Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas is Jesus

Early in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I found myself discontent. I was distracted and wanting to find Jesus in the everyday small things, not just in the Christmas Eve service or Children's musical or the reading of the Christmas story from Scripture. I wanted to experience Christmas in a fresh way within my heart.

When you pray things like that, be prepared. God answers, and sometimes He answers loudly.

What I found as we left Thanksgiving and headed into the Christmas season was that all around me, people were hurting. I was initially overcome with the sadness around me. Truth be told, it's sometimes overwhelming to turn the tv on and see the destruction in our world. It's difficult to go to work and see lives that are wrecked by suffering and brokenness, rage and hurt. It's hard to go into stores and see anger in the faces of people as they go about their grocery shopping, unaware of the poison that is eating away at their lives. And so it was that I began my own Christmas season a bit frustrated.

But then, I was reading the story of Jesus's birth, and I was struck by the simplicity and the mangificence of the birth of Jesus. I saw it all in a different light somehow. I saw not only the miracle of a virgin birth, but the miracle of the redemption of souls. I saw with fresh eyes the magnitude of the perfect, sinless life of Jesus, all man yet all God, and how he made it possible for me and everyone to be reconciled and healed.

Here is fresh  truth I've seen this season: People will get sick. Some will die; some will be healed. Pregnancies will be lost too soon. Children will make poor decisions that could impact them forever. Jobs will be lost. Promotions will be granted. Graduations will happen. Teams will win. Teams will lose. People will be fired for speaking their beliefs and convictions. People will be hurt by ugly words and slanderous tongues. Greed will overtake some. Others will search for significance in all the wrong places. Forgiveness will be sought by some, refused by others. Life will move quickly. Things will change, sometimes every day it seems.

But the same Jesus that came to earth that night in Bethlehem is the same today.

He is still Emmanuel, God with us. 

He is still the Great I AM. 

He is still enough. 

Whatever life looks like for you, whether you celebrate what this past year has brought or you eagerly await the newness of 2014, Jesus remains. And He loves you deeply.

This is the truth of Christmas that brings me joy today and every day. May His peace embrace you today and always. I'd love to tell you more about my Jesus if you don't know him.

Merry Christmas to you!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Be the change

"We are the problem, but we are also the solution".

I heard those words spoken by Jud Wilhite at the Catalyst conference we recently attended. I struggled to hear the rest of what he said because those words kept echoing in my mind and heart. They resonated within me. 

I'm tired of a lot of talk I hear among the Church today. I'm growing weary of hearing "I don't like this church because....." or "I'm quitting this church because....." or even "I can't worship with (this or that) going on.....". My heart breaks (and I get really ticked off) when someone in the Church feels compelled to point fingers at every imperfection of another, whispering words of poison meant only to hurt. 

Do you want to know why this upsets me so much? 

Because those who are not a part of the Church are watching. And they're learning. And what they're learning is that they want NOTHING to do with the Church. If we can't even love each other, why in the world would others think we could love them? 

And so, it was with these things on my heart, that I listened to the words from Jud Wilhite: "We are the problem, but we are also the solution". 

It was tempting for me to think of everyone I've ever thought has wronged me or my family within the church. But that's selfish and egotistical and well, just plain wrong. This will never change as long as we move forward with that kind of attitude. What I NEEDED to do was look deep within my heart and see what junk was hidden there? What is it within me that needed to be weeded out, pruned away? 

Stuff like this isn't easy. I often feel justified for being angry, holding a grudge, thinking someone is ridiculous..... But here's the truth that God has impressed upon me: I'm a part of the problem too, so I have to work on being part of the solution. 

And so it starts by seeking to change my ways. Stop looking for the fault in others. Stop assuming the worst in people. Stop expecting people to fail to follow through. Stop judgding. Stop assuming I know things I don't. 

Scripture says it clearly: "The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mervy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8)

If we live by that, we will be the solution to a world in need. 

Are you in? 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

the battle within...

I'm restless lately. I feel like there isn't enough of me to go around. The demands, most of which are self-imposed, are heavy. I feel pulled in 12 directions at once, and that stretching hurts sometimes. There are things I want to do that I feel I cannot give the time for, and there are things I don't necessarily want to do that I know I am called to do. There are mornings that I look at my calendar, and I want to crawl back in my bed and cry. My email buzzes all day, beckoning me to "read me now". It's a fight within not to drop everything and do just that.

 My work is demanding. People, living in constant crisis mode, feel that I should take care of their needs first. They don't know that I'd love to do just that, but there is only one of me and hundreds of them. Then I hear their stories, and my heart breaks for the heaviness they bear, and I tell myself that I can bend the rules "just this once" and give in to their demands because I want desperately to help. I know in my heart that my giving in doesn't really help though; it simply perpetuates the cycle of crisis-to-crisis living. The battle in my head rages. And then there's "that caller" who yells and screams and calls me names that I've never heard of and wouldn't call my worst enemy. And I want to scream right back, hike my leg over my high horse and trot right out of that office, never to return.

