27 November 2013

when the holidays are hard

Sometimes, seeing holiday decorations in the store in September gives you a pit in your stomach. You knew in your heart the holidays would be hard this year, but you had no idea you'd physically feel it.

I know because I have had that experience.  And every year I remember.  I remember for me, because God was near in a way I hadn't experienced before and I don't ever want to forget it.   I also remember for you.

Maybe this year you had expected a big, round, growing belly-full-of-baby, but instead you carry the heartache of a loss. It's ok to still be sad months later. It's ok to remember what you had hoped for.

Maybe you made space in your home and your heart for a child to join you through foster care or adoption, and you are still waiting.  Your arms are empty and the longing for someone you've not yet met overwhelms.  Its ok to lean in to that longing, God put it there.

Maybe this year you aren't unpacking decorations where you thought you would. You aren't where you expected for reasons you don't yet understand. It's ok to feel disappointment; even if you are certain God's plans for you are good.

Maybe you won't be celebrating with the one(s) you want to - maybe you'll celebrate together via Skype or FaceTime miles apart. And you'll be so grateful to see one another but all the more desperate to hold close and hug tight. It's ok to let the joy mingle with sorrow. You don't have to choose just one.

Maybe this holiday season is one more in the string of "after" holidays. Your loved one is gone and every holiday since is a different kind of hard. Grief joins you unexpectedly and unpredictably. Maybe deep down you are hoping for just one holiday season like "before" because it's beginning to seem so far away. It's ok if you can't make sense of it. It's ok if one moment you are jolly in a way you thought you wouldn't experience again; only to feel guilty the next moment for letting yourself feel that joy. 

Sometimes, the holidays are just hard. Please know I'm praying for you through the hard.

When Brad was deployed, there was this one mental image that carried me through the longest nights. It seems a little silly when I explain it. It was based loosely on that children's song, "He's got the whole world in His hands." I imagined God's Hand was big enough to hold our family together. Though miles apart, I imagined the Creator could hold both Brad & I tightly together in the palm of His hand. I begged Him to do that for us. I believe He did.

My prayer for you through this holiday season is that Hope creeps in. I pray that as you let hot tears of hurt roll down your cheeks that you won't try to stop them or hide them - but that you'll offer them to Him. I pray you'll sense His presence in an unmistakable way, maybe like never before. I pray you'll be certain that He is with you even if you are in a mess. Because He is.

I pray your heart lets Hope in. I pray it settles into nooks & crannies you hadn't thought about in years. I pray it crowds around your hurt like so much Kudzu on a Georgia pine.

You are not forgotten, and you are not alone.  God welcomes every part of you to Himself.  May your Hope grow in this fertile soil of ashes and pain. May the hope of future glory carry you, as you wait for the Beauty to come.

May these words fall over you like the first time.  Might we all cling to them with bravery.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."  
 Romans 5:1-5

24 November 2013

answered prayers

Once again.  God answers prayers in a surprisingly amazing way.  And I am humbled and awed and feel so itty-bitty small.  In the best way.

Thanksgiving is this week.  I think its fair to say the holidays are upon us.  Its such a joyful & generous time.  It truly is, and I love it.

However, I've been carrying around a small concern for a week or so.  We had talked to the caseworker at the foster care office about providing Christmas stockings for the Christmas party.  We weren't really sure if it would be something we could try to organize through our church or if it was something we would just ask friends to help us with.  Of course, Brad being on lock down this week dialed up my anxiety a bit about how/when we should do this.  Oh, and we are talking about two hundred (200!!!) stockings.

Meanwhile, I hadn't been to the supply closet in about 4 weeks due to all the sickness that we had going on here.  I found a lot of empty hangers; which always gives me mixed emotions.  I'm grateful that there were suitable clothes available for the children that needed them - but I am always a little sad that a child needed them.  Does that make sense?  While I was doing the inventory on Tuesday, I noticed that there are a lot of very-summery-outfits.  (Which are nearly perfect here 8 months out of the year!)  I decided to edit the list to reflect how many outfits we currently have that would be appropriate for the current weather.  There are quite a few gaps.

Of course, I thought about all the needs and felt a little stuck about what to do.  There are so many great opportunities for giving at this time of year.  Most of them are much more convenient and better organized than our little operation.  I wasn't sure what to do or how to start.  Brad wasn't here to talk any sense into me, so I just prayed.  I asked my PWOC bible study class to pray about the stockings with me because there is a deadline looming.

And I waited. 

This morning at church, I mentioned the stockings to our Bible Study class too, asking for prayer about how/when to do this.

After class my friend, a teacher at the middle school, said, "We'll do the stockings."  And I nearly cried.  When I got to worship service I did cry.

I was sure He had a plan for these stockings.  I was desperate for Him to show me the plan ASAP.  Of course,  He revealed it in the just-so-perfect-way that leads me again to say, "Only God."

I am going to go ahead and post a list of current needs for the foster care supply closet.  With all of the crazy sales this week, I thought there might be some good opportunities to grab some deals.  As always, we need new items.  If you have any questions {a-n-y questions at all} feel free to ask them.  I know I often leave out important details! Also, you may have an idea that I hadn't considered, so please share!

Just as a word of encouragement, if you cannot purchase anything right now, please pray for the kiddos in care.  God will provide the needs.  I started tracking retail value of donations on September 28.  Since then we've collected $2799.82 worth of items.  So I do not doubt that HE WILL PROVIDE.  Your prayers are essential!

Underwear (boys & girls including bras)
Winter hats

shelf stable snacks
older kid toiletries (deodorant, body spray, etc)
activity pads
stuffed animals*
sports balls*

* these items can be new without tags, or excellent used condition ;)

And this, just because it blessed me so much.  This video from The Forgotten Initiative helps share the heart beat of what we do, and gives a glimpse into how the donations bless children, and how important your prayers are.  While we aren't quite at the same level as this group, I think the main point translates well to what we are doing here in our area.

Their Story: The Forgotten Iniatitive from Vale Church on Vimeo.

01 November 2013

a little love note to November

Dear November,

You might be my favorite. 

You are just so unassuming and inviting.  You are smack dab in the middle of two big-hot-button-point-your-finger-defend-your-family-choices holidays.  I've waded through the pro-Halloween and anti-Halloween posts.  And you give me a little bit of a breather before the online Christmas controversies get all fired up.  You give me time to just be grateful.  That's all.  I don't have to make any arguments for taking time to reflect on the good things I have been given.  Nor will there be criticism for counting my blessings.  (Although undoubtedly someone will post this gem :: I don't need one day {one month?} a year to be thankful because I am thankful every day.) 

Its finally cool-ish here most days and it just feels like fall.  November, you usher in the anticipation of advent by waking my heart to gratefulness.  You provide an annual meet-up with my Savior, a set-apart time.  My offerings of gratitude seem small and humble but He welcomes me to sort through the year-past and remember the treasures that have been given. 

There is something so powerful in gathering up these good things, of holding them up to Him in praise and adoration.  It is contentment.  It is joy.  It is a memorial.  It prepares me to wait for Him to come.

Sure, technically, Thanksgiving is on the last Thursday of the month; but November, this month-of-gratitude-thing is catching on.  It's not competitive or exclusive.  It is so fun to see others share their thankfulness too, this vast collection of gratitude offered up as praise to our Creator, our Savior, our Gift-giver. 

One of the most clever things about you, November, is that in giving thanks daily; our hearts pick up a habit... and that is really something to appreciate. 

So welcome back, November, I am so thankful you are here!

With gratitude and anticipation,