God Will Add

A year and a half ago Adam and I began praying about adding another child to our family.  We definitely desired it…but we were unsure of how to go about it or if it would even happen.

We have always wanted to adopt and so we initially assumed that adoption would be the route we would take.  But as we prayed and researched and questioned and discussed, we never felt a peace about it for this season of our lives…which, honestly, was really frustrating for me.  Because adoption was something we really wanted, my heart went back and forth and and up and down and round and round over it.

We had started the process of learning about and pursuing foster care years ago, even before Toby was born, so we wondered if that might be the path God would take us down next.  Yet still we wrestled.

In fact, I still have the notes I typed on the computer one evening last spring – trying to spill out all of my desires and fears and true motivations for pursuing adoption, foster care, or trying to get pregnant.

In May we decided that we would give it a few months that summer to leave it in God’s hands to see what would happen and go from there.  Toward the end of that month we went away for a beautiful week to celebrate our 10th anniversary…and came home with a tiny, growing, living souvenir.  God quickly and graciously answered our prayers and our questions.  And even though we didn’t know what road we should take or even IF and HOW we should grow our family, God did.

And He added.

Thus we’ve chosen a name for the baby girl growing in my womb.

Josie Elizabeth Johnson

Josie = “God will add” or “God will increase

To our Isaiah (“God is salvation“), our Tobias (“God is good“), and our Jack (“God is gracious“)…

God will add.

Our Josie.

We liked the sweet and playful spunk of the name (and we figured she’ll need it growing up with 3 big brothers!), but were sold on it when Adam remembered that his dad’s grandmother’s name was Josephine, from which the name Josie is derived.

And to that Johnson family tree, God will add.

Our Josie Elizabeth.

Elizabeth = “God is satisfaction” and “Consecrated to God

By God’s grace, we are still learning what it looks like to find our satisfaction in Him.  We have tasted and seen that HE is the only thing that truly does satisfy.  Therefore, we want to continue to claim the Truth that HE is enough regardless of the outcome of this pregnancy or the circumstances of her life.

We pray that she would be a woman who is, indeed, consecrated (“dedicated or devoted for a divine purpose“) to God – dedicated to Him by her parents, sanctified by His Spirit, and devoted to glorifying Him in her life and purpose.

God has added to our family and also increased our joy and our satisfaction in Him.  We pray that our family is a testimony to who He is and what He’s done…

He has rescued us by His merciful salvation,

Satisfied us by His goodness,

Given to us by His grace,

And added to the glory of HIS great name.

And for that (and more!), we give thanks.  

“I will give thanks to Your name for Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things YOUR name and Your Word.
On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you INCREASED

The Lord will fulfill his PURPOSE for me; Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.  Do not forsake the work of your hands.”

Psalm 138:2,8

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My Boy and the Ocean

Last year my Toby was absolutely terrified of the ocean.  Like “wouldn’t go anywhere near where the water might happen to touch him and would cry with nervousness even watching his brothers go in” terrified.

It took us by surprise.  We’re straight up beach people.  We love it and none of our boys had ever been afraid of the ocean before, including Toby…in fact they have always seem to come even more alive when we’re near it.

Our Toby has always loved water and has never been timid around form of it.  Still, something spooked my boy last summer and he could not be reasoned with.  He was straight up Afraid with a capital A.  He wouldn’t go anywhere near the waves during our family summer vacation.  Wouldn’t let the tide touch him during our little fall getaway.  And still kept his distance when we spent the day at the shore last Easter.

Give him a pool or creek or lake and he would transform into a little fish.  Give him the ocean and he turned into a ghost crab digging his own little hole in the sand…far, far, far from where the waves might touch him.

As parents, this concerned us.  Not just because we were hoping he would enjoy something that brought the rest of us joy.  Not just because we felt like he was missing out.  But because we were concerned for his little heart.

We always thoughtfully select a book to purchase and write in for each of the boy’s birthdays…so for Toby’s 4th birthday this past March, we bought him Max Lucado’s The Boy and the Ocean.  

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The book is beautifully illustrated and compares God’s great big love for us to the ocean, the mountains, and the sky.

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We began to pray that our 4 year old boy would not only gain understanding of God’s great big love for him, but that the ocean would begin to remind him of that love.  And that he wouldn’t be afraid of it.  Not only that, but that looking at the ocean would bring him confidence, knowing the God of the Universe knows his name and cares deeply for him.  We specifically began praying 1 John 4:18…that God’s perfect love for our boy would cast out all fear.

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Four months later we packed up for our annual family vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  Though we had talked and prayed about it a lot, we were still uncertain what Toby’s beach experience this time would be like.  Upon arriving at our rental house and waiting for the rest of our family members to arrive, Toby very matter-of-factly declared,  “Mama, I’m not going to be afraid of the waves this year.”

I wanted to believe him.  I really did.  But Mama wasn’t quite sure.

But then I watched him walk across the street and up over the sand dune.  I watched a smile stretch across his face when he could finally see the ocean.  I watched him walk confidently through the sand and wait patiently for his Daddy to put down our things.  And as I watched him take steps toward the shoreline, I saw in him a brief hesitation, as if he had to stop and make a conscious decision whether to go further or run away.  I saw the smile fade for a second and a reminder of the fear flash before his little green eyes.

But then I saw him keep going.

Oh, my eyes are filling with tears even as I think of it.  He walked right up to the Atlantic Ocean.  He let it touch his feet, lap against his knees, and christen his skin.

And I saw him laugh.  With such delight that I didn’t think his smile could possibly get any bigger.  As the evening sunlight glistened in his hair, he ran up and down and back and forth along the shore line with such excitement that his little brother began imitating his every move and every noise.

