xx

xx

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ten!

Dear Reagan,

Ten years ago you were born.  A whole decade.

Ten years ago my greatest dream came true.  The nurse placed sweet little baby you in my arms and I just stared at your face.  I could have never imagined the great kid you would be now, ten years later. 

This might sound strange, but I just really like you.  You are fun to hang out with and we have great talks when we find time to be together just the two of us.


You are still my super responsible one.  You follow rules.  You put in the work necessary to complete projects.  That isn’t to say you don’t test the boundaries every now and then.  But I have loved watching you for these ten years as you tried new things with bravery and a quiet strength.

You are not one who loves the limelight.  You don’t seek attention.  You prefer to quietly go about your business in your own way.  And yet, there are times when you shine and its extra beautiful.  For example, this summer in soccer you seemed to just step up and be a leader.  You worked extremely hard and learned so much and all of a sudden you were this force to be reckoned with on the field.  So many times your Dad and I would be sitting on the sidelines with goofy grins on our faces because it was so much fun to watch you do your thing. 

You are the caretaker.  You love young children.  You love volunteering in the church nursery.  Your face lights up and your demeanor changes when you are in the presence of little ones.  And they love you for it.  You are sweet and kind and attentive.


This year at school you have had a great year.  I love the way you have put yourself out there and made some new friends.  You are a good student, but you also work very hard.  Some things are easy for you, others are more challenging.  But you always try.


Sometimes you amaze me with your maturity, and then other times I am reminded that you are still a young girl.  I know you have so many big steps ahead of you, and yet you have handled each challenge in your life with calm grace.  That gives me great hope not just for the rest of your childhood, but also for you as a young woman. 

You are creative and innovative and it shows in your amazing Lego creations.  Legos are still your favorite thing.  You also love making bracelets and necklaces, attending Gems at our church, swimming, playing games, soccer, babysitting little ones, and occasionally cooking a meal.  The highlight of your summer was finally seeing your favorite animal, the polar bear.

Every time I let you go a little bit more I stand ready to catch you – but I seldom need to.  You take off slowly and carefully, but you always fly steady and smooth.  A good word to describe you would be calm.  Even so, I think I’ll stand here waiting to catch you just in case. 

We celebrate you today.  We’ve had you for a whole decade and it’s been easily the best decade of my life.  I will always be better for having spent these 10 years with you. 

You are quiet, serene and calm.  You are deep, devoted and faithful.  And I can see how God has begun writing a beautiful story through your tender heart. 

Lean into that story, Reagan girl.  Let His hand write on the pages of your life.  Let His heart be the one you trust.  Let His wisdom be the place you turn.  Train your ears to hear His voice.  Open your eyes to see His hand. 

And know this, I love you.  I love you more than I can say.  I love you more than 10,000 birthday letters can convey.  I love you more than words can frame.  I love you unquestionably, unashamedly, unconditionally.  Maybe someday when you hold your baby, you will know. 

But even all that is the tiniest glimpse of the love God has for you.  He loves you when you are easy to love.  He loves you still when you are not so easy to love.  His love knows no limits, no distance, no choice that it cannot still reach you.  The day you were born I placed you solidly in those hands – those nail-pierced hands – that formed you, that bled for you, that stretched out wide for you.  I let go more and more each day believing it is those hands that will catch you even when I cannot. 

In every decade of your life, my prayer is that you will look back and see His love for you. 

You are so very loved.

Always,

~Mom


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

So....before you read it...

Some of you have already ordered copies of my book and I am nearly choking as I read your messages of excitement.  I am equally extremely terrified and terribly excited just to think about you reading Bestow On Us Your Grace.  But before you do...a few thoughts.

They say that writing a book and having it published is little like having a baby.  I disagree.  Mostly because you don’t immediately put your baby on the stage of America’s Got Talent so that the world can judge whether or not they like him or her.  And that’s more what writing a book feels like to me.

Writing is opening a window into your soul. 



It’s one thing to take the very contents of your wild imagination and type them down on a page.  It is quite another to actually allow other people into those musings. 

Admittedly, there is a part that feels a little thrill.  Because if you like it then I am so happy and I don’t worry so much about my vivid imagination running amok.  Also, we can talk about imaginary people as if we know them.  You can ask me all kinds of questions about my characters and I could talk about them for hours and hours.  After years of hiding them in a closet.  Or a computer, as it were.  Now they are free.

