More Than Just a Degree

Dear, Sweet Child of Mine,

I don’t know what plans the Lord has for you.  I do believe that, like Hannah, there will come a time when I’m going to be required to give this living, breathing, part of my heart – YOU – back to God. I can hardly fathom that moment from where I stand. The yearning, the deep desire to have you in my life makes the sacrifice seem incomprehensible. But God will give the grace when that time comes.

You might go off to a foreign land, studying abroad or serving as a missionary. You may go to a local community college or a vocational school to pursue a dream. Perhaps you’ll venture a few states away and attend a university we’ve never even heard of, convinced it’s where you’re supposed to spend the next four years of your life. Maybe you hope to be a professional editor, a graphic designer, a pediatrician, or a music teacher. Or you might be totally and completely lost, feel like you have no real hopes and aspirations, but think you ought to go to college anyways. That’s kind of what I did.

When the time came for me to graduate from high school and test my wings, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to go to college. It just seemed like the right choice. Those first three semesters at Spring Arbor University I changed my major no fewer than three times…more if you count all of the “I wonder if I should major in [insert hypothetical four year plan here]?” To be completely honest, I’m still not sure I made the “right” decision (graduating with a Philosophy/Religion degree). I certainly don’t regret the choices I made; I just don’t think there is only ONE RIGHT PATH and if you miss that exit the rest of your life is RUINED. I believe God is bigger and better than our declared major in college (or any other decision we make…big or small.)

Today I was reflecting on my years of living on a college campus. I learned so much in the classroom, studying textbooks, taking notes, meeting with professors. But here are a few lessons I learned outside of decree pursuits. 

_2006:7:5

1) How to worship in music. I learned so much about the musicality behind instrumental worship as well as how to engage the whole body, soul, and spirit with Jesus through song. This prepared me wonderfully for the past five years of worship leading at our churches.

2) How to debate. Or, at the very least, how to disagree with someone’s opinions, share your own, and still like each other in the end. This one lesson has changed me completely. Disagreeing is a healthy process toward growth. Even if you passionately believe in your own perspective, debating can serve to strengthen your ideas and open your eyes to new (and potentially better) ways of believing. 

_2007:10:1
3) How to share life with others. Living in close proximity to 8-28 girls from a wide array of backgrounds, lifestyles, and convictions teaches you a LOT of patience, the ability to deal with the awkwardness of confrontations, and the perspective to appreciate new ways of doing things.

_2007:12:10
4) How to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Though I certainly was not the picture of health for those four years, it was during my college career that I learned how to incorporate running and exercise into my daily routine. I learned how how many hours of sleep I required to function fully and how to handle the teasing when I told friends, “It’s bedtime.” I learned how to refrain from eating that delicious dining commons soft serve ice cream for everysinglemeal. Looking back, I realize how much I miss having a parent to tell me what I could and could not eat and serve perfect proportions. The sky was the limit and I had to learn my limits.

_2006:10:2
5) How to fall in love and stay in love. I got a phenomenal husband out of my college experience. I call that a major win. (disclaimer: I am in no way saying you should get a spouse out of your years on campus. It just worked out beautifully for us. Marriage can be a result of campus living, but it is not a necessity.)

I am looking forward to watching you learn your own lessons, and anticipating my own struggle with letting you go, letting you make your own choices, even letting you fail. But know this, Child:  Jesus always holds you close, even when I can’t. Look to Him to teach you when I’m not there. He will be faithful to you just as He always has been to me.

Love,

Mama

When Diamonds Speak Forgiveness

Oh Child of Mine,

If there is one thing I can tell you about your father, he is a tremendously forgiving man. My behavior could be wrought with selfishness, complete with immature whining, complaining, and insult throwing. But should I come to repent, he never hesitates. The man lives out Matthew 18:21-22.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’

Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’

I am inclined to bring this up as I admire my sparkling diamond earrings. Kevin just bought them for me this Christmas 2013 as a way of saying, I forgive you for losing one of those costly diamond earrings I bought you for our very first Christmas together in 2008. I wrote a little bit about that saga back in December 2009, just before the first anniversary of the gift. All these years later and I’m still so so sad and so so confused about the fact that the single earring never was discovered. I kept it’s mate, stored away in my jewelry box, waiting for the perfect re-purposing opportunity.

These beautiful diamonds speak forgiveness.

IMG_0116

Hope or Optimism?

Dear Child of Mine,

I love being able to write to you. It gives me a purpose and a focus, both of which seem very allusive to me these days. These letters are a pretty honest look into the real me, my likes and dislikes, the things that excite me and the situations that bring me to my knees in prayer. My emotions are complex; most of the time I can’t even sort through them. I’ll babble on and on to your dad and he listens, attentively, knowing that is what I need from him. He offers no input or advice unless I ask, because we both know whenever I’m done prattling on, a light will switch on and an insight comes to the forefront of my mind offering peace or need for change or a way out.