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Adam and I watched in awe…with smiles, I’m sure, that were even bigger than our boy’s.

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That week was such a joy.  He got in the ocean every day.  We watched him dance and sing and jump and belly laugh.  We saw waves knock him over and we saw him get back up again.  We held him as we went out a little deeper and taught him to doggie paddle through the calm water and brace himself for the mountains and valleys and currents of the waves.  He made me enjoy my own time at the beach more than I ever remember enjoying it before.

But as we returned home and I looked through the photos of him with his sun kissed skin, squinty eyes and cheeky smile, I was convicted about my own recent moments of panic and fear.  Whether it had been with my pregnancy or our ministry or my parenting, there had (and still have) been distinct moments this summer when I saw that same panic flash before my eyes.  In those moments I had very much felt like Simon Peter, who confidently stepped out of the boat – so sure of Who he was following, sure of where he was going – but for a moment looked around him at the wind and waves and suddenly panicked and began to sink in his doubt and fear.

Those times when I questioned His calling, His control, or His care.  When I couldn’t see how it all “fit” or I wanted to escape the “hard”.  When my tears blurred my view of the Truth and the waves felt neither fun nor exciting nor calming.

The Psalmist seemed to know that same fear in Psalm 93…

“The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods have lifted up their roaring.” (Psalm 93:3)

Tim Keller points out in his devotional The Songs of Jesus that in Biblical times the sea was feared as “the source of chaos and the habitat of monsters”.  It was beyond their understanding.  Beyond their control.  Beyond their sense of peace.

But the Psalmist continues…

Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is MIGHTY!” ( Psalm 93:4)

Rather than choosing to fear the rising waters and the tumultuous waves, he chose to remember the One Who was (and IS) absolute over it all.

I’ve been convicted about what my recent panic and fear revealed about what my heart is really worshipping – what other “gods” I’m ascribing ultimate worth and value to – when HE should be (and ultimately IS) above it all.  Psalm 95 describes this…

“For the Lord is a great God, and a great King ABOVE ALL GODS.” (Psalm 95:3)

My fear reveals what I hold tightest and most dear.  My kids.  My ministry.  My family.  My control.  My plans.  My approval by others.  My “success”.  

my. My. MY.

  “In HIS hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are HIS also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:4-5)

But ultimately they’re not mine at all.  They’re His.  And HE holds them in His hands.  The gifts, the joys, and even the scary seas.  They are HIS and are in HIS strong, capable, and loving hands.  These things that were made to point to Him.  To glorify Him.  To lead me to worship Him for Who HE is and what HE has done.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6)

Just as we prayed that the sea and the waves would remind our boy of God’s great love and power and lead him to awe and worship, I need to pray the same thing for myself.  I think Paul had the same thing in mind when he prayed for the Ephesians…

“…that you – being rooted and grounded IN LOVE, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the 

breadth 

and length

and height 

and depth,

and to know the LOVE OF CHRIST that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

-Ephesians 3:17-19

What surpasses and dismisses and casts out all fear?  What will naturally lead my heart and mind to worship the only One worth worshipping?

Knowing and dwelling on the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s great love for me – expressed through His ultimate gift of grace: Christ’s death and resurrection.  All done for ME.

Here I can see the waves not as chaos or monsters, but as opportunities to grow my faith, to shape the landscape of my character, to dive more deeply into the gospel, and to swim confidently and safely in and through those very seas with my Father.

Here I can enjoy the gifts, soak in the refreshment, and stand in awe of the One Who created them and gave them in the first place.

Here I can dance…and dare I say, even laugh with joy…knowing a Love that

is always here

is always deep

that never ends.

And though the tide and current may change, my God and His love for me never will.  He’s never failed.  And He won’t start now.

He Who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not always with Him graciously give us all things?…

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or sword?…

NO.  In ALL these things we are more than conquerors through Him who LOVED US.  For I am SURE that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor ANYTHING ELSE IN ALL CREATION, will be able to separate us from the LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.”

-Romans 8:31-39

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“You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand


And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine


Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now


Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

– Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United

 

Thirsty Little Elephants

We had been in the middle of a difficult discipline week.  You know those weeks when your kids are obedient, it appears as though you’re really making progress, and you feel like a super success as a mom?  Yeah, that was definitely NOT one of those weeks.  I knew I was in a great battle for the hearts or my boys and felt fearful that it was one I was losing.

One particular morning I turned on “Zooboomafoo” (the “Wild Kratts” of the previous decade) for my little guys.  I was working in the kitchen when Chris Kratt’s voice stopped caught my attention…

“And if the matriarch or  leader elephant doesn’t remember where the waterholes are, the whole herd could be in danger.”

And I felt the Holy Spirit’s gentle, yet forceful prodding…

Megan, it’s YOUR job to daily show them where to drink.

And I don’t mean where to fill up their sippy cups or lunch thermoses.  I mean where to find the Living Water that they REALLY are thirsting for.  Not just the saturation they need for their bodies to survive, but the saturation of their souls that they need to thrive.

You see, elephants are huge animals in a hot and dry climate.  They must stay hydrated and cool and often have to travel hundreds of miles to find water.  And it’s the mama elephant’s job to smell it out and get her herd into position to drink.

And my calling as a mom to my little herd?  Show them they are thirsty and tell them where to drink.

I need to strive to help my boys see their sin – to show them the law and where they aren’t measuring up.  In doing so I need to show them their need for a Savior – the only One who was and is good.  Ultimately, I need to help reveal to them their thirst and where to get a drink.  I NEED to give them the Gospel.