Of course that is another scary thing.  It’s not just the story that is my “baby”, but I really want you to love the characters.  And it frightens me to think (to know) that there will be some who just don’t care for them.

I want you to know that I am what I call an “honest writer”.  I learned this from people like James Schaap and Anne Lamott.  If there is a scene where someone would swear, then you write it that way.  It shows their character.  It shows their humanity.  And I personally have trouble believing books where everything is too perfect, too neat, too tidy.  The things in my book are not neat and tidy.  There aren’t a lot of swear words – two, I think.  I didn’t put them in for shock value.  But they are there because that is what that particular character would say.  It reveals their truth – truth you need to know for the story to work.

I’ve done my research, but I am not expert.  I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent reading about, researching, studying, and listening to recordings of the Amish.  But even so…these are still hypothetical  situations and fictional characters.  They are New Order Amish which allows for much more freedom than being part of an Old Order district.  So I realize you may read this and say “Oh the Amish don’t do that!”  While that is possibly true for most of them, it isn’t for all.  And this is a made up story.  All that said, I have a deep admiration and respect for the Amish people.  It is my hope that even if this story does not represent lifestyles for the majority of them, that it still honors them and helps you to love them as I do.

Please note: the characters in this book are not actually representative of the people in my life.  I am not Kirsten.  Brian is not Silas (not quite tall enough – hahaha).  The Amy in the book is not my sister, Amy.  I was blessed to grow up with the best Mom in the world so Elizabeth is not my Mom.  If you see your name in this book, don’t think I am writing about you.  I am not that obvious.  At least not in this book – ha! 

Will there be more someday?  Maybe.  I have learned to never say never!  I have written another book in this series about Silas’ sister, Amy.  I have outlined another book about Silas’ brother, Caleb.  So there could be more.  But for now I am just enjoying this very uncharted territory of self-publishing.

Lastly, I cannot say enough good things about my publishing company – The Write Place.  I love that they host a book writing contest.  I am so honored to have won it.  And I have immensely enjoyed working with them on each and every detail – from the editing to the book cover design to the page layout to the marketing plans.  They are patient and capable and amazing to work with. 

This is actually not the first book that I have written, but it is the first to be published.  And as such I plead for grace and understanding.  Look at it like I’m in kindergarten and not so much like I should be giving my dissertation. 


So each and every one of those little books that lands in someone’s hands is just a story about a God who specializes in taking crazy situations and redeeming them for His good.  To me, this was never just an Amish love story.  This was a story of God’s goodness and His grace.  He is good even when life is painful.  My prayer is that this book will help you see His goodness and His grace in your own life as well.  


Links for ordering:




Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Leaves and Elections

I fill out my ballot while he stands quiet beside me.  It’s quiet here.  Quiet like church during prayer.  

He stills his three year old little self to stand beside me while I fill in the little squares beside the names.  Five minutes later, we’re finished.  The volunteer gives us both a sticker.

We step outside into the brilliant fall sunshine that seems to set the world ablaze.

He asks me for a donut.  So we walk the two short blocks through the beauty of downtown to the little bakery.  The leaves crunch under our feet.

He chooses a long one this time (a long john) with chocolate frosting.  He carries the small paper bag containing his little treat back to the car.

We stop at one more store and he tells me he’s tired.  Tells me he doesn’t want to shop any more.  Tells me it’s time to go home.  But it’s just one more tiny stop so I offer to carry him.  He relents.

We hop out of the car, me with this almost four year old on my hip, and step onto the sidewalk.

“Mommy, wait!  Go back!!  Look!”



I put him down and he bends to scoop up the biggest leaf I’ve ever seen.

It must have been glorious in its day.  Briefly I wonder if it grew at the very top of the tree.  What makes a leaf so stunningly big anyway?  When it floated down from its tree it would have cast a large shadow.  It was huge and it was healthy once.  But then came the autumn.  Big, brilliant, beautiful as it was, time held no refuge.  The green faded to gold, to orange, to brown in places.  And it let loose into the breeze. 

Seasons come and seasons go.  Rulers rise and fall from power.  Beauty bursts forth and then fades.  Little boys are only three for a short amount of time.
 

But One never changes.  One whose hand paints the canvas every morning, streaking the sky with blues, pinks, purples and oranges.  One whose hand formed the rulers who are good and the rulers who hurt.  One whose hand colors each and every leaf.  One whose hand created little three year old boys who don’t really care all that much about elections or paychecks or policies.  He gives them eyes to see the wonder we miss – the wonder we step right over in our hurry – the wonder we refuse to acknowledge because we’re too busy worrying – the wonder we tend to crush under our feet because it seems like it doesn’t matter.


