Anne Voskamp used this phrase when describing Lent - “to empty the soul to know the filling of God.”
Of course, here in these 40 days before Easter, Ann is referring to the emptiness discovered through fasting. We make the choice to delve into the empty places of hunger, as as we journey up to Calvary. An active participatory choice to partake in the sacrifice, in order to know this filling of God. And we choose it, though uncomfortable, because we know that when we are empty, HE comes rushing in.
But there are seasons in our life, seasons of loss when we didn't choose to surrender; mental and physical illness we don't want, relationship struggles we didn't ask for, and financial hardships we didn't willingly submit. These too are Lenten seasons - emptying seasons. Seasons of struggles and hard days; the hurting seasons of life with their myriad of challenges, leaving us empty and worn; seasons of illness in our bones, in our hormones; the empty place beside you in bed, once warm but now cold, empty sheets; seasons of dashed dreams, framed by unrealistic expectations; other dreams, splintered by sinful people. Those Lenten seasons we never chose to celebrate, chose us. God chose us for Lent, for Himself, for the gift of making us see how very empty we are.... The fasted meals we never purposed to miss, we missed because our bellies were full of heartache, greif and groanings.
These Lenten seasons can last longer than 40 days. But Sunday's coming! And there is the HOPE of EASTER. The Hope of the Ressurection and the Revelation, and the Revival in our hearts! Yes, God pours Himself into the emptiness. Yes, at the day’s end, the week’s end, the end of that difficult season, or smack dab in the middle of depression with no end in sight, when we are soul empty, there is the chance, the hope, the opportunity to know… the gushing, pouring, passionate, drenching love of God come Easter!
From hungry to satisfied. Parched to drenched.
Press on and press in, if Lent has chosen you right now.
And submit to those empty places, trusting Him to satisfy!
Tonight I am up late. I should be sleeping. Or not. Being awake feels invigorating this evening. I've caught up on Downtown, enjoyed a handful (or two) of chocolate chips, and written a Love note to my first born son.
"Sweet Caleb", I scrawled upon the cover of my homemade notecard in sweeping cursive. With bright colored pencils I decorated the page, then filled the inside with sentimental pennings. "I love you, I like you, I am so very proud of you. Your sweet heart, handsome face, and wonderful manners make for a marvelous young man... But above all these incredible traits, I prize and admire your heart for the Lord. I know you are young, and still learning about God's sincere love for you, Caleb, but I can tell you are seeking Him with your whole heart and your mind. I am most excited to see you find God real and faithful, my son. He is wonderful indeed. And you, made in His image, are quite wonderful too! Love, Mom."
Tomorrow Caleb's slated to leave for fourth grade winter camp with our church. He's been fighting a cold and knows that if he isn't much improved in the morning he will be missing this year's adventure. When I tucked him into bed this evening he said, "You know, Mom, I don't just want to go to camp because it's fun, I want to go and worship God with my friends." I know.
I do know.
Church camp, for churched children, is a miracle thing. A transforming place where a family's faith becomes a child's own. Away from Mom and Dad, and Sunday morning squabbles on the the way to church, a Christian boy who knows Bible stories takes ownership of God's Word in new ways. From milk to meat on the mountain top of church camp.
Not too many weeks ago, this same boy confessed to me, "Sometimes I hear a message at church and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do." I sat on the end of his bed not sure what he meant - not wanting to speak before knowing and hearing and understanding His heart question. And then I did. The place he is at 10 is a thrilling place on the precipice of one of God's greatest promises.
Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 'I will be found by you,' declares the LORD.
That is camp. Christian parents! We model it at home and sometimes we fail it at home, but at camp they get away and experience it as their own.
I am so excited for my children to seek God and find God; to find Him faithful and extravagant and kind and caring.
That is camp. That is camp. That is camp, my Sweet Caleb. May the Lord mend you as you rest, as I keep this prayerful vigil.
