Saturday, October 3, 2015

see you in His hand...

When we moved to Indiana seven years ago, there was crying and hugging and much sadness as we said goodbye to our dear friends there.

But I remember one lady, an elderly lady who worked alongside me at the pregnancy care center, and I remember her goodbye as quite unusual. We loved each other, and she was surely sad to see us go, but she didn’t talk about that so much. Instead, she filled her conversation and her goodbye card to me with encouragement from the Lord, thanking Him for the times we had shared, and praying to Him for future blessings. Then, she ended her card simply,

See you in heaven.

Those four simple words, “see you in heaven,” were startling to me then, and strange enough that they made me think. She had the perspective of age, and perhaps her age gave her this clear-sighted perspective. She did not know how long she had in this world; for that matter, none of us know. My friends and I comforted each other with promises of visits and emails, but these things were unnecessary with her. And in truth, there were further visits, and I have seen her again, and when we parted again, her response was the same: See you in heaven.

The words, the life of this dear saint, has become a sermon to me. She lived , eyes on Jesus, always walking toward her rest in Him. She said her see-ya-later simply, as if to say, “I may see you before then or I may not; we cannot know those things, and how much do they matter, really? We have eternity together, and in Christ we will be reunited when change and tears are forever past! Perhaps we will be allowed more time to encourage each other in the weary journey of this life, perhaps not; but surely we will be together in the great celebration at the end, the final victory, when sin and death and the devil are defeated, when the saints are perfected in love, when we begin the forever days of perfect love and life in the presence of Him who made us his own!”

As I received this open-handed love, it gave me permission to fly, to seek the Lord where He called me to find Him, and to trust Him to restore all that I grieve back again someday, in His timing.

I carry these thoughts with me today, as we say our last round of goodbyes to Indiana.

I want to make more memories with these people. I want to know when I will see them again. Yet these things can only be placed in God’s hand, in His hand that has provided all we have needed and so much more. We place ourselves and those people and places we love in His hand. When the grief tsunamis come, I will curl up and ride them out, in His hand. And when the new joys pour over us, we will receive those also, from His hand.

It will be His own hand that cares for the church here, and for us as we leave. And it will be His own hand that brings us back together again, in His timing, as He works all things for our good.

As we leave our dear friends in Indiana, words cannot recount the ways we have been loved and cared-for here, or the depth of our gratitude. We will miss you dearly, but even as we part, we know that neither you nor we will be so far as to be outside of God's loving hands.

See you in heaven
(and maybe even sooner!)

See you in His hand!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

on last times

On last times

One after another, last after last,
the lasts are coming in quick succession these days.
The lasts press down heavily on my heart,
But the weight is not only sadness.

These moments are heavy with significance,
filled with long embraces,
when words too awkward to say during the flow of normal days
                                                         fall from our lips,
                                         and we share gratitude,
                              and the flood of memories,
                            and our powerlessness
                   over the passing of time
and the love that has always been there comes bubbling to the surface and pours out our eyes
            and we cling tight to one another,
                                                and to our God
                                                       in with and under us
                                                                  and we give thanks to Him
                                                                     for friendships that will hold together
                                                                                         long after our embraces end.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The church's house, our home.

The church’s house, our home. The parsonage.

As a new pastor’s wife, I wondered what it would it be like to live in “the church’s house” Would it feel like a fishbowl, or would we be able to make it home? This parsonage in Indiana was where our family began to answer those questions.

The large windows in the front room seemed to amplify my fears of living in a “fishbowl” when we first moved in. Now, I love those windows because they allow me to watch the birds eat, and the tractors drive by, and the burning bushes turn bright red in the fall.

I vividly remember one early lecture from daddy to the little boys. They were not to play so rough, not to throw things at the ceiling fan; they were to respect this house becuase, after all, it is the church’s house.

The church’s house.
But will it ever feel like home, I wondered, if we always think of it that way?

It’s funny, how I once thought those ideas were at war with each other; how I didn’t understand that “the church’s house” can be made “home” just like a church family can be made into true family- by the grace of God and with His help.

So, we moved into this house, by the grace of God, this house given to us to use from our church family; generously prepared, painted, cleaned, and maintained for us by hands that eagerly served God, by those who loved us even before they knew us.