“Dazzle [your children] with the message of Christ’s love and welcome, and then when you think that they surely must be tiring of it, go back and drench them with it again.  Steep their little parched souls in the blessings of the good news: Jesus Christ has already done all the work that needed to be done.  When in great relief from excruciating agony of soul he declared, ‘It is finished,’ it really was.  This is the message that we and our children need to hear over and over again.”

After all, without showing them where the waterholes are, my whole herd could be in grave danger.

“Raising good kids is utterly impossible unless they are drawn by the Holy Spirit to put their faith in the goodness of another.  You cannot raise good kids because you are not a good parent.  There is only one good Parent, and he had only one good Son.  Together, this Father and Son accomplished everything that needed to be done to rescue us and our children from certain destruction.”

And I’m sure those big ol’ mama elephants can’t get their children’s thirsts quenched unless they are first putting the the herd into position to drink…and then drinking from that same watering hole themselves.

“Give this grace to your children: tell them who they really are, tell them what they need to do, and then tell them to taste and see that the Lord is good.  Give this grace to yourself, too.”

– Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson (Give Them Grace)

Jeremiah obviously needed to remind God’s people of the same thing – to reveal to them how their adulterous hearts were running after insufficient water sources to try to satisfy their thirst.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

– Jeremiah 2:13

They had forsaken the Fountain of Life – the only constantly replenishing Source that could truly save, satisfy, and sustain – and tried to quench the thirst of their souls with temporary, man-made, and faulty cisterns that would eventually break and leak and, in some cases, eventually become prisons.

I would suggest that as moms we can often do the same things.

I can focus on behavior modification and external “goodness” and outward appearances.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on building their self-esteem and self-righteousness and nurturing their pride.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on high GPAs and athletic accomplishments and filling up their schedules.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on feeding them the “right” food and choosing the “right” schooling and orchestrating the “right” sleep schedule.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on only making them happy and giving them stuff and entertaining their socks off.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on trying to become, myself, their hero, their friend, and their wanna-be-savior.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on protecting and sheltering and hovering and holding.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I’m sure the mama elephant has many other roles and meets many other needs of her herd, but if she doesn’t take them to the watering hole, her herd ultimately won’t thrive in the ways that truly matter.

And neither will mine. Because if I’m missing the Gospel, I’m missing the point.

As moms, may we remember our highest calling.  May we consistently taste of the Lord’s goodness and drink of His grace ourselves.  May we lead our children to the Cross and tell them the story of a relentless Father Who freely adopts rebels, clothes them in His righteousness, and transforms them into beloved sons and daughters.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:13-14

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6

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Growing Grass and Growing the Church

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When we moved into our house 1 1/2 years ago, we knew we’d have a lot of work to do in the backyard. Though the ivy, ground cover, and large flower bed were perfect for an elderly widow, they weren’t really conducive to play sets and backyard baseball games.

We’re working on it a little at a time, as our schedule and finances allow, and yesterday we took apart the large flower bed, stacked the bricks, transplanted flowers, leveled the mound of dirt, and planted new grass.

It was time consuming. It made us sweat. It required us to dig deep, to tear out unhealthy roots, to carry heavy weight, and to essentially replant. The new seed was costly. And it will take time for the grass to grow and show results.

And as I worked and my muscles began to ache, I realized how much our project yesterday reminded me of ministry and the work of essentially replanting a church. It’s hard. It’s incredibly humbling. It’s time consuming. It requires digging deep and tearing out unhealthy roots to make room for new ones. The weight is heavy to carry and it will take time for true, healthy, and vibrant growth to spring forth.

Sure, we could have just left the flower bed in the middle of the yard, afraid to make changes, trying to just work around what we had. Sure, we could have done without the digging and tilling and just thrown some shallow seeds and settled for quick growing weeds and crab grass to cover the dirt. But we knew it would be worth the work, worth the cost, and worth the time waited to produce growth that truly fit our family’s needs and purposes and desires.

And so it is with ministry. I’m reminded to not take the “easy” way out. To not become impatient or discontent with the time it takes. To not complain about the cost because I know that it WILL be worth it. To follow the Lord’s lead to achieve the kind of growth rooted deeply in the Gospel and that best glorifies and pleases the Owner and Father and Lover of the Church.

As I watch the rain fall this morning, I’m reminded that I can work and toil and serve, but ultimately the grass’s growth is NOT up to me. On my own I CANNOT make it grow.

And I pray. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will do the work, asking Him to give us the grace to be faithful, and trusting His hand and His plan for growth both for my yard and for His Church.

“He covers the sky with clouds; He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.”

– Psalm 147:8

“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, Who makes things grow.”

– 1 Corinthians 3:7

Wild Kratts and The End of the Episode

When Isaiah was about Toby’s age he LOVED the show “Wild Kratts”.  And by “love”, I mean he wanted us to call him “Chris Kratt” and would only wear the color green (Because that’s what color Chris wore. Duh.).  He soaked up every bit of animal information and quickly built up his repertoire of strange animal facts.

We haven’t spent much time with the Kratt brothers over the past few years, but Isaiah wanted to introduce his little brother to their animal adventures and “creature power” rescues.  When I put an episode on the other day, we fully anticipating Toby being enthralled by it, seeing as he not only loves animals, but also typically throws himself into anything that his big brother enjoys.

I didn’t take into account, however, that Toby is reaching the stage when he seems much more aware of good and evil, dark and light, heroes and villains, “good guys and bad guys”.  He’s gotten a little more sensitive to things that may be scary or upsetting.  Still, I was surprised when he came running into the kitchen mid-episode, declaring that he did NOT like “Wild Kratts” and would NOT watch it anymore.

You see, most episodes introduce some kind of villain that poses a threat to the animals who, without an outside intervention, face the danger of harm, endangerment, or the sentence of extinction.  Even the Kratt brothers, who come to the animal’s rescue, often have to put their own lives on the line to save them.  And when the seemingly silly villain of this particular episode came onto the television screen, Toby.was.DONE.

“I don’t like that bad guy!  I don’t like Wild Kratts – it’s SCARY!”

I’ve seen enough Kratt brother adventures to know that they ALWAYS save the day, the animals are ALWAYS rescued, and the bad guy NEVER wins.  I didn’t want my boy to be afraid.

“Buddy, it’s okay.  I’ve already seen this one and I promise the bad guy never wins!  You don’t have to be afraid.”

And as I heard the words come out of my mouth, I realized how easy they are to say, but how much more difficult they are to live.

In this broken world, there is MUCH we could fear.  And with a heavy heart, I admit that it feels very much like the bad guys are winning.  Even if I run away from my T.V. or computer screen, I can still see it…

Dirty politicians are winning.

School shootings are winning.

Terrorist attacks are winning.

Divorce is winning.

Cancer is winning.

Scandal and slander and segregation are winning.

Sin and all of it’s ugly consequences are winning.

And my heart and mind can easily and quickly be paralyzed by fear.

But as I’ve reflected on my knee-jerk reaction to my (almost) 4 year old’s fear of “Wild Kratts”, I heard my Father whispering those same words to my heart.

My child, I promise it really will be okay.  I know it doesn’t look like it right now, but I’ve already told you the end of the story and the bad guy doesn’t win.  I’ve provided your rescue.  There’s nothing left to fear. 

Isn’t this, after all, the hope and celebration of Easter?

We listened to the lies of the Serpent that questioned God’s love for us and sin won our hearts.

We severed our relationship with God and the curse of sin and death won our sentence.

So, God became man to rescue us…and yet, in His sovereignty, He was tempted and tortured and treated like a criminal.

On Friday, death and that Serpent appeared to have won the battle.

But, Hallelujah! Sunday’s resurrection secured the victory of the war!

And this Easter morning triumph won not only my redemption and freedom and the forgiveness of my sins.

By grace, through faith, it also restored my relationship with the God of the Universe…

“If our greatest treasure – communion with the Living God – is safe, of what can we be afraid?” – Tim Keller

It secured my identity as a child of the Conquering King…

“Hell dances when God’s people are afraid. So I can either add to their revery and stew in my fears down here, or I can bring them to the cross, where God is not spurning them, but hearing them and calming them…God is a loving Father, and not my adversary.” – Molly Piper

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” – Romans 8:15

It provided me with a mediator, a perfect intercessor, to go to the Father on my behalf…

“If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He IS praying for me.” – Robert Murray M-Cheyne

It promised me a future and an inheritance and gave me a glimpse of the end of the story – the one where the bad guy never wins, my eternity is fixed, and there is nothing left to fear…

“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back,

but HE WAS DEFEATED,

and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘NOW the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers HAS BEEN THROWN DOWN, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him BY THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, REJOICE, O heavens and you who dwell in them!'”

– Revelation 12:7-12

Today we still live in a broken and sinful world.  Thus, today may be hard.  Today may be scary.

But, take heart!  The Lamb has overcome!

And we know how this episode ends.

“I have told you these things, so that IN ME you may have peace. In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” 

– Jesus (John 16:33)

“The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now
The Savior knelt to wash our feet
Now at his feet we bow

The One who wore our sin and shame
Now robed in majesty
The radiance of perfect love
Now shines for all to see

The fear that held us now gives way
To Him who is our peace
His final breath upon the cross
Is now alive in me

The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave

Your name, Your name
Is victory
All praise
Will rise
To Christ our king

By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me
In Your name I come alive
To declare your victory
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me…”

– “Resurrecting Me” (Elevation Worship)

Little Mouths, BIG Praise

Small.

Insignificant.

Unsuccessful.

A few days ago these were the words that kept running through my head.  It’s not a new battle.  I’ve heard these lies before.

My husband and I have been called to minister and serve at a little church plant.  Every once in a while I have a little time to write a little something on a little blog that has a VERY little following.  I’m at stay-at-home mom that spends her days with little people, feeding little mouths and wiping little butts and getting little thanks or recognition or paycheck (okay, no paycheck).

There are days in my flesh and pride and temporal perspective when I long for more.  You know, for more of the BIG things.  Immediate results without the blood, sweat, tears, and waiting.  Recognition and respect.  Significance and success.  I want to know that what I’m doing matters.  That God is pleased.  In a sense, I found myself crying out for a bigger and more significant “mouth” for Him.  I wanted to be like a blazingly bright, loud, and flashy billboard that screamed the glory of God’s name…but, unfortunately, that at least had my name in some kind of bold font, too…you know, toward the bottom.

And the enemy saw my guard down and pounced with his lies.

You’re not good enough.

You should be more like them.

You are defined by what others’ say about you.  

You need to defend yourself, prove yourself, promote yourself. 

What you’re doing doesn’t really matter.

Like a broken record, the melody of these accusations played over and over again and a familiar fear of failure offered it’s melancholy harmonies.

Until Psalm 8 interjected a screeching halt to the repetitious, condemning, and self-centered song.

“Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is YOUR name in all the earth!

You have set YOUR glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    YOU have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Through the praise of children and infants.

The Hebrew used here is actually better translated as “young children (toddlers) and nursing babies”.  Little mouths.  Insignificant mouths.  Weak mouths.  

These are the mouths that give praise to His glory?  The mouths through which He establishes a stronghold against His enemies?  Little mouths that don’t talk well or can’t talk at all?!

Small.

Insignificant.

Unsuccessful.

Our 18 month old, Jack, isn’t talking much yet.  Compared to his big brothers, who seemed to come out of the womb speaking full sentences, our littlest boy has only a handful of regularly used words.  He understands what we’re saying and can follow our directions, but communicates with gestures and cries, grunts and squeals, babbles and pointed fingers, and a very limited vocabulary.  If he’s upset or has been wronged by his big brothers, he’s fairly helpless to express or defend himself.  And it’s hard to be self-promoting when you can’t even say your own name.

But yet this is the picture David chose to use in Psalm 8.  It is through these seemingly insignificant, weak mouths that God chooses to reveal His majesty.  Through which he silences the enemy.

Our little Jack sings with joy and dances with abandon.  He squeals with delight and laughs without a hint of worry.  He cries out to the ones who know him and will meet his needs.  He rests and follows and trusts.  And his little being makes a BIG deal of his mom and dad whom he adores.

This is what I am called to.  Not to seek the big, but to follow and be obedient in the little.  Not to worry about the next step, but confidently trust the One Who holds me.  Not to defend or vindicate myself, but to trust the One Who sees and hears and judges.  Not to be confident and qualified and in control, but to be aware of my weakness and inadequacies and unworthiness.  Not to toil and strive after other things to define my value or success or acceptance, but to set my eyes on the One who gave His life to graciously provide all of those things to me in Him.  Not to seek recognition or praise, but to gratefully and joyfully and adoringly give it to the only One with the name worthy of it.

God is most LOUDLY glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him alone.

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. IT IS BECAUSE OF HIM that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become FOR US wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'”

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

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Groundhog Day in December

Sometimes my life seems like the movie “Groundhog Day”.

Every morning can feel like a repeat of the day before.  The same messes to clean up.  The same squabbles to referee.  The same meals to make and bums to wipe.  The same homework to help with.  The same routines.  The same struggles.  The same books.  The same conversations.

Except unlike “Groundhog Day”, this “sameness” thing rarely seems to work to my advantage.  I seldom feel like I’m on top of all the things or like I’ve got everything under control and my to-do list is hardly ever completed.

This morning I felt overwhelmed.

It’s December 4th (Or is it the 5th? I’ve had to check the calendar 3 times already today) and there are still pumpkins on our front steps.  Christmas decorating has started but there are still tubs of lights and wreaths and ornaments in the living room and the lights just burnt out on the garland and we have yet to get a tree.  I seem to start our family Advent devotions  at least one day late every. single. year.  And yesterday I gave my kids 2 pieces of candy from their Advent calendar because I forgot what day it was.

Our refrigerator and and fruit basket have yet to be refilled from last week. There are emails to respond to, phone calls to make, appointments to schedule, meals to prepare, gifts to buy, parties to plan, clothes to wash, and bathrooms to clean.  We’ve been battling our first colds of the season and my boys have been snotty and whiny and hold-on-to-my-leg-while-I-make-your-eggs clingy.

I felt myself questioning if I’d EVER totally get my act together.  If I’d EVER have it all figured out.  If I’d EVER stop my clamoring and finally reach great mom, great wife, great-fill-in-the-blank-of-whatever-I’m-doing status.

But as I took my boys for a walk this morning (I didn’t feel like running, but goodness knows we needed some sunshine and this Mama needed some coffee), God brought verses I had read just a few hours before back to mind…

You see, another way my life is unlike “Groundhog Day” is that I don’t need an alarm clock to start my “repeat” day.  Every morning, like clockwork, my 2 oldest boys bound (literally, they sound like elephants) out their door and into my room at 7:01 (or maybe 7:13 or 7:21 if they “sleep in”).  And because I want the first words out of my mouth and into their ears each morning to be better than my own, my little guys climb with me into the bed their daddy had already left for work and we read a Psalm together.  This morning these are the words we read and prayed…

“My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  But I have calmed and quieted myself; I am like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child I am content.  Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.”

Psalm 131

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty…I remember it’s not about me and what I do.

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me…I remember I won’t have it all figured out and some things will always be beyond me.

BUT…in spite of this, despite of this, in.the.midst.of.this…

Like a weaned child I am contentI remember I can stop my clamoring and stressing and striving and wanting and be satisfied in His presence.

Put your hope in the Lord…I remember to put my trust, my expectation, my satisfaction in Who His and what He has done.

You see, last year at this time, sitting in the recliner and holding Baby Jack only meant one thing to him – DINNER.  He would clamor and squirm and fuss and reach and root.  But now that he is weaned he is content to and wants to simply be with me.  To feel my closeness, my presence, and my love.  Now my boys want to crawl into my lap, not because of what I’ll give them there..but simply because I am there.

And the great I AM is here.

Emmanuel – God is with us.

Here I can breathe.  I can quit my stressing and striving.  I don’t need all of the answers or a haughty and temporal feeling of accomplishment and “greatness”.

In Jeremiah 45:5, God tells his people…

“And do you seek great things for yourself?  Seek them not

But I WILL GIVE YOU YOUR LIFE…”

Stop seeking greatness.  Stop seeking freedom from difficulty.  Seek Me instead.  I will give you life.  I AM the life.  And I am here.

Isn’t this the beauty of Christmas?  We couldn’t get to Him.  We couldn’t save ourselves.  We had no hope.  But into our mess, HE CAME.

Into our mundane and our mess and our monotony.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our fears and questions and anxiety.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our striving and performing and stressing.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our suffering and pain and sickness.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our dissatisfaction and disappointment and disengagement.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our weaknesses and failures and inadequacies.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our darkness and sin and enmity.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Not to throw us a temporary hunger fix.

Not to make us great.

Not to give us a pep talk and tell us that we’re alright.

But to live a perfect life we couldn’t live and die a death He didn’t deserve. To not just enter into our sin, but actually become our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) for us, that in by putting our hope and trust in His work on the cross and His victory over the grave, we might receive His righteousness.

To give you your life…

To be restored back into His presence.  Like, from the very beginning, we were always meant to be.

In His presence.

So now let us want Him more than greatness.  More than pretty houses and checked off to-do lists.  More than freedom from suffering or temporal success and fleeting pleasure.

Finding our joy and fulfillment and delight not in the gifts, but in the Giver.

Simply being in His presence.

“You make known to me the path of life; IN YOUR PRESENCE there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 16:11

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The Tower of Babel and My Own Unmaking

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Last year at this time, I was sitting in a new home in an unfamiliar town surrounded by piles of boxes and probably trying to remember where I put something (or everything).

They say hindsight is 20/20…and while there’s still much about the past few years that may continue to be confusing, God has graciously allowed us to start to make sense of much of the chaos and change and challenges of the past few years…and all I can see is GRACE.  Perhaps a grace that was disguised for a time – as suffering or injustice or disappointment or hurt or need – but a grace uncovered, unwrapped, and unpacked like the boxes that left our moving truck last November, revealing the valuable goods inside.

As I reflect over the past few years, my heart jumps at the evidence of God’s mercy and kindness, even and especially in the midst of disappointment and difficulty.  I feel as though my Father faithfully continues the process of unmaking my kingdom of me, and though sometimes painful, I am so grateful for it.

During the late winter/early spring of 2014, it became apparent that some major decisions needed to be made about the house we lived it.  It belonged to the church my husband was ministering at, and though we knew that it was probably a temporary housing solution, it became our home for 6 years and the place we started a family.  Despite all its quirks and imperfections, it was what we knew, really all we knew, and we were grateful for it.  But the living room ceiling was beginning to sag, the windows needed replaced, the bathroom leaked, and the heating system broke.  The reality of those circumstances meant that either the church would have to sink a LOT of money into the house…OR they would tear it down and we would need to find a different place to live.  At that point, I did NOT want to move into a different house.  I begged God to let us stay.  The irony was that even though the house itself was insecure and unsafe and uncomfortable, to me leaving that house is what shook my security and comfort.

Packing up and leaving?  So much work.

Looking for a new house?  So overwhelming.

Buying our own home?  So. much. money.

In the midst of all of that we also had begun to question our longevity in our ministry there.  Though we had cherished our time there and had fallen in love with the people and students we were privileged to serve, there were some yucky circumstances that left us reeling, confused, and uncertain about the future.  To be honest, it hurt and felt unfair and just plain scary.  It certainly wasn’t in our plans.  We had felt confident and competent in our ministry there.  We felt good at our ministry there.  We liked our life there.  Though it certainly wasn’t easy, it was familiar and comfortable and safe.

But we also were feeling God was stirring in us something new.  Something different.  Something unknown.  And now, looking back, we can see Him using all of those things to push us out of the nest…while still being sheltered under His wings.

We really, really wanted to stay.  But He said “go”.

The choosing to go felt uncomfortable.  It did hurt and it was scary.  But we needed to – we WANTED TO obey.

And if we hadn’t been met with those yucky circumstances, I wonder if we would have.  I wonder what we would have missed.

This past weekend marked the one year anniversary of our move across the state, and Adam just happened to be preaching on Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel, as he’s been preaching through the Bible’s grand story of redemption.  I was struck with what he drew out of verse 1-4.

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, aand bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

So what’s the big deal?  They were just using the resources and abilities that God had given them to make something pretty great, right?  Why did God have to go shut it down and spread them out?

You see, God had told them back in Genesis 9, after the flood, to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”.  They got the “be fruitful and multiply” part down, but they didn’t “fill the earth”.  Instead, they found a nice spot, settled there, and made themselves not only good and comfortable, but also good and proud of themselves.  Building the tower revealed not only their self-suffiency and pride, but also their defiance in trying to keep themselves from being spread out over the earth.  John Piper has said that their two sins were a love of praise (so you crave to make a name for yourself) and the love of security (so you build a city and not take the risks that come with filling the earth).

So God’s confusing of the people, frustrating their plans, and dispersing them across the earth was not a jerk move, but actually the exact opposite.  It was a beautiful act of kindness, mercy, and grace.  And that same God that is in the business of rescuing us from our own little kingdoms is the same God that, thousands of years later, is still in the process of graciously rescuing ME.

THIS is the grace of God – to not leave us in the mess of sin, false securities, and our love for things that will never truly satisfy.  To rescue us from ourselves.

“We all want our will to be done.  We all know what we want, when we want it, how we want it, where we want it, and who we want to deliver it.  So God give us His grace.  Is His grace given to give you what you need to be your own king?  Is His grace bestowed on you so your little kingdom purposes will happen?  No, God’s grace dethrones you from your little kingdom and welcomes you to a much better kingdom than you could ever want for yourself.  But in this kingdom, you will never be at the center, it will never be all about you, and you will never rule, because in this kingdom, all things are for God and God alone.”

Paul Tripp

I thought back through the past few years.  The frustration and confusion.  The packing up and leaving.  The going and starting new.  All done to keep me from staying when He asks me to move.  To push me to risk in order to trust.  To crush my man-made attempts at building for my own security and praise.  To give me the grace to love His Kingdom more than my own.

This past year in a new place has been FULL of grateful excitement and contented fulfillment and intense joy…but it has also forced me to stand face to face with my own insecurity and incompetency and insufficiency.  And though often painful, it’s all been part of God’s beautiful, continual process of unmaking me.

Tearing down my misplaced security.

Questioning my misplaced identity.

Confusing my self-sufficiency.

Thwarting my plans and autonomy.

Crushing my pride and idolatry.

Losing myself and giving me Himself.

My identity given at the cross.

My approval and value fixed.

My security protected.

His perfect sufficiency in place of my lame attempts at being enough.  

So what if our biggest disappointments and devastated plans and greatest sorrows are all part of our loving Father’s gifts of satisfying grace?

Taking what we thought was best and giving us what’s even better…  

more of HIMSELF.

And so now, we allow Him to rebuild.  Continuing this chapter of our lives in a home we love in a town we love among people and a church family we have come to dearly love.  But my prayer is that rather than “making a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4), in our unmaking we will make HIS name great.

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”

– Psalm 115:1

“This is where the walls gave way
This is demolition day
All the debris, and all this dust
What is left of what once was
Sorting through what goes and what should stay

Every stone I laid for You
As if You had asked me to
A monument to Holy things
Empty talk and circling
Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do

What happens now
When all I’ve made is torn down
What happens next
When all of You, is all that’s left

This is the unmaking
The beauty in the breaking
Had to lose myself
To find out who You are
Before each beginning
There must be an ending
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars
This is the unmaking

The longer and the tighter that we hold
Only makes it harder to let go
But love will not stay locked inside
A steeple or a tower high
Only when we’re broken, are we whole

What happens now
When all I’ve made is torn down

This is the unmaking
The beauty in the breaking
Had to lose myself
To find out who You are
Before each beginning
There must be an ending
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars
This is the unmaking

I’ll gather the same stones where
Everything came crashing down
I’ll build You an altar there
On the same ground…”

Nichole Nordeman

Hello, My name is I AM.

Today my 7 year old started 2nd grade.  Labor Day has passed.  Summer vacation is over and a new school year has begun.

Not unlike his sentimental Mama, this did not sit well with my little boy last night.  He was sad that summer was ending.  And he was nervous for the new school year that was just hours away from beginning.  As we ate dinner and got ready for bed, nervous tears filled his eyes.  I held him.  I reassured him.  I spoke Truth to him.  I prayed with him.

Mommy put on a tough front, but her insides were squirming, too.  I didn’t want to be the overly sappy or protective mom and I didn’t think I was…but your insides seem to have a way of exposing the real you.

While cleaning up the kitchen together in an uncomfortable silence after the kids were in bed, my rock of a husband grabbed my hand and said, “I think the older he gets the harder it is to release him.”

And the tears boiling up in my insides started to make their way to the outside.

He was right.  As our boy’s growing body grows more and more cells, it’s tempting for my heart and mind to grow more and more fears and concerns.  And the fuller my hands, the harder it sometimes is to loosen my grip.

As Adam and I prayed together that night, my grip tightening fears came to the surface.  My mind was suddenly filled with the “What ifs”…

What if he doesn’t know what to do or where to go or who to talk to?

What if he gets overwhelmed and scared?

What if he gets left out and alone?

What if he doesn’t like second grade?

What if he doesn’t remember enough from math and he gets frustrated and it’s too hard?  

What if he gets hurt?

What if he hears things he shouldn’t and we have to have conversations we didn’t want to have?

What if his behavior gets worse and we have to discipline more?  

What if this year is really HARD?

But as softly cried into my pillow, the Holy Spirit gently but firmly interrupted my swirling thoughts…

“I know who you are.  I know Who I AM.  And I’m really good at being God.”

Even though I had spent time that evening neatly writing my son’s name all over his school supplies…

Even though I have relished this title of “Mom” to my Isaiah…

Neither of those were the names that were of utmost importance.

He knows who we are.  And He knows Who He is.

I AM. (Exodus 3:14)

The Self-existent and Self-sustaining One.

The Creator and Sustainer of all that exists.

The Immutable and Unchanging One.

The One who has already gone before and with my boy.

The One who promises to use the HARD for our GOOD.

And how quickly I had forgotten the words I had read only a few minutes earlier…

“God is not working to make my journey between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ as easy as it could possibly be.  God is never caught up short when one of his children is enduring difficulty, as if something strange were happening.  No, walking with Jesus is not the grand vacation, a life free of responsibility and trial.  Walking with Jesus is not like that because our right here, right now life with him is not a destination (as a vacation would be).  He is not Vacation Planner Jesus; he is our sovereign Savior King.  Thus, this present life is meant by God to be a time of preparation for the final glorious destination that will be our eternal home.  So our right-now life is not a paradise.  Right now, God in grace, is working to prepare us through the difficulties of life in this fallen world for what is guaranteed to each and every one of his children.”  – Paul Tripp

I realized that in all of my fears and concerns, what I really was wanting was control, comfort, and ease.  A little Kingdom of ME.  The desires at the moment that were ruling my heart showed that I wasn’t much valuing WHO Jesus is or what He was working to do in the hearts and lives of both myself and my little boy.  After all, I don’t need a Vacation Planner Jesus.  I need a Sovereign Savior King who can certainly carry my precious Isaiah.  I may be able to walk him to school, but HE is the One Who is walking him through life. And I do want so much more for him than a good education and I hand-full of friends.  I want him to KNOW JESUS, whatever it takes.

The ease of summer vacation may be over.  And this school year just might be hard.  But this year is already held in the hands of the great I AM.  And I might need a little reminder of Who He is…

I AM the Bread of Life who nourishes and satisfies your soul (John 6:35).

I AM the Light of the World who brings salvation and causes you to shine like stars in the universe (John 8:12; Philippians 2:15).

I AM the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep in your ultimate protection (John 10:14).

I AM the Resurrection and the Life and even death is defeated by me (John 11:25).

I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life who gives access to the Father, truth in a world of lies, and life abundantly (John 14:6).

I AM the True Vine in whom you can abide and hide (John 15:1).

And He’s really good at being God.

What calming salve that is to my anxious heart.

Whatever this school year brings – whether it’s ease and laughter or trials and tears – may we be found abiding in who He is, walking with Him, trusting that, as HIS children, He will work EVERYTHING for our GOOD and the GLORY of HIS name…and that NOTHING can separate us from the love of the great I AM.

“None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothingcan get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Romans 8:37-39 (The MESSAGE)

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Ditching My Running Shoes

I have specific memories of one particular argument that I had with Adam just a few months into our marriage.  I don’t remember the specifics of what we were even upset about so it obviously wasn’t anything too terribly significant.  But it was enough that I know I was upset, hurt, and angry.  I hated conflict, hated confrontation, and hated the yucky emotions I was feeling…so I put on my running shoes and left the house.

It’s not that I wanted to run away from my marriage…but I DID want to run away from the fight.  It felt like too much work.  Like there were too many feelings to process.  Like it was too risky to bare my soul and bear someone else’s needs.

Maybe the reason that memory is so fresh in my mind 9 years later is that that’s the last time Adam ever let me run.  He has been the one in the midst of difficulty that pulls me close when I want to back away.  The one that makes me look into his eyes when in anger mine want to look down.  The one that makes me talk when it seems easier to keep quiet.  Over the past 9 years, he’s given me little opportunity to reach for my running shoes when he reaches for my hand instead.

While we were on vacation with our families last week, Adam and I snuck away for an evening to celebrate our upcoming anniversary.  We visited a quaint little nearby town, ate ice cream, and took a walk on a trail along the bay.  That boy that stole my heart once again grabbed my hand and asked me to share some memorable moments from this past year of marriage.

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This year of marriage that literally started with labor pains and ended in a different house in a different city for a different ministry.  A good year.  Not because it was easy and comfortable and euphoric…but because it was hard and stretching and pressed us closer to each other and closer to the Cross.  There were lots of fun and happy moments to chose from…but as I dug through my mind and dusted off my memories, I also remembered the really hard moments.  The moments of misunderstandings and miscommunications and taking stress out on each other and navigating through major life changes.  Moments when I felt too weary to fight for us.  When it was tempting to grab those running shoes and hide.

DSC_4969 As we walked along the bay that night we saw a tent being set up for a wedding.  A new bride and groom preparing to dive into this gift of marriage.  We talked about our own wedding and about the time we went to jazz club on our honeymoon and spit out fancy, expensive cheese and accidentally turned my mineral water into a science experiment by adding Splenda “to make it taste better” (we’re super cultured, guys).  We had laughed and felt horribly out of place, but we enjoyed the music and our time with each other.  That night on our honeymoon 9 years ago, I had asked Adam to dance with me and he promised to during the next slow song.  But there never was another slow song and I left disappointed.  On the way back to our rental house, however, Adam pulled our rented Jeep over along the bay, turned on the radio, stepped out of the door, and asked me to dance.  On that night so long ago, my heart felt like it would explode.

Nine years later as we walked and talked along another bay, hair a little more gray, faces a little more wrinkled, and feet a little more worn, Adam took out his phone, put on a song, and asked me to dance.  Barefoot on the dock, we swayed to these words…

Love is not a place
To come and go as we please
It’s a house we enter in
Then commit to never leave

So lock the door behind you
Throw away the key
We’ll work it out together
Let it bring us to our knees

Love is a shelter in a raging storm
Love is peace in the middle of a war
And if we try to leave
May God send angels to guard the door
No, love is not a fight
But it’s something worth fighting for…

Love will come to save us
If we’ll only call
He will ask nothing from us
But demand we give our all

Yes, I will fight for you
Would you fight for me?
It’s worth fighting for…”

Barefoot on the dock.  Heart exposed.  Hand in hand.  We were standing on holy ground.  Continuing on in a covenant with each other meant to be a picture of the One Who fought the ultimate fight for us and continues to pursue our hearts.

DSC_4948DSC_4952I want to still put on my running shoes.  Not to run away, but rather to run toward.  To fight what’s worth fighting for.  Because, after all, love doesn’t quit.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

– 1 Corinthians 13:7

Love endures.

Love hypomenō: to remain; to abide; to not recede or flee.

Love endures.

Endures labor pains and hormones and sleepless nights.

Endures growing families and changing dynamics and messy houses.

Endures loss and want and gain and provision.

Endures moving boxes and grief and change and starting over.

Endures crazy schedules and crazy boys and crazy risks in ministry.

Endures harsh words and mistakes and misunderstandings and hard confrontation.

Endures expanding waistlines and shrinking bank accounts and sick days and snoring nights.

Love bears all things.  Believes all things.  Hopes all things.

Love endures.  Love remains.  Love abides.

Love ditches the running shoes and stays close, pursues, fights, and dances on the dock instead.

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