Perfectly formed (guest post from Courtney Westlake)

When my daughter was first born, I thought they just needed to wipe her off. At first glance, she seemed to be covered with a thick coating of white, causing confusion and near-panic with the medical staff in the room. It soon became clear that the towel the nurse was using to clean her wouldn’t ...

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When my daughter was first born, I thought they just needed to wipe her off.

At first glance, she seemed to be covered with a thick coating of white, causing confusion and near-panic with the medical staff in the room. It soon became clear that the towel the nurse was using to clean her wouldn’t alleviate anyone’s concerns.

Because the white covering was her skin.

Our daughter Brenna (our second child and sister to our now five-year-old son Connor) was born in 2011 with a very severe, very rare genetic skin condition called Harlequin Ichthyosis (har-le-kwin ick-thee-oh-sis).

This severe disorder means that Brenna’s body has trouble with things like regulating her body temperature – she can’t even sweat – and keeping bacteria out, so she can get skin infections easily. It also means that her body produces skin about 10 times too fast, leaving her with very dry, peeling skin that looks like a sunburn all over her body.

Brenna’s condition affects our lives very profoundly every day and has caused the last three years to be filled with surgeries, doctor and therapy appointments, and a lot of health issues. But my husband, Evan, and I have never questioned why – we have believed from the very beginning in God’s plan for Brenna’s life.

We are often asked what is “wrong” with Brenna, with her skin or her face. But to be wrong is to be mistaken… and I don’t believe that mistakes happen with our awesome God.

When Brenna was just a few days old, critically ill in the neonatal intensive care unit, a family member came to us and said: “I haven’t talked to God in years… but I’ve been praying for Brenna.”

It was in that moment that I was assured that God had an extraordinary purpose for her life, and that he was bringing his children closer to him through our daughter and working through her to reach the hearts of others.

And, as I soon discovered, God was also working through me, by giving me the courage to stand up and say that my daughter is not wrong, she is beautiful.

God has given us the courage to find the beauty in this life, not the tragedy. We believe whole-heartedly that Brenna was given to us uniquely and beautifully created by God, not that she was given to us broken.

Within this, we are learning every day how to discover the beauty in the different and the unexpected. Where society often mocks different, we have found God’s beautiful creation in our differences and are learning to glorify his awesomeness through our distinct personalities, talents, and yes, appearances.

And yet, as we learn to appreciate and to celebrate our differences – our own and each other’s – it also serves as a great reminder that the God who created each of us with unique purpose and talents also created us with a likeness in his image.

We are different, and we are the same – none of us perfect, but formed purposely by a perfect Creator. And there is nothing wrong about that.

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To read more of Brenna and Courtney’s story, visit her blog at www.blessedbybrenna.com.

What question should we ban from small talk?

Today’s guest post is from Sarah Philpott. I’ll share with you her bio from her website, allamericanmom.net, to give you an idea what her blog is like: Hey y’all! I’m Sarah—a farmer’s wife and mom to two mischievous little kids. I’m a lover of big earrings, the written word, traveling, hosting parties for my friends, ...

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ThePhilpottFamily-131Today’s guest post is from Sarah Philpott. I’ll share with you her bio from her website, allamericanmom.net, to give you an idea what her blog is like:

Hey y’all! I’m Sarah—a farmer’s wife and mom to two mischievous little kids. I’m a lover of big earrings, the written word, traveling, hosting parties for my friends, and sitting on my front-porch soaking up life. This blog is devoted to helping families through the turmoil of pregnancy loss. If you’ve found yourself here because you’ve experienced loss…please let me tell you that I am so sorry. On occasion, I like to give a glimpse into my day-to-day life as a millennial farm mom. Thanks for dropping by! ~~Comforting Others with the Comfort We Have Received~~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

What I’ve discovered, as someone who is fortunate to have not had to face infertility or the loss of a child, is that even though I personally haven’t faced these things, I have friends who have. And the recurring theme in all that I’ve read is that when people face these struggles, they often feel alienated and alone and unable to share the truth. I think we all, whatever stage of life we are in, need to be aware of what so many people face and learn to have the awkward conversations but to do it with love and compassion and grace. This is such a good post that Sarah was willing to share. Enjoy!


So, when are you going to have a kid?
Do you want more kids?
Are you finished having kids?
Why don’t you have any kids?

