Monday, June 27, 2016

Upstairs and Downstairs

Yesterday David picked out the book Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, and as he read to me I felt like I was revisiting an old friend. I smiled as I pulled out those tucked-away fond memories of Owl when my three bigs were little. He's such a humorous, endearing character in the chapters of The Guest, Strange Bumps, Tear-Water Tea, and Owl and the Moon. But my favorite chapter has to be Upstairs and Downstairs...

Owl's house had an upstairs and a downstairs. There were twenty steps on the stairway. Some of the time Owl was upstairs in his bedroom. At other times Owl was downstairs in his living room.

When Owl was downstairs he said, “I wonder how my upstairs is?” When Owl was upstairs he said, “I wonder how my downstairs is getting along? I am always missing one place or the other. There must be a way,” said Owl, “to be upstairs and to be downstairs at the same time.”

Does this struggle of being torn between two places resonate with you too?  Is there any way possible to live in two places at one time? This is what Owl tried...

Perhaps if I run very very fast, I can be in both places at once.” Owl ran up the stairs. “I am up,” he said. Owl ran down the stairs. “I am down,” he said.

Owl ran up and down the stairs faster and faster. “Owl!” he cried. “Are you downstairs?” There was no answer. “No,” said Owl. “I am not downstairs because I am upstairs. I am not running fast enough.”

Owl!” he shouted. “Are you upstairs?” There was no answer. “No,” said Owl. “I am not upstairs because I am downstairs. I must run even faster.”

Faster, faster, faster!” cried Owl. Owl ran upstairs and downstairs all evening. But he could not be in both places at once.

What ways have you tried to live in two places? Can you stretch yourself far enough or run back and forth fast enough? Sometimes all the effort and exhaustion brings us to a simple realization:

When I am up,” said Owl, “I am not down. When I am down I am not up. All I am is very tired!” Owl sat down to rest. He sat on the tenth step because it was a place that was right in the middle.

I envision this middle step as looking out the window over the Pacific Ocean, in flight between China and America. Where is the place in the middle for you? How do you balance your life between two worlds?

(Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Read

Thursday, June 23, 2016

21 Years of Motherhood

21 years ago (minus one day) I was timing my contractions from a dentist's chair. They were surprisingly regular and only 10 minutes apart. But I remained doubtful that it was real labor. I still had 5 more weeks until my due date.

We were house sitting (just like we are today) while visiting with Charly's family and friends in Kansas City, sharing updates on our upcoming move to China in the fall. Our plan was to move to Columbia, Missouri two weeks later, with what we thought would be plenty of time before our little one arrived.

When we returned to the house after our teeth cleaning, Charly called our doctor. She confirmed that I definitely needed to get checked somewhere, either in KC or Columbia. We weighed the options and decided on Columbia. While Charly gave his Mom a quick call to let her know, I grabbed a broom. If the baby was really about to arrive, we probably wouldn't be back in this house before our friends returned from their overseas trip.

Would you get in the car!?!

Charly did not feel the same way about leaving behind a clean house. He was now a man with a mission.

For as many times as he had sped down I-70 during college, worried about getting a speeding ticket, this time he had a legitimate reason. We made it in record time, and no one pulled us over. I felt every little bump in the road in our Toyota pick-up truck. And the contractions were getting more frequent.

We checked into University Hospital that evening and settled in for the night, hooked up to monitors.

At 5:25 the next morning our little Caleb Joshua (CJ) made his arrival. And Charly and I became parents.

We had finished listening to a set of parenting tapes in the car the week before and felt about as ready as we could be.

We did still need to make a stop by Toys R Us though on the way home from the hospital, to buy a pack and play so CJ would have a place to sleep (and he was wearing a borrowed baby outfit from the hospital).

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. 
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. 
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
(Psalm 139:13-16)

Joshua David joined our family in Tianjin in 1996 (10 days after his due date).
And Jordan Elizabeth (one week early) in Lawrence, Kansas in 1998.

Then David Jonathan and Daniel Joseph joined us in Lanzhou in 2013 at ages 7 and 8
(6 ½ years after we started the adoption process).

Each one formed by God. 
Fearfully and wonderfully made. 
Joining our family in His perfect way and in His perfect timing.

