Monday, September 30, 2013

When You Just Want to Be on Your Own and the Pursuit of the Father~lessons from horse camp

It was a late Friday night, just before sunset, and I was sitting outside the round pen on top of a hill, at Above the Sun Ranch with 5 teenagers.  It was the first ever Christian horse camp for older teens.  We looked on as Amy prepared to begin a training session with Bailey, a young and new horse on the farm. Amy explained that she would start by running Bailey around the outside rail and when she stopped running her, the goal and desire was for Bailey to enter the center of the circle where Amy was standing.  She explained that she was trying to win Bailey's trust.  Bailey's willingness to enter the center would be a sign of submission, an outward sign that she wanted to be led by Amy.

The training session started.  Amy asked her to run by clicking her mouth and using a rope that she would periodically move toward Bailey. All the while, Amy ran by her side, patiently, lovingly, and mightily, pursuing her. With wide eyes and restless twitches, Bailey ran and ran and ran some more.  I was thinking, um Amy, I think that's enough. But only the leader, the one doing the training, gets to make that decision.

And so it is with God.  Only He knows how to pursue us perfectly.  Others can tell us about Him, proclaim who He is, what He's done, what He promises to do.  But only He opens hearts.  

The first time Amy stopped running Bailey, she quickly entered the center with Amy. I was like, Wow, I could totally be a horse trainer.  That was easy.  And then Amy said, "Let's see if she means it."  So, Amy started walking around the pen, and it wasn't long until Bailey was doing her own thing, looking around, distracted by the littlest thing.  Amy said, "Nope, that won't do.  I need her to stick right with me," and immediately put her back on the rail.

As she ran, Amy explained to us that she makes the right thing a pleasant experience for Bailey and the wrong thing a hard experience.

And so it is with us and God.  When we come to Him and allow Him to lead us, we experience a deep peace that we don't understand.  Often in our walk with God, the outward circumstances aren't pleasant or easy, but knowing Him and resting in Him is.  He is jealous for us and knows how we need Him.  A partial, half-hearted following will not do.

Amy explained that she was looking for signs that Bailey was starting to acknowledge her.  Signs that were unrecognizable to the rest of us.  She was looking for one ear to be on her at all times.  How many times had my God asked me to listen to Him, to listen for His voice above the crowd?  She was looking for a bowed head that reflected submission to her leadership.  How many times had God beckoned me to fall to my knees in surrender and rest?

As I watched Bailey run the rail, I could see myself in that horse.  How many times had I run and run and run some more, at times, wanting to be free and at others, clinging to the safety of the rail. All the while, my Father loving pursued.  After watching Bailey run the rail several times, I wanted to scream at her, "STOP RUNNING! for Pete's sake.  Aren't you tired?!"  Don't you see her, standing in the center of the ring, the one who will love you and feed you and care for you?!"
How many times had I run away from the One my heart desperately wanted and needed?  How many times had I pulled away from God and from others, thinking I knew best.  But God didn't create us to run on our own. He created us to be in relationship with Him and with His other children.

About half way through the training session, Bailey was clearly distracted by a piece of equipment and then some of the girls.  I couldn't help but think of how many times God stood in the center, watching me, while I turned to other things, other gods. How he lovingly looked on, while I piddled away with created things, rather than looking to my Creator.

As Bailey ran the rail again, Amy explained to us that she sees the potential this young horse has.  The rest of us didn't see it, but she does. It's why she chose her.  She knows her bloodlines.

And so it is with us.  God sees our bloodline.  He sees Jesus' perfection when He looks upon us.  He knows how He wants to be in relationship with us and allow our lives to reflect His glory, which results in our deepest satisfaction, our joy.  But, if we're running the rail, whether it's to be free or safe-both a sign of wanting our own independence-we can't be in a right relationship with Him.  

I listened to the girls as we sat around the campfire later that evening.  Their words showed that God had spoken through Amy's words during the training session. I watched the flames of fire flicker on their faces as they shared how hard it is sometimes to want God over other things.  Oh, how I knew what they were saying.  Sometimes those here and now things-those relationships, those experiences- look so good, so promising.   We were able to discuss how people will fail us, but God-He never disappoints. I think each of us could see herself in that young horse, ripping around the ring at breakneck speed.

I am so thankful for the way God pursues us even when we don't know we want to be pursued. Just as Bailey was purchased and brought from far off,  we too, are brought near by God.  We could never get ourselves into His presence if not for His grace in drawing us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

As His daughters, when we want to run or hide, He draws near. He places people in our lives to teach us about Him, so we can know Him and love Him.  Knowing Him is loving Him.