When we reach a certain age, these questions come directed at us with sniper-like speed. They are asked by the sweetest, most well-meaning people ever: the little old lady who sits at the end of our church row, the older-widowed gentleman who is behind us in line at the grocery store, and the man at the party who doesn’t know a follow-up question to “what do you think of the weather.”

But, these questions are also asked in a taunting and teasing manner. You know the ones: “So, when you are you and Vanessa going to get that baby making started? Do you need me to tell you how it works?” ( wink, wink) says your husband’s business colleague in the middle of the company party.

Tisk, tsk, tsk. Neither Emily Post nor Amy Vanderbilt would approve of such banter as appropriate. I’m sure it is mentioned in their etiquette books between the chapters of “how to address a wedding invitation” and “how to fold a napkin.” To put it simply, “baby makin’ ain’t a topic for small-talk.”

IT’S JUST A SIMPLE QUESTION. WHY DO YOU HAVE TEARS IN YOUR EYES?

The reason questions related to procreation can be uncomfortable is because a large percentage of couples face the reality of infertility or pregnancy loss. For these couples, their heart’s desire and the timing of God fail to intersect at the same point. It can bring with it angst, sadness, and confusion. These couples have learned that creating a child isn’t as easy as making a dinner reservation, and they don’t necessarily want to share their personal details with the man standing behind them at the grocery line. It’s not that they want to keep this a secret; it’s just that they don’t really want to unleash real, raw emotions in the middle of Publix. A deluge of tears might spill down aisle 5.

WHAT ARE WOMEN REALLY THINKING?

Let’s examine the thoughts of ten women when they are asked the innocuous question: “Are you going to have kids?” You can read how emotionally laden such a simple question might be:

??? SO, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE KIDS ???

chart for Sarah Philpott post

I say, “Enough already!”As you can read, this simple question can trigger a variance of emotional responses for many women and couples.  Fertility issues are invisible burdens that many couples bear; we should acknowledge that possibility before asking such a personal inquiry.

Questioning in the middle of the grocery store- not okay. Questioning over a cup of coffee during an intimate conversation- okay. Questioning in the middle of church “hand-shaking” time- not okay. Questioning in the middle of a private conversation at church-maybe okay.

We should definitely give grace and forgiveness to acquaintances whom inquire about such personal matters. Many have a motive of pure kindness and are not privy to inner struggles. Also, opening up to other people about struggles and fears can be extremely helpful; it is through conversation and vulnerability that we find out that others might have faced similar circumstances and might be able to offer us hope, wisdom, and kinship.

Those of us with fertility issues might also consider responding with the truth—even if the question-asker is put in an awkward position. Responding by saying, “Actually we do WANT children, but we have complications with fertility. Do you mind praying for us?” Answering this way can be powerful, freeing, and makes a social statement that infertility and pregnancy loss are not topics of shame.

But as a society we should all stop using the question of children as small-talk. Only ask if you are prepared for a real answer and ready to provide a listening ear (or a slap in the face). Likewise, let’s all (men, I’m mainly talking to you) make a concerted effort to stop teasing people (mainly your fellow guy friends) about having or not having kids.

Readers, repeat after me, “I will stop teasing people about whether or not they have children. I will stop asking acquaintances if they want more or any children. Instead, I will ask about the weather or their summer vacation plans.”

And we all say, “Amen.”

So, what’s your favorite small-talk question to ask someone? And, what’s your favorite way to answer the “Do you want to have kids?” question?

Do it scared (guest post by Laurie Coombs)

Laurie Coombs is another one of those lovely souls that I’ve had the honor of “meeting” through shared connections in this business. I am so excited about this book. I think God is in it, through it, around it, behind it, before it—just all over it. His forgiveness is amazing, but sometimes we forget just what ...

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header_1Laurie Coombs is another one of those lovely souls that I’ve had the honor of “meeting” through shared connections in this business. I am so excited about this book. I think God is in it, through it, around it, behind it, before it—just all over it. His forgiveness is amazing, but sometimes we forget just what a divine gift it is. This story reminds us how profound and magnificent God’s forgiveness can be.