 I sit with my kids at dinner every night, and I'm reminded that my time with them is so short. And so I begin to tell myself that I am not doing enough, saying enough, teaching enough, being enough... I look at my husband and wish that I were better at managing to keep this house cleaner, the dishes done, the laundry kept up, never nagging him about the time demands of his job. I want to be the perfect wife and mom, whatever that is.

 I listen to Jeff talk about students, and I want so much to be a bigger part of their lives. I love them so much, and I want to know them better. I want them in our home more. I want to spend time getting to know their stories more. And then I get that twinge of guilt that I'd even desire to be away from home, my first calling, to do something else. And that war rages again inside of my heart.

I look at the manuscript that I've sent to the publisher, and I cringe to think that people will actually read that! What have I done? Why would I presume to think that anyone cares about my story? What if they think I'm horrible? What if they think I wrote it for applause? What if they think it stinks? What if it's an epic fail and only sells to  my husband and my parents? What if the demands of editing make me feel even more crazy than I already do, and I lose my mind completely?

 In my time alone with God, I cry and rant and say things like "I can't do this!" and "Why don't you call someone better able to do this?" and "why do I have to work there?" and "when will I ever feel like I'm enough?". And He listens patiently. And I feel Him holding me... really, I do. And I hear Him say to me, "You are enough because I said so, and that's true whether you believe it or not". And I hear Him remind me that He knows and loves me where I am, but too much to allow me to stay there in my self-pity and doubt.

The truth is that I'd rather be refined than rescued. Yes, I said it. Refining is hard. Just like the process of refining gold requires heat, so does refining our lives. It hurts to peel away the layers of self doubt and legalism. It's painful to break off the limbs of perfectionism and comparison that have embedded deep within a heart. But I would rather have that pain, and the peace and beauty that follows, than to be simply rescued from this place. You see, rescue is nice momentarily. But how often do we have long-lasting results unless we've had to work at something? So, I trust and I wait, and I believe that there will be a day when I don't have these battles raging within me. I believe that He who began a good work in me will complete it.  And so, I rest in the knowledge that He loves me right now, right as I am. And His love is enough.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

20 years

He's my favorite!

Twenty years ago, I walked down the aisle on the arm of my dad to be given in marriage to the best man I know. I was a baby- just 20 years old, still in college. There was no way I could have known then that my love for him would grow stronger every day. I had no idea that I could love him more than the moment I said "I do", but I've learned that I can! We promised that we'd stick together through everything- sickness and health, rich or poor, good and bad. And we have. We took those vows seriously that day, and we still do. Our motto is to "out-serve each other", and it has become a way of life for us to seek to do for each other before ourselves. 

We aren't perfect. I drive him nuts a LOT more than he does me, I can guarantee! We get on each other's nerves at times. We disagree occasionally, though not very often. We've made stupid mistakes together. We've walked through times when it felt like the foundation had been torn from under our feet. We honor each other at all times. And after 20 years, we've kept the promise that the word "divorce" would never be spoken in our home to each other. 

The best years of my life have been with you, Jeff. You've given me adventure after adventure, all the while loving me the way Christ loves the Church. You've upheld your vows in every way, and I'm blessed to call you mine. You make me laugh. You still give me butterflies. When I'm with you, it really doesn't matter what is happening around me. Over these 20 years, we've rejoiced together, grieved together, celebrated together and consoled one another. Our children are the fruits of our labor in this marriage, and really, what else could we want? We are blessed indeed. 

I love you, Jeff. Thanks for asking me to be your wife, all those years ago. Thank you for an incredible 20 years so far. I can't fathom what the next 20 will hold! But come what may, I'll choose you. 

I could list a million things I love about Jeff, but this isn't our millionth anniversary. So, in honor of 20 years of wedded bliss, here are 20 things I love about my amazing husband (in no certain order).

1. He laughs at the fact that I leave all the cabinet doors and drawers open in the house almost constantly. 

2. He still opens the doors for me, even after 20 years of being married. 

3. He calls me "Bird" and never just "Holly".

4. He sacrifices for me and our family. Every day. 

5. He takes time for "dad and lad" days, and does so often. 

6. He has bagel dates with Ellie to show her how a boy should treat her one day when she dates (in 20 years)

7. He listens to geek radio, then tries to explain it to me. 

8. He prays for me and with me. 

9. He takes risks with me. 

10. When he gets the chance to attend a sporting event, he asks me to come along over his guy friends. 

11. He believes in me, even when I don't. 

12. He takes care of himself- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

13. He laughs with me. A lot. 

14. He made a swing for me so we can sit and watch the sunset every night. 

15. He has loved me through countless hair styles and colors. Seriously.  

16. He loves his work and gives his all there, but the best of his time is for us at home. 

17. He kisses me first when he comes home. 

18. He calls me beautiful. 

19. He is my best friend, confidant, lover, secret keeper, encourager, dream-sharer, and so much more. 
20. He said "I do", and he has. I love you forever, Jeff!