The bag ripped as I lifted the white plastic liner out of the kitchen trash can tonight. Raw chicken juice mixed with some other nasty thing leaked in a fluid flow across the floor and onto my cream colored linen pants before I knew what was happening. I swung the trash bag quickly up to the sink, spraying the cabinets just a bit as I did. Another bag was placed over the torn one, then I hauled it out to the trash. It smelled a bit like vomit. And, you might recall, I know what vomit smells like.
A quick shower with citrus-ginger body scrub, followed by vanilla lotion and my new favorite pair of PJs refreshed me just in time for the sound of my middle-est calling from his bathroom ,"Mom!" Which Phonetically sounds more like MAW......................................UM! "Mom! Someone forgot to flush the toilet and my special blanket just fell in!"
Going to save the blankie I stepped on a Lego.
And the beat goes on... Up at night when the oldest has growing pains, the youngest has a cough, or the middle-est has "Scary Thoughts." Which would have been fine had I not waited up for my husband to get home from his business trip. Morning came fast and hard, with sunlight and laughter, the pitter-patter, and screams of "He's touching me!!!!" And the beat goes on... Peanut butter toast, face down on the floor you cleaned last night, since you were waiting up anyway. And the beat goes on...
And it's constant.
It's been constant.
I'm not complaining,
It's been a gift
Through which I sift.
Trips to the beach
"Stay in your stroller seat"
More clothes to wash
and mops to slosh.
All the memories,
One last business call.
You boys are busy with a ball.
Bath is drawn
Sprinklers on the lawn
A neighbor watches on.
Then off to bed
Of blond curls
The days unfurl.
One after the other
For blessed busy mothers.
Underfoot and slipping by
Not in the twinkle of an eye.
That's not my song
My days are long
But the years,
And the tears...
They fly up and out
without a doubt
Without a stop
Until you drop,
On the couch.
Get out Baby books
Of how baby looked
No longer home.
Time did fly.
I'm standing here, on the cusp of a new season now. Looking back at the pictures of popsicles and hoses, and plastic animals all in a row. There are still water fights, still correction, and cleaning to be done, under the sun. But all three boys have gone to school for the first time in my mothering life. And I'm here at point A... looking back at Z. And it's good. And it's right. And I'll still be up at night. But I'll know some rest and peace and refreshing walks, and phone talks. And time to scrub those chicken juice crusted cabinets as a waltz plays from the stereo in the other room. A new beat, a calmer rhythm, will fill portions of my days.
It's not over. But the rhythm has changed. And I'm adjusting.
Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light,
Trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.
TRUST. Yes, that's it! That's the lesson of the year already. My recent education in Trusting God took me here, and here, and on to here... Every post these past weeks have pushed me to the finish line - or is Trusting God the starting line? Commencement! Both "a graduation ceremony" that celebrates what's been learned, and "a new beginning!"
Trust is that place.
The Jumping Off Place.
A hundred and fifty or more years ago men packed up families, loaded wagons, hitched up oxen, and said goodbye to homes in the east to journey west. They had to leave to move forward. That place where they stocked up on last minute supplies before hitting the wide open prairie, that place was known as The Jumping Off Place.
We stock up on is faith, and move forward in trust. Graduation. Commencement.
I walked along the beach with my friend, recounting these things, sharing my fresh realization.
She said, "I don't trust Him."
We didn't stop walking, and the waves didn't stop crashing, and God didn't stop the world from spinning due to this confession. She went on, "I don't trust God with my husband. I don't trust that He will keep my husband faithful. I'm full of fear." Feet kept moving, waves kept rolling, the world kept spinning.
We silently moved passed the lady with the dog, then I said what entered my mind, what hasn't left my mind since: "What if... what if Trusting God isn't supposed to be about how we want things to go? What if we aren't supposed to trust God to necessarily save a life, keep our kids safe, or our husband's faithful? What if we're supposed to merely Trust Him... to be God. Whatever happens. To be Sovereign and Loving and Good?"
Waves crash, and the world spins. Though it seems to consume and drown us, and spin out of control at times, it is held within the loving confines of God's hand. Into that hand we place our Trust.
