Being Present

I realize this morning as I lay in bed, wide awake and talking to God at 3:15, that I have completely checked out on this school year.  And, ashamed as I am to admit it, I have checked out of family life in a lot of ways the past couple of months.

This year started off well.  The first month was one of our best ever.  And then some switch flipped, or a series of switches, I’m not sure….but this has been, hands down, the most challenging school year we’ve done.  Not for any one thing or subject or child, just every day a waking up and realizing we are going to fight the same battles today that we fought yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.  And I realized that at some point in the past six months, I threw up my hands in defeat and gave in to merely making it through this year, pinning all of my hopes of improvement on next year with new curriculum, new plans, and new possibilities.

As my children go through their day reminding me more and more of chickens in a barn yard – distracted, squawky, messy, and pecking a lot at each other – I wonder what on earth is missing, what am I doing wrong?  And I realize it’s me.  I’m at the table, but I’m not present.  I’m in the room, but my mind is two dozen other places.  And I believe that therein lies the answer, they sense my absence and surrender to the madness and they sense the lack of structure in spite of all the systems and structures I have in place.  They need my presence more than anything – not just physical, but mentally engaged, emotionally available.

And I believe that’s the hardest part of this.  To make myself emotionally available to people who daily have the capacity to hurt me, most often unintentionally.  To have their fleshly natures thrust in my face each moment of each day, thus baring my own sin nature as well….it’s hard.  And exhausting.  And that’s why I’ve withdrawn.  Distance is easier than dealing with it day after day after day.  And that’s a totally wrong way of handling my kids.

So, today, on this last day of the 3rd quarter of the school year, on this Leap Day 2012, we will do a little bit of school this morning, then head out on a couple of field trips.  I will do my best to engage my girls and set a new tone for the last nine weeks. I can’t pin all my hopes on next year.  Next year doesn’t need that kind of pressure.  I can only choose to be available to my family and make each day the best it can be.  And this is a scary thing to put out there.  Not only for the brutal honesty of it all, but also the accountability, because now I have to engage.  I can’t just think about it and ignore it.  I have to do it, knowing that I don’t have the emotional energy to do this day in and day out.  But God, He gives grace each day, mercies every morning.  And if He has called me to this, which I believe He has, then I can also trust Him to equip me for the task.  As I had my quiet time this morning and these thoughts all rolled around in my head, He gave me this as I opened the devotions on my phone:

“You are on the right path.  Listen more to Me, and less to your doubts.  I am leading you along the way I designed just for you.  Therefore, it is a lonely way, humanly speaking.  But I go before you as well as alongside you, so you are never alone.  Do not expect anyone to understand fully My ways with you, anymore than you can comprehend My dealings with others.  I am revealing to you the path of Life day by day, moment by moment.  As I said to My disciple Peter, so I repeat to you:  Follow Me.”  ~ Jesus Calling, February 29

There will be more hard days, but my Jesus is with me, every step, and my kids deserve to have me – all of me – here with them.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Learning Contentment

In a school year that drags on and just refuses to go smoothly, I am reminded that God has a plan and a purpose for my life, their lives, this year.  In a season where I make room in my heart by making room in my home, I am reminded that contentment with godliness is great gain.  As I meet with the Savior over coffee in the early morning quiet, I am reminded over and over that contentment begins by giving thanks for what one already has and the enemy of a peaceful heart is ungratefulness.

1624.  the start of   a new week

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1625.  improved attitude

1626.  (somewhat) renewed vision for the year

1627.  new ideas and challenges

1628.  seeing God stretch what He has provided

1629.  a much better week

1630.  40 bags, 40 days

1631.  an encouraging, exciting meeting

1632.  changes that await

1633.  trusting God for the details

1634.  a clean closet

1635.  a good weekend

1636.  headache that just won’t quit

1637.  learning prayer

1638.  learning contentment

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Lent – 40 Days of Preparation

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, it seems to sneak up on me every year.  In our non-denominational church it’s an unobserved holiday and Lent isn’t really emphasized. After my family left the Catholic church when I was in junior high I enjoyed the “freedom” of not having to observe Lent.  (Lent is a crummy time of year for a non-fish-eater to attend a Parochial school.  I’m just sayin’.)