I wish my mind didn’t operate in such a wibbly, wobbly, timey, whimey sort of way. But it does. For whatever reason, God saw fit to combine my deeply intertwined, emotionally fueled, overly sensitive thought process with your father’s straight forward, rationally realististic, practical application type of mind. And, honestly, it’s a beautiful thing. We’re both “extremes,” so the end result is balance. (Or at least that’s the idea.)

I’m not really sure how I got to all of ^that^ stuff when my original post started with this most excellent perspective of living with hope by Henri Nouwen.

Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things-the weather, human relationships, the economy, the political situation, and so on-will get better. Hope is the trust that God will fulfil God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.

All the great spiritual leaders in history were people of hope. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, Jesus, Rumi, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day all lived with a promise in their hearts that guided them toward the future without the need to know exactly what it would look like. Let’s live with hope.

These words by one of my most-loved authors perfectly depict the hopeful focus that I can have during this journey of waiting for you. Infertility is a hard thing. It’s pretty much the OPPOSITE lifestyle that I thrive in. I need schedules, set plans, goals, focus, and a sense that I know where I’m going. Without that plan laid out, I’m a floundering ball of stress and apprehension.

And yet…this is the path on which God is leading me. It’s uncertain. It’s completely unpredictable. It’s difficult. It’s a roller coaster. And I have anything BUT a plan in place.

It would be easy to listen to the the teeny tiny optimistic corner of my mind (and all of those platitudes offered): “It’ll be ok. You’ll have a baby. It might even be soon.” But none of us knows what the future holds. I can’t rely on unrealistic expectations. I can’t just choose to be optimistic.

I can CHOOSE HOPE. I can live today in hopeful trust of My Good God. He is leading me on the path of true freedom.

Waiting for you, Waiting on God,

Your Mama

Homemade Rolls from the Heart

Although your dad and I have been living mostly grain-free since October (with some long stretches of EAT ALL THE BREADS!), I do have a love for baking fresh rolls and loaves. There is something magical about the rising of the dough, the power of the yeast. Working with your hands, kneading and shaping the loaves is therapeutic. Smelling the baking bread is absolutely intoxicating. Burning your tongue on the first steaming hot slice is totally worth it. And slathering the fresh roll with butter than instantly melts is almost indulgence.

IMG_0102

Bread baking is one of those ancient processes. For millennia, humankind has been mixing flour and water and oil, baking it at high temperature and eating it as daily sustenance. This is why, in the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6, Jesus asks his Heavenly Father to give us today our daily bread. He knew that the common man, hearing his instructions, would understand this to mean we need to hear from our Father in Heaven on a daily basis…multiple times a day even…in order to sustain full, vibrant, living. The bread, the hearing from God, is as critical and as basic to our spiritual lives as fresh baked loaves are to the physical life.

IMG_0099

I’m going to confess to you, Child, that I have been struggling to hear from God. I am thankful that His grace has poured out into my life in the form of dedicated time to spend alone with Him. But it seems that I am doing all the talking. Certainly there are times when my Heavenly Father knows I just need to talk. The struggles, the stresses, the big and the little just come pouring out like water from a broken vessel. He accepts me as the hot mess that I am. And He will hold you too.

But there comes a time when I realize, “Wait a minute…I have been spending time with God…and it has been good and rich and cleansing. But I need to hear from him.” And that requires silence, stillness.

I am praying for that restful spirit to come. 

sometimes hobbling along,

your mother

Saturated in Music

Child,

Music is a vital part of who I am. My memories are steeped in concerts and recitals, practice times and rehearsals, clammy palms and shaky notes, exhilarating performances and spontaneous song.

I can remember back to my very first solo; I was the Little Red Hen in our kindergarten musical. Clad in yellow tights, red skirt and poster-board wings, I sang boldly even if confidence and skill lacked.

Piano and voice lessons became a weekly routine beginning in my 9th year. I almost never liked practicing and I never felt like I was any good. But my mom never let me quit, insisting she greatly regretting giving up on her own piano lessons in 5th grade. *sigh* I performed solos at least twice a year for the next…10 years…and I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t nervous. I made at least one critical error in almost every single song, and while some listeners may not have noticed, my little sister surely did. “You had that song perfectly,” she’d say with a hint of disappointment in her voice. I was disappointed too, Ash.

There was only one piano piece I played flawlessly:  Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata at my senior recital. I remember coming to the end of the song, holding out that last pianississimo note, having felt truly moved by the music perhaps for the first time in my piano career, and I heard an audible whisper, “wow” by an older gentleman in the audience. I knew then, finally, I had succeeded.

College piano lessons brought a whole new level to my experience. Though I wasn’t a music major (mostly because some voice in my head told me I wasn’t good enough), I wanted to keep up with my piano studies. Part of me knew I couldn’t let those last 10 years go to waste. My instructor didn’t go easy on me, though she was one of the kindest women I’d ever met. She required hours worth of practice, documented and described in detail. Her non-music-major piano recitals were held twice a year and we were required to memorize our pieces. You would not believe how difficult and challenging that was for me. Typically ok with being in the spotlight, I kept the piano recitals quiet. I invited no one except my college roommate. If I mentioned it to Kevin I was sure to say, “Don’t worry about coming.” I didn’t want anyone there to witness me messing up on the biggest stage of my “career.” I did just fine, though, sweaty palms and all.

Kevin came to at least half of my recitals, though, despite my urging against it. He and Brittney sat as my loyal audience, attempting to encourage me and calm my nerves. My most momentous performance moment came when I played the deeply moving piece by Debussy, Clair de Lune. The chills come back just thinking about it.

Here I am, five years later, and I’m simultaneously proud of myself and disappointed. I have made a bonafide career out of teaching piano lessonsI know! I can’t believe it either. (I’m also really wishing I had headed Mrs. H’s advice and completed the Associates Piano Pedagogy program at SAU. *sigh*) Here I am in my 5th year of teaching, the 3rd school year in a brand new town, and I was proud to host a Christmas recital featuring my studio of 28 (now 30!) students and 140 of their guests! WOW. It was truly an honor, a joy, a thrill to look out at that crowd. Despite all my doubts and fears along the way (they still creep in to this day) I felt I had truly accomplished something.  Glory to God in the Highest for allowing me to use the gifts He’s given which I’ve often viewed as meager. IMG_9953

The part of me that remains disappointed in myself rests in my personal piano advancements. I’ve felt stagnant for the past five years since those hours of rigorous practice. Sure, there have been times I’ve been stretched and needed to practice, perhaps even for hours (can anyone say, “pit orchestra”?), but my repertoire has remained the same. I have had exceptional moments to stretch my experiences and put a damper on my nerves. But new, challenging music? Not so much.

I plan to change that, though, Little One. and I’m telling you this for a few reasons.

You’re never too old to learn something new. Challenge yourself, even if it’s scary, even if it’s easier to stick with the status quo that’s getting you by just fine. Go farther. Make Jesus proud.

Keep me accountable. If you don’t hear me regularly playing piano, ask me to play. If you never hear me truly practicing, hammering out those tough measures note by note, encourage me to practice. I might need that.

Music will always be a part of our home. I’m not exactly sure if and how we’ll push you into the music realm, but I hope you won’t be afraid to TRY. I wish I had tried a new instrument in 9th grade. I missed out on the band experience. I hope you can find your niche and excel. BUT, should you turn out to be tone deaf (I admit, I really hope that isn’t the case) or your passions lie outside of music, I hope you can still appreciate it.

Music is a tremendous part of life, a true Grace from God. May your life be saturated with this gift.

Love,

Your Mama

odd use of capital letters are a Really Good Thing sometimes.

When I write (or used to write) papers for class, I like to differentiate between grace and Grace, faith and Faith, and the church and the Church. You may not fully appreciate what I’m saying here. You may not get it, and it may not make sense at all. And that’s ok, because you might be six years old. (If you’re in high school and you don’t get capital letters yet, we need to talk.)

There are lots of different ways to show grace, but only God gives us Grace. We can have faith in many things, but our Faith leads us to Christ. I work at the church, but I am a part of the Church.

See, words are beautiful things. Words are sometimes very specific. I hope that some day I can help you appreciate the difference between calling someone “mean” or calling them a “vengeful harpy.” I hope that you’ll notice that when someone capitalizes something when there’s no *real* reason to do it, it’s because that thing is really important and there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s like how you should always capitalize Mom. Maybe not someone else’s mom, but your Mom is special and deserves the status brought on by a capital M.

Details matter. Quirky things are interesting. Small things that are easy to ignored are usually the best places to look when you’re bored. Learn to express yourself using words that are Just Right so that you’ll always be able to explain that when we don’t let you stay up past 9:00 we are forcing you to become a malcontented rabble-rouser. You’ll find a girl or boy you like and you’ll have just the words to say so you can express how you feel. You’ll read a book filled with big words and see opportunities to understand new things instead of giving up and going away.

Language and communication are a Big Deal. Words and expression are essential. You’re special, and you need special ways of sharing yourself with others. Words can help.

Wise Words of Aslan

Dear Child of Mine, 

I hope we can one day read The Chronicles of Narnia (by C.S. Lewis) together. I picture us all snuggled in bed beside Daddy reading chapter after chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, discovering the wonderful world of  Narnia, and of the great Aslan–the powerful and good lion, the lion that can’t be tamed or tied down, and of Peter the Magnificent, Susan the Gentle, Edmund the Just, and Lucy the Valiant. We have so much to learn, to imagine, to discuss. I look forward to the eager look in your eye as we turn pages. I anticipate the days, later on, when you’re old enough to talk about imagery and the story’s deeper theological implications. Your dad and I love talking theology. We can’t wait for you to hear your thoughts.
On the eve of a new year, we decided to watch the film based on this epic novel. I was sitting at my desk, writing to you, when I heard these words come from Aslan’s mouth–
What’s done is done. There is no need to speak to Edmund about what is past.
Edmund had been a traitor. He had abandoned his family and played into the hand of the evil witch. But he had come to see the error of his ways and this young boy recognized the pain his choices had caused to his family and friends. And so, in a teachable moment, when Edmund’s brother and sisters were ready to pounce on him repaying evil for evil, the Great Lion urged them to forgive, to let go of their records of wrongs
We will make mistakes, Child. Sometimes repentance will really result in a complete turning from wrong, and we won’t revisit those sins. But other times we’ll allow our sinful flesh to gain control and what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I doYet now is a time to heed the wise words of Aslan as we enter into 2014. What’s done is done. Let’s release others from their sins and live in God’s grace.
Love,
Mama

Christmas Eve with Our Littles

Dear Child of Mine, 

I can’t wait for you to come play with the other littles in my life!  It was truly a joy to spend the second Christmas Eve service in the nursery with my love and my favorite little people. After a truly tremendous experience of serving on the 15 member extra special, combined worship team in the first service, I was ready to settle in with some building blocks and book reading. I waited for quite some time, all by myself, in the nursery and no one showed up. I was starting to feel weepy because…well, you weren’t there with me. I kept looking at this beautiful bracelet a kind friend bought for me. It says,

eventually

The prayer of my heart to be sure.

But then, my favorite person in the whole wide world showed up and said, “I just had to do announcements, so I’ll help you in nursery.” It was all I could do to not throw my arms around him. (Ok, maybe I did.) I needed him there in that moment. 

christmas card

We sat and sang along with the Christmas hymns piping in via the TV. And then our little friends showed up. After overcoming a few initial mommy don’t leave me tears, your dad and I sat on the ground and read books, pointed out shapes, rolled balls and generally enjoyed the snuggles.

IMG_9982

It was a beautifully, comfortable thing, being in the nursery with my husband. Sharing space with kids who know us well, silently dreaming about the day you’ll be there with us.

IMG_9975

Come Quickly, Child.

Love,

Your Mama

IMG_9987

P.S. The cutest thing happened today. Our friend Anna  texted me to tell say little 2 year old Amelia (above in white shirt) saw a photo of me and said, “It’s Lemony!” how cute is that?!

3 Years, 6 Months

Dear Child of Mine,

Today we usher in another year, 2014. I think it’s going to be a good year, if for no other reason than it’s an even number. (Your mother likes even numbers. I liked being 10 years old. Eleven? Not so much.) Last January 2013 was the first time I publicly shared our secret struggle with infertility. It was painful. It was freeing. I am continually affirmed that sharing my story with others has brought healing and wholeness. There’s a time and place for the discipline of secrecy, but Child, please know there are great gifts awaiting in community. When you think you’re all alone, or feel that no one could possibly understand what you’re going through, or if you’re convinced your struggle has tainted you, please don’t believe those lies from Satan. He wants you to feel alone, isolated, dark. But Jesus says,

I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. But I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Believe Jesus. And share your story with trusted people in your life. Surround yourself with those who will embrace you in the midst of your failures and hold you up. May your friends and family be as dear as mine, people who love you just as you are and yet are willing to help (or even push) you to become what they know God wants you to be.

Beyond all that, though, I wanted to confess the cries of my heart from that first New Year’s Day of coming to face to face with infertility. January 1, 2011 was just 6 months into our journey where I shouldn’t have been worrying, but the fears were very real.

Jesus, I don’t know what you have in store for me–you definitely have my attention that’s for sure. I have no choice but to run to you and cry in your arms. Father. Oh Father! I do want to start this year with a teachable spirit, eager to be changed. I am afraid, God, to submit my hopes and dreamsfor fear I might not see them come true. But you say I should let go. I can’t make any changes or see anything good come from my own plans. Jesus, I am discontent with where I am. You know my deepest longings, but you seek for me to be where you are. Give my heart an openness to be changed. Please, God, change my heart. Make me who you want me to be.

Child, I’m still waiting. Sometimes I feel content. Other days I fight with God. There are tears to be shed. That’s the truth. I am praying you’ll join us in 2014, yet not my will, but Yours be done, O God.

Love always,

Mama