Praying for these 5 young girls that God will relentlessly pursue each of them until they're willingly walking by His side, running hard after Him.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When You're Looking to Get Through the Wall in Front of You

I was walking along the path when suddenly I came to a wall and not just any wall.  It was a solid stone wall that went up, for as high as the eyes can see.  I tried to turn to the left, but there was more wall.  I tried to turn to the right, but there was wall.  I tried to turn around, but oddly, the path that I had so easily tread just moments ago was no longer behind me.  So I called out to one of my most trusted friends nearby, and like always, she came and grabbed my left hand.  I turned to another, and she too came and grabbed my right.  We stood there for a moment, discussing the wall-how to move through it, how to remove a stone, should we go around it.  Weary from much discussion and dead-ends, there seemed to be nothing for us to do but stay in place. Exhausted, we fell to our knees, and as night covered the earth, we eventually fell asleep, right there on the path.

Sometime in the night, I was awakened from my sleep by a voice.  It was a deep, authoritative voice.  It echoed off the wall, thundered around my friends and I, and even within.

"I will remove stones from the wall in front of you, and you will pass through."  There was no wavering in His voice.  He was so sure, so certain.  I was so relieved.  He knew what we must do to move forward.  

I started to wake my friends, but He spoke again:  "You can't take them with you. There is only one way through this thing.  I will pass before you, and then I will remove just enough stones for you to fit through.   You must trust me in this.  For there is no other way to be saved."

And so it is with Jesus...

It is true what Keller says, that at the beginning of following Jesus, we could never know exactly how far He'd ask us to go. We could never know many times He'd ask us to die to ourselves.  How many times He'd lead us to a wall, only to strip off everything but Him.  

If you find yourself at a wall, a stone wall-high and long-trust Him. Follow Him through the very narrow hole in front of you. 

And there is salvation in no one else,
 for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which
 we must be saved.
Acts 4:12


Sunday, September 22, 2013

When Your Father is Calling Your Name

She sat on the porch swing beside me.  One of the toughest 20 something young women I know.  But at that moment, her legs crossed, eyes intent on the man in front of her, all I could see was a little girl, 5 years old, being called upon, as a father calls upon her daughter.

I couldn't help but see myself before my Father in Heaven.  It was as though He was whispering to me, "Pay attention daughter, this is my heart for you."

I watched my husband choke back tears as he told her God was asking him to love her like a daughter.  He knows the mistakes he's made and the broken inside of him, yet when God calls upon him to do something, he doesn't take it lightly.

Two nights prior, this young women called across a yard to me and a few others she trusts...   I'm looking for a dad...she yelled as she blanketed her horse.  I looked at the other women and asked what she said. Someone repeated her words.  I've seen the determined in this girl, and I've listened to her life goals.  This girl knows how to work.  to fight.  to move and shake. We had been talking about looking for a husband.  No one said anything about looking for a father.

But isn't it always in a child's heart to find her Father?  Hasn't God promised to write eternity on hearts?  An eternity with Him?

My heart stilled and stuttered.  How could I break it to her that you don't just go and find a father?

Later that night, "looking for a father" came up again.  I told her that it may not happen here on earth.  I told her that sometimes God doesn't answer that prayer.

The next morning, my husband comes home from work and says, "I need you to call her.  I need to tell her that I will be there for her-we will be there for her.  That we love her.  That I will love her."  He's talking about the same girl I had just told less than 24 hours ago that her hope of a father figure on earth may be in vain.  I hadn't said anything to him about the conversation that went on in the wee hours of the night.  I hadn't even had time to talk with him yet.

Overwhelmed,  I broke down sobbing at the Sovereignty and love of God. She'll think we're lying, I told him.  She'll think we talked and we planned this.  He looked at me crooked, and I went on to explain how just.last.night she told me she was looking for a father.  And I told him how I pretty much told her to close that book  'cause you don't just go looking for a father.  Of course, in her determined way, she looked at me and said, "Well, I'm going to try."  hmmm.

He knew it would scare her if he called.

Doesn't a Father always know the best way to reach His child?