As I’ve grown older, however, I see the value of taking time to prepare for Easter.  We spend so much time, money, and energy preparing for Christmas, Christ’s birth.  Yet, Easter (unless you’re into the rabbits, eggs, and candy – which we’re not) can surprise you if you’re not looking for it.  One cannot help but prepare for Christmas, no matter how haphazardly it is done.  But one has to be intentional to prepare the heart for the Resurrection.

Once again we will read books that help us focus on what the cross means.  We will have a Lenten centerpiece, akin to an Advent wreath, and we will count down to the cross and the resurrection.  We will do some other special things (Lord willing) to prepare our hearts for Him.

One particular idea that on the surface doesn’t seem to have much to do with preparing for Christ but on further examination I can see how it will begin to free my heart and mind up to loving Him and serving Him more was sent to me by a friend yesterday.  She asked if I would be willing to do the 40 Days, 40 Bags challenge.   The general idea is to list 40 areas of your home / life that need decluttering and to take this season of Lent to cleanse your life of these unnecessary things.  The spiritual link is that by joining this effort with prayer and meditation on who God is and what He has done in your life and all that you have been blessed with, you will find yourself more freed up to love and serve Him as your heart is less burdened by all these earthly things.  (This site also has a great wealth of information on the concept.)  A sister-challenge to this would be to put off all unnecessary purchases (i.e., we still have to buy groceries and toilet paper, but I don’t necessarily need that picture frame or cute shirt) during this season as well.  I have not fully committed to this one and am praying about it.  The fact that I am wrestling with it this much is probably an indication that I need to do it.  🙂

I am both somewhat intimidated and incredibly excited at the prospect of this.  I’m also hoping the girls will get on the bandwagon at least a little bit.  I have my list made, though it is not complete and still generally vague.  I will post progress here as time goes on.

So, the challenge begins today and today is a busy day with school, grocery shopping, choir, and ballet, so today’s area will need to be something simple.  Today’s goal is to simply stop procrastinating about some of the piles of recycling that have been sitting in my house and to just take them to the recycling bins.  Simple, yes.  But it’s going to free my heart up from that little burden that has been driving me nuts for some time now.

Another thing that I am bringing back for Lent is Thirty for 30, except that it would technically be Thirty for 40, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring.  We first attempted Thirty for 30 back in September.  And then we got head lice, so between picking heads and doing laundry and trying to keep some sense of normal life around here, I didn’t have an extra thirty seconds, let alone thirty minutes, so it kind of fell by the wayside.  Coming off of an incredibly busy time with ministry, this seems like a good time to try again.

Now I’ve listed all of these things that we are going to do for Lent when nothing I do can bring me any closer to salvation and I want to be clear that that is not the point of these exercises.  I do not do these things to earn Christ’s love or favor, I do them to prepare my heart and our girls’ hearts for what Easter really is – the highest holy day of the Christian calendar, and as I said at the beginning, it can be so easy to miss the point of Easter if we aren’t intentional.  And, if I’m honest, if I miss the point of Easter, I’ve probably missed the point of Christmas as well.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Gathering Grace, Gathering Manna

God gives grace like manna – daily and always enough to meet our need.  Why do we not go and gather the grace He freely gives?  Why do we choose to limp through our days on our own strength rather than choosing to be carried by the grace of God?  Last week I attempted to walk in my own strength as I carried the heavy, heavy burden of all we had seen and experienced in Haiti.  This week I start fresh, listing the gifts and falling hard on the grace He gives, thankful for mercies that are new every morning.  Counting the gifts is a way of listing the graces, how moment by moment He shows Himself faithful.  And He is always faithful.

