, and care for the widow, but if I didn’t perform these deeds drenched with God’s unconditional love, they would mean nothing.

That really hit me hard. As a person who tends towards being performance based and seeks the approval of others, I realized that I could never be successful as a leader by simply being in charge. I needed to have a sincere, fervent, God-given affection for every person that God placed in my path no matter what.

It was clear that God was calling me to humble myself before this individual. I met with her, read these verses to her, and explained what God had done. It was amazing to see the immediate change in our relationship and the ease in which she listened and calmly responded to the conversation. It was as though, through the scripture, God laid a blanket of peace over the situation.

Photo by Ben White

Photo by Ben White

I have heard I Corinthians 13 so many times, and been taught from it through many sermons, but this time it really hit home.

Without LOVE…true sincere LOVE, I am completely ineffective. It doesn’t matter how clever my ideas are or how beautifully I present them, if I don’t take good care of my team, and respond lovingly even when they disagree with me, it will be difficult to garnish their trust and respect.

I have an executive personality. Anyone else? I just see the plan and I make it happen, but sometimes I forget to be sensitive to people along the way. In the end, the most important thing is our relationship with one other and being a mirror of God’s love in the way we interact with people in any situation.






In All Things

Written by Laura Crist

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This past Sunday, a woman stood up at our church, raised her hand and thanked God with tears streaming down her face and lights beaming off her beautiful bald head. She was thanking God in the midst of her battle with cancer. I - and the entire congregation - did a double take as I listened to her thank God for the cancer, because of all the ways He is blessing her during this time. Collectively, I'd wager we were all simultaneously struck dumbfounded by her faith, inspired to reach a little deeper in our own, and yet marveling how this could be. Lord, help me to live like that, but preferably without the cancer. 

I cannot speak to that kind of tragedy. Most of us are accustomed to this exercise: surveying what seem like impossibly crushing circumstances, wondering at those who endure and even overcome through them, and under our breaths thanking God that that is not our fate. Even we who preach, and truly believe, that He is good in all things. That He is enough for every trial.   

I may not yet have suffered what I'd imagined to be my life’s worst-case scenario - the ultimate test of faith - and perhaps neither have you. But chances are we've lived long enough to experience true suffering, real hardship, trials that left us helpless and speechless and, aside from a loving and living God, all but hopeless.  I have not yet mastered the art of giving thanks in all things, as Paul instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. But I do like to think He has grown my perspective to be able to give thanks for many things I never once thought possible, at least on the other side of them. These ways He's proved faithful, time and time again; these "Aha" moments of seeing terrible and painful circumstances work out into something beautiful before my eyes - this is not knowledge God owes me. But they are mercies that slowly grow my faith and prepare me for the next trials. 

I have not personally faced cancer. But I have suffered through years of infertility. Questions without answers - many for which we still have no answers. I know what it's like to fill my days so full that maybe I will forget to feel enough to drench my pillow at night. I know what it is like to feel stuck in a painful wait with no signs of an end and no faith to see the end. The frustration of a (very supportive) husband who has only the best intentions when he tells me He feels God has told him we will have a child, and I have had no such revelation. No amount of present joy can make me forget the very real valley we lingered in for so long and the depth of pain. If I let it, the pain and the whys and the what-ifs could still consume me. 

I once was blind to God's work in this area of my life, but now I see. 

Now I can give thanks in all things - or at least in infertility. Now I can even give thanks for that infertility. It is the only reason I have my son. It is the only reason I now know and dearly love like family a dozen different people who I didn't know a year ago and never would have otherwise met. 

I cannot imagine a greater display of God's miraculous intervention in my life than what He did through adoption to bring us our son. I cannot imagine our story unfolding in any other way.  

In December of 2016, the Lord broke my heart and any hopes that fertility treatments might be successful. I remember the exact place and moment when the doctor's office called to tell me we'd have to abandon our plan that month because my blood work had come back so bad. And though we had not been down that road long and were far from exhausting all medical options, I somehow knew in my gut that we were meant to be done pursuing that path. 

What I did not know at that moment was that my son was already growing inside his first mother's belly. What I could not have comprehended at that moment of deep grief and loss, was that I would have a son almost exactly nine months later. 

I could not have known that the next two months of contemplating further treatments would *almost* waste precious time we didn't have. Or that the very early stages of the adoption process we had started to tiptoe through would give us only days to spare in completing a home study and the mounds of required paperwork that were submitted just days before my son's birth. That God would give the special needs, not-child-friendly foster pup, who looked like he'd be with us forever, a home just two weeks prior to finding out about our son, so that we wouldn't have to worry with the practical and emotional hassle of doing so. Or that God would use a small group of men - in which I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with him confiding - to connect us with my son’s birth family.  If you’d told us in late April, when we began baby-stepping into the adoption process, that we’d be holding the newborn child of our prayers and dreams just 101 days later, I would never have believed you. I would have laughed in your face like Abraham’s wife Sarah, and I might have punched you just for good measure.

Sometimes time and distance allow us to explain away or grow indifferent to the direct, personal work of an almighty God in our lives. I honestly don't know, as I recount all the details of our son's adoption story, how I could ever arrive at that place. And I hope I never do.

What I can tell you is that I have already, many times over, forgotten His goodness in moments when event the smallest life stressors appear: when the basement floods and the pipes disconnect, when the bathtub leaks and the AC fails and the insurance bails and the hubby leaves me hanging. When the miraculous baby boy-now a full blown toddler-resists the diaper change, determined to cover us both in poo. How can I so soon forget His goodness? When did I stop praying for a blessing and start sweating when any sign of trouble appears?

I sense the urgency with which I must get about the business of learning the lifelong art of gratitude. The call to start does not wait for the circumstances of my life to settle in order around me; I am called to a state of gratitude in the midst of demands that cannot be met, tempers that flare, spilled milk, impossible deadlines and even more impossible colleagues and family members. I am called to gratitude when the enemy has whispered in my ear that nothing will go right and there really is no good in the world, so why bother? 

