Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Putting Your Walls UP

Usually, we are encouraged to take walls DOWN, to remove barriers that are keeping us from deeper relationships with other people, to forgive and move on, to open ourselves up to new opportunities.

In Nehemiah's case, however, he would need to put walls UP if he was going to experience the GOOD opportunities God had for him, and the entire nation of Israel.

You see, some of the Jews had escaped from captivity and returned to Jerusalem.  The remnant did NOT come back to things as they once had been.  Instead, they were in "great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire."  The people were in a bad place, literally.  They NEEDED help.

So word was sent to Nehemiah, who was serving as the cupbearer to the king.  Nehemiah's brothers thought perhaps his position would be helpful.  Maybe he could ask the king for a favor.  Maybe the king would be gracious and do something to rebuild the devastated city.  Maybe...

That would be a BIG ASK.
Makes me think of Esther when she went before the king to request that he save the nation of Israel from Haaman's evil plans to kill all the Jews.

If you were to stop the story right here, you might be doubtful that the king would do anything for the helpless captives.  He didn't really owe them anything.  They couldn't really turn around and benefit him in any way.  He didn't have a personal interest in these people, or their well-being.

BUT, apparently he did.
Apparently, he actually cared about Nehemiah.
The king NOTICED that his servant was sad.  He was CONCERNED that Nehemiah was sick.  He ASKED what was wrong and HOW HE COULD HELP.

Talk about a God moment.
Talk about a BIG ANSWER.

And if you think that is good, read on!
Not only does the king CARE, but he grants Nehemiah his request to go back and help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  He goes a step further and agrees to make sure he has safe passage along the way.  Then, to top it all off, he promises to provide the timber and supplies needed for this massive project.

Definitely a God moment.
An even BIGGER answer.
Isn't God so good at that?!
We shouldn't be surprised.  He DOES tell us in His Word that He can do "infinitely more than all we could dare to ask or imagine." (see Ephesians 3:20)

Yet, we doubt.
We worry.
We see all the obstacles in our way.
And so we stop before we even start.

Our focus is on the wrong thing.  It shouldn't be on a thing anyway!  But rather, our eyes should be "fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2).  Only as we look to Him can we "run with endurance the race set before us" and reach the finish line to receive the prize He has waiting for us (Philippians 3:7-14).  Instead of panicking and getting ourselves all worked up for nothing, how about we try Paul's advice, "Do not be anxious about ANYTHING, but in EVERY situation, by prayer and petition, WITH THANKSGIVING, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6).

That's exactly what Nehemiah did.
When he heard of the conditions in Jerusalem, he IMMEDIATELY got on his knees and poured his heart out to God.  He didn't hold anything back.  He was earnest, pleading with God to come through for His people, "O Lord, I BESEECH You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man" (Nehemiah 1:11).

Then, he acted in faith and went before the king.

God came through.
The king showed favor.

Nehemiah went back to Jerusalem, ready to begin the project.
Lest you think everything was peachy and the walls started putting themselves up, I do want to point out even though MOST of the people readily and eagerly agreed to get started, NOT everyone was too happy.  Or supportive.  Nehemiah DID face opposition.

BUT, he did NOT take his eyes off God.
He did NOT let these naysayers distract him from the task God had given him.
He did NOT give up or throw in the towel, or go running back to God whining about how hard and difficult the job was going to be.

Instead, he reassured the people that God was on their side and they WOULD have success (check out Nehemiah 2:20).

Chapter 3 goes on to list all the people who took part in this extensive project of rebuilding the walls.  What really struck out to me was that these people all had diffferent skills and talents.  They had a wide range of jobs before coming together to work collectively on the construction of the walls.  EVERYONE could contribute.  EVERYONE was needed.  EVERYONE played an important part.

In fact, each group was assigned a portion of the wall to rebuild.
The portion closest to where THEY lived.
They were in charge of a small section, but the MOST important section to them personally.

I couldn't help but think what would happen if EACH of us would do the same.
Focus on OUR lives.  Rebuild near our homes, our hearts.
Knowing our well-being, our safety, our future depended on it.
Believing our part is not only important, but absolutely ESSENTIAL.