1541.  feeling the Enemy’s attacks again

1542.  sorting truth from lies

1543.  God’s wild, obvious protection

1544.  clean sink

1545.  clean floors

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1546.  friends home from Haiti

1547.  wonderful reports about our sweet girl

1548.  images of Godly men loving on orphans

1549.  a long, slow Saturday at home

1550.projects completed

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1551.  five days

1552.  seventy degree days

1553.  details coming together

1554.  preparations coming to an end

1555.  laundry not folded

1556.  house not clean

1557.  piles not put away

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1558.  team packed and ready to go

1559.  New York City skyline at night – modern beauty

1560.  a  long-awaited day – finally here

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1561.  Lifeline

1562.  meeting her

1563.  first hugs

1564.  a big smile when she sees me

1565.  meeting all of these children

1566.  hearing “Mama”, “Papa”, “mi Mami, mi Papi”

1567.  all of our paperwork for our embassy appointment!

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1568.  Misterline

1569.  Gretchen

1570.  Miliane

1571.  wrestling emotions

1572.  feeling connected

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1573.  no power, no a/c

1574.  church in Haiti

1575.  roosters crowing all night long

1576.  praising God together

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1577.  beautiful Shela

1578.  praying and singing with all the girls

1579.  missing home

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1580.  I-600 filed!

1581.  Titi the driver

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1582.  food distribution

1583.  beautiful, hungry people

1584.  joy and hope amidst poverty, extreme poverty

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1585.  seeing her smile again

1586.  that bottom lip

1587.  working in the dirt

1588.  Nicole’s story

1589.  opening the floodgate of tears

1590.  unpacking a lot of emotion

1591.  going home soon

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1592.  Haiti beach

1593.  watching the older kids “swim”

1594.  roommates

1595.  Aicha

1596.  braided hair

1597.  last night here

1598.  girls singing

1599.  sharing, reflecting, praying

1600.  hard, hard good byes

1601.  home

1602.  beautiful basket from a friend, food for  the whole weekend

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1603.  Haiti smells, Haiti memories

1604.  daily seeing their faces in my mind

1605.  knowing God holds them even when we cannot

1606.  school year that drags on difficult

1607.  a day set aside to show love

1608.  mental, heart fog that hangs heavy

1609.  wandering, feeling lost, directionless

1610.  broken washer, thermostat, all these earthly things

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

1611.  music – a soothing balm that flows from my phone, with me everywhere I go

1612.  Psalm upon Psalm that directs me in the way

1613.  a long nap with a snuggly six year old

1614.  arms that feel so empty

1615.  friend that lets me invade her house and use her washing machine while mine sits useless

1616.  days that feel like I’m banging my head on a wall

1617.  weeks that feel that way too

1618.  beginning to see truth amidst the confusion, to see God’s purpose

1619.  dinner with friends that understand, encourage, challenge

1620.  a working washing machine!

1621. a Saturday at home

1622.  still processing our Haiti experience

1623.  seeing His grace in all these past ten days

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

We are able to have as much of God as we want.  Christ puts the key to His treasure chest in our hands and invites us to take all we desire.  If someone is allowed into a bank vault, told to help himself to the money, and leaves without one cent, whose fault is it if he remains poor?  And whose fault is it that Christians usually have such meager portions of the free riches of God?  ~ Alexander MacLaren (Streams in the Desert, February 20)

May you drink deeply of God’s great riches in grace and mercy this week and may your eyes be opened to the manna that is always before you, the daily, moment-by-moment renewing of His grace.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Unpacking

I’ve sat here for nearly an hour, trying to figure out what to say.  I sort through this past ten days and don’t know what to think.  I sit here, my emotions a strange combination of protective numb and completely raw.  I don’t know if I should sleep or cry.  I only know I don’t feel like I expected to feel.