If this sounds impossible for my human efforts, perhaps that is because it is. For me, there is no single way to maintain a heart and mind of gratitude outside of a focus on Jesus. He alone opens my eyes to my own deceptive thoughts that rob me of joy; He alone helps me to see the beauty and gifts of the moment when, to my natural eyes and those of the world around me, all looks bleak. He alone nudges me back to Him when my resolve and my eyes have focused on lesser treasures here below. He alone, not only provided, but gave me the gift of seeing that provision play out before my eyes in a way that boosts my faith and becomes a touch point for trusting him over and over again, even when circumstances in my future may not come together so clearly this side of heaven. And though I will continue to fail, I know He alone will patiently keep showing me how it is possible to give thanks in all things. 

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Anticipating a Hard Season

Written by: Christina M. Clardy

Edited by: Janet Kibler

Fall. The word itself makes me smile. It’s the season when verdant trees trade their play clothes for vibrant gowns of flaming foliage. The warmth and heat of sun has poured itself into every leaf, leaving the air cool and refreshing as we pull on extra layers. Our sight instead of our skin is dazzled by the sun’s touch. I can never get my fill of pumpkins on front steps, spiced baked goods, and seasonal coffees, of crunching through trails lined with leaves giving off their last beauty before melting into the soil. This is the time of year that my kids pull on pants for the first time in many months underscoring just how much their legs have grown over the summer. They head to school full of enthusiasm, ready to learn new things and fill up a clean slate with who they are becoming.  This is fall to me: lovely, comforting, and exciting. I anticipate the arrival every year as sweltering August slides into nipping September.

Fall is different this year. What is spread out across the horizon are ugly words like cancer and chemotherapy. While many are planning school shopping, apple picking, and homecoming, I am looking through our family calendar trying to figure out if I will be wretchedly sick during three of our six immediate family member’s birthdays. Instead of lovely, comforting and exciting, I am dreading the fall, something I have never done. It’s a heavy burden that I do not want to carry. It’s a load that I don’t want my loved ones to shoulder, even if only in part.

What can I possibly do about the ugly, hard, dark things that seem to overshadow the simple joys of the season? How can I let the delicious remain exquisite while being honest about our current reality? I cannot help but admit that I am tempted to be bitter as I ask all the normal questions. Why me? Why our family? Why now? However, I have allowed pain to grow bitter roots inside of me before and I know that it is like rotting from the inside out. Having the physical picture of how cancer can do the same, I know I want none of that. I want the opposite. I want growth. I want growing even if it is slow and laborious. God is pretty explicit in His word that this is what He wants for me too. What He wants for each of His children is to be moving toward something better than ourselves.

I grow in hardship when I begin with joy. This seems contrary to what I am internally experiencing. My antennae are up because I don’t want to be one of those Christians who moves past the hard things too quickly. I don’t want to candy coat or tie things up in neat packages. The book of James says this, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” At first glance, I want to incredulously ask, “What?!? You want me to consider trials a joy?” The reality is that the joy is not found in the trial itself. God does not ask us to call the sad, happy or the painful, pain-free. He shows us pain and grief throughout the Bible. He admits our trials will test our faith. That they are not easy. Instead, He is calling me to see that my hardship is producing something in me that is pulling me toward Christlikeness. This molding to be more like my Jesus, is this not what I truly want, even if it hurts? This is what I find joy in. When the surgery that removed my tumor forces me to learn how to rebuild muscles and nerves so that I may walk again, when I suffer the sickness, weakness, and loss of so many things while chemo kills both the healthy cells and the cancerous ones, God is producing something in me. He promises it in these verses and many others. I get the uncomfortable, gracious privilege of developing into someone who resembles Jesus more and more. I become steadfast and more complete. I have not arrived, but my pain allows me to arrive one day at the feet of Jesus more like Him. So that when I say I am a Christian, I may actually look like Christ! The joy is realized when my eyes are open to see that what I would normally consider a burden is actually an opportunity. Isn’t this just like God? He uses people and circumstances as a means to accomplish things in ways that we would never choose. He is the ultimate transformer. The ugly becomes beautiful, the hurtful is reshaped to be useful, and the sinful is made holy.

I will grieve; I will doubt at times, and if I am honest, there will be sincere misery. I will think how wretched this body of mine is, how I want to be done with this trial, and how I desire to be with Him in heaven. I will long for the mountain top after this steep, aching climb. However, I will not lose hope. He promises that there is purpose in my pain.

Losing *the Illusion of* Control

Written by Laura Crist

Have you ever felt like you didn’t have control over a single thing in your own life? Like the Earth is spinning wildly off its axis and there is absolutely nothing you can do or say to change it? Perhaps you’ve experienced just one bad Murphy’s Law Monday, or a month -  even a year - of bad Mondays where nothing seems to go your way.

When I was just 31, I was told that it would be extremely difficult for me to have biological children, even with the assistance of the most advanced fertility treatments. The news came after two years of attempting to get pregnant, with no other health issues to note.

Rewind back through those years before that diagnosis to when I was 29 and newly married. I had been like most ambitious modern women I know: assuming I could keep pouring everything into my career, and the baby(ies) would just happen when I got ready - presumably at some point in my early-to-mid 30’s. If anything, I figured my husband’s age might affect any future children (he is thirteen years my senior).

I should also confess that I happen to have my PhD in the art of being in control. I am a woman of decision and action, a mission-minded mama who lives for a cause to fight, a problem to fix and a wrong to right. I get a rush out of taking risks and making moves where others might be too scared (or too wise?) to act. I am the woman who, fresh out of college, barged into a campaign headquarters and worked my way into a press secretary job on a top congressional race with no prior experience and the audacity to believe that I could. In similar fashion, I forged my way to Washington, D.C. to pursue a political and congressional career 800 miles away from home. But the decisiveness and quickness to act that had served me well in my career in politics was pretty darn useless in the doctor’s office.

Weeks and months of trying to get pregnant had turned into years, and I began to get a sinking feeling. You know the one where your gut confirms your worst fears before anyone else recognizes it or dares to say it out loud? I look back now and realize the Holy Spirit was beginning to gently break me and prepare me for the disappointments ahead. Still, I told myself, I had met tough odds before. Surely this was something we could address with vitamins, a diet change, a slower-paced work environment? I was even open to fertility aids as a last resort. Our faith was a nice backup. But we also had a plan.