We received it as the gift that it was, and as we made our lives here, we tried to pass on the grace we had received. The church’s house had open doors, and extra seats, and plenty of room in the yard. The blessings in it flowed over us and through us and multiplied until they ran over everywhere, until the yard looked like the aftermath of a toddler frat party.

Here are some snapshots of grace from this house,
this church’s house,
And our temporary but much-loved home

We opened our house often, for babysitting and after school playdates and Christmas parties and Bible studies and children and their mamas and friends of all kinds. We had campfires, pool parties, sleepovers, scavenger hunts, and we did not lose even one kid in the woods or the swimming pool.

Weekly “Coffee, chaos, and comfy pants” at the parsonage, where the kids ran wild and the moms got to talk; where the toddlers got to learn to hold babies, and the big babies met the littlest babies, and the 4-year-olds got to be the "big kids" for once, and they all dressed up in wedding dresses or power ranger suits and flipped over every bucket in the house and covered all things in orange crumbs from the goldfish crackers; and we learned to make bread and laundry soap and how to wear a baby and where to buy cloth diapers and how to let some things go and how to say no; and we talked about husbands and jobs and bodily fluids and placentas and sports and sex and facebook and mom-shaming and we chose mom-encouraging instead. 

The price of adult conversation:

And Wednesdays, when we tried to add meat to the chaos, and the house filled with up to 30 kids, and we shut them in the basement with a movie while we shouted discussion over the heads of the babies on our laps and at our feet. We learned to love our hymnals, and we amazed the babies by joining our voices in song. We prayed awkward prayers, we read old books, and we grew together in God’s word.

I was given the gift of a garden, and advice to go with it. I couldn't wait to get my hands dirty, to see if I could be like my mom, and nurture things beautiful and good.

Little boys at my feet helped plant seeds. Later, they shouted about the sprouts that grew, they stared in awe at the budding plants; they harvested with such delight, I was witness to layer upon layer of miracle.

They painted rocks to label my precious plant, and I added the words of a hymn:
“Future needs in earth’s safe keeping, Thanks be to God.” 

And God granted the growth, nourishing my family and beyond, from these little beds, year after year.

A tiny boy walked with me, observing the words of the hymn, and the painted handprint on the rock beside it. He stops, horrified…“Wait, you’re growing fingers there?”

Our front porch received produce every fall, gifts of love from this farming commnity.

Four children came with us from Michigan when we moved here. We welcomed baby 5 and baby 6 home to the parsonage in the years to follow. This house has seen kid fragments from diapers and baby food to skateboards and algebra books.

Friends and strangers have cried in our living room, and the children have, too, but for different reasons. We have handed-out bandages and encouraged with the Word of God times without number, and we have received the same from our dear church family during our days of crying on couches.

The church's house,
the parsonage,
our temporary and much-loved home.
May it ever be a place of blessing.

dear White Creek church family,
for giving us a lovely home here.

May this place continue to keep open arms and doors
that it may be a blessing to many more.

We will take so much Indiana-flavored love with us to our new home,
thanks to the grace of God in this place, 
given through your hands.

He himself will be our home,
as He is yours, 
as we travel onward.

Pray for us please,
 as we set our roots down in our new home,
that we may receive it also as the gift that it is,
and that it, too, may be a blessing to many.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