Monday, June 24, 2013

When things don't make sense

Last week, I was headed to work like any other normal day. It was a sunny day, and I was enjoying my coffee, listening to music, and just enjoying the beauty of the morning. I stopped at a gas station for gum because who wants to talk to someone with coffee breath, right?

As I pulled in the parking lot, I noticed him. He was old, dirty, unkempt, frail looking. He was walking without much purpose across the parking lot, unnoticed by those gassing up their cars or hurrying in and out for their morning dose of caffeine. As I got out of my car, he stumbled and fell, and I rushed to help him up. One other lady met me at his side. I reached down to touch him, and there was no response at all. I thought he had knocked himself unconscious and "nurse Holly" took over.

But he wasn't unconscious. He was dead.

I did CPR as the staff from the gas station called 911 and the lady kept others away, not allowing this to become a spectacle. As I did chest compressions to pump blood to his brain, the gas station attendant said "He walks here all the time, but I don't know his name". He had no wallet, no identification of any kind.There was no one to contact to come and be with him, no way of knowing what his medical history was. He was utterly alone.

EMS arrived with an AED machine to shock his heart, but there was still no response. They took him away wthout many words at all except to ask how long I had done CPR. I later learned that a "John Doe" had been pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.

And so it set in...that feeling of "You should have done more, Holly" and "If only you'd been there a few minutes earlier", and "You're not that great of a nurse after all, are you?". Before you go telling me the opposite, please hear this: I know I did all that I could. I simply wish that I could have done more for him. I wanted to save him.

But really, I wish so much more than that for him. I wish he had not been alone. I wish I had known his name to call out to him, instead of just "sir, sir!". I wish that I had known if he had a family, maybe kids somewhere who need to know that he is not here anymore. I was angry that the staff there knew that he walked through the parking lot several times a week, yet not one person knew his name. No one stopped to ask his story. No one cared enough to get involved in his life.

That's not okay. It's not okay that people walk by us every day of our lives, and we turn a blind eye to them. It's not okay that people are in need all around us, lonely, afraid, worried, sad, whatever- and we just let them walk on by. It's not okay that this man didn't have anyone to hold his hand that knew him. It's not okay that he died as "John Doe".

None of this makes sense to me. I know it doesn't have to; I'm not that important that it should be made known to me. But still... I want it to make sense. I want all of life to make sense. I want it all measured out in perfect little pieces, arranged in neat little rows. But it doesn't happen that way, does it? And yet, I still love this life. In all of its uncertainty and unknowns, I love this life I've been given. I want to make the most of each day, and really, that involves not letting people walk past me without really seeing them. I want to grab each day by the horns and really live it, not just be a spectator watching others live. I want to celebrate each breath I'm given because I'm not guaranteed another.

And when my time on earth is done, I want to leave a legacy. I want my name to mean something. I want my children to say that I loved them fiercely, and poured the love of Jesus into them. I want my husband to be able to say that I was an encourager, his biggest fan in life, his best friend, his love. I want my friends to say that I knew them well, that I loved them even better. I want my God to say "well done, good and faithful servant".

Life doesn't always make sense, and I guess that's okay. I trust that I don't have to have it all together to make it count. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ethiopia 2013

We've been planning this trip for a year. The dates were set in stone at least six months ago. Funds have come pouring in since December, enough to pay for the installation of three water systems plus some. Everything seemed to be going just perfect, and I was sure that we had it all under control. 

That was my first mistake: thinking that I had it under control. It's not mine to have under control. 

Our first flight out of Louisville was delayed by 7 hours, making it impossible to make our next flight to Frankfurt Germany. We were told that we'd be re-routed through London instead, allowing us to arrive in Ethiopia just a few hours later than originally planned. No worries. We were even promised business class the whole way!  When we arrived in Newark, however, we were told that the London flight was not possible, and we were placed back on a flight through Frankfurt the following day. Our luggage had been stopped in Newark already, and we went to retrieve it but were told it was being re-ticketed already for our new flight. 

We arrived in Addis Ababa on a Saturday night, 24 hours later than planned, tired from a grueling 48 hours of travel, but still excited to do the work God placed on our hearts. We got through the visa line and exchanged money with no problem. We walked to the baggage claim area and waited for the carousel to begin to move. We waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. 

No luggage. 

Ethiopian staff told us that our luggage had indeed made it to Frankfurt, but did not get on the plane to Addis. "It should arrive tomorrow night", we were told. 

It did not.

Two days after arrival we had luggage, but Customs held us up and would not allow us to bring in the water systems. After hours of trying to get them through, we were told to leave and come back the next day. We were already supposed to have been gone to Awassa to set up two systems, and this would delay us  yet another day. To say that I was frustrated is the understatement of the year. I was angry, indignant, sure that God would show Himself and miraculously let us have them. 