I called her, and she came within hours. She admitted she was scared 'cause why would Jim want to talk with her. I've known this fear of being offered something.  I've known this fear of someone offering a free gift of love and being so very scared.  I watched my husband unfold his heart for this young woman that we've both grown to love so much. I know how hard it is for him (how many times has he asked God to give him a love for people anyway???).  He told her he was offering the gift of a father, imperfect love, for sure-he told her. I watched him walk headlong into what God was asking of him, yet muddling his way, clinging to his Father, as his words came out.  I'm not sure of even what it looks like, he said...You don't have to accept this offer.  There are no expectations of you.  I just want you to know you have a place here.  A safe place here.

When she finally spoke she told us that her father died this month, twenty some years ago and how she often struggles during this month.  She told Jim how she doesn't even know what to say.  Later she whispered to me as she walked out the door:  I hope I responded right. (smile).

Can one ever respond wrongly to the free gift of love?

Along with my husband, I don't know either.  I don't know how this looks-uncharted territory for sure. I do know my Father and His heart for the fatherless.  I know He loves and loves and loves. His love is steadfast.

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

When You're Needing a Song in the Night

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, 
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
~psalm 42:8

The time:  3:25 am.  I hear a cry from his bedroom.  "Mommy, Come quick!"  I rush to room to see him sitting on his bed.  No tears.  He's quite excited, actually.  "Mommy, my song is on.  Turn it up."  Kristian Stanfill's "One Thing Remains" has begun on the radio and Gabriel is singing the all too familiar to our family (and our visitors, not to mention our poor neighbors) lyrics. 

Your love never fails,
never gives up,
never runs out on me.

After retrieving him a drink of water while he listens to his song (sigh), I turned to pick something up from the floor.  When I turned back to him, he was drinking his water, eyes closed, hand raised to heaven, and moving in rhythm to the song.  I was reminded once again of the prayer I prayed for him so many times over the last almost 4 years:  God, I give him back to you, to use as you choose.  He is yours.  If there is anything I can do to encourage him in his love for music and you, please help me to be sensitive.

Truth be told, I was awake anyway, just minutes before I heard him yell for me.  I had already decided to get up to pray, after laying in bed for a minute, realizing prayer for others would be a better use of my time than runaway thoughts. So thankful for God's grace in turning my heart to Him, through Gabriel's cry, through his love for this song.  

Father, those you love are hurting.  May they know you are in their midst.  May you remind them you are a mighty one who will save.  May  you rejoice over them with gladness and quiet them with your love.  May you exult over them with loud singing.

The Lord you God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you with his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
~Zephaniah 3:17

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

When You Need an Anchor

As many people I love are going through a time of suffering, mourning, and loss, I am reminded once again that there is ONE who does not change.  There is ONE who is True.  There is ONE TRUE GOD. There is ONE Jesus. He is the only ONE in whom we hope.  All other things in which or whom I put my trust seem so very dim in the light of Jesus Christ.  It is true...

in the midst of pain and suffering, the anchor of hope in Jesus Christ holds.  

When I was a little girl, my grandma was ever so important to me.  She took me church, taught me to bake bread, how to garden.  She had a lot of time to spend with me, and she always included me in what she was doing. As I watched her grow older, I would plead with God not to take her from me.
I didn't know how I could go on without her.

There was no sign that Grandma's time on earth was so so near. But unbeknownst to me, God began to prepare my heart-a gift for sure. Two weeks before my grandma fell ill, someone gave me a book on Heaven.  One week before she died, someone gave me a cd on Heaven.  After reading the book and listening to the cd over a period of weeks,  I got the call while leaving the West End Fair that grandma had fallen and she wasn't well.

I don't remember a lot of the details between the call and grandma's final day on earth.

It was August 10, 2007, when she took her last breath. I stood in the room of the cardiac unit of Geisinger Hospital with my two aunts.  The end of life on earth for my grandma was but minutes away.  I had watched the numbers that counted my grandma's heartbeats, descending on the screen, over a period of an hour.  Like a countdown clock, the numbers served as a  visual reminder that time on earth is but a breath in light of eternity.  As the numbers started dropping more rapidly, trying desperately to love my grandma and not think of myself in the moment, I fed her with word pictures of what was coming, of Heaven.  I tried my best to love her and serve her, as she had done much of my life.

I began speaking to her of Heaven.  What else do you talk about in these moments?  But how does one describe a place she's never been...

I reminded her of her infant daughter she would see once again, of no more pain, of seeing Jesus face to face.  I remember searching every crevice of my brain for description that might tell of how wonderful Heaven would be.