the time is short

I’ve been spending much time lately just tracing over the memories of our life in Indiana. I know the sadness of this season’s end will eventually be replaced by the gratefulness to have had at all. But I also know how to sit heavy with the weight of never-agains, how to linger in the rocking chair (and on the volleyball court, and in the sanctuary, and in my garden, and everywhere else these days!)
Tears that mourn the never-agains will turn to tears of gratitude. 
"Nothing in this life lasts forever." How this sentence seems to be shouted in my ears all day, every day! How many lasts have gone by and I didn’t even notice? Who came to our last campfire? What sprouts broke the ground first last spring? When was my last field trip with the kids? The last time one of them used the nursery?
Sometimes the seasons change imperceptibly; sometimes suddenly. This change seems so sudden it is almost violent. There is not enough time left for lingering and remembering and all the just-one-more-times I want to do things.
It reminds me of the time I said goodbye to my husband went he left for Iraq. There wasn’t enough time then, either, and even the time he did have had to be shared with others who loved him. I remember trying to enjoy every moment, trying almost to stock up on him, as if I could just fill myself up with enough of him so as to make the parting less painful. Just one more kiss, just one more quiet moment, and then I’ll be satisfied, and I’ll willingly let him go.
That didn’t happen, and it won’t happen this time, either. It will not be my feelings that determine when it’s time to move on. It will be the date on the calendar. It will come too quickly, before I can get every one-more-time in. I won’t be ready, and I won’t have enough of Indiana to satisfy me for a lifetime, to make me let go cheerfully.
The seasons change, and I cannot stop it. And so, I linger. I try not to demand more than I’ve been given; I try to take each day for the gift that it is, and I try to trust God with the future. 
But it’s hard. 
I’m sad. 
Because all seasons come to an end, and this season of life in Indiana has been truly wonderful.

Give me the strength to do
With ready heart and willing
Whatever you command,
My calling here fulfilling.
Help me do what I should
With all my might, and bless
The outcome for my good,
For you must give success.

(O God my faithful God, verse 2)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

If you are reading this, he said yes to the call.

If you are reading this, then my husband announced that he has officially accepted his new call. 

Our world has changed, irrevocably, and forever.

If you are reading this, you probably have questions for me, and I probably cannot give a satisfactory answer to many of them. God has called. We have answered.  The hard thing is, we think, the right thing. His faithfulness is our comfort. It is enough. It will have to be.

Words cannot convey the sadness I feel as I consider actually leaving this place. It was truly the perfect gift for our family during this season in our lives. My babies got to be preschool kids in the country, saying goodmorning to cows, riding on tractors, and hunting for frogs in the pond. They entered school under the gentle care of the best teachers I have ever known. The parsonage by the cornfield has been a place of celebration and study and learning to be community, even with a bazillion children underfoot. During the hardest time in our lives the church was truly CHURCH to us and helped and upheld us in every way in the love of Christ. Pastor has Baptized, married, and buried so many people here, people that we will never forget. Deep bonds with friends have grown over the years, and I can no longer imagine life without these dear friends that we have known in Indiana.

And yet, we must go.

Dear friends, please do not let it diminish what you know of our love for you when we say that we go in peace, confident in the Lord’s provision both for us and for you who must stay behind.

We must go, and we go with mixed emotions: sadness and excitement, grief and hope— but underlying all these emotions is a peace that passes understanding, His peace, the peace given to us in Baptism; the peace with God given in Jesus; the peace of the sinner reconciled to God; the peace that is free to trust that in all things God is FOR us, and works even the most painful things for the good of those who love Him and whom He loves.

And of all things we could wish for those who love us, especially for those who grieve, we wish you God’s peace.

If you are reading this, and you love us, you are probably trying hard to say and do the “right” thing, even as you grieve, question, worry, or even feel angry. When you don’t know what to say, or when you say what you don’t mean, or when emotions get in the way of saying anything at all, remember that we are together in this. We grieve together, and grief often means flailing. I’m flailing, too. Praise God: we flail under grace.

The best “right” thing you can do for us now is to pray: Pray for us in transition, pray for our new church, pray for the church here, and pray with eyes on Jesus. Pray with us, alongside us, as we have been and will continue to be- joined together in Christ, joined in peace under His grace, joined eternally as heirs of His grace. Though we must endure a temporary parting, geography cannot sever such a union as we have in Him.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Andthe peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
(Phil 4:6-9)

He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed inordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:14-22)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Held in Peace

 "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, 
will guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." 
Philippians 4:7

Doesn’t it seem strange to talk about “peace” in this place where tornadoes destroy and babies die? What is this peace that we have in Christ? Does the peace of God somehow lift us above the fear and grief that is part of the human condition?
Christians suffer, in body and in spirit in this place.

We are not given the peace of the Stoic. We are not told smile when all is well, and smile when the cancer is terminal. We are not told to close our hearts to that which could disturb our peace. We do not experience a mystical inner collection with God that allows us to weather the storms of this life like immovable statues. No, we flip and fly with the winds, much like the rest of the world.