Let me set the stage a little with some info from her bio: In 2010, Laurie Coombs was called to love and forgive the man who murdered her father, which led to an exchange of letters between she and Anthony, her father’s murderer. During their correspondence, Laurie was healed from her past wounds, was given grace to forgive Anthony, and witnessed a powerful transformation in Anthony as Jesus brought him to repentance. And now, here’s an excerpt from her new book, Letters from My Father’s Murdered: A Journey of Forgiveness, published by Kregel Publications.

GRAPHIC Christian life passivity

One of my favorite phrases in the Bible is “but God.” I have it posted beside my bed, and every so often my girls ask me why I have those two little words there. I tell them, “All through the Bible bad things happen—people sin or something goes wrong—but over and over two words make it all okay: ‘but God.’”

You see, no matter what happens in life, no matter how bad things seem to be, God is still the constant. He is still working all things for good. The psalmist wrote, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26, emphasis mine). Joseph echoed this sentiment when he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20, emphasis mine). Yet in my mind, the ultimate “but God” statement in the Bible is, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, emphasis mine).

Jesus truly is our Redeemer. Seeing Him as such allows us the freedom to trust and surrender ourselves to Him. We need to know our God. We need to know who He is and what He has done. It is only then that we are able to understand that He is for us, not against us, which frees us to obey, knowing He will work all things for our good and His glory.

Coming to understand God’s heart toward me—that He loves me, that He is for me, and that He is my comforter and my guide— suddenly empowered me to live life differently. Sure, I was a newbie at this whole Christian thing, but I knew I served a faithful, loving God.

81u-FkusLHLI knew I could trust Jesus, for He had proven Himself trustworthy. That didn’t mean God’s call to love and forgive Anthony was easy to embrace. I was scared. I didn’t know where this was going. And I certainly didn’t know how it would end. But I also knew I had allowed fear to motivate me far too long.

Fear is a God-given emotion. Its purpose is to protect us from harm. This kind of fear is good. But so much of the fear we experience is irrational fear—fear that holds us back from living the full life Jesus died for us to have, fear that holds us hostage, never allowing us to see true growth of character. This kind of fear never brings good. And if we choose to live in irrational fear, we will never see the promises of God fulfilled to the extent they’re given. We will never follow Christ into our hard places and come out greater on the other side.

Here’s the truth. Sometimes, we simply need to do it scared. Over and over at this time, well-meaning Christians told me to “follow peace.” I wasn’t to move forward if I didn’t feel peace about taking a step. But the whole “follow peace” thing can be a ploy—shrouded in holy words—used by Satan to bind us and keep us from following God. Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones into places of discomfort. And in these areas, we’re not going to feel peaceful all the time. Yes, there is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and is available to believers at all times, but often our propensity to rely on ourselves and do things our own way hinders us from experiencing that peace, which means sometimes following Jesus feels a bit crazy. A bit unsettling. Oftentimes we will feel scared to do that which God calls us to do. But make no mistake—fear does not negate the call. Fear is simply a by-product of our desire to control. When following Jesus into our unknown, scary places, God doesn’t usually clue us in on the big plan. And this can feel anything but peaceful at times. But still, we must move.

Following-Jesus-Can-Feel-CrazyIn my prayer journal at the time, I wrote, “I am seeing more and more that the Christian life is not a life of passivity, but a life of choices empowered by the Holy Spirit. I pray, Lord God, for You to help me to walk in Your Spirit.”

I heard it once said we can choose to live each day motivated by fear or by faith. It’s a choice we must all make. Christian reformer Martin Luther wrote in the preface to his translation of the epistle to the Romans, “Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it.”* I needed this kind of faith. I needed great faith to move beyond my fear and follow Jesus where He was leading. I needed the kind of faith that allows us to step out of the boat and walk on water toward Jesus when He beckons, knowing that we can do all things through Him. The kind of faith that confidently says to Jesus, “Only say a word, and I shall be healed,” knowing full well that all things are possible with God. The kind of faith to follow Jesus into the unknown—into my scary places— regardless of the cost, knowing He will work all things for good.

 

 

When prayer loses its meaning, what then?

Heather Caliri is another woman I’ve met through our shared writing but haven’t had the pleasure of sitting down with, face to face. There’s a vulnerability and a sense of acceptance to be found in her words. Her site is titled “Seeking the Easy Yoke,” and through reading her words I’ve learned that the burden ...

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Bio-pic_ap-2015_300Heather Caliri is another woman I’ve met through our shared writing but haven’t had the pleasure of sitting down with, face to face. There’s a vulnerability and a sense of acceptance to be found in her words. Her site is titled “Seeking the Easy Yoke,” and through reading her words I’ve learned that the burden hasn’t always been light. But I love the creative ways she tries to reclaim the faith she wants. Head over to her site when you have time to stay and read for a while. It’s worth your time, I promise you. In the meantime, today she’s giving me the opportunity to post on her blog. Here’s a letter I wrote to the 12-year-old girl I once was…

KELLY imageBruno Flicker Creative commons

Dear, sweet girl. You lie there in the angle of light bent around the door, in that sheltered, private spot where the light illuminates your papers, but your parents, in the living room downstairs, can’t see you from where they are reclining. The white painted posts from the stairs in the hallway outside your door cast striped, curvy shadows across the carpet, and you hear the faint noise of a laugh track from the television below. You can’t see her, but you know your mom is wrapped in a soft blanket, quietly turning the pages of a book until she yields to her yawns and goes to bed.

In that sheltered place, you make charts, three-hole-punched sheets of graph paper, painstakingly transferring your prayer list to a new sheet when the check boxes are all filled. Maybe your prayers… << read more >>

One plus one equals so much more than two

Today is my wedding anniversary. 24 years ago today (which might help explain the curly bangs and pouffy sleeves that are mercifully hidden in the photo.) So naturally I’ve been thinking. The number seems so high. Kind of hard to believe. But here’s the magic in the midst of it all: the equation is simple ...

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Today is my wedding anniversary. 24 years ago today (which might help explain the curly bangs and pouffy sleeves that are mercifully hidden in the photo.) So naturally I’ve been thinking. The number seems so high. Kind of hard to believe. But here’s the magic in the midst of it all: the equation is simple (1+1) but the result is exponential.

1+1=24 years
I’m 47, so my marriage has now lasted more than half of my life. I was 23 when I got married (so young and yet I felt so mature). If you count the two years Tim and I dated, we’ve been together for 26 years. 312 months. 1,352 weeks. Something like 9,464 days. Those are a lot of numbers. Think about how hard it can be to spend a weekend with someone you don’t know very well. Or about years living with college roommates. Even if you like these people, it can be difficult at times. Which is why I believe that a happy marriage is truly a miracle. How else could two people spend so much time together and still like each other?

1+1=3 kids
3 kids, and all the many numbers that breaks down into:
2 girls, 1 boy; 3 different personalities; 27 months of pregnancy; about 10 years from buying our first box of diapers and celebrating our last; approximately 4,522,768 activities, swim meets, 4-H projects, baseball/basketball/soccer games, band concerts and parent meetings attended; 2 colleges in 2 states; 21 years + 18 years + 14 years of learning our way as parents.

1+1=4 places to live
An apartment in Indy, a house in Indy, and two houses in Crawfordsville, including two years during which we owned both of those houses. Approximately 7,551 coats of different colors of paint on various walls. Hundreds of light bulbs and furnace filters and utility payments and broken hot water heaters. 4 houses—4 very different (but all wonderful) homes.

Tim and me collage1+1=2 different votes
Yes, in this household we lean towards two different political parties. Two different opinions on most things—except the things that matter the most. God. Family. Integrity. Kindness. We’re proof that people with different perspectives can still get along and can show respect towards viewpoints with which they disagree. Or at the very least, we’re proof that Tim knows not to be really vocal with his opinions when we disagree and we’ll get along just fine.

1+1=1,000 crises
Bounced checks, credit card balances that were sky high; shoulder surgeries, ankle surgery, ER visits, food allergies, dental procedures; the loss of my mom, all of my grandparents, and his grandmother; 4 parents fighting cancer; the transition of changing churches and even denominations; lost jobs and clients; the ups and downs of self-employment; rocky patches in friendships and relationships; moving; outrageously high tax bills; having children; not getting enough sleep, not having enough money, not having enough time… Whether you’ve been married one year or 70—or 24—I’m sure you agree. There’s always something. But it’s possible to survive even when things seem too big and too hard.

1+1=1 life
Through it all, the best thing I can say is we’ve been in this together. We don’t always understand each other. (OK, we rarely understand each other.) We’re not your typical, romantic-movie kind of relationship. We read different books, like different movies. I’m always hot and he’s always cold. He’s mechanical and logical and I’m, well, not. I’m arty and creative and he prefers facts. I like to go-go-go on vacation and take a million photos. He’d rather lie on the beach. He loves his Harley; I’m petrified and would rather stay home. He thinks I’m too easy on the kids and I think he’s too tough. We don’t always agree about the best way to handle situations. I know sometimes people look at us and wonder how it works. And sure, we have our frustrations.

But I can’t imagine this life without Tim. We’ve built a solid foundation—and I know that no matter what I do, he is standing behind me supporting me. If I believe I can achieve something (and even when I do not believe it), he does. He finds me beautiful, still. My sense of humor still makes him laugh. My singing still makes him cringe. He never wavers and he never doubts. He’s a good husband, a good dad, and a good man.

I’m pretty sure God knew what He was doing when He put us together. I’m so glad we were both smart enough to choose each other. And I’m thankful that when God is in the center, the numbers always add up to more than we expect. So very much more.

 

An upside-down Christmas, part 4: Bringing Christmas’s true meaning into focus

No one has to tell me what Christmas is really about. I know. And I love what it is supposed to be. But, like many of you, I get caught up in the busy-ness of it and don’t seem to have much time to focus on spiritual. Much of what we fill our holidays with ...

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No one has to tell me what Christmas is really about. I know. And I love what it is supposed to be. But, like many of you, I get caught up in the busy-ness of it and don’t seem to have much time to focus on spiritual. Much of what we fill our holidays with is good, or at least not inherently bad. But it obscures our view of the bigger picture. These are just a few ideas of ways to add a layer of meaning without totally disrupting your schedule and life. You don’t have to do it all. Frankly, you don’t have to do a single thing here. Trust your own instincts. Do what feels right. And only if it does not add stress or otherwise distract you from what is important to you.

Observe—or create—family (or friend) traditions.

As much as I like change, there’s something comforting in the familiar. I think, for many of us, keeping family traditions alive is important. It’s a way to honor the generations before us and to connect with the holidays. Sometimes they’re more about family or friends than something spiritual, but they can still be a way of creating and remembering important memories.

Open presents in your jammies. Have pumpkin pie for breakfast, or always make the same cinnamon rolls. Let the youngest kids pass out the gifts from under the tree. Hold hands before dinner and say grace, or pass around an antique cup (because our cups runneth over) and let people say what they’re thankful for. Invite a neighbor whose family lives out of town to join you in the afternoon, when you’re all drowsy and you’re gathered around a jigsaw puzzle or watching movies. Ask everyone to tell which ornament on the tree is their favorite and why. Buy a new ornament for each family member every year so that your kids have a small collection when they leave home and have their own trees. There are countless small things—most of which don’t cost money—that will give meaning, long term, to your get-togethers. And having some kind of loose structure to your celebration can create a framework that may bring comfort. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s celebration. It doesn’t have to be traditional. You don’t have to eat turkey and dressing (unless you’re at my house, where I insist on it).

If you’re grieving a loss or have some other big change in your life, maybe you should change something. When my mom had cancer, we knew that her remission was only temporary, so we decided we should move the location of our Christmas celebration. It had always been at my parents’ house, and now my sister and I (who live next door to each other) share the hosting. It didn’t fool any of us, but it did allow us to have Mom here with us for two Christmases before we lost her, so our kids have memories of her celebrating here with us.

Establish spiritual traditions.

My husband and I are elders at our church. On Christmas Eve, our church has a candlelight communion time. No service, just soft lights and soft music and a communion table in front of the altar. Getting to serve communion—passing the bread to the couple or family or group of friends next in line, and then reading the passage from the Bible, looking each of them in the eyes and watching the way each family or group huddles together in reverence—is the spiritual highlight of Christmas for me. It’s so humbling to be the one serving. It changes the ritual of communion completely for me. After they take the bread, the group moves to the other side of the table, where my husband serves the wine and reads his passage, before they go stand, kneel, or sit together and pray quietly together. It’s such a holy, beautiful thing, and it’s become my very favorite part of the whole holiday season.

Have someone (maybe one of the grandparents, or maybe one of the kids) read the Christmas story from Luke before dinner, while everyone gathers in a circle to give thanks. Maybe even set an extra place setting to remind everyone that Jesus is the One we were (and are, and always will be) expecting—and even if we can’t see Him, He’s still there with us. Participate in a community program to provide toys or coats or other needs to local families who could use the assistance. When you do, have your kids help you wrap the presents, and say prayers for each person as you do. You might want to set up a small tree, and have a basket of colorful papers and ornament hooks nearby. Ask your family to write down things for which they are thankful and hang them on the tree as a reminder of all the great gifts God gives us every day.