Finally the screen on the monitor beside grandma's bed was still.  I remember looking at my aunt, begging her to tell me I was wrong.  I knew my grandma had passed from this earth, but in a surreal moment, I wanted everything to rewind.  Just a few more moments.  A few more minutes.  Time is a gift.  But I would learn in the next few moments what my dear friend quoted today, "to surrender to the Creator's control is not onerous or burdensome.  To the contrary, that is the place where stress, struggle, and strain, give way to blessing, abundance, and peace."

I didn't want my aunts to have to tell the family, so I told them I would be the one to go to the waiting room to deliver the news.  I made it about 10 steps out of my grandma's room and the pain of loss and various emotions hit me.  I literally dropped me to my knees.  I remember a young nurse stooping down by my side, gently asking if I was okay and a man, another nurse?  or doctor? coming to the other side of me.  It felt like time stopped.  It seemed as though they picked me up, and I felt like I half-walked, was half carried, and half floated to another area.  They walked me past the waiting room to a sanctioned off hall.  I told them I was okay.  They left.

I remember for a brief moment thinking, "What do I do now?"  I did the only thing I knew to do.  I turned my eyes upon Jesus.  I looked to God for some type of direction.  This looking to God, turning from self trust and preservation-a surrendering of one's thoughts and desires-does indeed bring a deep peace.  Peace, beyond understanding, flooded my soul.  My grandparents' voices filled my mind, and it was as if I could hear them lovingly calling my name, "Angie, Angie...oooh, come on now", just like they did when I was a little girl.

I didn't know what the next few days or years would like without my grandma, but I knew it would be okay. There was enough light for the step I was on.  I was learning to surrender my thoughts, my hopes, my desires, to a loving God, a loving Creator, a loving Father and Trust Him.
I was learning in these moments that God's grace truly is sufficient.  He is faithful.  He is ever present. He alone is my comforter, my protector, my Savior. I was learning...

in the midst of pain and suffering, the anchor of hope in Jesus Christ holds.

This song comes back so many times when I don't understand what's going in me and around me.  

Remembering to surrender today, trusting the only Worthy One.

Father, we look to you for wisdom.  For hope.  For peace.  Help us Father, to surrender to what we can't see and Trust You and love you and know you more.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

On Moments Becoming Memories...

Many people have asked me in the last few weeks, "So, what are you going to do with your time while Ana and Gabriel are in preschool?"  I've pondered, analyzed, prayed about this, thought about this day for a longggg time.  Truthfully, I've pictured myself skipping home, so excited to have some uninterrupted moments. I've also pictured myself crying.  In short, I really didn't know what to expect.

  Today was the day.  

I dropped Ana and Gabriel off at school, a few tears for G, but for the most part, smooth sailing.  (Thank you, Mrs. Grove, for talking of candy-dropping planes :-)  I wore a smile to the parking lot after passing by some teary-eyed mamas and even some mamas who looked half scared themselves.  Poor things-A mama's love runs deep.

I drove home, happy to be alive, happy to have a complete thought.  Heck, I even had several complete thoughts as I drove through town, all without screaming from rear of the suburban.  As I was parking, I saw another preschool mama warming up in our alley, preparing for her run, no children in tow today.  We exchanged words of exercise, shower, and then back to pick them up.
That was MY plan.

Instead, I walked into the house and it was literally as if time stood still.  I looked around at the evidence of the many moments I'd had with my children this morning.  My eyes went from Cole's unfolded jacket to Gabriel's unplaced puzzle pieces.  I glanced down at Ana's blanket strewn on the floor and then to Julia's favorite, soft grey shirt hanging over the side of the bench.
Normally these things make me about half crazy.  

Not Today.

The unexpected happened. I dropped to my knees. Gratitude filling my heart.  I couldn't believe I had been given so much.   I started thanking God for my husband. For Cole.  Julia.  Ana.  Gabriel. Sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder apparently.

The evidence of the brevity of moments was crystal clear.  Moments become memories in a the blink of an eye, I resolved. Just a breath, and a moment is over.  My mind reverted back to just a few short minutes ago, as I passed by the Lutheran Church, glancing at Andre as he prepared for today's funeral.

This must be how one feels at the end of her life.  
Counting memories of loved ones instead of bills.
                              Counting the slightest of touches from loved ones instead of forgotten chores.
                                                        Counting how many times you turned them to Christ instead of yourself.

Nancy has said countless times, You start letting go before they're born.
So many empty nest mamas have said, Enjoy them...they'll be gone before you know it.
And I get it.  I didn't expect all this.  To ponder life and the brevity of it all.  To be drop-to-your-knees thankful.  To cry-poor mama-a mama's love runs deep.