The next day, they said "no" again. That story is a whole other blog post for another day. But at that "no", I stopped asking God to give me my way, and just show me Himself. He revealed that He had been doing just that all along, from the very first day that I wore my pink t-shirt and continued to wear it because we had no other luggage. Prior to this trip, God had been dealing with me about the excess in my life- excess food, excess clothing, excess stuff in the house, excess everything. And here I found myself in Ethiopia with no excess at all,  just a pair of jeans and a pink t-shirt. What I found was that the mornings were much simpler because I didn't worry over what I was going to wear. Instead, I found myself with time on my hands and in the Word. hmmm, there's a thought! 

As I rode through the streets of Addis Ababa, I saw person after person wearing clothing that was torn and tattered and did not fit well. But they weren't concerned about that; they were concerned about the person beside them. Men were shaking hands and holding hands. Women were kissing each other on the cheek. Laughter rang throughout the streets. Smiles were everywhere. You see, they didn't have the distraction of what they wore to keep them from really sinking their teeth into life. They value relationships above all else. They love each other well. And so, I began to dive in and really get to know my teammates. And to my surprise, I found that deep abiding friendships can grow overnight, that there are people you can meet and instantly have a connection with that is beyond understanding. I learned that telling our stories grows our relationships even further, and conversations around a breakfast table or in a dark room with no electricity make eternal impressions. 

When our plans changed sometimes more than once in a day, I learned that man's plans are never fool proof, but God is sovereign over all. He has gone ahead of us, straightening the paths before us. Those paths are not always the ones we had highlighted on our GPS, but they are rich in experience and love and fullness and contentment. As I held and prayed over a day-old baby boy named Barnabas who had been dropped off at the government orphanage that very morning, I realized that moment was one that I would never have been able to have had all of our plans gone as we wanted. My heart was full as I stood rocking a 5 day old baby boy, knowing that allowing him human touch was my mission for that moment, not what I had ond my agenda for the day. 
When I stepped out of the van at Hope for the Hopeless and immediately saw LemLem for the first time in a year, I knew that God had given me the gift of an afternoon holding her hand, talking and laughing with her, encouraging her, sharing favorite bible passages together, learning Amharic phrases from her. My heart was full because my plans were thwarted and His plans prevailed. Had those systems gotten through Customs when planned, we would not have had that time. We shared about how to know when God wants you to marry a boy, how to trust God for your future, what the bible says about trusting in His plans (how ironic). I got to see a picture of her mother who had passed away 11 years earlier, and I had the honor of hearing her say, "the bible tells me I can trust God has a plan for my life even though I do not have a family". Yes, my sweet friend. You can trust him, and I can too. 

I had this great idea in my head of what this trip would look like before we came. None of it included LemLem, Gabriel in the Customs office, Aruul from Canada, Barnabas, Martha the sweet baby girl who captured my heart at the orphanage. It didn't include Nina hugging my neck and whispering, "Stay".

Since being home, people have already started to ask, "How was your trip?" I find that hard to answer. From the outside looking in, one might think this trip was wasted money and time. After all, not one water system was set up. There aren't any more Ethiopians drinking clean water today as a result of this trip. But there are babies who were held for a few hours that otherwise may not have experienced human touch that day. There were prayers prayed over sweet little faces, two or three per crib, while we dropped off donations to help provide for them in a small way. There was laughter and bonding with kids who might have otherwise been overlooked for that day. So many things would not have happened had we been installing water systems. I cannot believe that these things were meant to be missed. 

I won't pretend to understand this. To say that I am not at all disappointed that we didn't get to put in the systems would be a bold-faced lie. But I know this: out of all of my trips to Ethiopia thus far, God spoke more clearly and personally to me this time than ever before. I can't explain it; it just is. I'm changed because of my time there. I'm changed because of the hands I held, the faces I kissed, the necks I hugged. I am changed because of the stories of my teammates that are a part of me now. I am changed because God saw fit to speak personally to me. We were chosen for this time, all of us on this trip. And we might get the opportunity to know exactly why things were allowed to work the way they did. We might not, and that is okay too. I trust in the sovereignty of God either way. 

So there it is... how wearing the same pink t-shirt day after day stuck with me. I dare say that I won't ever put it on again without seeing the faces of so many whose lives have changed my own. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Filling the gaps...

It's that time of the year. Time for the hustle of end of the year parties, field trips and getting those last reading logs in. I love this time of year. I love when the school year is about to end, as I know that in a few weeks, our mornings won't be quite so hectic. I love knowing that there are only a few more days that I have to sign that dang behavior chart every afternoon (can I hear an "amen"?). I am ready for that more than anything I think. 

This week I got the newsletter from Ellie's teacher that explained their graduation procedures. I'm sure it will be a great night with lots of laughter and more than a few tears. But there's one part I dread, and it's not likely the part that you're thinking. When I say this, most people assume that I am dreading another year passing and Ellie growing up just a little bit more. That's not it. I'm good with that part. 

What I dread is the video they put together. 