I distinctly remember leaving doctors’ offices feeling sick to my stomach, confused, and just plain angry. One highly-recommended clinic overwhelmed us with information, but all I remembered was a smug male doctor bragging: “You’re young; we’ll have you pregnant in no time.” I literally ran out of his office knowing that nothing was further from the truth.

By the time I did finally receive a very different diagnosis (from a very different doctor), the bad news felt almost as therapeutic as a cure. Mostly because she leveled with me and didn’t pretend to have godlike powers. She counseled us that we didn’t have time to waste on milder medications and treatments, and suggested we go straight to the most invasive and aggressive options available. Ultimately I ended up not even being a good candidate for the options she recommended.  I slowly began to come to grips with the reality that this was a case where I had absolutely no control. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

The fear of losing control has driven many a person into deep depression; including me. And while I am certainly not qualified to counsel the clinically depressed, I do think there’s a healthy exercise to be had for the rest of us if we stopped and considered: What if I’m really not in control?  I’m not just talking about matters of elusive fertility or life and death. But what if many of the things we spend our everydays toiling and sweating and worrying over are not actually ours to own? Suspend your modern, Western, progressive-individualistic thinking for a moment to consider it. What if we are kidding ourselves - and killing ourselves - over the illusion that we are somehow in control of our little worlds that exist inside a much-bigger universe that precedes us and will be here long after we are gone?

It is just this kind of reminder that God gives in Job 38, when he asks of his servant:

v. 4-33 "Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?... Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days? … Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?... Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?"

Jesus rebukes in similar fashion in his famous sermon on the mount as recorded in Matthew 6:

v. 27-28 "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? ... Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin…"

Talk about perspective. Yet these are not just cruel cosmic smackdowns from the Creator to put his creation in check. We are also meant to be reminded, with the severest of mercy, that we are not in control and that that is the best gift we could ever ask for.

God goes on to remind Job that it is He who sends the rain upon the earth and He who provides for the ravens. Jesus reminds us that we are much more precious to Him than the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field He clothes with such care.

That’s a hard pill to swallow that in the midst of a Job-like trial or devastating life circumstances. This sassy, headstrong, make-it-happen, independent woman was broken by the reality of a deeply personal and painful shattered dream as well as the fact that I had absolutely no say in the matter. Looking back, I’m honestly not certain I could tell you which of these stung more.

Yet, it was also strangely freeing. Like a lightbulb in my heart, as I began to feel released from my illusions of control, I also began to feel released from so many burdens I had toiled and fretted over for years. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I had reason to stop showing up to work, check out of my obligations, and go off the grid. But I felt lifted of the weight of all the things for which I mistakenly thought the universe was depending on me: my perfect daily performance, others’ decisions and plights, outcomes and circumstances that far exceeded my grasp.

Just like the doctor who shot me straight and saved me the time and suffering of chasing down false cures and treatments. Who relieved me of the fallacy that I could muscle our way to a miracle.

The moment of my biggest defeat somehow also became the moment of my greatest freedom and renewal of hope. The release to start dreaming for a very different future than either my husband or I had ever before imagined.

You see, in the background, God had been working to pull us toward adoption, and surrounding us with resources as well as patient, compassionate adoptive families.

Sometimes you think you understand a scripture. And then God lets you live it.

In Matthew 16, Jesus instructs the disciples:

v.25 "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."

This verse is so much bigger than whatever pieces of our life we are clinging to at the moment, under the illusion we are in control. It’s even bigger than God showing up to give us something as good as a child, which he ultimately did. It’s recognizing that our lives were never ours to begin with. It is the freedom of relinquishing our hearts and our minds to what is true, as opposed to being bound in the dark with the comfort of a lie.

No two fertility journeys are the same, and what God had for us was what God had for us and no one else. Still I am convinced that, had we continued to blindly pursue fertility treatments, we would have missed out on our son.

It is so clear to me now how God worked to break my plans and show me I was merely operating under the illusion of control. As a type-A person, I have far from perfected the art of letting go and looking to God (my hubby likes to say I want to “put a steering wheel on” everything). But every time we are tempted, we need only look at our beautiful, bubbly baby boy to remember once more.

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I’ve come to find that the moments we see ourselves as the most helpless are also our moments of most clarity and freedom. And the many moments we are tempted to think we are in control of our lives, to the exclusion of our Almighty God on His throne, we are actually the most deceived.

Years ago, I might have told you I had perfected the art of taking charge of my life. Today, I will tell you that I only ever have had the illusion of control. And losing it is the best thing that ever happened to me.

To learn more about Laura and all of our amazing contributors, please visit out "Contributors" page to see their profiles.

The Unexpected Obstacle (Part 2 of 2)

Written by Janet Kibler

Edited by Becky Tankersley

Some people may skeptically raise their eyebrows at the mention of healing. But I believe what the Bible says about the power of Christ to heal. I myself was miraculously and instantaneously healed at the age of 13 after battling depression and OCD for years. My mind has been free from the prison of dark and obsessive thoughts from that day until now, so I know now nothing is impossible for God.

It took us about six weeks to get through all of the insurance and paperwork to set up early intervention, but before that even began, Braxton started to do very surprising things. The entries in my calendar went from one or two new things a week to dozens and dozens of observations a day-words spoken, changes in play, reduction in repetitive behaviors, and more. When therapy began, imagine my surprise as we discovered that all the work I had been doing with Braxton closely resembled Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy! ABA is considered THE most effective treatment for children on the spectrum. Over and over, therapists made suggestions and handed me sheets of activities and I would say, “Oh, I’ve been doing that already!” I believe God gave me supernatural wisdom and put those ideas in my mind. He gave Braxton a jumpstart on recovery!

Braxton kept making rapid progress. My calendar was crammed full of new and exciting signs in teeny tiny writing to get it all to fit, but strangely, I kept battling disappointment. I think I truly was expecting to wake up one morning, peer into the crib, and find God had completely healed him overnight. I struggled to trust in the Lord’s ways. At one point I threw up my hands and said to myself, “Okay, it just is what it is and I’m going to have to accept that!” That very Sunday as our pastor was praying to open the service, he felt the Lord give him a word for someone in the congregation. He said that someone was discouraged with a situation and had decided it is what it is, but God was saying “It is what I say it’s going to be.” I sat up very straight in my seat after that. The Lord revealed to me this was going to be a stitch-by-stitch deal and I needed to decide right then whether to trust in Him even when the situation wasn’t looking so good. I marvel at His mercy in picking me up and putting me back on the path of faith even when I was ignoring all of the amazing things we were seeing in Braxton.

Looking back, one of the most wonderful things about facing this obstacle has been how God revealed his character to me, how he gave me scriptures to address my worries, and sent people to speak words of encouragement just at the right moment. Jesus is intimately acquainted with our sufferings and wants us to know how deeply he cares for us.

At a critical moment in my journey,  I began to go over and over in my mind what happened, and tried to figure out if there was something I had done (or hadn’t done) that caused Braxton’s condition. I was burdened down with feelings of guilt, wondering if I should have spotted something earlier, or fed him a special diet from the beginning knowing my family history. I asked Jamie over and over if he thought the changes we observed coincided with any vaccinations he was given. Should I have paid more attention to him instead of leaving him to his own devices during the first trimester of my second pregnancy? I was making myself nuts, no question about it. Out of the blue, a good friend texted me. Our conversation  went something like this:

Friend: I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but God has been putting something on my heart to tell you. He wants me to say, “Remember, it’s not your fault.”

Me: (crying a little) Wow! Just yesterday I wished I could know for sure that it wasn’t something I had done to cause Braxton’s condition. God was spying on my thoughts! Well…obviously.

Friend: Oh good! I didn’t want to sound crazy!

It amazes me how God knew my thoughts and cared too much to let me stay in that place of negativity. He wanted to set me free so I could continue to move forward and see all the marvelous things he was going to do. The reason I’m sharing my testimony is because the Lord spoke to me and asked me to begin giving Him the glory now, before seeing the completion of the work. My task is to “declare the victory while triumph is still on its way”. It’s a huge risk. I could very well end up looking foolish, but I feel this is what God is asking me to do. This is my act of faith.

The journey with Braxton continues. We have watched his repetitive behaviors disappear one by one. He has gone from signing to telling us jokes and enjoying saying his bedtime prayers. We have seen him go from complete indifference to hugging his little sister when she cries. I see a charming little boy with a giant smile and a very well-developed sense of humor. I cried when he asked Jesus into his heart and again as I stood beside him during his baptism and heard his simple profession of faith.

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This journey has become an amazing gift. I’m not sure when it went from an obstacle to a springboard for my faith, but it has. I am privileged be Braxton’s mom and see life from his unique point of view. I have been given deep insights into the character of God and His unfathomable love for me and my family. The very notion of writing this story was born of the revelation of God’s love for each and every mother and the challenges we all face. God has asked me to be a part of sharing His love with you. What an amazing thing!

I can tell you with certainty each one of you has a special place in the heart of God. He is concerned about your hurts and struggles and the thoughts that weigh you down. He longs to speak into your life as specifically as He has spoken into mine. If you will let Him, He will walk beside you every step of the way and help shoulder the load.

The Unexpected Obstacle (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Janet Kibler

Edited by Becky Tankersley

Braxton was a typical baby. His birth was healthy and not out of the ordinary in any way (a typical C-section delivery, hardly uncommon these days). As new parents, we worried about all the usual things…how to get him to latch properly, how to get him to sleep through the night, and so on. He hit every milestone on time or even early. He was an extremely outgoing and flirty baby. He babbled and did anything to get the attention of the room. I was head over heels for the little guy.

Sometime between 11 and 12 months of age things began to change. Right before his first birthday, Braxton suddenly rejected all of the finger foods he had been enjoying and only wanted the smoothest of pureed baby foods. I heard the term “regression” before in connection with autism and other disorders and panicked, calling my mom. She suggested he might be teething and would be fine once the worst of the pain and soreness passed. It sounded plausible to me and I didn’t want to overreact, so I accepted it. It was better than the alternative and besides, he was still a happy little guy who was learning to walk right on time.

Then other unusual things started popping up. Braxton got quieter and didn’t really babble much anymore. I didn’t hear “dada” or “milk” (which was his first word). He played very busily and didn’t like to be interrupted. He developed an obsession with pulling up grass and sprinkling it from his hands. He never got tired of it. It was cute at first but after a while became concerning. At 14 months he was the ring bearer in my sister’s wedding. As I stood beside my sister as her matron of honor and watched Braxton being led up to the altar, I noticed instead of looking around at all of the guests, Braxton stared up at the lights the entire time. I thought, “That’s odd!” At his 15 month appointment I asked the pediatrician if he was concerned to see Braxton acting so busy and not making eye contact with him. My pediatrician felt I was overly nervous and reading too much into things. He gave me the screening questionnaire to pacify me, but between him and my husband, I felt pressured to adjust some of my answers. Is he making eye contact? Well, not NEVER, but I felt like he should have been making a lot more. I checked the yes box anyway. At 16 months he was still not talking, but I was a month away from giving birth to our daughter and couldn’t really deal with anything more. I decided to keep an eye on things and gave myself a deadline of 18 months old to see if Braxton started hitting milestones again.

About two months later we were all relaxing together as a family. I was nursing Ainsley and watching Braxton play. He was standing at my dresser flicking the handle over and over. My heart suddenly sank and I just knew Braxton was nowhere near where he should be for his age. Something was definitely up. I turned to my husband and asked him to call the pediatrician immediately and get us an evaluation. He protested, but as I listed all the reasons for my concern I could see his countenance drop as he began to realize what I said made sense and was not an overreaction. Children at 18 months are pointing at things and watching their parents’ faces to take social cues from them. They find pleasure in animals or pictures of recognizable things and can usually identify them by name or the sounds they make. Braxton didn’t care about any of those things. In fact, he only cared about the flashing lights on his toys, not comprehending their larger meaning. He smiled up at the foyer light as if it was his best friend.

We arranged to have him evaluated at Kennedy-Krieger Center. We completed the phone interview in November but the first available appointment was February 10th, my birthday. I didn’t care--I just wanted answers.