What if we're supposed to merely Trust Him... to be God. As I said, it's been on my mind ever since the words came from my mouth and edified my heart, bolstering my faith.
I've left the jumping off place. I will not turn back; though as I cross, the river waters rage and swell. I will not turn back; though the prairie goes on like a wilderness before me. I will not turn back; though my children may not be safe, and loved ones will die, and husbands will forsake families... "Yet still I will exalt the name of the Lord, and glorify (and trust) the God of my Salvation."
This passage (along with my a modern twist) came to my mind:
Though the fig tree does not bud
(though I am barren or miscarry, or my children die)
and there are no grapes on the vines,
(and my family files bankruptcy)
though the olive crop fails
(though my husband forsakes us for another)
and the fields produce no food,
(and we go hungry)
though there are no sheep in the pen
(though we lose our home)
and no cattle in the stalls,
(and I am alone)
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
(The Lord is still faithful and good)
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
(There is Joy for He is trustworthy)
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
(I commit each moment to trust in Him, regardless of circumstances)
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
(He's holdingme. I will not fall)
he enables me to tread on the heights.
(He will bring me on to a forever love, an eternal place where there are no tears.)
Habakuk 3:17-19 -- Parenthesis mine
Trust. Commence. Jump. Regardless.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways, acknowledge Him,
and He will make your path straight.
The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.
"Do you trust Me?"
"Yes", was my answer. And I did and I do. I trust the Lord with my 8 year old son, Brody, as he makes his way from my homeschooling side into a traditional classroom five days a week. But getting to that trusting place was a journey, one you may have sojourned with me here. I was happy to share the journey because I wanted to testify to the One who is so worthy of our trust. And as I shared, my heart filled with praise as I recounted the work God did in my heart. "Yes, I trusted Him with my Brody."
Then, in the middle of the very next night, I woke with a start. My heart was constrained within my breast. The room was dark and my mind was consumed with fear... fear over my first born son. Caleb had gone to bed that night with tears. He relaxed as I stroked his bare back, confiding as he calmed all of the reasons he feels he is failing at school, chiefly his inability to focus in the classroom. He wept and said, "I can't get my writing done in class. I just can't focus in class to write. I just can't! I'm behind in my autobiography, and now we're starting our history research paper, and then I'll be writing my biography on Davy Crocket. In class! All of them in class."
And now I lay in bed, hours after he finally succumbed to sleep, thinking, "what can I do to help him? What should I have done? His writing was so good when we home schooled. He had a quiet room, with drapes we would close specifically for times when he would write. I didn't label it ADHD at the time, because I've never been able to read a paragraph or write a cohesive thought if there was any noise around me. Even classical music for heaven's sake! So I got it, and I gave him an environment where he could thrive.
But now, in a classroom with 24 bodies, complete with movement and noise enticing his focus away, he feels lost. And so I gave into tears and fears of my own, lost as to how I might help him.
Then, somewhere around 3:30 that morning the familiar voice came again. "Do you trust me?" "Of course!" I cried, "remember yesterday? I trusted you completely with Brody, even when it's hard..."
The dialogue trailed off. "with Brody, even when it's hard..."
You've got to be kidding me! Not him too!!! I've got to trust God with Caleb too? Even when it's hard? Oh no, especially when it's hard. It doesn't take faith to trust God when it's smooth sailing. Faith is for the fiercest gail. And in that storm, on the weak boat of your own understanding, at night's darkest hour, faith takes sight of a Savior, walking across the water.
Yes, absolutely, Caleb too.
The next morning I awoke Caleb the same way I had sent him to sleep, with the gentle stroke of a mother's hand on a child's back. When he stirred and wiped the sleep from his eyes, I spoke these words.
"Caleb, I've been talking to God about your school work. And I want you to know what sort of conversation the Lord and I had about you, okay?"
"Okay," he said with his raspy morning voice.
"Caleb, I trust that God made you absolutely perfect the way you are. There isn't a mistake in your whole body. God doesn't make mistakes. The bible tells us that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and I believe it! So that means God made you with this difficulty focusing in class. And so I am just going to choose to trust Him when things are tough. Can you do that with me?" He nodded. "You have got to give every school day your absolute best. And when you bomb, and you sometimes will, you are going to do the same project over at home in your room, on the weekend. This is not punishment. It is our way of partnering with your teacher to make sure you're picking up what she's putting down. Get what I'm saying?" He nodded again.
As I type this new testimony, I know I should expect some issue with my youngest in the days ahead. Therefore, right here, right now I'm going to choose to surrender him too. Choosing to Trust God with Asher's life as well.
These last days have been eye opening for me. I didn't know how weak my faith was, but I am thankful that God used these present trials to grow me.
The boys have been learning James 1:2-4 at school this week; three verses I committed to memory when I was their age.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds; because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish it's work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Of all the verses I hid in my heart as a child, these are the ones I have admitted most freely to not understanding. Until this week. I see now why we are to be joyful in affliction. Without the difficulties of life we would never be forced to trust Him, never need to persevere in faith, and therefore we would never mature and be complete in Christ. Yes, I am joyful today. Puffy eyed after a sleepless night, but joyful.
The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.
I sign off today with another pictorial tribute: This one goes out to Caleb's new teacher, and his new school, where the maturing process is underway, in the classroom, on the lacrosse field, during lunch, in chapel...
Amidst the messiness of everyday life with young children my husband and I decided to homeschool our three boys a couple of years ago. While I envied the break traditional school days afforded some of my friends, I felt called to spend these formative years with my sons. Heart-work was the main reason - and I just needed more time with them then hurried mornings and evenings balanced between homework and sports. With a few obvious learning challenges thrown in, and a huge homeschooling network in our community, it seemed the right fit.
Now, many months later, and for numerous reasons I've decided not to share publicly (my children will not always be young, and may wish I was a little less free with their challenges), we have decided to send all three boys back to school five days a week.
I was originally going to title this blog post "Why we stopped homeschooling", but after writing that last line I've changed the title to "We stopped homeschooling." I've come to see that the reasons people stop homeschooling are nearly as varied as testimonies of why families choose to start. Each story is entirely it's own. So, this isn't about why, but the journey this choice has led me to take.
GREIF - I've had to grieve these past two weeks as I've transitioned my children into a new school. Grieve as I repurposed my homeschool cabinets, shuffling through all of the lovingly poured over books and lesson plans. Grieve as I looked through the school papers that taught them on work sheets what I had planed to explore with them through great books and conversations. Grieve the vision I had caught. Grieve the joys I had thought would trail like a wake from this sweet time together. Grieve.
FEELINGS OF FAILURE - Hot tears ran thick and heavy, multiple times for a couple days straight. I worried about my tender-hearted child, the one who pleaded to be home schooled two years ago, the one I wanted to give this gift to. It seemed just what he needed; what would fit his needs, interests, and personality best, but it wasn't working. And I felt like a failure that I couldn't muscle through and make it work for him. But I couldn't and it wasn't.
As I dwelled on my failures, asking "What if" and "If only...", my husband lovingly but firmly told me I was believing lies. I had not failed. I had given our son exactly what he needed, but now it had become obvious he needed something else. Wise counselors said the same; even a behavior therapist who specializes in the special needs of children. So many true words of encouragement were lovingly said, texted, prayed on my behalf. But I still had to journey through the many stages of grief.
WHAT IS TRUE - The journey thus far has taken me through the valleys of sadness and down the rapid falls of failure. But all the while I felt God calling me up to the high places where He would reveal many wonderful things to me. So up the side of Mount Horeb I followed.
This is what I heard. "Do you trust me?" Over and over again, "Do you trust me?" While no burning bush flashed, I still discerned the voice. "Do you know that I AM the same God who parted the Red Sea and made a way for my people Israel? Do you know that I AM the same God who overcame death? Do you know I AM the same God who gave sight to the blind? I AM He who redeems brokenness both physically and spiritually. I AM the One you pray to about all of your concerns, the same God who ordered the Universe into place and balanced the planets perfectly."
And I heard in my heart these words, "I AM the same God who parted the Sea, and I can make a way for your children."
"Do you trust me?"
The words went deep-down-deep. Deep to the core. Deeper than the fear. Like light displacing darkness.
"Do you trust me?"
Suddenly I felt empowered to trust Him anew. I confessed my fears as lack of faith, and told my God, "I trust you." And what came next was the most beautiful thing of all. The whisper of God in my heart-of-hearts said, "I AM good and kind... expect good, not evil."
I have learned from experience that when we confess sin in our lives, change is not always miraculously immediate. But in my heart it was that day. From fear to trust. And in my child's life, God's goodness has been on display in powerful ways already. The child who has always been so easily overwhelmed and emotional, has come home from school steady and sure. The academic holes I feared have becomes fountains of papers written in Red Ink A, 100%, Outstanding!
"Do you trust me?... then expect good from Me!"
This post wasn't worth reading if you were looking for the reasons we stopped homeschooling. Those reasons aren't important, I see that now. Everything in our lives, the hard and the happy, and the reasons for them, pale beside the One who orchestrates it and calls us to trust Him amidst it all. Each blog post, each story of His love, every one is a testimony of Him working all things together for good in the hardest parts of our journey here.
Do you trust Him? Expect Good!
Sprouts Farmers Market, right here in North San Diego County. In the meat department. And there was Paul, behind the counter, serving up fresh fish, beef, and fowl.
It had been a tough day for me. A tough couple of days. A tough month or couple of months... the tough all sort of bled together. I would have worn my big, dark Jackie Kennedy sunglasses if I could have seen inside the store. But I didn't, and so my puffy eyes were laid bare. Exposed.
Over the scallops and tilapia Paul asked, "What can I get you?"
"Salmon. A nice pink one, please. Just enough for two adults, maybe a little more since I'm trying to convince my children they are eventually going to like fish too." He laughed. I smiled.
"How you doing today?" The question came casually, as it was small talk. I realized then that he hadn't looked at me - not really, for he would have seen my having-just-cried, red-rimmed eyes. And in that moment, the one where you think "Am I supposed to say 'fine, and you?' I decided to honestly answer his question.
"It's been a hard day..."
Paul looked up from the scale, as he finished wrapping up a smidgen over a pound of Salmon in brown butchers paper. He saw me then, and I smiled and said, "It's just another chance to trust God more."
That's what I said. "...just another chance to trust God more."
Paul nodded, looked down at the floor, and then back up to hand me the fish. "I needed to hear that today. That's every day, isn't it? That's what every hard day is for... Why God allows 'em, don't you think?" It was my turn to nod.
Now here I am, looking at the quick link on the right-hand side of this blog page, seeing the one that says "The Hard Days." Knowing that's the link that has the most posts listed under it. Also knowing that the blog posts listed there are the ones most people send me emails about. The hard days. Their hard days. And the encouragement they received as I tell my stories and show them how I'm forced to turn my face entirely to God when it's hard, and commit to trust Him more.
I don't feel the need to share what was so hard that day, though I think that I will eventually... but the reason for the hard isn't nearly as important as the fruit of the hard. What happens to us, what becomes of us, where we go and what our lives produce, having been tried, is the main thing. It is the thing that remains.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
The work is not done, I will continue to know trials of many kinds until my last day this side of Glory. But I see clearly today, the conclusion that Paul and I both arrived at in the cool air of the meat department that afternoon: "That's what every hard day is for... Why God allows 'em..."
The sleepless nights? Turn to Him. The hard-to-communicate-to-the-one-you-vowed-to-love-forever days? Turn to Him. The moments where you've lost your sense of what you were made for? Turn to Him. The long stretches of joylessness? Turn to Him. The "I don't know why I'm crying" hormonal swings postpartum? Turn to Him. The days you wanted to love, but couldn't muster it? Turn to Him. The nights you felt to weak to serve your newborn? Turn to Him.
Turn to Him... Turn to Him. And praise Him for the blessed opportunity to see your need for a Savior today. A rescuer. A champion. A faithful friend. Yes, Consider it pure joy... you get to see Him come in His strength when we are weak. Let the hard days, the turning to Him days, pick you up and carry you to maturity and completeness. Not lacking anything.
Turn to Him, Paul. Turn to Him, Kelli. Turn to Him, Candy Turn to Him, Flora. Turn to Him, Allyson. Turn to Him, Sherri. Turn to Him, Patti. Turn to Him, all you who are weary and heavy laden. Turn to Him with your burdens, in your trials, in your puking from chemo frailties, in your incompleteness... And Praise Him for another chance, another hard day, another red-eyed-recognition of His Great Love for you. Turn to Him with me...
It's been a small handful of days since Christmas. There are still piles of things to put away, and cardboard boxes to haul to the trash. I haven't taken down the Christmas tree. My husband hasn't packed away the train set. My children haven't yet played with every one of their new toys. Amidst the continued enjoyment of the season, I've recalled with tenderness a few of my favorite moments — replaying sweet conversations over and over again.
One morning, a week or so before Christmas, my husband was preparing to take the boys Christmas shopping. As we sat in the breakfast nook of our home that morning, sun streaming in from all around us, my youngest looked up into my eyes and said, "I want to buy you a rainbow dress for Christmas. And maybe... maybe I will find some rainbow earrings and lipstick to go with it. Wouldn't you like that?" Tears. Immediate, grateful, Dear-Lord-please-fix-this-moment-forever-in-my-mind tears.
A few hours later he returned, deflated, and said, "I looked and looked, but I didn't find you a rainbow dress."
He recovered, however, by Christmas morning and sat close to my side as I opened each present from my husband and the children. After each gift was revealed, he'd lean in close as say, "O, yes, this one's from me!" Then he'd take my face in his little hands and kiss me square on the lips." My sweet husband didn't get to take credit for one of his purchases!"
As always, a highlight Christmas morning was watching our middle-est open his Lego sets. The joy literally shines like beams from his eyes — spot lights illuminating pure joy. While I'm a little embarrassed to reveal how many big sets he received, I have to say that Legos are not just Brody's favorite toys... they are his closest companions, his dearest friends.
And then there was the sweet moment when Matt opened a gift from the children - a gift card to The Cheesecake Factory - and the boys burst into an impromptu chorus of "Take Mom on a DATE! Take Mom on a DATE! Take Mom on a DATE!"
But of all the moments, all the conversations, all the kisses by the Christmas tree, my favorite memory from this Christmas was one I had with my Caleb. Our first-born always has thought-provoking insights to share with us about who he thinks God is, or probing questions revealing his desire to know God more. On Christmas Eve, Caleb asked me "Mom, why did the Bible end? If the story is still going on?"
My response came faster than my thoughts could form by my own intellect: "Caleb, you know how all the Old Testament stories point to our need for a Savior? A Rescuer? And then at the beginning of the New Testament that Savior is born?" He nodded. "Well, the New Testament goes on to show us how to have a friendship with Jesus, and how to live in a way that pleases God and shows Him that we love him back. But just as the prophets in the Old Testament told us of the Messiah's coming, the New Testament ends with the promise that He will return again to conquer sin and death once and for all! The story isn't over, you're right... we celebrate Christmas because He came the first time to rescue us, but we also celebrate His promised return at Christmas! And we wait for Him excitedly, expectantly!"
Caleb is only 10. I don't know how deep this message went in my boy's young heart, but it went deep in mine this Christmas. Jesus is coming again to conquer sin and sadness once and for all! At Christmas There is the manger, but there is also the cross, and there is the hope of what is to come when Jesus comes again! As we ready ourselves for the New Year, let's enter in with a renewed Hope and expectation for Jesus' next coming!
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.