Brave

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When I heard a kid stomping up the front porch steps and thought I heard crying, I perked up and got ready to handle the latest injury, whether it was skinned knees or just injured feelings (both happen a lot with three boys in one house).

As the front door slammed I realized it was Aiden. I waited for an explanation of what was wrong, but instead he stomped up the stairs to his room and closed his door behind him, offering no explanation. I knew I needed to go check on him, but I had no idea that it was him that was about to teach me a big lesson.

I slowly opened his door and scanned the room and didn’t see him, but his muffled cries led me to his closet. The rest of his room was like that of any 10 year old – lego creations and smelly soccer gear strewn about from the game he had played earlier that day.

Inside the closet was a little different. Aiden had requested to keep the floor clear when he moved into the room. After watching War room, he had wanted a “war room” (prayer closet) of his own. So he had busied himself taping Scriptures to the wall that he would turn into prayers. And it was here I found him now, knees gathered close to bury his face in them.

I crouched down and just sat across from him, asking him if he wanted to talk about it. I waited patiently, scanning the cards with Scripture scribbled in messy handwriting while he considered it. Finally he began to explain about some argument between friends, and I listened intently for the root of the real problem.

I talked to him about how people are not always nice and what our response should be. We talked about a sin nature and how it is Jesus that gives us the power to be loving, patient, kind, and to put others above ourselves. Not everyone has that, and we can’t take it personally.

He looked me straight in the eye, and with uncontrolled emotion choked out the words, “but sometimes I feel like I am NEVER going to be able to convince them about Jesus.”

I was taken aback at his comment but more so by his intensity. “Baby it isn’t your job to convince anybody about anything”, I gently explained. “You have to ask yourself if you want to convince them because you want to be right or because you really just want them to know”, I added, “and if it is the latter, then you need to pray for them and be a good friend to them. You might plant seeds that you will never see the end result of, but the rest isn’t your job.

His shoulders lowered and his posture softened a little, as if he halfway accepted what I was saying. For months he had played with these kids, and for months he would have good days followed by bad ones. He would complain that they argued over something about God. My instinct had been to tell him to avoid the conflict and “just don’t play with them if they aren’t being nice”, but I was beginning to realize how wrong I had been.

Is that not what I have done? Is that not wherein the sin lies? Caring more about what others think that what God thinks? Caring more about their opinion than their soul? How well I knew: there is no such thing as a fisherman who doesn’t fish.

Some things are so common sense from a Biblical perspective but seem so radical in this world in which we live. “Follow me”, He [Jesus]had said, “and I will make you fishers of men”. I had said I would follow, and I have shared my faith so many times, but I can’t tell you the last time I sat in a closet and just wept over the eternity of another the way my son was doing. Was his heart too tender? Or was mine too hard?

We talked a while longer and it became clear how long he had been trying and how desperately he wanted them to believe. “He said the Old Testament is all real, but that the New Testament is a lie”.
“Wait”, I stopped him. “He believes the Bible is real”?
“Just the Old Testament”, he said in frustration.
“Jacob* … is Jewish”?

He nodded and wiped his tear-stained cheeks.

I talked to him a while longer and left him when I could tell he was calm and feeling better, but I knew that I was leaving with more insight than he was.

I reflected on the previous months and tried to recount how many of their little arguments had involved God. How many kids had he tried to share with repeatedly? How many times had he come to me with hurt feelings, complaining that they didn’t believe him or had even made fun of him or treated him badly for what he believed?

And how many times had he gone right back out there – determined afresh to be a good friend and to stand firm in the face of ridicule if it came up again? Or even to be the one that brought it up?

When I left our conversation that day I told him that a lot of adults are afraid to talk about Jesus if they think someone would be offended or make fun of them, and that I thought he was incredibly brave for being a good friend and telling the truth regardless of the cost. I doubt he knew how true that really was, or how his mother left that room a little more courageous than she had entered it.

Billy Graham once said “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened”. I think that applies to brave little boys, too.

Or maybe anyone who spends time in a prayer closet.

 

 

*Name changed for privacy.