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We started the waiting game. We prayed, we researched, and we tried to convince ourselves it wasn’t autism. I have been a Christian since four years old. I tried my best to keep faith, but I bounced between faith and anger. I questioned God’s will…a LOT. I was angry with him many times and told him so. I told him I didn’t think that it was fair to put this on us after going through all the fertility treatments to conceive Braxton. We had paid our dues up front and deserved a break. It was wrong to make Braxton struggle with this. I told him many things. But God is merciful and loving. He can handle our true feelings, including our anger, and wants us to be honest with him. He knows what we are thinking anyway, so why try to hide anything from him? He would much rather help us carry our burdens than have us pull away. Despite my struggles and faltering faith, He sustained me.

During this breathless time of waiting, something miraculous started to happen. I suddenly had an enormous burst of energy and began trying anything I could think of to break through the darkness that settled over Braxton. Between caring for an infant, I talked to him all day long… non-stop. I paired it with sign language. I tried all sorts of social games to get him to interact and make eye contact. I played with him hand-over-hand to show him how to properly use toys, what they do, and how they relate to real life. It was extremely intense.

At my mom’s suggestion, I began to jot down any type of progress on a yearly calendar she gave me. I did anything I could to help us stay positive. Then it was February 10th, my birthday. After a long trip to Baltimore and an even longer evaluation, the doctor told us he was confident Braxton would fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. When we finally got back home, we shared birthday cake with my parents, but it was pretty quiet and somber. We were all in a daze trying to absorb the news.

Numb and filled with grief, we asked my in-laws to take the children for the weekend so we could take a little time for ourselves. It truly was like mourning the death of a child. You have this little boy who you know and love and suddenly he is replaced with a total stranger. That Sunday morning in church, I sat there like a stone. I didn’t hear a word that was said or have any idea what was going on. All the possible implications of the diagnosis were hitting me. What if Braxton never learned to speak? Would I ever hear him say he loved me? Would he ever be capable of affection? Would we ever be able to make him understand what it means to have a relationship with Christ and walk in His ways? As I sat there grieving, I felt what could only be described at the presence of God stealing over me like a gentle embrace. I knew the Holy Spirit wanted to comfort me. His presence grew stronger and stronger until I became aware of this all-consuming desire… to worship! I could think of nothing else. My whole situation faded away as it was replaced by a powerful sense of the sovereignty of God. By this time, the pastor was making the call to prayer. I flew up to the altar and fell face down praising and worshiping the Lord. I couldn’t stop! And as I did, the Lord spoke scripture after scripture to my heart and assured me Braxton would be able to fulfill the purpose for which he was created… to worship the Lord and enjoy him forever. I went home filled with incredible peace and ready to face the challenge.

I knew the Lord would do one of two things:

A. He would give me the grace to handle whatever this diagnosis meant.

Or

B. He would heal Braxton.

I’ll Be a Better Mom...Tomorrow

Written and Edited by Tara Sanders

Her squishy little face and those big blue eyes were looking right at me. 

“Mommy, are you awake?”

“No,” I said with a wink. 

As she crawled into bed with me for a quick morning snuggle I could hear her baby brother screaming from the next room.

Was it already time to get up?!

Since her little brother was born, I haven’t made it to bed before midnight or slept longer than 7am. It takes what feels like forever to unwind, but then the morning comes so quickly. I keep telling myself that I’ll go to bed earlier, but I have yet to execute on that plan. 

Before having kids, I had dreams of being this super mom like the ones I see on Instagram. Their kids are decked out in the latest outfits from Mini Boden and the mom looks so cute. Her hair is done and she has full make-up on.

It’s so dreamy to imagine a life like that, but who are these people? I’m lucky if I get to shower, and my kids are probably wearing what they wore the day before (if it’s still clean). Make-up? Perhaps a smithering of mascara to look less scary, but that’s usually all I have time for. 

The homes of these illustrious Insta-moms are decorated with the latest thing from West Elm, while most days my house looks like a scene from the movie Twister and my kids are running around me like whirling dervishes as I try to vacuum for the umpteenth time.

I dream about having a clean house with all the laundry done, but I’ve been told that won’t happen until they go to school. I’ve also been told that I should drink in these days of having Little’s before they grow up and start hating everything I say. But sometimes I just wish they could feed themselves breakfast and change their own diapers. 

And that’s not the tipping point. You know it’s really bad when you hide in the bathroom to check social media. The bathroom is honestly the only place I can be totally alone at any given time, and even then there’s always a risk that someone will come and find you. 

I’m overwhelmed. 

But every time I think those little dervishes are going to break me, something happens to restore my faith in motherhood. Sometimes its a good behavior or putting into practice something that I taught them. Sometimes it’s a moment of sheer joy or contentment when I feel like I’m their biggest hero. 

On the days when no one gets a bath and we eat grocery store pizza for dinner, I think to myself, “Tomorrow I’ll do better!” 

I’ll do better the next day. I’ll be on top of things. Everyone will have a bubble bath, we’ll eat roast chicken, and peace will reign in the Sanders house once again.

One of the most important lessons I learned about parenting was in college and the advice was from one of my guy friends. It was an unlikely source of deep parental wisdom, yet it became a moment that I go back to again and again when I feel like a total failure as a mom. 

After a disappointing summer as a camp counselor, I met my friend at a local coffee shop to catch up. I was in the middle of venting about my horrible summer and what a terrible camp counselor I was, when he chimed in with a piece a wisdom far beyond both of our years and something that has always stuck with me. 

It went something like this: 

Jeremiah: Tara, did you feed those kids lunch everyday?

Me: Yes

Jeremiah: Tara, did you keep those kids safe everyday?

Me: Yes

Jeremiah: Did you love those kids well?

Me: Yes

Jeremiah: Well then, you did your job by taking care of those kids the best you could. If you don’t see the fruit of that it doesn’t mean that you didn’t do a good job.

Phew!

Wherever you are Jeremiah, thank you for those words. I’m holding on to them when I feel like the worst mom ever. I’m also trying to remember that I’m not the source of their ultimate joy and satisfaction in life. I’m learning day by day to surrender that to the Lord.