Remember, it's NOT about us.
We have OTHERS counting on us.
We need them and they need us.
And that is a BEAUTIFUL thing.

As we come together, we can pick up the bricks, cut the lumber, and BUILD THE WALLS.
We can accomplish the GOOD WORKS God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

THAT gets me super excited!

So, I invite you to join me.
To seek God with all your heart.  To pour out your requests before Him.
To STOP worrying and fretting and doubting.
To believe God CAN, then to ACT IN FAITH.
To DO whatever God may be calling you to do, to BECOME the person He has designed and created you to be.

And with the same confidence Nehemiah told the Israelites all those years ago, I assure you today, "The God of heaven will give us success..."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Forward to School

Yesterday and today have been an emotional roller coaster for me.
Let's just remind ourselves that I am 28 weeks pregnant and the mama of 3 very precious, but also extremely DRAMATIC girls.
I have EVERY right to be emotional...

But I'm talking FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL emotional.
As in my "baby girl" who made me a mama is somehow old enough to be at her first day of Kindergarten.  She's almost 6, but I swear she was just born yesterday.  I can sure tell you every detail of the day she was born.

Contractions started at 11 pm and were every 10 minutes from the get-go...

Don't worry, I'll spare you the birth story.
Coralyn Ruth Young made her grand entrance into the world on October 6, 2009 at 8:12 am.  She weighed in at 8 pounds, 5 ounces.  My world hasn't been the same since!

And today, today she rocked me yet again.
For one, she actually let me do her hair!  That NEVER happens.
Before, we left for school, as we were getting ready to take pictures, I was making her sign to hold.  I asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up.  After much thought, she decided on ARTIST.  She proceeded to add, "I know God is going to be with me at school and help me be a light and help others."
Heart melted.
Confirmation that my "baby girl" is indeed ready for this new adventure.

We took pictures, trying to stay dry as rain POURED down.

Made the short .98 mile drive to school.  And thankfully, the rain had almost stopped!  Got out and she put on her backpack and walked into HER school.  It's not just DADDY's school anymore (she goes where Lawrence teaches 3rd grade).

As teachers and staff members greeted students along the way, she was quick to inform one of them that she was chewing gum.  Apparently, NO gum is a rule and she wanted to be sure the teacher was aware of her crime :)  Teachers' kids...

We proceeded down the hallway without any further embarrassment on my part, Coralyn making her way directly to her classroom without any hesitation, doubt, fear, or trepidation.  She headed straight for her cubby and hung up her bag like a pro.

Without any encouragement from me, she then made her way to her spot at one of the tables.  Opened up her pink supply bag full of brand new crayons, sharpened pencils, glue sticks, markers, and everything else a kindergartener needs.

Had I not requested a picture with her teacher, Coralyn would have started coloring her sheet about the first day of school.  We made our way back to Mrs. Hubbard, snapped a quick picture, and then I was ushered out the door - by my daughter!

"Bye, Mom!"
High fives from me and her 2 sisters, then we were on our way.
NO tears.
No worries that she would do just fine.

My baby girl is "all grown up" and READY.
How is that even possible?!

Yesterday was all about squeezing in as much fun as possible.

Creating those final few precious memories before Coralyn's childhood "came to an end."
Yeah, that might be a bit dramatic. She's not heading off to college or walking down the aisle or anything like that.  BUT, for the next 13 years she will getting up 5 days a week and spending HOURS each day in school.  (Unless of course, my dream comes true and we are able to be a stay-at-home family and travel the world while we homeschool...)  So, for now, in a sense, her childhood is ending.  At least her time HOME with ME has ended.

And that brings a tear or two to my eyes.
I might be fighting them back right now as I type...

As I journaled yesterday morning, I jotted down:
Praying Coralyn is a light.  Wondering if I have done enough to prepare her...

I continued:
I'm ready for the week, but it will be NEW in a way since Coralyn won't be around all the time.  I really am going to miss her.  Funny how much I rely on HER.  She's the 5 year old daughter.  I am the mom.  She's supposed to need ME.  Yet, here I am realizing how much I need HER!