Let me explain. Our newsletter asked us to send in a baby and toddler picture of our child to share in the end-of-the-year video. We don't have either one of those. Ellie came to us at almost 3, so there are no baby pictures at all. We can send in pictures (and we will) of when she first came home, but it's not the same. Ellie read the newsletter, and she asked "Momma, what are we going to send? Do you have to send a picture of me when I was still in Ethiopia?". No, baby, we don't. I explained that we will send what we can, but that we do not have to send the pics of her in the orphanage (She does NOT like those pictures). 

I understand the premise behind asking for this. I really do. Please don't hear this as an insult to Ellie's teacher. She is wonderful! I guess it's just these times of the year when it is more evident that our story is different. And while different is often very good, it is still different.

  And different is hard.

 I am hurting for my girl who will watch every other classmate of hers have their baby pictures blown up for all to see in that sanctuary on graduation night. I'm hurting for the story behind the lack of pictures of my girl. I'm hurting for her first mom who has those images and nothing more. 

We will celebrate the year with gusto. We will celebrate finishing kindergarten with lots of laughter and joy. We will celebrate going into the first grade able to read like crazy (thanks, Mrs Laura!!). But there will be a bittersweet aspect to our celebration, for me at least, as we watch a video played out that shows the holes in Ellie's story. I wish I could give her that. My mother's heart wants to fill those gaps with stories of what a great baby she was, if she was collicky or not, whether she slept through the night or was awake to eat every two hours. I have scores of stories about Bryan as a baby and toddler. They are some of my favorite memories and some of the funniest stories we tell over and over. But for Ellie, I have none of those. I want to fill those gaps, but I can't. 

I cannot give to her what I was not there for. And as a momma, not being there is so hard to get over. And so I pray that God- who has been with her since He formed her in Tigist's womb-  fills those gaps with His joy, His peace, His story. 

Thanks be to God...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

23 years ago...

It's been 23 years, and although most days it never crosses my mind, there are times that I'm taken back to that day, and it seems surreal.

Picture this: A bright, sunny April day in 1990. My high school- the place I knew so well and felt so safe. A friend I'd known my whole life waiting in the parking lot that afternoon. What could possibly go wrong?

What went wrong is this. That "friend" I had known forever raped me in that parking lot that bright sunny day. In an instant, I found myself in a situation that I never would have imagined. Not then. Not there. Not him. But the truth is that rape, sexual assault- whatever you want to call it- is no respecter of persons. It doesn't matter if you're a "good girl" or "bad girl". It doesn't matter how much money you have or don't have. It doesn't matter if you're a teacher's pet and straight A student. It doesn't matter if there is a building full of people just inside those doors. The only thing that mattered was that I was there, and he had a plan to harm me. And so it was.

I never told my story then. I wanted to hide it. Heck, I wanted to hide my entire self. I was embarassed, afraid that everyone would believe about me all of those horrible things he had said to me in those 20 minutes of hell. I wanted to run. And run I did.

Six weeks later, I walked across the stage to graduate from that high school, smile on my face, pretending that everything was just fine. Two months after that, I walked onto the campus of EKU, my new home, the place I "ran" to in order to get away from it all, lying to myself that I'd move on and forget all about it.

That didn't happen.

It's a long story, and I won't go into all of the details here now, but suffice it to say that I lived for years with shame and humiliation a part of my daily routine. They ate me alive. In the end, I wound up depressed, ready for it all to end. And finally, 8 years later, I heard a story of healing and redemption that changed me.

Another survivor told her story of rape, of depression, of shame, and of ultimate healing. And I knew that if she could have that, then so could I. And so my journey began. Y'all, I'm not the same person anymore. As I said in the beginning, most days I never give a thought to that day. Most days I feel as confident as can be, full of life, full of purpose, full of joy.

But when April rolls around and the days get longer and warmer, there is a gnawing in the pit of my stomach, a reminder that this day feels so much like that one. And those memories come back to haunt me again. Oh, I don't get sad or depressed again. I'm done with that. I don't feel like a victim anymore. NOT EVEN CLOSE. But I do remember because we humans, we are wired to remember. And that's okay.

Those memories cannot hurt me, and in fact, I believe that they help me. What's that, you say? Yes, I think they help me. You see, I am a better person because of the pain I endured that day. I'm strong. I'm secure. I'm healed. I'm redeemed. I know who I am in Christ, and that day is a part of that story for me. And so it's okay to remember and be a little down about it for a short time. I'm not that 17 year old girl anymore. I'm 40, and I'm okay.

This week I read a story of another 17 year old girl who committed suicide after being gang raped, then harassed about it. My heart breaks for her. I wish I had known her before, could have walked beside her, taken her hand and said "It's going to be all right. This does not have to defeat you. It doesn't even have to define you". But I didn't know her. However, if statistics are right, there are plenty others that we do know who are suffering now with that shame, their self esteem eaten away bit by bit as they start to believe the lies told them during those moments of abuse. It doesn't have to be that way. I will do whatever I can to make sure it's not that way for those girls.