So for now, I’ll kiss those sweet faces, feed them nutritious food, change all the diapers, read them lots of stories and not wish away today for what may or may not be a better tomorrow. 

 

 

 

Out of Hiding

Written by Becky Tankersley

Edited by Tara Sanders

My 6-year old and I went shopping for some t-shirts for school. (We live in Atlanta which means it can be chilly in the morning and hot by noon, so we layer up!) She picked out a shirt with text message emojis because she thought it was super cute, and she felt excited to wear it.

Later that week I helped her pick out her clothes for school. I held up the shirt and said “Hey, do you want to wear your new shirt tomorrow?”

She shuffled her feet and looked down. “No….” she replied. “Why not?” I asked, surprised.

“Well… I’m afraid the other kids at school won’t like it, and they’ll get mad at me or think it’s dumb.”

I felt a bit stunned. I knew this day would come; the day when the opinions of others and the judgements of this world would impact her choices and her feelings about herself. But I’ll be honest—I didn’t expect it to start at 6. I thought this was one of those tween or pre-teen problems that was a few years ahead of us; certainly not now. A small piece of my heart broke for her, and hurt welled in me over our broken world—a world that would make my precious girl ever doubt how amazing and incredible she is. This—the doubts—starts now; at the sweet, tender age of 6.

As a woman, and as a person, I certainly relate to how she feels. Can’t we all? Doubt is always there in the back of our minds, making us question what we say, what we do, what we wear, and how we behave. It’s exhausting.

This week as I spent time in God’s word, and the Lord spoke to me about these feelings we all experience; the doubt, the fear of judgement, and most of all our inclination to hide. These are not new concepts.

“But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”” 

~Genesis 3:9-10 (NIV)

From the beginning of time, actually, since the fall, we’ve been hiding from God. In Genesis we’re told God was walking through the garden when Adam and Eve, ashamed for disobeying God, hid from Him. They were afraid, and doubted His love for them. God was there… God was seeking them out… God was looking for them. Why? Not because He was angry, but because He cared for them and He loved them. Yet they hid. It’s in our core to hide ourselves when we’re afraid of what others will think of us or when we feel doubt or shame.

One of the beautiful qualities of children, especially young ones, is they have no doubt or shame or guilt… they love who they are, know they are loved, and walk confidently in that knowledge. But as we grow, at some point, the world creeps in and whispers “Are you sure? Are you sure you’re enough? I don’t know about that….”  And my, how strong that whisper is.

Yet there’s another whisper that calls for our attention. The whisper of the Lord saying “I’m here. I’m enough. I’m walking through the garden of your life, looking for you. Seeking you. Loving you. Yes, I know you have doubts, but there is no doubt in my love for you.”

Of course Adam and Eve had to face up to what they had done. Of course the Lord reacted accordingly. But lest we forget, He acted in love when He made the first clothes to cover them and help them to deal with the shame they felt. In the midst of their shame, God clothed them not only to cover their nakedness, but because He loved them. Where we feel doubt, He feels love and compassion.

Back to that moment, as I listened to my daughter share her fears, I took a deep breath and hugged her and told her what other people think doesn’t matter. I told her that I understood how she felt… and life and growing up are hard. But if she lives her life trying to make everyone else in the world happy, the one person who will never be happy is her. She is enough, just as she is—the beautiful soul God designed her to be.

Over the past few days, once my daughter is asleep, I go into her room and look at her, trying to figure out how in the world she grew up so quickly. Six years seems like it should pass a lot slower than it has. I lean down and place my hand on her and pray for her. I pray for her heart… her spirit… her mind… and her soul. I pray God will wrap His arms around her every day. And I remember that as much as I feel like she’s mine… she’s not. She belongs to Him. I, as a mother, am simply a steward. God has plans for her, and right now it’s my job to protect her, build her up, and remind her how much she is loved, just as she is.

When staring down my own doubts a year ago, I heard “come out of hiding” and immediately caught my breath. When I replayed it, I broke down in tears. We’ve all been hiding, and doubting ourselves, for so long. It’s time to come out, friends. God is waiting for us with open arms.


*To learn more about our writer and editor, please visit out "Contributors" page.* 

 

From Advent to Lent: Finding Hope in the Waiting

Written by Amber Crafton

Edited by Janet Kibler

I love Advent, but the 2017 season was especially meaningful. I experienced a fresh intimacy with God as I worked through readings from IF:Equip, an online discipleship resource, that touched on various encounters people had with Jesus while He walked the earth. I was especially convicted when one of the contributors suggested that Advent is really about the labor of waiting and God’s faithfulness in it, but because waiting is hard and often painful, we gloss over it, focusing instead on the joy of the celebration and missing out on the gifts found only in the waiting. I instantly nodded to myself in agreement, but spent the following two weeks ruminating on that idea, wondering if I was subconsciously trying to skip the waiting God might be asking of me, thereby missing out on gifts from Him that could only be unwrapped in the waiting spaces.

That idea haunted me, and the more I meditated on it, the more sense it made. After all, waiting is such a prolific theme in the Bible and a fundamental part of the human experience—one I prefer to avoid whenever possible! I felt God impressing on my heart that I needed to slow down, discover the waiting spaces that exist in my life right now, and press into them rather than try to avoid or ignore them, and in that way observe my own year of Advent, waiting for Him to come.

I spent the first couple of weeks this year figuring out what that would look like. After all, there are tons of resources for observing the Christmas Advent season but none for a year-long observance. I decided to start by reading the book Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro. It focuses on Zechariah and Elizabeth and considers themes like waiting individually and in community, the grief of unanswered prayer, and what it looks like to be faithful in the midst of prolonged waiting.

The book arrived around the middle of January, and I dove in . . . right around the time I dove headlong into a cancer scare, financial setbacks, and unexpected emotional backlash related to childhood trauma that was triggered by the medical tests. My original plan had been to follow the book’s structure and spend four consecutive weeks reading through it, but I was struggling just to get through my days emotionally intact, so it felt like a monumental feat to read just one day’s reading per week. Praise God, I do not have cancer! But on the other side of those horrific two weeks, I found myself drowning emotionally and feeling discouraged over my inability to follow through on this Advent experiment.