Boy, isn't that the truth?!
The tears are flowing freely now.
First time I've cried today.
But, they're not tears of sadness.
More of joy and pride and anticipation of what is to come, of what God is going to do in and through my child.

My brave, courageous, inquisitve, kind-hearted, peacemaking, artistic, attention to detail, outdoor loving, always wants to know more, never forgets anything, stubborn, determined, Jesus and Spirit-filled, powerful child.

Today, I reflected more on this monumental day in history.
Yes, my oldest going to kindergarten constitutes as a monumental day, at least in MY book.

The day has come - Coralyn's first day of kindergarten.  You wouldn't think I'd be so emotional since she did Summer School.  But that wasn't "real," I guess.  Just practice...  

Well, today it's game time.  The buzzer has sounded and it's time to go - or to LET HER GO.  She's the player now.  I'm in the stands.  Cheering.  Hiding my eyes in fear something may happen, but still wanting to see absolutely everything.

Oh to be a fly on the wall in her classroom today.  To watch all that goes on - and even more importantly how SHE does with it all.  Following directions.  Answering questions.  Making friends.  Being brave.  Being kind.  Remembering all I've taught her - or tried to teach her.  Be it the educational basics - letters, numbers, colors, shapes, the 3 types of rocks and how they are formed, the life cycle of a butterfly, the phases of the moon (and yes, we DID cover all those things and more in our homeschool curriculum this past year).  But today let's hope she spells her name right (still working on the direction of that Y), ties her shoes - oh wait, I'm having her wear velcro today because this pregnant mama can only handle so much growing up at once and so the tennis shoes with laces are on hold until tomorrow.  I'm seriously praying she stands quietly in line (without feeling the need to make sure everyone else is doing what they are supposed to), washes her hands after going to the bathroom, and has fun at recess.

I went on to write how I hoped the 5 loads of clean laundry needing to be put away and the 2 other loads waiting to be washed, the carpets to vacuum, the floor to mop, the counters to wipe down, the 4 bathrooms to clean, dishes to put away, a childbirth class to prepare for, and supper to make would keep me busy until she comes home to tell me all about her first day.

Well, I've done everything on the list, except make supper.
Kellah and Kyiah did help me make pumpkin protein granola bars.
AND I listened to a recorded call of 3 team mates sharing their inspirational stories of how It Works has changed their lives.

So, I'd say I've kept busy.
And I've done good until now.
Tears are running freely down my cheeks now.
I couldn't hold it together any longer, I guess.

Though, I do feel like making it until 2:03 pm is a good accomplishment for this emotional pregnant mama.  As I jotted down this morning:

You get ONE first day of Kindergarten.  I pray I don't blow it :)  

And since Coralyn is the first in our family to go to school - unless you count that Lawrence had his TENTH first day of 3rd grade - I can't really call today "BACK to School."  Rather, it's FORWARD to school.  And all that lies ahead...

Has 5 and 1/2 years really gone by?!
And she IS ready.
She truly is.
So I guess I better be too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Big Bark but NO Bite

I about peed my pants on my walk this morning.

Growing up, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous that grown women would pee their pants.  Didn't they have control of themselves?  Couldn't they make it to the bathroom on time?

Then, I had children.
NOW, I understand.
Your bladder is NEVER the same again.

No matter how many kegels you do.
Studies show that 60% of women struggle with incontinence after childbirth.
I am under the STRONG conviction that the other 40% are LIARS. :)

So, really, as a mom of 3 kiddos, it shouldn't surprise you at all that I almost peed my pants this morning. But, this incident had nothing to do with sneezing, coughing, or laughing.  Indeed, it was NOT a laughing matter.

I was walking along, listening to my music and talking with Jesus as I made my way down the street.  Minding my own business.  Focused on getting home and starting the day's tasks.  All of a sudden, I hear a vicious dog barking.  Startled, I look back to see where the beast is coming from, so I know which direction to run (not that I could have outrun the dog, being almost 7 months pregnant, but I was willing to give it a try to save my life).  A dog is rushing towards me, barking and letting me know he was NOT happy to see me pass by HIS yard.