This morning David and Daniel joined me at the kitchen table as I was reading the Bible, so I read this passage out loud to them:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

What does it mean for me as a Mom to quiet my heart before the Lord?
With all of the noise around me, how can I hear His gentle voice?
What is His whisper for me?

The Purpose of Parenting is not about raising "perfect" kids who make me look good as a Mom.

With a parenting focus purely on obedience, it is possible to raise children who can look good on the outside with hearts that are still far from God. Hypocritical.

In the arena of faith, my goal as a Mom is not to make my kids look like me. But to help them develop their own personal walk with God.

God wants me to give myself grace as a Mom instead of evaluating myself by how much I am able to accomplish. 

How can I allow God’s love—through me—to never run out on them?

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." 
(Psalm 139:23-24)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Shuffling the Stuff

We are doing it again.

And I wonder why we have so much stuff.
And where all this stuff came from.
And which box to pack this thing in.
And if it goes there, will I ever be able to find it again?

And I'm feeling thankful that after a few days of crazy chaos, it's now mostly done.
And I can sit here and rest in this quiet-clean-much-less-cluttered house for a few hours.
And have time to grieve the comfort and stability we had here for almost 11 months.
And try to prepare myself for the next two months of a busy summer schedule.

And soak in gratefulness that God always provides what we need when we need it.
He provided this beautiful furnished home for us in a great location.
He provided a friend to help us pack up three van loads of stuff, to store in his garage for two months.
And He generously provided the house of friends who are out of town for us to have a place to live for the next four weeks.

I was just reading what I wrote last year about our move from Lanzhou back to the US:

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
(Psalm 23:2-3a) So much of my desire is expressed in this verse: God leading us to a place of natural beauty, so we can breathe deeply and sit beside quiet waters. For real rest and restoration of our souls.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

It's amazing to think that God has done exactly that over this past year. Allowed us to breathe deeply and to find rest for our souls.

Just as Joshua was Surrounded in prayer at his graduation last year, so God surrounded our whole family with His presence and His goodness:

“God has surrounded us in every way, hemming us in behind and before. These past two weeks in the US, Charly, David, Daniel and I have been staying with my parents, which has been the perfect safety net for us to fall into...

We are so grateful for the ways that God has surrounded and sustained our family as we've been in different parts of the world.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast."
Psalm 139:7-10

Last year when Charly and I celebrated 21 Years of marriage, a friend shared with us Michael W Smith's song Sovereign Over Us:

There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You're sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You're teaching us to trust

Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You're with us in the fire and the flood
You're faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us

Reflecting on the bigger picture right now helps me to put all the stuff we've had to shuffle into a better perspective.

He is Sovereign over the Stuff as well.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In the Waiting Room

Monday morning I buried myself in a book called Don't Waste the Pain by David Lyons and Linda Lyons Richardson. In a cozy corner of the surgical waiting room, while Daniel had some dental work done that required him to be put under anesthesia.

It seemed like a good book to take along while I waited, in an environment filled with anxious family members, white lab coats and calls for Code Blue.

“It's not about what happens to you; it's about how you respond.”

“Am I so sick of hypocrisy and inconsistencies in my life that joy rises in my heart when I see God doing surgery on me?”

“What gifts do you think God may be trying to give you through pain?”

“What impossible thing are you willing to believe God can handle?”

“Pain is always an invitation to something you cannot see at the moment.”

“The world tells us that beauty thrives in the absence of pain, when everything is going smoothly. That can be true. But sometimes the truest form of beauty, the kind produced by authentic love, is reserved for life's most painful circumstances. The most beautiful person who ever lived left heaven to wade right into the pain of this world. Look at how he introduced himself:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
(Isaiah 61:1-3, NKJV)

Last night I had a few hours of quiet at home while Charly and the kids were at Vacation Bible School, and I came across this powerful song by Danny Gokey: Tell Your Heart to Beat Again. Then I listened to his testimony of losing his wife in a heart surgery that had a 90% survival rate. Sometimes the news we receive in the waiting room is devastating. But we can go on and find a new beginning...

 Like you've never been before.
The life you knew in a thousand pieces on the floor.
Words fall short in times like these.
This world drives you to your knees
You think you're never going to get back to the you that used to be.
Tell your heart to beat again...