It took me four weeks to get through just one week of that book! But I told myself I could still make it work, since I would finish week one just in time for Lent, at which point I planned to begin a Lenten study through Exodus. The timing seemed providential; after all, there’s a lot of waiting that happens in the book of Exodus and a lot of waiting and vigil implicit in Lent. So that would keep me perfectly in step with what God had set before me. I could pick back up with the Advent book after Lent was over and take my time finishing it. Course correction accepted, and problem solved!

Except . . . I’m a nanny working for three families, and the night before the Lent study began, I got a text informing me one of the kids was sick and asking me to work full days until he recovered. He was sick all week. Once again I found myself stumbling through my days, just trying to keep up with regular life and a higher-than-usual time demand from one family or another that has continued ever since.

I never did begin that study, and now Easter is upon us and I feel like an utter failure. Don’t get me wrong; my observance of Lent is completely voluntary, and no one is heaping shame on my head. But I love Lent and believe in its purpose and effect, so I feel like I’m failing myself in a season when I am most in need of its benefits.

In my grief over the loss of that Lenten richness, I find myself thinking back to past observances, and the one that impacted me the most is from Holy Week 2016. That year She Reads Truth, another online Bible study resource, did a “Holy Week in Real Time” series in which the daily readings followed Jesus’ activities each day of his final week. It was a profound experience to meditate on His activities, conversations, and interactions leading up to His death. He took His time walking through that week, and I don’t blame Him! I imagine He was savoring the time He had left, but also dreading where He was headed.

What impacted me the most was the experience of the disciples the day after Jesus was killed. They had started the week on a high, entering Jerusalem with their Lord to the cheers and jubilation of the crowds that hailed Him as the long-awaited Messiah. They ended the week watching their Hope suffer an unjust trial, brutal beatings, humiliations untold, and a horrific, public execution.

The next day, they sat in a room together, stunned, frightened, and confused. Trying to wrap their heads around what happened. Wondering what now. Waiting.

While I can’t fathom what that was like for them—what it must have felt like to be alive on this earth during the two days when the Son of God was actually, truly dead—I still resonate with those moments on some level. I came into this year expectant and hopeful, excited even, and right now I feel like that has all been ripped away from me in a whirlwind of trauma, frenzy, and chaos that blew in and blew out before I could process that something was even amiss. And I feel powerless to do anything about it. Except wait.

Psalm 40 has been especially comforting to me in this season:

I waited patiently for the Lᴏʀᴅ,

And He turned to me and heard my cry for help.

He brought me up from a desolate pit,

out of the muddy clay,

and set my feet on a rock.

making my steps secure. (vv. 1-2)

I think of those disciples, waiting in the desolate pit of their grief, fear, and confusion, crying out to Yahweh for help. And then suddenly Jesus showed up. Flesh and bone. In a garden. In the room. On the road. By the seashore. He showed up, and He kept showing up. And every time, He kept saying, “Don’t you remember what I told you about all this? Weren’t you listening?”

And He is showing up for me too. In these Easter-predicting verses. In a reverberating whisper.

[I] do not delight in sacrifice and offering;

[I] open [your] ears to listen.

[I] do not ask for a whole burnt offering or a sin offering.

See I have come. (vv. 6-7)

I hear Him gently saying, Don’t you remember what I told you? Are you trying to sacrifice, or are you listening?

And I respond.

Lᴏʀᴅ do not withhold Your compassion from me;

Your constant love and truth will always guard me.

For troubles without number have surrounded me;

My sins have overtaken me; I am unable to see.

They are more than the hairs of my head,

And my courage leaves me.

Lᴏʀᴅ, be pleased to deliver me;

Hurry to help me, Lᴏʀᴅ. (vv. 11-13)

 

Lord, please open my ears to listen.

 

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A New Season

Written by Toni Shiloh

Edited by Tara Sanders

There’s a beauty in the spring season that I always look forward to as I watch trees sprouting greenery and colorful flowers blooming. As I walk in creation, listening to the birds chirp as if they’re welcoming me into a brand new day, I’m thankful for the opportunity God has given me to see His creation and the beauty of the changing seasons. From winter to spring, there’s a beauty that’s indescribable and a reminder of God’s truth that beckons me to recognize His ways.

Our faith life can mimic nature in many ways. In a winter season of faith, we can be beaten down by the cold and the death of things we longed for. A barrage of storms can bend us and tear us down like trees, but it is not our end. God promises to do something new in our life, just as the newness of spring greets us.

I’m patiently waiting to leave a season of sickness. In the past month I’ve dealt with surgery, my youngest child being admitted to hospital with pneumonia, and my husband and other son having to deal with the common cold that’s prevalent in the winter season. None of these came with a break in between but slammed up against one another.

Still, I hold onto God’s promise:

“Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

~ Isaiah 43:18-19 NKJV

I’ve learned that hard times are not meant to last. Death to dreams does not mean nothing better will ever come. We need a season to grieve and a season to mourn, but we should also embrace the season to rejoice and to embrace the newness God is offering us. While I haven’t left this “old” season, I look forward to the new things that God has in store for me as I turn the next corner.

So this spring season, as you walk in His creation, seek His glory. Seek the new He has for you and embrace the fresh air of a new season.

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How Do I Get There from Here? Making Those God-breathed Dreams a Reality.

Written by Janet Kibler

Edited by Susie Kumah

Getting older is such an interesting process. When you are young, life seems to be made up of all sorts of small disconnected experiences strung together. What does it all mean? Where is it all leading? You have no idea. You have the whole rest of your life stretching before you. Anything is possible and it’s almost as though you are looking down a bleached desert highway squinting into the blinding sunlight. The future is an indistinct outline against the harsh rays. You can’t see how the difficulties and traumas of growing up are forming you for the future; what those experiences may be fitting you for. It’s only with time that you begin to see how all the pieces are coming together to prepare you for the work God has for you to do.