I can't heal people. I can't change their stories. I can't tell anyone it will never happen to them. I can't take away the scars-physical or emotional. But I can relate. And I can cry with her. And I can tell her that her worth is not found in the words or actions of a monster. I can show her how the Lord renewed my life, restored me to a girl I actually love which I never thought possible at one time.

And so I share....and share.... and share some more.

Until all those other girls know they are not alone...

PS: If you are one of those girls (or guys) struggling, hiding your story or rape, afraid to tell the truth, please please please get help. Don't wait a minute longer. If you want to share your story with me, email me at hollybird@hotmail.com. I'll help you find the help you need to heal. It's not easy. You don't have to do it alone.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wrestling and Waiting

I'm really REALLY not the wrestling type of gal. Ok, fine. I admit that when I was a little girl, I watched with my brother and my cousin every Saturday. I dodged the pillows that my cousin threw every time a chair was thrown, and I had the theme music for the "Fabulous Ones" memorized. Any of y'all out there remember Stan Lane and Steve Kern? To a 10 year old girl, it didn't matter that they were horrible actors. They were cute and shirtless. But I digress...

I've grown up, and I've LONG since outgrown my wrestling phase. So when a client's grandmother actually spoke to me in a Stone Cold Steve Austin voice today, I laughed out loud y'all. Forget professionalism. I was done. In my mind, all I could think of was a YouTube video I'd seen recently of "Stone Cold ET" (seriously, google it if you want a good laugh), and I was preparing myself for the inevitable. So when she said, in a raspy, threatening voice nonetheless, "And that's the bottom line", I swear I had to push mute on my phone. I'm 40 years old. You can talk to me in real adult words and everything. It's amazing really.

But here's the truth. I have a tendency to resort back to my childhood ways at times too. We all do, don't we? It's so darn easy to get to the "I-want-it-my-way-right-now" mentality. We live in a fast paced, instant-gratification society. We are used to getting what we want when we want it. We don't want to wait for anything. Just turn your TV on for a few minutes of commercials if you don't believe me ("It's my money, and I want it now!" rings through my head even as I type this).

But God is not about the instant gratification. Slowly (painfully slow even!), He is teaching me that there is beauty in the wait. There is learning. There is peace. There is healing. There is growth. There is questioning. There is stretching too. Some of it hurts, but all of it is necessary for me. And it's okay. It's more than okay actually. It's perfectly wonderful because He is in the wait too. Trust me. I've been waiting on God for a long time for something. I'm still waiting today. I've waited before on other things, so I know that His timing really is best, and I'm good with this wait. Yes, I get impatient at times, but over all, I'm content, and content is a very good place to be.

So, if you are waiting too, be comforted. You are not alone. You will not wait forever. God is always faithful to answer. And there is beauty in the wait.

And that's the bottom line!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

No awards here...

I'm pretty sure it's safe to assume that I won't be getting any "Mother of the Year" awards for 2013. Seriously, it's only April 2nd, and I've already lost that nomination. If it weren't the fact that my daughter's hair has breakage (a no-no for African hair, I suppose akin to a white girl cutting her own 'bangs" with scissors), I'm absolutely positive that getting your son fired = no trophies for you! Apparently, when they took my gallbladder out last week, they also took my ability to READ because when I offered to look at his schedule for work for him, I COMPLETELY MISSED the fact that he was scheduled for yesterday. No show, no call= immediate termination. Hey, I get it. Rules are there for a reason. No hard feelings; I just hate that my actions led to his termination. (we've already discussed responsibility stuff here, so we'll skip that!) See what I mean? NO TROPHY FOR ME!

Jeff and I have been reading the bible chronilogically, and we are currently in the book of Judges. Let me set the stage: The Israelites, freed from slavery in Egypt, have completed their 40 years of wondering through the wilderness. God has given them the Promised Land, as He said He would. They have divided up land among the tribes and are settling into their new lives. And then I read over and over "The people did evil in the Lord's sight"... The Israelites messed up, y'all. Even though they had witnessed miracle after miracle for the past 40+ years, they still messed up. And when they saw their ways were wrong, they repented, were forgiven and restored.

The same God that restored them and forgave them... He is still alive! So, it's okay if I screw up sometimes. No, I don't think my honest mistake in reading Bryan's schedule warrants the wrath of God, but you get my point, right? We have hope. I HAVE HOPE! I'm not destined to always screw it up. He redeems.

Truth is that I'll probably never be nominated for Mother of the Year. Truth is I never really want to be nominated. I don't need those accolades. I simply want to glorify my Heavenly Father in my parenting, my role as a wife, my role as a friend, daughter, sister, nurse, etc etc. And when I screw up- 'cause LORD KNOWS I will again!- I can get right back up, hold my head high, and move on. Beacuse my Daddy in Heaven loves me. Always.

And that, my friends, is all the trophy I need.

Monday, April 1, 2013

I've come undone

And He said, “Father, why are they screaming?
Why are the faces of some of them beaming?

Why are they casting their lots for my robe?