Just let that word wash over you
Its all right now.
Love's healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up
Take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
Cause your story's far from over and your journey's just begun...

Let every heartbreak and every scar
Be a picture that reminds you who has carried you this far.
Cause Love sees farther than you ever could
In this moment heaven's working everything for your good...

Say good bye to where you've been and tell your heart to beat again.

I also spent some time last night listening to this beautiful song by my friend since 5th grade,Travis Cottrell: You Will Redeem It All. Another new favorite.

I have this hope as an anchor for my soul.
You will redeem it all.
Out of the dust into something glorious.

You are here in the middle of my circumstance.
You are here bringing purpose out of pain
You are here restoring every broken path
Speaking life, You raise me once again.
Nothing is hidden from your eyes.
Out of the ashes I will rise...

Hallelujah in the waiting
Hallelujah even then
Hallelujah for the healing
You will make a way again

Sometimes Jesus lingers as He did when Lazarus was sick. But always with a reason:  "Through waiting we become more aware of God and ourselves. As we grow in God-awareness and self-awareness, we sense something happening to us. This is the slow work of transformation that cannot be sped up by Jesus showing up any earlier than what has been orchestrated..." (The Lazarus Life, Stephen W. Smith)

And sometimes Jesus walks away as he did in Mark 1, from all those who were desperate for His healing: "Yes, Jesus could have healed all the broken legs, ear infections, strep throat, breast cancers, and indigestion that was coughed up before him. But that would only have been a temporal healing. It wouldn't have healed their relationship with God. Jesus wanted more for them. He wanted to rescue them from their sin, not just from sickness. He wanted to restore their souls and put them back in relationship with his Father." (When God Doesn't Fix It, Laura Story)

In the waiting room of our lives He is with us. And He is for us. And He has plans for good that we can't always see and may take time to believe. So even in the midst of helplessness and brokenness and prayers that feel unanswered, we can hold on to His outstretched hand. We can rest in His embrace. And know that He can bring a deeper healing than we had ever believed possible.

Because His invitation, in our waiting, is always to Trust Him.

Older posts on Waiting:
Waiting for the Wind
Wanting to Wait Well
It is Here
Waiting as an Offering
Your Waiting Presence
When the Door Won't Open

(Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Wait)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Carry On

We attended Commencement at the Air Force Academy last week to celebrate the graduation of our friends' oldest son. As I looked out from the stands over the 812 graduates, I marveled at their huge accomplishment. What an honor for them to get to shake President Obama's hand as they received their diplomas. The camera zoomed in on their smiles as they ran down the ramp from the stage to embrace their classmates, so full of joy. And then came the tradition of tossing their hats in the air for elementary age kids to run and retrieve. David and Daniel were thrilled to participate, with the added excitement of the Thunderbirds zooming overhead at the exact moment that the hats went into the air. Such an awesome opportunity for the graduates to pass on their hats as inspiration to the next generation. Carry on. And set your sights high. 

CJ, Jordan, two of her friends and I climbed the Incline that same evening. I realized soon after we began the steep trek that it might not have been such a good idea for me. Jordan and her friends made it look way too easy and chatted away as they climbed. I was out of breath the entire way and stopped for multiple water breaks, with CJ keeping me company. We met other hikers going up and coming down as the sun began to set. I quickly categorized them into two groups: those who were serious about their speed and did this strenuous activity regularly and those who were just hoping to make it to the top (like me). I appreciated the camaraderie of the second group. “Good job.” “You can do it.” “Almost there.” Passing on inspiration from fatigued fellow travelers. Carry on. These words from strangers and from CJ helped me get to the top. (Coming down after it got dark is another story!)

When the time approached for Jesus to suffer on the cross, he took Peter, James and John with him up the mountain to pray. He was transfigured before their very eyes and then Moses and Elijah appeared in glorious splendor. They talked with Jesus about his departure “which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31) How awesome that God provided this moment of inspiration for Jesus to carry on with his mission at a time when his disciples couldn't seem to quit arguing over who was the greatest. Here were two on the mountain who could understand and come alongside as the road ahead was becoming steep. And Jesus, even Jesus, would ask if He could turn back.

Carry on.

God provides inspiration from those who have gone before and will walk beside.


(linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Carry On)


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