In our experience, we who have peace with Christ often do not feel very peaceful at all, not in this place.

Christians suffer, and yet there is peace in Christ.

Those who are not in Christ are like a kite unfettered; free-wheeling through the sky; vulnerable to the winds and the elements. The crash is inevitable. The flight is terrifying.

We who have Christ are like the kite held by the strong father.
We have peace with God, and yet we live in this fallen world for a little while longer. 
We are still assaulted by the winds.
The rain falls, and some of the turns make our stomachs lurch. 
We may even feel as if we are careening out of control, and we brace for impact. 
But even in the worst of storms, we are tethered to a Rock.
We are held fast by Him who loves us.

As we flip and fly in this life, we know that nothing that assaults us can force us out of his hands.
He will hold us fast.
And one day He will reel us in, to Himself. 
He will bring us to our home of forever peace, in perfect safety.
Until then, even as we flip and fly, His grip is our peace.

Kite Flying Pictures, Images and Photos

His grip is our peace.

You may also enjoy: Devotions by Emily and My Weakness/His Strength

Friday, September 4, 2015

anxiety (a quote)

A demon explains how to bother a Christian in times of trial and anxiety:

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy's will.  What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him---the present anxiety and suspense.  It is about this that he is to say "Thy will be done," and for the daily task of bearing this that the daily bread will be provided.  It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of.  Let him regard them as his crosses: let him forget that, since they are incompatible, they cannot all happen to him, and let him try to practice fortitude and patience to them all in advance.  For real resignation, at the same moment, to a dozen different and hypothetical fates, is almost impossible, and the Enemy does not greatly assist those who are trying to attain it: resignation to present and actual suffering, even where that suffering consists of fear, is far easier, and is usually helped by this direct action.

(CS Lewis, Screwtape Letters.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

steadily unsteady

Steadily unsteady we remain.

The gifts God freely gives continue to pour in and over us, and yet so many things remain unsteady.

Does God give gifts and let us love them and then request them back?  Which ones can we keep, and for how long? If He wants them back, will He replace them with others?  Will he accept my half-commending of myself and all things?  Will He care for the children? Will He equip us for the work He sends? Will my ankle heal? Will disappointed people say hard things? Will I fall apart in public?  Will He make it crystal clear? For us only, or for others?  Will we see snow this Christmas?
Will we stay or will we go?

Will He be faithful?

Were I to look within or around, there would be no reason for hope, nothing solid to grab. Yet, steady is His Word, steadfast is His love for us, even as He makes all other things sway unsteadily.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The heavy question: Update on the call process

Last week, we announced that pastor-daddy had a new call to consider. As we were traveling to visit that congregation, we got ANOTHER new call. The second church was able to arrange a last-minute visit for us, too. So this weekend, we gathered the family together, and we hopped on the call roller-coaster. 

We're still riding. 
And because I cope with life by writing, I'll tell you how it's going so far.  I was going to make a list of the good things and the bad things, but as I reflect, I see it is not so easy to separate them neatly. 
Here's a snapshot of the Big Feelings during the past few days.

A blessed flattening
You shall have no other gods before me. Not friends, not comfort, not roots, not place, not “security,” whatever that means.  Again, I see how small my love for God is, and how my heart seeks its happiness in the things that are passing away.  A little insecurity, a little reminder of the plain fact that in this life we control NOTHING that matters, is a hard and yet gracious invitation into the Father's arms, the only place true security is ever found.

A wider view
There are so many great ways to live as a child of God, to do this Christian life well!  We got to see His work in a tiny town in the middle of the Michigan thumb, and in the huge city of Detroit.  It looked so different in each place, and yet, the body of Christ was doing what it does, serving others in love.  The mulit-colored beauty of God is incredible!

A smaller view
Seeing the work of God all over the place reminded me of my own place. I am not the glue that holds the world together- nor is pastor-daddy.  It's easy to forget this, in our own family, even in our own community.  This is pride, and pride took a good hit during our travels. God is doing His Works all over the place through all kinds of people. He plants, and grows, and sustains. And we are tiny.  Oh, how we need Him to continue to guide, plant, and grow us as He wills!