Not the actual dog...
Just before I bolted, the dog stopped.
He had reached the boundary of the INVISIBLE fence.
I was safe.

I had been all along.
I had no reason to fear.
Or pee my pants (which I DIDN'T do, just to clarify - at least not this time).

The dog may have had a big bark, but he had no bite.
At least not that he could try out on me.

As I reflected on my near-death experience, I realized how Satan has much in common with that dog.
Satan likes to scare us as believers.
He wants us to think he's big and bad.
He wants us to fear him, to run and hide, to bolt.

When, in reality, he's fenced in.
Yes, he is powerful.  No doubt about that.  BUT, as I daily reminded the boys and girls at camp this summer, as believers WE are greater.  WE have the power of God in us, the same power that raised Jesus from the grave.  And our power - through Christ - is NO match for Satan.  We can beat him EVERY time.  In fact, we have ALREADY defeated him.  Not in ourselves or because of anything we have done or can do, but only because of the CROSS and the finished work Jesus has already done.  The end of the story has been spoken, even if there are still chapters left to be written in the thrilling saga of the war between heaven and hell.

Problem is - we don't see the fence.
It's invisible.
Just like our enemies who are "not flesh and blood," but indeed still very, very, VERY real.

The dog may have APPEARED to be on the attack, ready to run me down and tear me to pieces.
Yet, I had NO need to fear.

And so I kept walking.
Deep breaths were certainly taken, I assure you.
A sigh of relief may have been heard.

May we do the same today as we face our enemy.
May we remember he has a big bark, but no real bite.
Unless of course we LET him.
If we are silly enough to go up to a vicious dog and try to pet him and play with him, like he's the friendliest animal on the block, that's our bad.  We should know better.

So, don't go snuggle up to Satan and not expect to have him dig his fangs into ya.
Give him the opportunity and he will tear you to shreds.
The Bible warns us, "he is prowling around like a lion," on a mission to "steal, kill, and destroy."
He's NOT a cute, loveable puppy.
Don't mistake me there.
He is a vicious, mean-spirited beast.

BUT, he's fenced in.

Listen to his bark.
But don't fear his bite.
Look him square in the eye and let him know who's boss.
Remind him that he's already been defeated.
And that YOU are greater...
because you have GOD inside you!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Reality Check

This summer I was DEFINITELY reminded that life is NOT rainbows and roses.
Of course, I already knew this.
I am a mom of 3 young girls.  My life is full of drama and crying and fighting and tears.  And that's all before 10 am!  And I wouldn't change it for the world...

In July, we took a family vacation - driving all the way from Missouri to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  All those LONG hours in the car alone helped us remember that life is not unicorns and fairy tales and everything turning out "happily ever after."  BUT, we did have some sweet memories along the way.  We bought a pop-up camper just days before heading out, and were sooooo glad we did.  EVERY night on our way to the beach, we hit RAIN.  We would have been absolutely miserable in tents.  Not to mention the HEAT.  Let me just say how thankful this pregnant mama was for AIR CONDITIONING.

Go ahead, call me spoiled...

Moving on though to the best "reality check" of all on our trip.
As my husband and I were planning the vacation, we looked up family-friendly things to do in Myrtle Beach, figuring we might want to do something besides play in the ocean and build sandcastles on the beach.  I assure you, however, that our 3 girls would have been perfectly content doing nothing else.

We as adults needed a slight change of activity and decided that a dolphin cruise would be a fun outing.

We called and reserved a spot for a sunset boat tour.
We arrived and WAITED in line and barely got on the boat.
By the time we boarded, there were NO seats left.  So we stood - with all 3 girls (ages 20 months, 3.5 years, and 5.5 years) - and leaned on the railing.  Of course the girls couldn't see anything, so they wanted to be held.  My arms could only stand it for so long.  Praise Jesus, a gentlemen saw our situation and graciously offered his seat for me (6 months pregnant mind you) and 2 of our girls.  My husband had somehow managed to rock the youngest to sleep and was hugging her to his chest.

And so we rode and rode and rode out to the ocean.
No dolphins along the way.
That's okay, I told myself, we'll see them when we get out onto the open waters.
And I was going to be soooo sad becuase my phone had died and I had no way of taking pictures to capture the amazing moment.