One year, shortly after losing Mom, I was especially grumpy about Christmas. I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of decorating, and I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate. Part of it was simply the fact that I was hurting. But then I remembered the tree topper my sister’s family had used the year before—a cardboard scroll with the verse John 3:16 written out, by hand, by my niece Reilly. I thought that was such a beautiful idea and a way to take an oft-quoted verse and give it new meaning. I also remembered that I’d set aside some specific ornaments the year before (and like a good consumer, got online and ordered some more). Then I set out to create a different kind of Christmas tree, one centered on Christ. As I hung the hooks on my “Jesus tree,” my prayers went something like this: Yes, Jesus, you are the I AM. You are love. You are the baby in the manger and Lord of All. And on and on, as I added ornaments symbolizing many of the names and faces of God. He is peace. Freedom. The light of the world. The Day Star. The lamb, and the lion. The shepherd, the carpenter, the gardener, the creator, the fisher of men. He is hope and joy. The Alpha and Omega. The king, the church. Faithful. He is my home, the vine, the gate, the door, the Word, and my daily bread. With each ornament I placed, I found the feeling of reverence I’d been missing. Because our God is so much more than a baby in a manger. The tree reminds me to really think about who He is—about all of the things that He is. To remember that He is so much. He is everything, and He truly is the center of Christmas. Changing the focus of the decorations in my home changed the focus of my thoughts.

Allow yourself to slow down. To stop.

I put this section last, but it’s the most important advice I can offer. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Don’t set unrealistic expectations—better yet, let go of all expectations. Give yourself permission to stop all of the busyness and ENJOY. Close your eyes and give thanks. Read an extra bedtime story to your little one. Stay up an extra five minutes on the couch, resting your head on your spouse’s shoulder after you’ve put the kids to bed. Let dinner be 15 minutes later and just sit in the chaos of torn wrapping paper and memorize the way your family members look today. I give you permission (in case you have trouble giving it to yourself) to slow down. Give yourself grace. Forgiveness. Kindness.

Remember, Christmas is about God drawing near. We miss the point of Christmas when we forget to notice that He’s here. Right now.

Still.

And forevermore.
Amen.
**

What do you do to bring meaning back into your Christmas celebrations?

Can I carry you?

This post is being featured today at the Internet Café. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man ...

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roof-photo-788x1024This post is being featured today at the Internet Café.

Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” ~Luke 5:18-20, NLT

Standing in the center of a clump of people at the altar one morning, as I prayed for a woman who had requested prayer, I felt a new hand on my back. I heard Sandee’s voice. I leaned back slightly into the pressure of her hand. And I rested, knowing that these prayers were for me. I laid down the worries I had and let her words wash over me.

After she prayed, she put her arm around me and squeezed. And said, “I don’t want you to have to go through this again.”

Me either. My dad has cancer. Stupid, stinkin’, honkin’, blasted cancer. I lost my mom to that awful disease nearly three years ago. Believe me, I don’t want my dad to go through this, and I don’t want to, either.

When Sandee prayed for me that morning, I pictured the men carrying the paralytic on the mat. Hauling him up to the roof because they couldn’t get through the people crowding the house where Jesus was. Tearing off mud and tile — they had to make noise and a mess, and people had to be watching, but no one stopped them. And then carefully lowering him down to Jesus, muscles straining, sweat dripping. Because they knew what Jesus could do for their friend. And they knew their friend couldn’t do it for himself.

I went home and read all three accounts of this story (Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5). And noticed something. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the paralytic asked his friends to take him to Jesus. I think I’d always assumed they did it because he asked for their help. I just assumed that the one in need of healing would take the first steps (literally or figuratively) toward the Healer.

But in this case, I think it was his friends. They took it upon themselves to carry him. To put him where he could receive help, help that they couldn’t give him. And when they did, when they fought through the crowds and excavated a hole large enough for their friend, Jesus said, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” And then He healed the man’s body too. As always, the soul was healed first. As always, Jesus knew just what was needed.