I’ve been there. In fact, I’m there right now. At least these past weeks have been ones of delving deep into God’s heart to see what it is he wants our family to do. It doesn’t scare me in the paralyzing way it once did. Oh sure, I’m still plenty scared-but I’ve come to think of that as a good thing. It means that I’m about to be challenged and I think it’s good for the soul. The thought that I could do something that could possibly fail, but on the other hand, could succeed in a big way is intriguing. I’m old enough to have failed enough to see that I will, in fact, survive. As long as I don’t take risks like base jumping or sky diving, I should be in pretty good shape! And when I have made a mistake, it’s typically not as horrible as I imagine it will be. So it’s become a prickly, back of the neck sensation, like when you are about to crest that first huge incline of a really insane roller coaster. Adventure!

How did I get from that place of fear to this place? How did I come from curling up in the fetal position to that tickle of excitement?

At this point, I’m beginning to see how my past experiences have come together to prepare me for bigger responsibilities. Those painful high school years have taught me what it means to forgive and give grace. Then, as a young adult, filling the needs of a small church’s youth ministry instilled patience in me, especially in dealing with the rough family backgrounds of many of the kids under my supervision. I am who I am today because of the lessons I learned during those early years of ministry.

Right now, God is speaking to me and my husband about being involved in ministry to support families of special needs children. Having a child of our own with different abilities, not to mention, the countless events leading up to now, have prepared us for what is about to be. We can speak into the lives of others in the same situation, having walked a few miles in their shoes! We can see that so clearly. It’s such a peaceful feeling to know that nothing in your life has been wasted when it has been entrusted to the Lord’s capable hands.

But what does this ministry look like? Are we educating local churches through public speaking? Are we spear-heading a children’s program in our home church? Are we staying or moving on? The light is so bright, we have no idea what’s more than one or two short steps ahead. But our feet are on the path and we are saying, “Yes!”

What is it that burns in your heart? Or what is that dream that you can see vaguely taking shape on the horizon? How do you get there from here?

I have a few suggestions and I hope that they will encourage you to take that next step or two!

Start with prayer and the Word! I don’t know how God is tugging at your heart. It can happen in so many ways. But being in prayer and in the Word helps you to be sensitive to His leading. When the Lord spoke to me several years ago about starting a MOPS group in our church, it simply started at the intersection of two separate needs. The group I belonged to had ballooned to over eighty moms with over a hundred children. We were out of room! Many of the ladies expressed concern over our ability to intimately connect with so many moms. At the same time, I was just sorting through the diagnosis of our young son with autism spectrum disorder. He was evaluated through the county and placed in a preschool autism class in the public school nearby. In the course of conversation with his teacher, MOPS came up. The next thing I knew, teachers were contacting me, asking me to invite mothers of children in their class. Over and over, they expressed a desire to see lonely, overwhelmed moms receive support and friendship. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but the Lord presented me with these two needs and gave me a burden. I remember sitting in one of our meetings when God suddenly spoke to me saying, “These women need a place to go. If they can’t find a place where they will hear about my love for them, they will find some place, any place, where they will grasp at anything that seems like the truth.” My honest-to-goodness response was, “Oh no! But I am so comfortable here! Isn’t there someone else?” His response: “I am doing something here. You can be a part of it or not. The choice is yours.” I realized I didn’t want to miss the chance to be a part of what He was going to do. I’m so glad I said yes!

Seek the counsel of trusted spiritual mentors! It can be a close friend who sharpens you in the Lord, a family member, or pastoral leadership. I have a business associate who has an amazing walk with God. I learn so much from him, especially from his role as both a business leader and a witness for Christ, but honestly, I can call on him for any sort of advice. He is a second “spiritual dad” to me. This was our next step after prayer. I personally spoke with three trusted friends prior to a meeting we had with the leadership of our church to discuss how a ministry like this could look.

Take it one step at a time! The Lord has confirmed the direction you are to take. Now what? Starting any kind of ministry or venture is huge and can be daunting. When those tribal drums start beating in the deep dark jungles of your brain, and you start heading to that crazy place where you KNOW you must be absolutely insane to think you can ever start chipping away at this mountain with a toothpick, and the ideas are swirling around like a tornado, throwing your entire life into chaos--------just take a deep breath! If God has called you to do something, He is not going to abandon you now! All you really need to do is take that first step. What is one small thing you can do today to move this forward? For me, that first step is to put together an intake form for parents to fill out, so that we can determine how best to serve each child. (They are all so different!) And that’s it...that is all I am going to worry about today.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes! Try out some ideas. If they fall flat, scrap ‘em. It’s fine…really! This is how you learn. Accept that mistakes will be made and that this is part of the process God WANTS to take you through. Any calling, any ministry that you are involved in, is not solely for the benefit of those you will serve. It is also for the purpose of drawing you into a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Lord. When I knew without a doubt that I would be starting the MOPS group, I looked up to Heaven and said, “You are going to teach me a lot about loving people, aren’t you?” And boy, did He ever! I made so many mistakes, but it was so worth it. What an adventure!

Now, here I am with those same prickles of fearful excitement, ready to begin a new adventure. I can’t wait to see what God has in store. Dear reader, wherever you are, I hope you will say yes. You will never regret it!

*To learn more about our writer and editor, please visit out "Contributors" page.* 

Women's Retreat Talk

In October of 2015, I had the privilege of speaking at a Women's Retreat. Today, I came across my talk while going through archived blogs, and felt the need to share it again.  

That day, I spoke about finding your identity in Christ. It's a subject close to my heart because of my own struggles with identity. I also feel that a crisis of identity has led many other women, like me, down paths of self-destruction, depression, and the loss of any sense of self-worth or value. While this talk was a testimony of sorts, it was also a plea for women to come to a place of being fulfilled, satisfied, and confident in the Lord's unique plan and purpose for each one of us. 

In order to prepare for my talk, I worked for a month every night from 9 p.m. to, at times, 1:30 in the morning. I don't think I have ever poured myself into something more. This talk was woven together from life experience, God's faithfulness, scripture, and the Holy Spirit. I am not a professional speaker and this was my first time giving a talk at an event like this. With that said, I hope that you can "hear" past my own shortcomings in order to gain some perspective on where you find and place your identity. 

The file size is large, so it is in Dropbox. You can listen to it by clicking the link below.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/fnjz3gosv1y3g80/2015-10-24_Sanders.mp3?dl=0