Receiving hospitality
We had no choice but to receive hospitality from strangers. And we can never repay the debt, particularly to the church(es?) we will disappoint. Yet, they chose to give, to serve us as they could, knowing this. These small acts of love were grace to us: The thoughtfully chosen hotel rooms, the care for the wiggly kids during meetings, the well-tended parsonages, the kids that were kind to my kids, the questions answered honestly, the tours, the prayers, the patience in the decision making process- grace, all grace.

Receiving patience and love
From those who hurt. The support of the friend who, through tears, says "You know I'll always be there for you even if you do have to leave. And if I'm crying it's just because I love you guys so much." Loving people that could move, or could get sick, or could die, it hurts. And when suffering comes, it's easy to want to close a heart and kill the love for one's own protection. And yet, some keep on loving through the tears. This too, is grace.

Nighttime wrestling matches
I've heard Dr. Kleinig mention “the spiritual gift of insomnia,” and I thought, “Ugh, what's that? I don't want it.” Well, I got it anyway: nighttime wrestling matches with God, or nighttime coping with the physical effects of stress on the body (like arthritis flares for me, bronchitis for him).  I'm still not quite able to see this as a gift, but I have come to appreciate the nights of blessed, peaceful sleep all that much more!

The learning process
This is a new experience for us and many others. It's hard to know that some people just do not understand the position we are in. It is a strange one! For example, my husband did not ask to be on any call list, but that this is possible of anyone who commits to being a pastor, at any time. Second, though we can say no, he is a called servant of the Church (the big one!) and is absolutely obligated to give any call serious consideration.  I always took comfort in the idea that “we could always say no,” and that's true from one angle, but if God's got other ideas, well, to whom else shall we go? 

Then, add in the kids...All aboard!  
If dad and I are going on a stomach-lurching priority-changing life-rearranging roller coaster ride, we figure we might as well bring the kids along and let God change them too... and watch together how he takes care of us, rearranges us, and provides for us.

Fast Friends
Meeting new people is usually awkward, and this cannot be helped. And yet, God can quickly connect his children in friendship. Even my kids got to experience this, and it was wonderful.

Parenting in the spotlight
Six kids, after driving in a van for a million hours, now asked to behave in a new place while adults talk to strangers. They will fail. What will you do then, mom and dad? Because the strangers are watching!  But the strangers were kind and understanding, so it wasn't as bad as it sounds, though of course there were plenty of arm squeezes and whispered lectures!  They are so tired of hearing “Just be quiet and stop touching each other while daddy finishes his meeting!”

Kid grief
My heart aches just thinking about this morning's conversation with my son. “Mom, I just want to stay home and stay in bed until daddy makes a decision.” He's worried about crying in front of his friends. “I just don't feel like I'll ever be happy, again.” “I try to give the question mark to God but it just keeps running back and finding me again.”  I truly wish I could join him in that bed.  God uphold us!

Big Discussions
We have had so many Big discussions about the Biggest things in life with our kids lately. We've talked about priorities, decision making, praying, trusting God, the hard things about waiting, the freedom we have to just BE sad when we need to (or worried or whatever,) the blessing of seeing God's gifts even within a trial.  There is much good, solid food to share mixed in with this bitter meal.

The roots matter
The day before we told the kids, I sent them off to school knowing it was their last day of “normal” before we unsettled their worlds. I said to my husband, “this experience makes me so grateful for your insistence on regular family devotions. There's no last-minute preparation for this kind of thing. Either the roots are there, or they aren't.”  in the crazy mix of tears and excitement of the past few days, the roots have held, and all of us have come to appreciate them more. The Words we say all the time, they are true, and it matters.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth
In the waters of your Baptism, Jesus has called you by name and promises to be with you always.
Into You hands I commend myself, body and soul and all things...
those words become real in a hard but good way when you have to go to bed and that big heavy question mark is still on your heart.  

We're trying to function today with the big question mark heavy on our hearts, and it will be there for some time. But, God is faithful. We appreciate the support and prayers of our friends and family and church family!

And now, some actual snapshots from the journey...

The long, long journey!


Eastpointe, MI

And finally, back to the home we've made home for the last seven years. 

Our help is in the name of the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth
In the waters of your Baptism, Jesus has called you by name and promises to be with you always.
Into You hands I commend myself, body and soul and all things...
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