So I give them back to the Giver of Life. Thankful for all He has given.

For from Him and through Him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Amen.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ana Grace Feven Laubach...

She sat on the counter helping me do the ordinary.  Making a peanutbutter banana almondmilk. Something we've done countless times.

And I was struck.  Suddenly, drop you to your knees, struck, by the reality of her.
Of her life.
Of how my life has changed because of her-for the better.
How my heart has been changed-for the better, through this little life.

My mind played back the first time I saw her:
The nanny walked into the room with her and announced her Ethiopian name:  Feven.  It was a moment I've had only 3 other times.  The mama-laying-her-eyes-on-her-child, for the first time, moment.  She was a wonder.  She laughed a "what took you so long" giggle?  I truly thought my heart was going to burst, or I was going to explode, drop to knees, something..because how can a heart contain this joy, this wonder?  I watched as she wiggled her little body across the carpet of the guest room in army crawl fashion.

I've seen the awe of the ocean in Delaware.  I've gazed over Addis Ababa from Entoto Mountain..  I stood in Antigua, Gautemala, staring at a volcano.

But this-this little girl-given to love-was a wonder above all these.

When someone asks me, "Is adoption hard?"  It's difficult to give a straightforward answer.  Ask any adoptive mama.  Because yes,  Some moments excruciatingly hard.  But there are moments of pure joy at the wonder of it all.

Motherhood-a calling.  Through adoption or biologically.

When God showed us we would adopt two babies, ages 0-12 months, at the same time, I was downright scared.  It was not in my plan.  One child, yes.  And then another should God allow.  But two at the same time, never ever was I a mama who thought it would be "cool" to have twins.  At least I don't recall that now, cause well, living in reality sort of helps you to forget all the crazy, rainbows and unicorns thoughts you had.

So very thankful God saw fit to allow Jim and I to have 4 precious children.  So very thankful He saw fit to have me home with them.  It's been SO much harder than I expected.  Being a wife and a mom is definitely a full-time job.  Praising him for these lives.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

When Souls are Hanging Between Life and Death, and You're Worried About Your Hair...

Having just been given the gift of bread and juice, a reminder of *the greatest act of love the world will ever know, something happened.  It was unexpected I'd done this hundreds of times hadn't I, taking the bread and juice, praying and giving thanks for what I've been given-LIFE itself.   A weighty reminder.  But this time, something different happened.

As I started back the darkened aisle to return to my seat, the sea of people became individuals.  Eternal Soul #1, Eternal Soul #2, Eternal Soul #3...How many people are here anyway, I wondered, figuring somewhere around 400.

400 eternal souls.  There really is little time to talk about the weather these days.

As I padded back to my seat, as each sandaled footstep hit the concrete floor, God whispered:   (step) Notice him...(step) Notice her...(step) Do you see him... (step) Look at her... (step)...
It was as if God was turning my heart to each one, for a nanosecond of time, as I passed by.  Not turning my head, but oh-so-wanting to, I knew I was passing by custom made, worshiping souls.

Worshiping God or NOT.
In Christ or NOT.
Life or Death.

How does one hold the weight of eternity in his human mind?  

As I passed by Mr. Disinterested, I felt myself wanting to grab him like you'd lovingly grab your little brother who's about ready to get into a fight, shake him by the shoulders, look into his eyes, and yell down into his soul, "Do you know him?"  Do you really know him?  Do you hear the lyrics to this song?  I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I!

But you can't wake someone up by screaming or manipulation or sheer will.  It's taken me a long time to get that.

Only God can save a soul.

As I sat back down in my seat, I was reminded of what He tells me in His word, that I did.not.choose.Him, I never would have I tell you, for dead people don't make choices. But He chose me, He woke me up. I was as surprised as anyone.

How could I have been so consumed with that unruly curl of hair this morning when people are dying here?

So we plead with our Father for souls, and He is the sole soul-winner.  Wake them up, God.  The One who makes things out of nothing and calls people to life.  Call him to life, Father.

Almost too much to hold in this head.

Amazing Grace was playing in the background and words scrawled and scratched upon my heart once again, reminding me of my salvation: sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.  My chains are gone, I've been set free, my God, my Savior, has ransomed me, and like a flood, his mercy rains, unending love, AMAZING GRACE.

Ephesians 2:8,9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

*Curt Brubaker used this phrase in our service on Sunday, and it grabbed my heart.