This crown of thorns hurts me more than it shows.
Father please, can’t you do something?
I know that You must hear my cry.
I thought I could handle a cross of this size.
Father, remind me why.
Why does everyone want me to die?
Oh, when will I understand why?”

My precious son, I hear them screaming.

I’m watching the face of the enemy beaming.

But soon I will clothe you in robes of my own.

Jesus, this hurts me much more than you know,
but this dark hour, I must do nothing,
though I’ve heard your unbearable cry.
The power in your blood destroys all of the lies;
soon you’ll see past their unmerciful eyes.
Look, there below, see the child
trembling by her father’s side.
Now I can tell you why...
she is why you must die. 
(Excerpt from "Why?" By Nicole Nordeman)

These words were sang in our church yesterday. The beginning of the song is beautiful too, and I freely admit I had a tear in my eye from the start. But when it got to the part I included here, I was undone. The visual image of my Jesus in agony, feeling for the first time ever His separation from the Father, literally broke my heart. The response of His Father in Heaven, watching as His only Son died, full of love, full of Grace....I have no words for that. 

What breaks my heart most though is the knowledge that I have taken for granted this love, this sacrifice. How have I lived 40 years, knowing this story inside and out and never been brought to sobs until now? How have I become so callous to His extravagant love for me? Have I become so casual that I have cheapened His grace?

This weekend we spent time organizing. I was Overcome with grief, embarrassed, humiliated at the excess that I saw in my home. Our coat closet is bursting with no less than 8 coats THAT HAVE NEVER BEEN WORN THIS SEASON! How can I call myself a follower of Jesus yet allow people around me go cold this whole winter while I have coats I haven't even put on? It was that closet full of coats that came to mind as I listened to that song in church yesterday. If I don't put into action the grace and mercy afforded me on the Cross, then I'm not worthy to call myself by His name. 

The truth is that Jesus came to save, to heal, to clothe, to give sight, to feed, to visit, to love, to touch. And I am called to follow after Him. 

Oh God,  change my heart. Don't let me cheapen your gift. Break me for the things that broke you. Teach me your compassion. Help me see with your eyes. Help me to give selflessly like you gave. I'm yours. 

I don't want to wake up in September and find that I can think about the Cross without emotion. I don't want to find that my heart has become deadened to His gift of Grace. 

Oh God, keep me seeking. Keep me wanting. Keep me asking. Keep me crying. Keep me humble. Keep me passionate. Keep me. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Easter gift to my kids...

It's here. Holy Week. The Passover. Easter. 
Those words alone have nothing special about them, just consonants and vowels  that we use in our language. Oh, but those words have infinite, life-changing meaning when you grasp the Grace by which they have been formed. Too often, however, these things are lost amidst the flurry of pastel eggs, fake grass, and an oversized bunny who brings candy to our kids. We trade the cross for new dresses and ties, the crown of thorns for a bonnet. 

Please don't read this and label me a "bunny hater"; I'm not. It's just that I'm tired of the bunny getting center stage while Jesus gets one hour on Sunday morning.  How did this happen?  And what's more, why do we let it continue? I want more than this for my kids. I want them to grasp what Easter really is, to dwell in the transformation brought about by the ressurection of the Saviour. So, here is my gift to my kids this year for Easter. 

Bryan, what a year you've had. At 17, you've lived more life than most 60 year olds. You've learned to endure, to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I think of Easter and you, I think of Christ's gift of Grace. This season, you've seen firsthand what darkness looks like. You've wrestled the demon of self doubt and depression, fought the voice that told you to end it all and be done with life.  And by His grace, you've won. Hear this, Bryan, if you never hear another thing I tell you: BY HIS STRIPES YOU ARE HEALED. He paid the price on Calvary, defeating sin and everything we deal with. Your depression was cured on that cross by His Mercy and Grace. When the darkness faded and Christ arose, He knew you'd endure this season, and He made a way for your healing and redemption. It's done, my son. And He did it for you. You've already won because the Christ who conquered death dwells within you. That is the beauty of Easter, revealed in your life today. Celebrate it. Tell it. Shout it. 

Your music is your gift, your expression. So let it out. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, and celebrate the victory He has given you. And never stop. Yes, you heard me. Never stop celebrating the rebirth that has happened within you. On those days when the darkness and sadness start to creep back in, say "No" in the name of Jesus. You have that authority because of Easter. No basket full of fake grass and sugar can equal this gift!

Ellie, when I think of you, I think of redemption. Your life is a living picture of Easter. There you were in Ethiopia- dirty, sick, lonely, frightened... And we came for you. But Ellie, my sweet girl, it gets even better. Because Jesus came for you long before we did! That's what Easter is! The Christ- perfect, Holy, Chosen, loving- came to us- dirty, broken, afraid, lonely. He has redeemed you with His love, His blood, His Grace. There isn't a chocolate bunny on earth that can match up to that gift! There isn't a frilly dress on the planet that will ever be as beautiful as Christ glorified in your life. So, dance and sing and celebrate that Ellie. Sing until you have no voice, declaring the love of your Saviour. Shout from the innermost recesses of your heart that He has healed you and redeemed you. He has given you beauty for ashes, Ellie. You are living proof that God redeems. 

These are the things I want my kids to know for Easter. Bunnies, dresses, baskets and eggs cannot heal. They cannot save. They cannot change a life. They cannot redeem. Only Jesus can. Only Jesus does. And that's enough for me. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Confessions of a People Pleaser

I don't like despise letting people down. Oh, hear me out on this; I do it so much more than I really would like to admit. But I don't like it still. There is a gnawing within me to please those in my life. Some of that I think is good. I want to please my husband, not in a sick kind of way, but to honor him as the sweetest gift God ever gave me. I want to please my kids- not to make them happy because I don't spend too much time thinking about that (I want them to be content, a whole different thing, and that's another blog!). I want to please them because i love them, and I love blessing them. I want to please family and friends for much the same reason. I love the people in my life. So, when they hurt, I hurt. And when I know that I'm the cause of that hurt, well.. that just stinks.

But get this. Pleasing people isn't always good. Oftentimes, I've found that my quest to please some person around me has ended with me not pleasing my God. And I'm not okay with that.

In the past three months, I've struggled with knowing that God was telling me to step back from some things in order to allow more time to focus on the first ministry He has called me to- my family. I didn't really want to listen. After all, I like the things that I've been involved with, and why should I have to give up something in order to do more of what I'm already doing? blah blah blah. I'm embarrassed to admit that I was so brazen to think that I knew better than God what I needed.

And just as I was ignoring God's voice, we were hit with a situation with our daughter that tore my heart. While she was okay, we were made aware of things from her past that were ugly and heart-wrenching and called for some follow up from us even all these years later. I was angry that my little girl had to even give a second thought to the trauma she had endured early in life, and I let myself cry out to God that it just wasn't fair. In His quiet, steady, constant way, God reminded me that one of His gifts to me was to walk this road alongside her, guiding her, supporting her, mothering her. He was reminding me of what He'd been trying to say for so long- that I needed to focus more at home.

But I still didn't listen.

Then, in December, I came down with the flu. I was sick y'all. More sick than I've been in years. I spent the next week secluding myself in our basement, hoping and praying that I wouldn't pass it along to the rest of my family. I spent days mindlessly watching daytime television (this should be outlawed, by the way!), in a fog of cough meds and funk. I cried as I had to watch Ellie's Christmas program via Facetime (thank you Lord for technology), and I cried as I missed spending time with my son. But God met me there, and He gently reminded me once more that the people I was missing time with so much were the very ones He had been calling me to give more of myself to.

But I still didn't listen.

I recovered, got ready for Christmas, went on with life. On the last day that I was to work before Christmas vacation, I was preparing to leave when I bent over to pick up a simple bottle of lotion. The next thing I knew, I felt a "pop", then I could not move. I had messed up my back, and I was completely helpless. It took Jeff's help to sit, stand, move, everything. And so it was that, after a trip to the ER to determine that I had no disc damage, I found myself once more alone in the house, unable to do much except pray. And it was then that I finally surrendered.

I finally admitted to God that I was tired. As much as I was enjoying the things that I was involved with, I had to admit that I was behind in grading Bryan's home school work because I simply was rushing from one thing to another too much. Instead of doing one or two things really well I was doing more things only half-heartedly. And that included being a mom. I'd become bitter towards my kids and their activities, seeing things as an inconvenience rather than a ministry. I yelled too much, expected too much, griped too much. They weren't seeing Jesus in me; they were seeing a monster of a mom many days.

And so, I said "yes" to God. I knew exactly what needed to be cut out first, and it was so hard to write that message out to let those involved know. It was even harder to hear that I had let them down. I don't like letting people down; it's not my nature to just not care when others don't have a high opinion of me. It hurts to hear people tell me that they haven't gotten what they wanted or expected from me. But the truth is that God hasn't been getting what He expects and wants from me, and my kids haven't gotten that either, and my husband hasn't either. And well, those things have to be first.

My prayer as a mom is that my kids see that I'm a follower of Jesus first and foremost. I want them to see that I'm wiling to be obedient even when it's not convenient or comfortable for them. I want them to say one day when I'm gone "My mom loved Jesus, and she loved her family, in that order". I want my friends and co-workers to see that obedience as well. And they haven't in the past 6 months because I've been running from what God has told me to do.

  So, here's to 2013- a year of being more concerned with not letting God down than those around me. Here's to a year of serving my family wholeheartedly, cheerfully, joyfully. Here's to a year of spreading Hope and Grace instead of bitterness and resentment. Here's to a year of saying "no" when needed so that I can say "yes" without reservation when I'm supposed to. Here's to a year of authentic faith- unwavered by what others' opinions of me might be, standing firm in knowing that my Jesus loves me. Here's to a year of "boasting in the hope of the glory of God" (romans 5).