And I marvel.  I stare at the giant leaf he clutches.  The same fingers that fashioned this beauty also made the sweet boy hiding behind it.  So I’m not sitting down with fear today.  I’m not entertaining disappointment.  I’m not giving my thoughts to worry.  I’m spending time with wonder – and with a little boy who found a treasure made months ago just for him.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Embraced

A friend of mine gave me a hug yesterday. 

I was standing in the fellowship hall of my church, just waiting on all the lovely women to arrive for Coffee Break.  She walked in the door, walked straight over to me, put her things down, and hugged me.

It surprised me.

This isn’t something we do every time we see each other.  Occasionally there are hugs given out at Coffee Break so it isn’t like it is something weird.  But it still surprised me.

The surprise wore off fast.

Like an instant melt, I felt all the cold loneliness and the tension of the last few days just melt away.  Gone. 


Like a sunrise after a dark night, light started spilling in.  Creeping over the surface, chasing away shadows, driving the dark of night away.

I wrapped my arms around her too and she just held me tight while I choked, “I needed this.”

I’d had a rough 24 hours.  I’m not going to explain why, but it was a day I didn’t care to repeat.  Somehow, this wonderful friend could see this in me.  I believe she listened to the Holy Spirit prompting her to offer me some acceptance and love.

Oh how we don’t know the battles of the women around us.  Oh how we have lost sight of the pain of other people. 

It takes eyes to really see it.  It takes ears to listen closely enough to hear it.  It takes a heart ready to break for other people.  It takes actually listening to those nudges you feel to reach out to someone else.

And then all it takes is a hug.  Bless the Lord, all it takes is an embrace. 

In that moment I knew I was still loved.  I knew people still saw me and cared about me.  I knew that there was still good in the world – that there was still God in the world.

He promised that He would never leave us or forsake us.  He promised that in this world we would have trouble.  And He promised that He would be with us always, even to the very end.

Yesterday, I knew He kept His promise.  And in the arms of a friend who offered a random hug I knew I had experienced the hands, the heart and the love of Christ. 


Go love someone today.  Offer an unasked for hug.  Message someone on facebook with encouragement.  Listen better.  Talk less.  Love more.  Be Jesus to someone today.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Where My Imperfection Meets His Power

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the five love languages.  They are words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, personal touch and gifts.  I have a daughter whose love language is personal touch.  I’ll be honest, this is a major struggle for me because this is not the love language I am most comfortable giving or receiving.

One particular Friday night my husband and I and our three children were getting ready to go to WalMart.  Cuz that’s what super cool parents with three little kids do for fun on a Friday night.  My daughter grabbed my hand and I did something I am ashamed to admit.  I shook her off.  I actually brushed her hand away and removed my arm from her grasp.  I did it all gently and without complaint.  Really, I did it all without even realizing I had done it.

It didn’t even register with me what had happened until early the next morning when I was driving home from the gym.  For some reason God chose that moment to remind me of how I had pulled away from her.  With tears streaming down my face I started to pray.  I asked him to forgive me and promised to apologize to her.  I asked Him to help me be BETTER.  And then I said words that shocked me.  “Help me to give more.” 

And my mind reels with that statement.  For women, who give so much all the time, HOW is giving more even possible?  But there it is in the cry of my heart - I want to give more.  I beg the One who gave it ALL to help me follow closer in His perfect footsteps - me with my stumbling, bumbling gait.

I don’t get it all right.  I mess up.  I’m very much the poster child for the imperfect mother.  I am not the mother of the year.  I am not even the mother of the last five minutes.  If I were writing a song you can bet it would sound like my three year old banging on the piano.  It would be a mess.  Probably no identifiable tune.  Lots of flats and sharps that don’t make sense on their own.  Too quiet in places and way too loud in others. 

I’m not alone in this, you know.  Reading the New Testament can be a little humbling for me.  With heroes of the faith like the apostles who really measures up?  But with a glance at the Old Testament I start to feel a little better about myself.  I look a little better standing next to Jacob the perpetual liar or Samson the prideful.  One might be tempted to chalk them up as bad melodies too. 

But if we take a step back we’re able to see more than just a few notes at a time.  We can see God’s hand composing a whole symphony.  And suddenly, strangely, all those places where we thought the notes were all wrong, those are the places He has filled in with chords and harmonies too beautiful to be believed.