This orphanage has been a part of our lives for a few years and a huge part of our life for the past twelve months.  I have lived it in other peoples stories and pictures and in my own mind I have dreamed of the day I would get to go.  And now I’ve lived it for myself for eight days.  Eight wonderful, hard, dirty, beautiful days.  And I guess I just expected to feel differently today.  But I honestly don’t know how I feel yet.  Just that numb rawness.  How do those two even co-exist?

I sort laundry and I sort memories.  I wash out Haitian dirt and pray to never wash out Haiti memories.  Those kids.  Their laughs.  The singing.  The cheers every time our truck pulled into the compound.  The food distribution.  Two hundred people with nothing, showing us around their village, showing us their homes.  Two hundred voices lifted in praise to God so thankful we have come.  We leave rice and beans to fill their stomachs for a few days, maybe a week?  They have filled our hearts for a lifetime.  The crazy trips into town. The traffic.  The wild driving.  The stories of Matt driving the Isuzu.     Pterodactyl.  The dirt that you can never get off your skin for very long.  The three minute cold showers that felt better than my ten minute hot showers at home.  Taking some of the kids up to the beach.  Water like I’ve never seen before – green-blue wonder.  Haiti is so beautiful….why do they not develop that?  That old woman on the side of the road.  What becomes of someone like that in a country like that?  The beauty of this people amidst all this poverty.  Knowing that it is their poverty that makes them love Jesus all the more.

I think of meals with the team and laughing and new friendships formed and all of the strange references I’ve heard that finally make sense, have context.  I think of Stan’s message on Sunday and Daniel’s passionate translation and the looks on the faces of those Haitians as they heard bagpipes probably for the first time ever.  I think of Nicole’s testimony and how it tapped some deep well of emotion.  I think of crying on the porch of the medical clinic with Matt as I try to process all of these feelings amidst all of the fatigue.

I think of all those little companions I had for eight days.  A dozen shadows everywhere I went.  I think of Liknay and how he nearly drove me crazy, but somehow I miss his ornery face.  I think of Misterline and Camberry and Adline and Miliane and Stella.  Those sweet girls and how they cried when it was time for us to go and I wonder do they still hope for a family or do they believe they have run out of time, that this is their life?  I think of beautiful Shela and the mama she is to my girl and how I know it tears her heart out that one day Amania won’t be there anymore and yet she loves her well.

I think of meeting my girl for the first time.  Shyness.  Tentative love.  How she warmed up to me but stayed cool toward Matt.  I think of yesterday morning and how she cried so hard before school Nicole let her stay with us until we had to leave.  I think of sitting there at the table, her on my lap, just counting down the minutes, wanting to get this band-aid ripped off, so to speak, get the leaving over with because I know it’s going to be hard, but I have no idea how hard.  I think of her starting to say softly “kay” in Creole and pointing outside.  We ask the social worker there what does this mean.  And he tells us “kay” means house, home.  And I feel my heart break into a million pieces.  I think of going outside and her pointing to that truck, begging through her tears for us to put her on it, to take her with us and having to tell her no, that she must stay and praying to God she trusts us when we say we will come back for her.  I think of literally peeling her off of me and getting on that truck with my head low so I can’t see her, thankful that the loud motor of the Isuzu helps drown the sound of her tears.  I think of Matt weeping as he has to leave his little girl there, unable to do what men are made to do – protect, provide.

And here I still sit…raw and somewhat numb.  A good tired.  A good overwhelmed.  One cannot have these experiences and not be changed.  The effects of the fall are so obvious in a place like Haiti.  Here we gloss over them.  We make our sin shiny and clean looking.  There man’s brokenness is undeniable, in your face, unavoidable.  Even though I feel somewhat numb, I do not want to become numb to what I saw, heard, smelled, felt.  God is at work.  He is on the move.  I want to be part of whatever He is up to, even if it means having my heart shattered time and again because that is what He has done for us.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara