Kirsten Grace – Month 12

Kirsten!
You are 1 year old today! Happy Birthday, Baby Girl!

IMG_9811

This year has gone by faster than any year I have ever experienced, feeling almost impossible that 12 months have passed since you came (rather reluctantly) into our arms. It was a long, hard labor (nearly 28 hours after my water was broken) and I can’t say I’d want to do that all over again, but I am so thankful I did. Darling girl, you have been the most incredible grace in our lives. WOW. Being your mama is the greatest joy and the biggest challenge I have ever faced. I have no idea how someone can scream and cry and keep me from sleep for almost a year (well…closer to two with the pregnancy-night-pee-thing) … and still bring more joy and bigger grins to my face than I ever believed possible. Kirsten, you are a paradox of stress and relief, frustration and celebration, and I absolutely am head over heals for you.

Let it be known: I would not change one thing about you. Not ONE THING. (It’s as the eloquent poet Sandra Boynton says, “I love what you are, I love what you do, fuzzy little snuggle puppy, I love you!”)

IMG_9299

You are an investigator. You love turning the pages in books, preferring grown up books to your own. You examine toys and tissue boxes. You watch us play piano or guitar and you very intentionally mimic our movements. First thing in the morning when we greet you in your crib, you start pointing left and right, up and down, saying “Dah?”…asking us “what’s that, what’s that?” You know trees, cat, light, book, etc. You continually pull everything out of cupboards and drawers. We actually found you had bit through a Kcup and had coffee all over you. Yum. I also ended up bungee cording your dress drawers to keep you from dismantling your clothes 10 times a day.

IMG_9761

You love food. You have mastered the “squooshi” packets for eating yogurt and applesauce and cottage cheese, but for the most part you’d just assume eat what mom and dad are eating. You have adventurous taste buds. You seem to dislike most fruits, oddly enough, but will go to town on a bowl of chili.

You are musical. On the first day with your “band in a box” you had learned that the cymbals go together and which piece to use with the triangle. You love the “drum set” I made you out of oatmeal canisters, happily imitating our rhythms. You play the piano and guitar gently and intentionally. You sing. You could care less about TV unless the theme song to The West Wing comes on. (Let’s be honest, that is some brilliant orchestration. Good taste, little girl.) When I nurse you before bed I hum “Hush now, my baby” from The Prince of Egypt and whenever I stop, you make a few grunts to indicate, “Keep singing, please, mom.”

You have a vibrant personality. You laugh loudly, you cry loudly. You have a flair for the dramatic. You are hysterically funny, using your eyebrows and facial expressions like a second language. When you feel demanding (about food or wanting attention or demanding to be closer to your pal Landon L.), you screech with the highest pitch I fear all the dogs in the neighborhood will come running. You know what you want and are very unlikely to be a pushover.

IMG_9840

You are a lover. You want to be near both mom and dad all of the time (though no cuddling, please). You give kisses now with an opened mouth and a “Mah!” You still flap your arms wildly whenever you see either of us (or Landon, of course). You give your stuffed animals and other toys kisses too.

You may be an extrovert. You love people and happily bounce from person to person. You are joyful to be around and most everyone seems to enjoy being around you. I am thinking you lean extrovert also because of the way you refuse to be rocked to sleep. Once you’re done nursing, you won’t let me hold you and rock you to sleep. Nope. You want your bed, to decompress by yourself. This reminds me of my own tendencies – if there’s someone in the room I can’t help but interact with them. So to rest and relax, I need quiet, alone time.

You have 5 teeth, you stand without holding on, you’ve taken 1-½ steps. You crawl like a speed demon, take two 1-½ hour naps a day, and sleep through the night from 7-7. (Praise the Lord for sleeping through the night. Oh my gosh, I cannot thank you enough, Child.)

Kirsten Grace,

May you never doubt the Love of God,
The nearness of His Comforter, the Holy Spirit,
Or the friendship of Jesus.

May you be confident of your giftedness,
Humble in your confession,
Genuine in your love of all people.

May you grow in grace and in knowledge of God,
Serving him first, always.

Praying this for you,
Mama

IMG_9387

An Advent People

This morning I have the privilege of ushering you all into the New Year…the new liturgical year, that is. At Monroe Free Methodist Church, Pastor Kevin and I have chosen to follow the Revised Common Lectionary and today is the beginning of Advent, the start of the new Church year. To begin, we’ll spend some time breaking down these “church-lingo” terms, then I’ll share a bit of my personal story, and finally I’d like to challenge us to become an Advent People.

12_07_13 Advent Candle

Ok, so backing up a bit…the Lectionary. What in the world is it? The root of the word is “lection” which simply means “reading.” The Lectionary, then, is a predetermined way of reading through the Scriptures. Back in the 60s, the Catholic Church made the groundbreaking decision to begin following an organized plan or reading the Bible. The Revised Common lectionary came about in the 80s and 90s when a long list of non-Catholic Christian Churches tweaked the original reading schedule. Each week we read a Psalm, an Old Testament passage, an Epistle (the biblical term for “letter”), and a Gospel (the biblical term for one of the four books teaching on the Good News, the life of Jesus.) Many Presbyterians, Lutherans, United Methodists, Mennonites, Anglican and Free Methodist churches follow the lectionary together. That’s one of my favorite parts about the lectionary – knowing that on this Sunday I’m reading the same passages that many other churches are across the country, and around the world. The reading unifies the Church across space and time.

The cycle of readings begins in “Year A” with Matthew and it’s correlating Old Testament, Psalm, and Epistle. Then, we start over again with a new set of passages for Year B (using Mark), then Year C (in Luke). Thus…we travel a three year journey through the whole story of the Bible. Though not every verse or chapter can be read during this time, we as a church are able to get a better taste for the beautiful story of God’s redeeming plan for creation, a story that spans Genesis to Revelation. 

Following the Lectionary is not required of our church. It is a decision Kevin and I have made out of conviction; conviction that our personal plans for sermons will never surpass the wisdom of God. Sure, we could be determining our sermon series based on our own agenda, but we’re pretty sure our creativity would run out, our biases would show through, and we could easily steer the church on our own insight. In reading the Lectionary, we trust that the Holy Spirit works outside of time, believing that even (and perhaps especially) predetermined Scripture readings are exactly the message God has for us today. We choose to submit to the authority and study of the men and women who’ve gone before us, as opposed to sticking to our favorite books of the Bible or using the trusty “open your Bible and blindly point” method. It’s exciting to watch how God has used these pre-planned Scripture passages to weave together sermons at the proper time. He is so faithful.

Ok…so now that we understand the Lectionary a bit better, there’s this concept of the Church Calendar (also known as the Liturgical Year or the Christian Year). This is yearly progression through the life of Christ, a calendar of seasons – of feast days and fasting – adhered to by nearly every Christian church. We begin now with Advent, then follow the arc of scripture through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Season. With each changing season, we are offered the opportunity to reflect on how God worked in us and we’re invited to become aware of his leading into the coming season.

Which brings us to today. The cool thing about today?! It’s the first day of the New Year in Year A! So if you’re just hearing about this for the first time, you’re getting in on the “ground floor.” (But don’t worry, we’ll come back around to Year A in 2019).

Today we are entering into the season of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The origin of this Christian season dates back to 480 AD and perhaps even further…to the times of Peter and the Disciples. The word “advent” simply means “to come” and so this season is an opportunity to prepare and to wait with baited breath for the arrival of the newborn King. We wait, as Mary did, for Jesus Christ to be born. We wait, as the prophets did, for their long-awaited Prince of Peace. But as followers of Jesus on the “other side” of his birth, we have a different invitation to wait. Knowing that the celebration of Jesus’ birth is imminent, we now wait for his second coming. We wait for the day when Christ will come to bring his perfect peace to earth as it is in heaven…for all eternity. We wait with hope and angst for the day when he will make all things right, restoring relationships, repairing sick bodies, aligning healthy governments, abolishing poverty. We wait with excitement and perhaps dread, for his day of judgment, knowing that our trust in him brings salvation but that a detailed account of our lives will acknowledge the moments when we failed to follow faithfully. But we wait.

After years of following Jesus, I only recently began to embrace the seasons of the Christian calendar. A few years back, a friend who I deemed my “spiritual mother” invited me to join her intimate small prayer circle. Each Wednesday evening, five of us would gather in a chilly, candlelit sanctuary for an hour of stillness. We prayed the vespers service together, reading Scriptures and praying written-out prayers. Spending this type of quiet time together was new to me, but became deeply transformative. Together we were experiencing the life-changing lessons contained in the liturgy and the communion of saints.

And it was there that I met Advent. Along with my dear vespers sisters, we read Ruth Haley Barton’s Advent Reflections to guide our focus during this season of faith. Ruth’s writing and urging, combined with the lectionary Scripture passages offered the opportunity for self-examination, for refocusing, for shifting my perspective. Yes, this is the very same devotional guide we’ve offered to you. (Which, side note…the orders are in, and we have two extra, if you’re interested!)

Advent is such a beautiful, yet challenging time in life of the Church. It is at this time of year that we are reminded of our need to wake up to the coming of Jesus in our lives, to become an Advent People.

This Advent-waiting is so difficult because we are invited to sit in this in-between space: a space where we are no longer experiencing the comfortable, oh-so-familiar life, yet neither have we seen the resolution of the waiting…the answer, the direction, the “ahhhh yes” everything-is-turning-out-just-fine moment. We are in the time of holding our breath, left to wait. We can choose to gasp for air, fight for our lives, flee the fearful expectancy. Or we can seek the Lord Jesus Christ in this uncertainty, looking for his movement, listening to his voice. Because even in the waiting, especially in the waiting, there is Jesus.

When I first started observed Advent in 2013, I was in the middle of one of my darkest winters. It was our third year of infertility and that combined with other life circumstances made the dark winter nights a reality in my heart. But during that time, I prayed this prayer:

Lord Jesus, As hard as this is to admit, I thank you for this long time of advent in my life. This journey of infertility may continue for many more years, I don’t know, but the grace, the blessing has come and is coming in the ways I’m learning to seek you. I imagine where my focus would be right now if I had gotten “my way”…and it’s not likely to be totally on you. Teach me now how to keep company with Jesus, how to kindle communion with Him, that it may be an inextricable part of me in years to come.

Advent is so much more than a countdown to Christmas. It is an invitation to wait with God on God in our everyday lives. The process of Christian growth – of spiritual formation – is slow and ongoing and, quite frankly, beyond of our control. Friends, my challenge for our church is to become an Advent People: a congregation who responds to God’s invitation every day; a people who hold vigil with Christ each day – keeping the candle burning in our devotion to prayer and to scripture and to one another; a humble group of Jesus-followers becoming increasingly willing to change, willing to step out of the control seat and willing to let God do his transformational work.

Come! Let us walk in the light of the Lord together! (Isaiah 2:5)

The Dance of Grace & Trust

As my daughter creeps closer and closer to six months old, I get more excited and more freaked out. You see, I had a goal of having her solely breastfed for her first six months. In those early weeks I thought, “there is no way in heck I can survive this for SIX MONTHS.” But a wise friend told me (even before I had my baby girl), “It’s hard, just take it a day at a time. Don’t set up big goals, set tiny ones. I’m going to nurse her this week.” Nursing got easier and easier as I developed the procedures that worked for us and as I figured out what accessories I needed or didn’t need. And here we are….the end of full-time breastfeeding is in sight.

I can NOT wait until her daddy can feed her and I’m not her only source of sustenance and we can watch her experience new foods and sit at the table with us. I have a freezer full of pumped breastmilk and we taught her to use a bottle around 8 weeks. I kept offering to Kevin that I could share the feeding with him and a bottle. But he knew how well things were going and how much I had desired this gift. So he waited.

And I’m so stoked that we made it. But I am sad to see this special season of breastfeeding intimacy transition to something new. It’s been so sweet; most of the time I take it for granted. Lord Jesus, I am so thankful for this gift that was not a given. Thank you for bringing in my milk and allowing her the skill the nurse well and plumping her right up. I am so thankful.

Another paradox of motherhood, right? 

But here’s the real confession: I’m freaked out by what may or may not happen once I ease back on nursing.

I know my fertility will (maybe, probably, perhaps, who knows…) return once I’m not breastfeeding ’round the clock. I know I could conceivably get pregnant (…conceivably….ha. that’s punny…) in the coming months. And part of me thinks, “FOR THE LOVE, I just want to be normal again! I don’t want to be pregnant or nursing or a storehouse of uncontrollable hormones!” (I suppose that last one happens regardless…) I can’t fathom going through that whole ordeal again, so soon. Pregnancy was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Pregnancy is no joke.

But the other part of me thinks, “What if I can’t get pregnant? I’m not getting any younger and I have endometriosis and a whole bunch of other fertility issues and time is of the essence. And what if?” How long do we wait this next time before calling it quits?

So yeah, I want to get pregnant like right now…in the next few months. I would love to have babies close in age. And we always said that once we started a family, we wouldn’t prevent pregnancies until we’re “done.” I don’t want to live once again in the fear of monthly cycles and wondering and waiting and trying to not get all wrapped up in the hope and expectation for the future.

It’s hard to believe that I could move from one worry to another so quickly, despite the glorious answer to prayer dozing in her crib down the hall. 

And so I pray:

Holy Father, giver and sustainer of life, grant that I may know your perfect peace and trust in your infinite wisdom. Keep my mind fixed on the work of your kingdom and content with the gift of “today.”

Amen.

Broken for You

On my morning walk before church I prayed. I was anticipating Holy Communion and asked God to examine my heart and cleanse me. I wanted to be a temple worthy to take part in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus.

And He met me. Right in the middle of struggle. He had heard my desires for surrender.

My child,” the Lord said, “just as Christ’s body was broken that the world may have life, so your body is being broken that you may bring life into the world. Your physical being is my temple. You’ve laid down your life for my kingdom. And so I have asked you to surrender, that my will be done in this world. Through childbirth you will continue in sanctification, setting aside your abilities, your appearance, your desires, in order that I may breathe deeper life into your spirit. Your body is a vessel of the daughter for whom I have great plans. Bear her with grace.”

“Father,” I said, “as Jesus prayed in the garden, ‘if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ I asked for years to be given this gift of motherhood. And then I surrendered my desire. But it became a new sort of selfish. And of that, too, you are breaking me. Use my body for Kingdom work. I’m laying down my pride, proclaiming my desire for you to use and transform and break my body that She may have life. And for those whom she will lead to Life eternal.”

And even as Christ Jesus was resurrected his body bore the scars, remembrance of his sacrifice, proof of our redemption. “So, Father God, remind me in the years to come of the good my body has done. As it shows signs of this life-giving, transformative, Spirit-seeking time in my life, may it be a remembrance of His sacrifice and mine. For your good.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Due

Dear God,

I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s the mild flu I’m fighting and the fact I can’t breathe through my nose. (I can’t stand a dry mouth.) Maybe it’s that hot cocoa I drank. Or maybe it’s the racing thoughts, swirling round and settling on the calendar date. Today was our birth mother’s due date.

We found out on Saturday that she had given birth last Wednesday, and through a series of unfortunate events that little boy is now in the foster care system. Our hearts broke in two.

I keep wrestling with the messages you’ve given me. I wonder if I’m just a crazy person for thinking that you, Maker of Heaven and Earth, would impart unto me sweet prophecies. Perhaps I am. But if those words scribbled in my journal really are divine, then I’m waiting with shallow breaths wondering what your next move will be.

In the midst of thoughtful encouragements and heartfelt prayers by friends and family, there’s the lady who stops in to tell me “some things that might help you get pregnant.” I had grace for this woman because, really, it’s wonderful that anyone should spend even a moment thinking about our situation, let alone caring enough to drive over to share with me. But it was all I could do to keep my tongue from spewing, “You really think that after five years of trying to conceive we haven’t heard or tried every remedy or wive’s tale in the book?!

This conversation came on the heals on my going-to-sleep thoughts last night. When we went to the reproductive endocrinologist last spring he told us the last step, the invasive decision would be surgery. Oh my gosh, this will never come to surgery, I thought. Or if it does surely all my problems will be solved and we’ll be able to get pregnant right away.

My heart grieves the loss of those dreams, those months when I assumed outcomes.

And here I sit, in the dark, still house, late at night, with the tick of clock reminding me of my numbered days, wondering what in the world you have in store for me, God? Is it truly good?

Facebook Cover - Eph 2

But God.

That conjunction changes everything. There is no greater mystery, that God would come to rescue me from who I was (lyrics from The Gospel Changes Everything by Meredith Andrews).

“And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest

But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!— and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”

And then verse 10 goes on to say, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

I have no room to complain, Lord. For it is by grace I have been saved from a life of sin and separation from your goodness. Pour out your green hope into my life.


 

 

Scripture passage: Ephesians 2:1-10, the NET Bible

Feeling the Love

Dear God,

We were well-loved today. Thank you for the evidence of your truths from Jeremiah 31:2-3.

Thus says the Lord:
“The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

02_05_15 Everlasting Love

These were reminders of your faithfulness in the midst of these wilderness days:

1. A gift card to Lisa Leonard Designs (in that beautiful “you am loved” envelope.) This was one of the most thoughtful gifts I could possibly receive. Would you believe that one of my dear friends remembered a blog post I wrote in January 2013, where I shared the story of a necklace? In August 2011, I had wanted to use my original Lisa Leonard gift card for a necklace with my baby’s initial on it. But in an act of surrender, I ordered a necklace with only mine and Kevin’s names. Today, this gift card was given to me to replace that original one, for the intent of adding that child’s name, believing God will do this one day.

2. Two different cards from our Albion family, sharing heartfelt concerns and prayers for us during this time of hurting and waiting on God. In one of the notes was an incredible message:

I have received no enlightenment as to how and why God works as he does. But this very small check represents my confidence in His goodness and perfect plan for your lives. 