You see it is not our hand composing this symphony of salvation.  Instead we are notes on the page of the most beautiful score ever scribed. Our off-sounding notes, best efforts and failed attempts are in many ways the harmony.  And God provides a melody - beautiful and pure - filling in all the gaps, suddenly making sense of it all.

Every woman wants to give more.  Its something almost coded in our DNA.  It’s what we do – we give.  We want to reason that the more we give, the better woman we are.  But it’s not our efforts that determine the beauty of the song. 

I'm learning about my need for a Savior all over again, and I invite you to do something brave with me.  I invite you to give yourself a break - to stop worrying about playing all the wrong notes, and to instead listen carefully for the music God is creating.  He’s taking all the bad notes, the off-sounding chords, and even the most off-beat moments and wrapping them in a beautiful melody.  He sings His salvation song over, around and through us and He invites us to drop the worry and to join in the dance.

(Photo credit: Megan Vande Voort)


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Nicaragua Knocking On My Door

Several years ago, our church began partnering with other churches in Nicaragua.  Admittedly, this didn’t really connect with me.  A sister church in a faraway place is neat and all, but it was one of those unfortunate out-of-sight-out-of-mind situations.  Until one day they announced that they would have a table in the back full of Compassion sponsorship opportunities.  I had always wanted to sponsor a child so this seemed like a neat opportunity.

I walked up to their table and stared down at the packets.  I purposefully avoided looking at the faces.  Instead, I searched through the birth dates.  When I found one that matched Reagan’s within a few days, I picked up the packet.  I stared down into the serious face of the most beautiful boy.  And there, in the fellowship hall of Faith CRC in Pella, Iowa, I met Angel Isaac. 

That was the day Nicaragua knocked on my door.

I’m guessing he hadn’t had many photo shoots before.  Someone probably posed him in that alley and stepped back and clicked a good picture of a boy who didn’t know why he should smile for a camera.  He was clean and the background was neat.  But at his age he was too young to probably understand what a sponsor really was.

We began the normal correspondence.  I am embarrassed to admit how hard it was to step outside my comfortable American culture and just relate to him on a human-to-human level.  There were times when I would write something down and then delete it, because it felt proud and I worried it would be so foreign to him.  With every letter to Angel, I have tried hard to not sound like some bizarrely wealthy and snobbish rich woman.

His letters to me are sweet.  I love receiving them.  He writes about his life, his family, sports he plays.  And I get a glimpse of the boy he is – the boy he is growing up to be.

One of the reasons I signed up all those years ago was the little plug that our church would be sending missions teams down to Nicaragua.  This would make it more possible for us to arrange visits or to arrange for gifts to go down to our sponsored children.  And just a month or so ago, such an invitation was extended in our newsletter.

I jumped at the chance.  I didn’t really have the time to do the shopping, but I somehow managed to get to Walmart.  I strolled the aisles and I searched for things that Reagan’s male friends might enjoy.  Stickers, crayons, notebooks, legos, and little toys went in my shopping cart.  Deodorant, a toothbrush, a comb went in too.  I pushed my cart full of gifts for Angel up to the checkout.

“I got to shop for a little boy in Nicaragua,” I said to the clerk.  I’m sure she smiled and said something nice but I was suddenly overcome with emotion.  With tears in my eyes I watched her scan the packages of crayons and colored pencils absolutely coated in English words that Angel probably wouldn’t understand.  Does he even use deodorant?  I had no idea.  Was he too old for a little hot wheels toy car?  Possibly. 

But then I heard God remind me, “Does it matter?  What do you think Angel will feel when he opens this backpack?”

It’s a small miracle that I made it out to my car.

I went home, carefully packed my little gift, tucked in a few photos of our family, and immediately delivered it to Marlo and Carol – members of our church who would deliver it to Nicaragua.  I gave them all the information they would need for the gift to get to Angel.  And that was it.

So many times in the last few weeks I have wondered if Angel had gotten his backpack yet.  Out of nowhere he would enter my mind and I would imagine his reaction. 

But this afternoon I got this email.  And it’s full of the face of a smiling boy standing with the contents of my gift spread all around him.


There are our photos right out in front.

There he is on the other side of the world.

And once again, here is Nicaragua knocking on my door.

I don’t know if I will ever actually meet Angel.  Travel terrifies me and being a mom to young kids had demands all its own.  I would love to go someday.  I’m sure he would be horrified because I would be a crying mess – much like the lady I was at Walmart – much like the lady I was when I opened an email to see his sweet smile.  I would want to hug him too tightly and for too long.  I would have a million questions and so few words in his language.  Maybe someday God will open that door.

But for now, He has given us this.  He has shown me, and shown Angel too, that love sees no distance. 

Love knows no language barriers.

Love looks a lot like a backpack full of school supplies and little toys and tiny tokens of affection.

Love looks like the smiling face of that beautiful boy.

And love is always always always worth it.


Oh Angel, I pray that every time you slip that backpack on, you can imagine my arms giving you a squeeze.  I hope as you color and draw your world becomes more beautiful.  I pray that those photos find a place on the wall in your home (just as yours is on the wall in ours) and that every time you look at it you will know that you are loved.  Yes, loved by me.  But more than that – that God loved you so that he brought us together in this one small way.  P.S.  I love your smile.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Just Here

This has been a hard week.

After a full weekend with Brian’s family, we were geared up for one last day of activity.  On the morning of the Fourth of July, Hunter woke up with a small reddish area at the site of his tick bite from a week ago.  We didn’t get overly concerned as this was, according to the internet, a fairly common reaction.  But as the day wore on, he got increasingly more uncomfortable and the small red area grew larger and turned purple.  Still, he played even through fireworks late Monday night.  Tuesday morning he was in so much pain that I could not even pick him up and carry him without causing him pain.  We quickly brought him in and he was diagnosed with cellulitis.  We got him on “gorilla strength” antibiotics and have been doing our best to keep him comfortable.

He can’t really walk without extreme pain so I carry him, very very gingerly, everywhere he needs to go.

He can’t sit up due to the location of the infection.

His sleep is not sound and he needs comfort several times in the night.

He hates the taste of his meds and giving it to him is awful.

He screams any time he has his diaper changed (normally he doesn’t wear one, but given the nature of what he is dealing with and the side-effects of his medication it is necessary).  It takes two of us to even manage it.

He hasn’t played in two full days.

He hasn’t run through the house in two full days.

He hasn’t made a silly face to make us laugh in two full days.

I’m going to be honest – tonight I’m struggling.

I’m struggling to trust that the medication is working.  The doctor warned me that it would take some time.  And yet I’m just worried.

I’m struggling to remember even what day it is because I have spent all of the last several days being glued to his side.  He won’t let me leave him and asks for me repeatedly.  And even though there is no where I would rather be…I’m just tired.  After two days of sitting on the floor beside his perch on the couch, all of time seems one big blur.

I’m struggling to be patient with my other two kiddos who have needs as well.  I feel utterly spent and that is ridiculous because I am not actually doing anything other than sitting on the floor, begging my little boy to drink, and feeding him bites of food.  My energy is gone.

I’m struggling to reject the voice of the enemy who wants me to believe that maybe this is worse than what the doctor said it was.  Struggling to not listen to the worry that the diagnosis was wrong.  Struggling to ignore the worry that maybe I didn’t get all of the tick out when I know I checked so specifically to make sure that I had.

I flip flop between great moments of peace and comfort and hope to moments of fear and worry and anxiety.

There’s no neat-and-tidy bow on this one.  There’s just this – a valley.  When your three year old screams in pain every time you gently carry him, that’s a valley. 

Maybe its not necessarily the shadow of death that I fear here.  But the weight of suffering and the agony of waiting press in around me.  How long, Oh Lord?

I am working to dig deep and to find that Job-like faith that says, “even so…” 

It could certainly be worse.  But that’s not the brave face I put on in my prayers.  In my murmured pleadings it is always this – it could certainly be better.  Please let it get better.  Please let him get better.

So here’s where I find my only comfort tonight – that I speak all these honest broken prayers to a Father who watched His own Son suffer mightily.    

It would be hard, if not impossible, for me to pray to a God who hadn’t felt and experienced and lived through the agony and victory of the cross.  How could I trust Him to feel my pain, to feel any pain at all, if He’d never watched His Beloved suffer and die?  What’s more, how could I pray to a God, love a God, trust in a God who didn’t recognize the incredible pain of loss enough to reverse it with an empty tomb.

He hates pain.  He hates suffering.  He hates sicknesses, and hatred, and death, and oppression, and cancer, and AIDs, and malaria, and hunger.  He hates cellulitis in little three year old boys who should be running through the house. 

He hates it all and someday He will erase and reverse it. 


But for tonight, He holds me as I kneel and cry and pray for the little boy in the room down the hall.