Streams in the Wasteland

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The air was cold but the flames from the bonfire danced high with dangerous beauty, warming my skin. It was not the first time we had a bonfire at our ladies’ retreat, and it was far more significant than just a place to gather. Just as the year before, we had written something we needed to surrender to the Lord and were now asked to throw it in the fire to be burned and never picked up again.

In years prior I wrote something like “fear of man”, which summed up everything from fear of sharing Christ to caring what others thought. This year I had a single word with a very different meaning. I knew while throwing my word in that this was not going to be like giving up a bad habit. This year, God had shown us a new direction, and swung open wide a door for us to walk through. It wasn’t a clear map, but rather an open door with unknown paths and unfamiliar territory on the other side.

Lord, this is crazy.

That had been my answer as I reminded him of the mess that is us. If you know me, then you know I usually tend to run ahead of God. This time, it was me who froze and wouldn’t budge while Brian steadily pushed forward in prayer. I prayed and I asked God to help me surrender where necessary, but with eyes closed and mouth uttering all the right things – I sensed my heart dig its heels in. It was as if when I did, without me noticing, the enemy slipped a chain around my ankles as they sunk into the miry soil of distrust and unbelief.

But Lord, I see where this is going and it’s scary out there. And don’t You know what could happen? How we could fail? How much it’d cost? How I’d put my money on anyone but me?

This time it wasn’t “fear of man” that I struggled with. I was very aware that we have a very real enemy that prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And I wanted to stay off his radar. For some reason, despite all the times I could tell you about how we overcame his obstacles – I felt a paralyzing fear I had never felt before. I knew what God was saying and I knew it was an invitation to the front lines of a battle. And I was sitting the bench shaking my head in fear. Such a pathetic sight, I know. A warrior with the “full armor of God” – sitting the bench afraid to stand up and step out.

I had closed my eyes that night and I felt the heat of the fire on my face and I silently mumbled an awkward prayer. Then I tossed a word into the fire.

Fear.

And even as I walked away I thought “I don’t know how you are going to pull this one off, Lord.”

I’d like to tell you that I came home and I felt no fear. Actually, I came home and felt mostly the same, except I got sick. Instead of getting better I kept getting worse until I had cracked a rib from coughing so much. One doctor put me on heart medicine for an unrelated problem and six weeks later another was doing x-rays to check for pneumonia and figure out how to finally help me get better. Neither could tell me why I had lost so much weight.  Meanwhile, things around us started unraveling at the seams. Family members we loved deeply made terrible decisions and wandered from the Lord despite our intercessions. Friends we loved like family went through times of deep suffering and we found ourselves helpless to do anything but hurt with them. At one point two different friends were in the hospital and I was too sick to even visit, and our own family was suffering heartaches of its own as we watched the enemy seemingly win spiritual battles we were whole-heartedly engaged in. I saw no victory in any direction, and I was tired in every sense of the word.

My prayer journal pages filled one after the other but the bolder and more specific my prayers became, the more my circumstances seemed to scream defeat in almost every area I was praying so intently about. This only deepened my resolve to avoid more treacherous waters.

It happened one day when I was drained physically, emotionally, and spiritually. A broken rib and broken heart, I had a simple thought, “Well I guess if the enemy manages to push my face down further in the dirt then so what?! I’m in the perfect position really to praise God – on my face before Him. He can’t take that from me, so I will always be fine in the end”.  I immediately felt a weight lifted, although I didn’t grasp the significance of it right away.

I didn’t realize it at the moment, but looking back I am sure that if you had been there – and the world had been silent enough – you would have heard the slightest “clink” of a link in a chain breaking.

And all it takes is one broken link for a chain to fall.

Suddenly it occurred to me that if the enemy could overtake us, he would have done it years ago.

He hasn’t, because he can’t.

He can’t, because in all our frailty, we still have Christ inside us. And when Christ is there, it’s the enemy who trembles.

Suddenly I couldn’t remember why I had been so afraid. I remembered, and God showed me again in Scripture, that circumstances are lousy predictors of whether God is working or what God is doing. God, more often than not, gives miracles when circumstances are bleak, manna where there is no food, and streams in the middle of deserts.

And just like that, I lifted those sunken heels out of the dirt, took my husband’s hand, took a deep breath (but not too deep because…. ouch! ) and put one foot in front of the other.

And as we stepped through the open door, the next door flew open right in front of us.

This time, it didn’t occur to me to stop and tremble. I had remembered what the enemy forgot: “Greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world”. Not only had I remembered this Truth, it made its way a little deeper down into the crevices of my soul and drove out the doubt that I didn’t know was hidden there. In it’s place, I had a renewed hope and excitement because I knew that God was about to do a brand new thing.

 

“See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland”.  – Isaiah 43:19

20 Ways to Love the Fatherless (When you aren’t called to adopt)

20 ways to love the fatherless

Although adoption is very near and dear to my heart, I know that not everyone is called to adopt. I do believe though, that all Christians are called to love the fatherless. God describes Himself as a “Father to the fatherless” and a has a lot to say about how we should treat orphans and vulnerable children among us. We are told to care for, seek justice for, or defend the cause of the orphan.

I knew that verses like James 1:27 tell us to look after orphans, so out of curiosity I looked up the word translated “orphan” to see what it meant. My handy concordance gave the definition “bereaved-  comfortless, fatherless”. So this list is not specifically limited to kids that have lost both parents, but includes ideas for loving kids in foster care or similar situations.

I would be the first to tell you that adoption is not for everyone. Paul describes the church as a “body” having “many parts” and different gifts and responsibilities. I think this is definitely the case with caring for the fatherless. If you feel a burden for caring for the orphan or the fatherless but know you are not called to adopt, don’t be discouraged.

Wherever there is a great need, there is great opportunity to make a difference! 

 

So without further ado, here is a non-exhaustive list to get your creative juices flowing:

1. Host an orphan. 

There are programs such as Project 143 that give families the opportunity to host an orphan from another country for a few weeks during the summer or Christmas holiday. I was skeptical about it, until we jumped in with both feet and did it ourselves. It was an emotional summer, but we met a young lady who will forever have a special place in our hearts. (She now also has a special place in a family of her own here in the states!) 

 

2. Hold a school supply drive for foster kids in your community.

 

3. Become a respite family for a foster family.

Maybe you aren’t ready or able to handle the 24/7 commitment of being a foster parent, but can you handle one weekend a month? Babysitting for one weekend could make the difference for a family trying to stand in the gap for foster kids. Even if you are done raising your own kids- you could make a difference here. Do you have fond memories of spending the night at your grandparents’ house? Maybe you could provide that memory for a foster kid.

 

4. Volunteer as a tutor.

Imagine going home every day to conditions so bad that you were eventually taken out the home. How well do you think you would be doing on your homework? Maybe you aren’t ready for parenting but you are pretty good at math. Being a tutor is a great way to invest in a child. You can contact your local DFACS (Department of Family and Children’s Services) or DHR (Department of Human Resources). They are usually always looking for volunteers.

 

5. Like to sew?

Link up with a group that makes tote bags for foster kids. I’ve heard so many stories about kids being moved from house to house with only a black trash bags to hold their things. Not acceptable. Other ideas include weighted blankets for young children who have experienced trauma or “lovey” blankets for toddlers.

 

6. Sponsor a child.

Since we are lucky enough to live in America, our dollars can make a huge impact in other areas where there is extreme poverty (financially and spiritually). You can sponsor a child through programs that are not only provide them with an education, medical care, and other basic needs; but also teach them the Gospel. Hope and Help International is one doing incredible work.

 

7. Love on a foster parent. 

Offer to drive the kids to an appointment or babysit so they can have a date night. Whatever. They are carrying a lot of weight on their shoulders (and marriages). These are the people standing in the gap, and they aren’t babysitting- they are engaged in spiritual warfare. So cook them a casserole. At least, that is what they do here in the south to show love. You do it however you want. Just love on them!

 

8.  Donate items to your local children’s homes. 

Most publish a needs list on their websites.

 

9. Support someone’s adoption.

While adopting from foster care is basically free, adopting internationally is very expensive! Private domestic adoption can also be expensive. Many couples hold fundraisers, sell t-shirts, or do other fundraisers.

 

10. Throw a birthday party.

Are you a Pinterest kind of gal who loves to decorate and plan fun things? Some children’s homes are looking for people willing to come throw birthday parties. Or Valentine’s parties. Or Christmas parties. I can’t really think of a party kids don’t like.

 

11. Buy Christmas gifts.

Some children’s homes will have lists available with names and ages so you can buy gifts for specific children.

 

12. Donate practical needs.

Foster parents often get calls and have no time to plan. While the state does provide money for necessities, they may not have things they immediately need and might need an infant seat, diapers, a certain size clothing, etc.

 

13. Start a Foster Care ministry in your church (or support an existing one).

If your church isn’t involved in any way, pray and talk to your leaders about what you might be called to do. If there is already a ministry locally, why reinvent the wheel? Faithbridge Foster Care is one coming to our local area that has been successful in other counties. There are similar ministries in other parts of the country.

 

14. Foster.

Some of you reading this having a burden for these children because you are supposed to plug in another way, but others are probably just supposed to stop letting fear hold you back and actually foster. I don’t know which is which. You probably already do.

 

15.  Pray for them.

Ok, this one should probably be #1-20 and the rest should probably be somewhere after that. No one is exempt from this one.

 

16.  Bring them to VBS. 

17.  Become a mentor and invest your time.

Just spend time with them. Whatever you do well, let them do it with you. Plant a garden, play basketball, read books, whatever. Help them apply for FAFSA, write a resume, or invest in their future after high school in some way.

 

18. Organize an adoption fundraiser (for international adoption).

While adopting from foster care is free, adopting internationally is usually very expensive (as is private domestic adoption).

 

19.  Support your local Pregnancy Resource Center.  

Ok, I know what you are thinking. This doesn’t sound like orphan care. Oh, contraire, my friend. If ever there was a time “the fatherless” needed  someone to stand in the gap for them, it is when a vulnerable young mother is considering ending that child’s life because she is overwhelmed by XYZ. These centers are busy being the hands and feet of Jesus to vulnerable young children AND their mother.

 

20. Look around you. 

At the risk of sounding vague, statistically speaking I think it is safe to assume there are hurting children all around you. They are probably in your neighborhood, your kids’ schools, your churches, and certainly in your communities. With eyes wide open and a prayerful heart, I would be willing to bet God will show you exactly what you can do to make a difference. I think everyone should jump in and start somewhere, but nothing will ever replace those Divine encounters God puts in our path when we are truly open to what He wants us to see. Hence, why #15 could have really been #1-20.

 

What about you? What ways have you found to plug in to this great need? Are you a foster parent with more ideas? Leave me a comment- I would love to hear them!

The Constants In A Big Family

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I don’t know what you consider a “big” family, but judging by the random comments I get from strangers everywhere I go, I am going to assume six kids fits the bill.

People are always asking me what it is like. That is really hard to say because for us, it is our “normal”. Of course, our definition of “normal” is always changing. Maybe that is because we keep throwing new people in the mix, but the kids are growing and changing and so is the dynamic. Nevertheless, there are a few constants.

For example, someone is constantly crying. Not the same person. Just someone. Don’t be alarmed- it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It probably means someone isn’t letting them be the boss. To make this more fun, we decided to adopt a toddler that had trouble controlling his emotions. He is now four and growing out of it, so we quickly added an infant to the mix to keep the momentum going.

Someone is constantly missing one shoe. If we are talking about my 7 year old, then make that one shoe FROM.EVERY.PAIR.

You are constantly at the grocery store.

You are constantly running late.

Someone is constantly talking. Usually three at the same time.

You are constantly stepping on legos. OUCH.

There are constantly dirty dishes and clothes. It doesn’t matter that you did laundry all day and just proudly pulled that last thing from the hamper. Someone will come behind you and add a pile of clothes. If it’s the 7-year- old, you might notice as he throws it in that one of the shirts is still on the hanger. <Growl.>

You constantly have to retake pictures. It doesn’t mean that you will ever successfully get them all to look at the camera at the same time and smile. You won’t.

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Certainly not the most flattering picture, but it definitely captures life in this family.

 

There is constantly someone asking questions or making comments. If only I had a dollar for how many times I have heard “how do you feed them all”? “Are you done”? “Do you own a t.v.”? It’s usually in Walmart- like the man who tried to lecture me about how the earth was overpopulated because of people “like me”. Ironically, I only had three kids with me at the time. It turned out fine, though. While I was scraping my jaw off the floor that 7 year old (the one who can’t find his shoes or pick up his legos) respectfully put the man in his place. So I just smiled as we went on with our shopping.

Family dinner around the table is a constant; at least in our house. We will go around the table saying what we learned that day, what we are thankful for, or something else to spark conversation. Almost every night I have to try and keep my tea from coming out my nose because I am laughing so hard. Many nights I try to blink away tears because I am so moved by unexpected things they say.

There is constantly something to laugh about. Kids are just naturally funny. Sometimes they are trying to be, but most of the time they aren’t. Bonus points if you can learn to laugh  at yourself and laugh when things don’t go according to plan. Life is guaranteed to be a fun ride.

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You know what helps the noise level? Giving them musical instruments. Genius idea we had there.

 

There is constantly a parody being written and sung. Sometimes there are instruments. Sometimes there is dancing. Maybe this is just our house. (Okay, it probably is.) There is always a way to put anything in the form of a song and sing with your husband to make a point, annoy the kids, or just keep each other entertained. It is like Disney, but with more sarcasm. Fun fact: When Ava weighed in at 21 lbs by six months old, we rewrote “I’m all about that Bass”. Her theme song: “I’m all about that milk” was so fun that even the kids forgot to roll their eyes and sang along. (Don’t worry – we are putting away money for their future therapy.)

There is constantly something to delight in. A baby’s firsts (which by the way are SO much more fun when you have a ton of other kids who delight in them, too), mastering a math concept you thought they might struggle with, seeing them overcome things they didn’t think they could, seeing them love each other, or a million other things I could go on and on about.

 

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Love at first sight.

 

There is constantly someone willing to snuggle you. 

There is constantly something to pray about. I recommend investing in a good pair of knee pads.

There is constantly someone watching you. Not in a creepy, stalker-ish way. Well, sometimes. Maybe if you are trying to sneak a candy bar. What I really mean is that if you mess up  – and we all will – there is someone young and impressionable to see it.

Here is the thing: I have been at this long enough to know that those needy little people that talk constantly, can’t control their emotions, say your name 3295820 times a day, and lose one shoe to every pair ….. they teach you a level of love and delight that you didn’t know you had the capacity for. Sometimes, you discover new levels of heartache, too. But even when they let you down, you will find you still love them as much as you ever did.

Maybe the biggest constant you find when you are trying to raise a big family is the constant need for God’s presence and help. At least twice a week I say, or catch my husband’s eye and mouth the words, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM DOING”! Just a couple of nights ago I had to ask my 13-year old for forgiveness because I was snippy as I got frustrated over something that mattered Not.At.All in the scheme of things. If you are wondering, humble pie tastes nasty. Just be sweet always. You’ll need a lot of His power for that – especially in a large family.

 

In my 19 years of parenting, I actually have learned a few things. At the top of that list is a deeper understanding of how our heavenly Father loves us. It is deeper than I can understand, but as I look at my children I get just a tiny glimpse.

 

This I am sure of:

His love for us is constant, and children are absolutely a blessing. 

 

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lordthe fruit of the womb a reward.
 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!  – Psalm 127:3-5 

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Sowing and Reaping

I am not a winter person. If you picture one of those little tiny chihuahua dogs that is always shivering, that would be an accurate mental picture of me in the winter. So about this time of year, I start longing for summer and feeling the warmth of the sun on my face.  I start thinking of my dream backyard- which never, at any time of year – looks like my actual backyard. Every year we talk about planning and planting and really making the backyard nice, but we almost never follow through. I am a planner and a researcher, and my husband – he is not. He gets things done. Which actually makes us a pretty good team most of the time.

One year we started a raised bed and filled it with vegetables, but then I broke my foot and we adopted our son and well ….. you don’t care about tending to bell peppers when either of those things happen!

Then last year, something went awry  in my husband’s mind and he decided to plant ALL.THE.THINGS.

His decision making process went something like this: Vegetables? Yes! Fruit? Sure. Flowers? Easy enough. Gourds? Those can become bird houses. Does the nursery sell it? Then we will grow it!

All.The.Things.

If you know my husband then you know he doesn’t do anything on a small scale. To give you an example- there were month-long talks about whether we should have chickens. Now to some of you that don’t know him, building a coop and putting it in the backyard might not sound so crazy.

Not even when I tell you that we live in a subdivision with very close neighbors.

Not even when I tell you that we already have 6 kids and a dog and a smaller backyard.

At least, not until you hear about this chicken coop he planned. Now I am convinced my husband can build anything that is made of wood. But let’s just say as he worked out some of the design elements we had an actual conversation about the possibility of him learning to do stained glass. Yep, that’s my guy. He makes life fun.  :)

 

seeds

A “few” of his seeds. A couple of everything. Like Noah, but with plants.

 

To make a long story short, something unexpected happened. By mid-summer my backyard was full of everything from beds of flowers, to beds of vegetables and trellises of gourds. In fact, there were so many that he had to move enough flowers to fill the front beds all around the house. There were morning glories in the day and something else that bloomed at night.

 

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In the beginning.

 

gourds

Gourds. Doesn’t every home have a trellis with hanging gourds?

 

butterfly

All the flowers attracted lots of unexpected friends. 

 

I laugh to myself every time I think about it.

I also realized something. There have been a lot of summers I looked out at my backyard and wished I had gardens full of things growing and yet, I knew it was too late. I had missed that window of opportunity to plant and couldn’t reap what I didn’t sow.

 

How much worse to feel regret because our spiritual lives are not bearing the fruit we wanted to see.

 

It seems an unlikely season to be thinking of sowing, with parts of the country getting several inches of snow today. Yet, that is exactly what this January has been for me. A quiet time to step back and learn to be still. I dropped data from my cell phone plan, stopped logging on to social media so much, and entered each day open-minded about how God would want me to use my time and resources. I’ve been weighing my plans against God’s promises, and finding I have a lot of adjusting to do.

What are you hoping to reap next year, in the next decade, and in your first million years in heaven? What is it you are trying to grow? What God-dreams have you tucked away?

Did you sow any seeds with that in mind today?

If we abide in Him, He promised we would bear much fruit. Sure, He gets to choose the fruit. He gets to hold the pen and write the story. But I promise His version is always better. Then one day you can stand back and look at your life and smile at what grew – and grew much more abundantly than you had ever expected.

 

 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:7-9

 

 

smaller version

The only thing I actually grew last year. Whatever. Mine wins. 

 

 

 

 

 

Authentic

It was one of those phrases that jumps out at you, begs you to mark it and haunts your thoughts for days afterward- and there was a good reason, although I didn’t know that yet. “Partakers of Grace”. I knew what it meant at face value, but I knew if I really understood, He wouldn’t be bringing it up. I thought I might spend a few months just reading about it, but God had other plans.

It had been ten years at least since I heard the story, yet it came to mind and stayed there. When a story comes to mind and stays there – ten years after you heard it- you know He is making a point. I don’t know where the story originally came from. It went something like this:

a little girl was adored by her Daddy and loved him with equal adoration. She also adored her dress up things, especially a (fake) pearl necklace that adorned her neck 24/7. One night her Daddy was tucking her in and said, “I have something for you”. Her little eyes grew wide with excitement and her heart began to race with anticipation. He continued, “.. but I need you to give me your necklace first”. Her face fell and her heart sank. She didn’t want to give up her necklace. She loved that necklace. Seeing the struggle on her face, he said, “I won’t make you give me the necklace. If you want to keep it- it is your choice. I have something I really want to give you, but I will leave it up to you to decide. In fact, you can think about it and decide tomorrow.” She felt a little relief as he kissed her cheek and tucked her in. So, the next night he asked again- and she declined again. This went on for several nights, and each time she struggled more and more. Finally, one night with tears in her eyes, she took off those pearls she loved so much and tearfully placed them in her Daddy’s hand. Her face was wet with tears, but his face lit up as her little hand laid them trustingly in his. He left to retrieve something, and when he returned, he held out a small box. Sniffing and wiping away her tears, she opened the box and gasped. Immediately her sorrow turned to pure joy. There, in the box was a strand of real, genuine pearls. Her face lit up, as she would never have even thought to ask for such a thing. She realized he was not taking her necklace. He was giving her a real one.

The analogy is rather obvious. I knew what it meant, and I knew why God brought it to mind. It was an invitation to go deeper. It was a reminder that no matter how well you know God, or how long you have walked with Him, there is always more to be discovered. There is always a greater level of intimacy to be reached, greater Joy to be found.

But.

It means letting go of some things. The enemy wants to fill our hands so full of stuff (whether things or activities), that we can’t accept what God wants to give us. Maybe it means letting go of some “busy”. Maybe it means letting go of some sin…..or expectations, or control, or other (lesser) dreams. Maybe it means all of the above.

I was still ruminating on what He was saying when I got the call from my mom that my grandmother – “Nanny” to me, was in the hospital and it didn’t look as if she would make it. I booked a one way flight that night, but I wouldn’t make it in time. My mom, two of my daughters and I flew to Texas. I tried, as you do, to soak up every second with my family in the face of the sadness before us. It is an ironic thing to come together and enjoy each other’s company so much over something like a funeral. A perfect reminder that this life is “but a vapor”.

Sitting at the table one day with some of my family, my aunt announced that my mom and both sisters had agreed that there was something of my Nanny’s that they wanted me to have.

You guessed it.

It was a pearl necklace. My eyes began to sting with tears immediately.

“Yes, Lord. I hear you.” All the events came flooding back as I vividly remembered underlining “partakers of Grace”, and the story, and so much of what He had been saying all along.

As I look in the mirror and lower those pearls over my neck I am reminded.  I am reminded of my Nanny and how she is free now, where sickness can not find her. I reminded of what she knows full well now- that most of what I see with my eyes isn’t real. It is temporary at best, and this life on earth – it IS but a vapor.

I am reminded that sadly, I am often like that little girl clutching a fake necklace – making plans and wasting hours on things that are just temporary and not eternal. I am reminded that God is there every day – a loving Daddy with hands open, offering me something more; something deeper, something authentic. I am reminded of the paradox that I have been called to : to be both His daughter, and a warrior simultaneously. Making war on my own sin, and – like a little girl crawling up into her Daddy’s lap – resting in Him, learning what it means to be a “partaker of Grace”.

What is it you are holding onto today? What is keeping you from the abundant life God has for you? I challenge you today, to loosen your grasp, to let go of that thing that stands between you and grabbing hold of all He has for you. It is only with a bent knee, a surrendered heart and open hands that we can receive what He has for us. Don’t settle for fellowship with people and miss intimate time with your Creator. Don’t settle for busy and miss abundant. Don’t settle for surviving when you are called to LIVE.

The world offers fake, fleeting happiness at best. But His Joy? It’s authentic.

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“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”.  – Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Trip on the Comma

It was the summer of 2012. We were at a place of complete surrender, walking it out with all the poise of a newborn deer. I looked at Brian, as I had done (and would do) many times, and said with pleading eyes “I know this is going to sound completely crazy… but I think we have to do this”. And – bless him – he thoughtfully considered what I shared as if there was no great cost assigned to it.

As if our “adventures” to that point had not convinced everyone we were completely crazy, there we were, in the middle of an adoption process when we announced that we would be flying a teenage girl – an orphan –  that we knew nothing about to live with us for 7 weeks that summer. Some would say we were reckless and I would have sided with you many days since then- but we were reading our Bible and going about life as if God meant for us to actually do the things in there. The audacity.

The summer was great, but HARD. It was eye-opening, life-changing, and it left us with so many questions. That teenage girl left, but we never went “back to normal”.

In the three years since then, life has been a whirlwind for sure. We added two children to the family. A now 3 year old son by adoption, then a (homegrown) baby girl, bringing us to a grand total of 6. And yet our names still lingered on that adoption wait list, though most of you never knew that. We eventually pulled out because of concerns we had about the program, and I was hurt and left with a bitter taste in my mouth. Meanwhile, life dealt other blows of its own. We walked, as best as we knew how, with people we loved as they struggled in significant ways. Oh, overall there was so much joy and so many mountaintop moments, but there was also a growing cynicism about some things deep, deep down. I didn’t really know it was happening.

Until today.

So often I thought back on our hosting experience (among other things) and wondered if the critics had been right. Had we been too reckless? Had we made things worse instead of better; hosting a child we knew we would not be able to adopt? There were actually a lot things we had attempted “for God” in the last few years… things we thought He wanted us to do…. and when they didn’t turn out the way I thought they would I had let negative thoughts creep in.

“Do you even know God’s voice? Maybe you made that up”

“You should just calm down. Be like everyone else. Raise your kids, pin pins on Pinterest and stop attempting risky things.”

That girl I was three years ago, so full of trust and passion, got a few scrapes and a little dirt on her face and wanted to sit down and lick her wounds rather than press on and do hard things.

Have you ever felt that way?

Just as you think you are becoming all that God called you to be – you bump into that glass wall. Oh, you aren’t sure what it is that stops you, but inevitably it always does. you always lose courage and give into __________. Maybe its fear. Maybe insecurity. Maybe its the cost.

I know.

 

It is risky: this whole “surrender every area of your life completely” business.

The world screams “let’s be reasonable here”! It treats God like an accessory to a nice life. A spouse, kids, a house, a good job, a pet … “oh yes, you’ll need a little Jesus, too”.

I beg you not to buy that.

I accidentally believed them when they said I should “calm down”. So I studied my Bible and I prayed often for God to set my heart on fire for Him, but I lost all my confidence because I forgot that my confidence wasn’t in me, it was in Him

Then today happened.

That sweet girl, Vika, stood before a judge with a couple from the United States. After 366 days of a long, bumpy (and costly and risky, by the way) journey, they legally became a family. And her mother doesn’t realize how her words to me later stopped me in my tracks.

She thanked me and claimed that somehow we were a part of her daughter’s journey to her. Oh, she had done that before. But today it was written under a perfect snapshot and the two of them together, smiling. When I had traded in my fears and worldly logic in favor of following Him out of my comfort zone, He had always given me a front row seat to see Him do things only He could do; and I had always been left in awe of Him. As I stared at that photo tears of gratitude and joy burned my eyes and spilled down onto my lap.

And it was as if everything grew silent and  I could feel God asking.

Have you lost your awe and wonder? Did you doubt when my timing wasn’t like yours?

Oh my. Had I? When did this happen? Had I become cynical? Had I watched too much of the evening news, read too many articles, and taken to heart too much of the messiness of life?

Had I put a period where God had simply put a comma?

When we put a period where God puts a comma, we see the messy middle and are tempted to think that it is hopeless.

But Hope is a Person- the Person of Jesus. So nothing is ever really hopeless as long as Jesus lives.

I put a period before God was done with the story. It caused me to lose my confidence and cower so many times I could have been courageous instead. Like Peter, I took my eyes off of Jesus and started to sink. Oh, don’t worry. Even when my walk has all the poise of a newborn deer, it only matters that He walks with me. He says its about relationship, not my performance.

But I am praying I never lose my awe and wonder again. Perhaps the biggest risk is to never risk anything for the Kingdom.  I’d rather stand in awe of Him now than stand in awe later of all the times He was right there, inviting me to join Him in His work and I missed it. Maybe the biggest risk is to go through our lives busy and distracted until we haven’t got any days left.

I say we risk it all and run the race set before us.

Just don’t trip on the commas.

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29