Well, the open waters were particularly choppy that evening.
The captain tried to keep going, but we had to turn back.
Without seeing a single dolphin.
Or the sunset really.

We did get rain checks and were invited to return another time to try again.
We took the tickets, not sure if we would actually use them.
We honestly debated selling them on-line...

BUT, we decided to give it ONE more go.
We figured it couldn't hurt and chose a morning tour for our second trip.  We got up, checked out of our hotel, and made our way back to the boat dock, planning to enjoy a lovely boat ride and PRAYING hard we would see some dolphins this time around before we started heading on our way back home.

We arrived earlier this time, knowing we would want a seat on the boat for sure.
We even scouted out the best place - where we could see on both sides and increase our chances of a dolphin sighting.

We truly enjoyed the ride out to the ocean.  The breeze helped cool us off, as our seats were in the direct sunlight.  After what seemed like a LONG time and just as my girls were about to proclaim this another failure, we finally spotted a shrimp boat.  The captain assured us that dolphins typically follow behind the shrimp boats, hunting for food.

Indeed!  I jumped up with joy and shouted, "There's one!" as I saw the fin on a dolphin's back.
We raced to the edge of the boat and looked over the railing. We snapped pictures of the dolphins as they would barely pop up above the water.  I was thrilled, but expected to see MORE of the actual dolphin - not just a back fin.  My oldest daughter announced with awe, "This is so cool!"  And with delight, I agreed and confirmed "it was all worth it now, right?"


We proceeded to sit and watch the shrimp boat, and dolphin fins.
We bobbed up and down, up and down, up and down.
I get car sick.
I also get boat sick.
And so I started to feel nauseous.  I hurriedly left my husband with all 3 girls and ran to the bathroom, only to find the door closed.  I quickly looked around and found a trash can.  Just in time.  I puked 4 times.  Lovely.  Once my stomach was empty, I sat down on the bench and rested my head on a table.  I knew I needed to go back to my husband and girls, but I was in no shape to move or be of any parenting help.  So I sat.

And we continued to bob.
I prayed we would leave.
I begged God to help the captain realize we had seen enough dolphin fins and were ready to make our way back.  After envisioning something QUITE DIFFERENT in my head, I was more than ready to be DONE with boats and dolphin tours FOREVER.

I finally made my way back out to my family.  I found my 3 year old sprawled out on the deck, sleeping.  God bless her.  My youngest was screaming bloody murder because she wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with Daddy and only wanted me, but I wasn't in any position to hold her yet.  So that left me helping my 5 year old, moaning and starting to cry, get over to the side rail.  We didn't make it in time.  She threw up at our feet.   And then again 2 more times at the rail, which I couldn't lift her up high enough to puke in the water instead of at our feet yet again.

When she was emptied out (thank goodness I didn't let her have the snacks she so desperately wanted as we boarded the boat), we sat back down and rested.  When I was strong enough, I traded with my husband and relieved him of the raging mad "baby."  He took our oldest and laid down with her, next to our 3 year old, on a bench seat.  Within minutes, our youngest was snoozing contentendly on my chest.  All was well again.

AND we started to turn back towards the river that had lead us to the ocean.
We were going to shore!
I couldn't have been happier, and more relieved.

When we landed and got off the boat, my oldest informed me she NEVER wanted to do that again.  I promised her we wouldn't.

As we made our way to Chick-fil-A for lunch (a real treat since we had planned on eating whatever was packed in our cooler), I thanked God we had survived that nightmare.  I reflected once more on how life isn't rainbows and roses.  I had a good dose of a reality that morning...

Playing at Chick-fil-A and forgetting the terrors of the dolphin tour
Even though the dolphin tour itself was NOT all I dreamed or imagined, the experience is one for the books.  We certainly have some memories.

And after our girls got sick driving through the windy, curvy, hilly mountain roads the NEXT day, as we cleaned up puke one more time, I told my husband, without question, we are going someplace FLAT and DRY for our family vacation next year!

After all, my girls had just as much fun exploring in the woods as they did playing on the beach.