I am encouraged by the confidence others are having in God’s plan for our lives. He is only good.

3. Another ($200!) donation to our adoption fundraiser. Thankful for friends who aren’t giving up on us or on our God.

4. Deep, meaningful phone conversations with our grandparents. Kevin and I spent about 20 minutes talking with Grandma Arvidson then Grandma & Grandpa Eccles and then Grandma Simmons. Our family is incredibly blessed to be led by these rooted God-followers. Their examples of faith mean so much for us. Their support and sharing in our heartbreak is soul-stirring for us.


 

I could believe the lie that this adoption didn’t go through, God must not love you, or maybe He’s punishing you. But, God, I am experiencing your lavish love even now. Just as you told Hosea to pursue Gomer, just as you pursued your people Israel and called them to freedom in you.

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”

Hosea 2:14

I love you, too, God. And I’m hearing your tender voice even in this wilderness.

Grace Sightings

Dear God,

I have been angry with you. Why did I my heart need to be dragged through this…this…adoption miscarriage?! I have been so, so sad.

But somehow I have seen your graces made evident, even in these dark days. I remember something I wrote about in February 2011 as I was reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts for the first time. And for even this memory, I am thankful.

Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving for the graces.

It starts with the gifts God gives.
We offer our thanks.
And we receive that miracle of joy
– the full life.

“Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience; thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life” (p. 39). Eucharisteo precedes us experiencing our fullest salvation in Christ, being saved from the bitter, angry, resentful qualities of sinful living.

And all these years later, I’m still on that Grace-Hunt, the looking for God in the mundane, the good, and the bitter times. And He shows up.

In watching a young leader latch on to his new-found knowledge.

In producing a church website in the midst of the personal mess.

In long, tight hugs from friends.

In the polish that covers the nails bitten through the stress.

In worship team members who respond to my leadership, and prepare with passion.

In the lives being affected by my little story of honest pain and deep faith.

03_04_15 He Gave Thanks

In all these things – God’s graces made evident, I give thanks. Because of Jesus we give thanks. We commune with saints through the ages as we drink the cup and eat the bread, reminding us of His pain. We remember He gave thanks so we, too, must live in eucharisteo.

Processing

Dear God,

Why? Why did this have to happen? Why did everything seem so perfect? Why did we paint the nursery? And rearrange most of the house? Why did we buy a new car? Why did we spend every spare moment in February planning and preparing and dreaming and praying? Why did we believe this was the real deal?

Honestly, God, I never did. I never believed this adoption would actually go through. I have been disappointed far too many times to even remember what it’s like to hope, to believe. I knew you could do it, finish it. I believed this could be the baby we’d waited for. But I didn’t really believe it. I just couldn’t.

I knew that setting my attitude would make my actions follow suit. And so I decided to live in the hope. I decided to think about the joy. I let myself dream. I pushed away the doubts and fears as best I could.

But I can’t help but tell myself I told you so.

I closed the bedroom door. I stopped organizing and cleaning and preparing as the gifts kept arriving. Now the room is cluttered and neglected. My heart wants to do the same, just let the thoughts and feelings pile up, never tending to any of them or allowing anyone in.

The emotions come out in unfounded anger. Why would tell me the website header is wrong at ten o’clock at night?! The emotions come out in seclusion. I have no words to respond to the messages. And I don’t even want to. The emotions come out in fear. What in the world happened to our bank account?!

God, there are many people’s faith hinging on your story for us. Friends who wonder at the religious life we live and this God we follow. Is it real? Would a good God do this to such good people? they ask. And for their sake, God, show up.

And you did for me yesterday. You gave me joy and purpose to lead our congregation on Sunday morning, just days after this adoption miscarriage. My heart grieves, but the mending comes in working out my purpose even through the pain. And so I share my story. I tell of your goodness to my church family, to the Facebook world, to our families, and to these dear readers who journey so faithfully with me.

I can say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)

You are constant.

You are only good.

I am believing that, God. And I am believing that you aren’t done with us yet. Our story is still unfolding, and I am anxious to look back and see clearly what tapestry you were weaving in these tangled times.

For now, though, You have honored my willingness to share this private story in such a bold, public way. You have showered me with friendships that support with deep dependency. So many have shared their own raw emotions over our pain. Many are grieving, God, not just me. Heal.

I am thankful for friends who are sincere. They rejoice greatly in our rejoicing. They mourn deeply in our mourning. We are not alone. And I am thankful.

2015-02-24 09.12.10