And so did the paralyzed man’s friends. They’re the ones who carried him. Like Sandee carried me. Like friends do in this Kingdom. Because sometimes we’re too weak. Sometimes we’re frightened, alone, filled with shame, overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the problem. Sometimes we’ve lost direction and don’t know how to get there. And sometimes we’re not even aware of what we truly need.

So today, my friends, will you please let me help carry you to His feet? Comment below with your needs, or send me an email (kellyostanley@me.com). I commit to lifting you up — or lowering you down through the roof. Let me carry you today. And then, tomorrow, we can each grab hold of a different mat and help carry another. Until we’ve laid the whole world at the feet of God.

Happy(?) Mother’s Day

I used to think Mother’s Day was a holiday for everyone. After all, we all have (or had) moms. Easy enough. When I saw that people were sad, I assumed they just weren’t focusing on the good things. Sure, I thought, my friend’s mom isn’t here with us anymore, but she can still celebrate. She ...

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I used to think Mother’s Day was a holiday for everyone. After all, we all have (or had) moms. Easy enough. When I saw that people were sad, I assumed they just weren’t focusing on the good things. Sure, I thought, my friend’s mom isn’t here with us anymore, but she can still celebrate. She has memories. Why wouldn’t she want to be a part of this heartwarming, happy day?

Oh, how I did not get it.

And oh, how much I hate that I do now.

It’s funny — this wasn’t a big holiday for us. I’d get Mom a card. Maybe a gift, if I happened to think of something. We didn’t always get together. I guess once I had kids of my own, it became more about being with them and allowing them to celebrate.

But now, as I face my third Mother’s Day without my mom, I’m faltering again.

I don’t know how to celebrate my mom without falling into the abyss of missing her.

I don’t know how to let my kids celebrate me without feeling an extreme lack — a sharp jab into my side, an ice pick puncture with each thought — because my own mom’s not here anymore. And because I worry that maybe I’m not enough for my kids. That I can’t give them everything they need. That I can’t be all that they want. Or, worse, maybe they don’t want what I have to offer.

And I know I’m not alone. There are women who mourn today, feeling the loss of a child they barely knew or a little life they’ve never been able to grow. Women who are acutely aware of the missing other half — the one they haven’t met or the one they’ve lost, the one who would or did transform her from half of a couple into (possibly) a parent. Women who feel that they must be unworthy, because they didn’t have a mom who evoked these pastel-colored, flowery memories. Or because their kids don’t feel that way about them.

So how do we get through this day? How do we address the hodgepodge of disparate emotions all around? How do we know who needs a silly smile reflected back at them and who needs a quiet, wordless embrace?

We don’t.

So just walk gently today. Don’t assume everyone feels happy. Be free with kind touches, genuine smiles, words of affection. Give thanks for what you have, and ask God to fill the empty places left behind by loss.

Notice, as the moms are honored, the woman still sitting on the church pew, sad because she can’t stand up among the other women. Watch faces for the person who can’t maintain a smile when the heartwarming poems are read, because maybe they’re lonely or hurting or can’t figure out how to forgive the mother who damaged them. Pay attention to someone who’s spending the day alone, and consider inviting them along. If everyone around you seems happy and content, by all means, join in the celebration, and lift your voice in gratitude to God.

But if you’re the one who’s hurting, know you’re not alone. Allow God to turn your feelings upside down (because, really, His upside-down-ness is one of my favorite things about Him). We don’t have to hide from sadness or feelings of inadequacy. We don’t have to pretend to be happy if we’re not. We just have to open ourselves up to the One who can heal, the One who will comfort, the One who makes the broken places whole again. He’s the One who can see past the facades. He’s the One with the eternal perspective. He celebrates with us, grieves with us. He nurtures us, forms us, rejoices in us. He never gives up. He stays close and He never lets go.

But the really amazing thing? His arms are large enough to do more than just hold you and me. As He wraps around you today, remember that He is also holding close our moms, our grandmothers, our aunts and sisters and friends and babies, encircling us all in the same embrace. He reaches beyond space and time, outside of the bounds of this physical world into the radiating light of heaven, and holds us all tight. Gathers us in together. Bridges the impossible gaps between us and those we long to see again. We may not be able to see it, but He’s there. She’s there (whoever you’ve lost and are thinking of on this day), right there with you. God’s embrace doesn’t falter or fail. Because she’s with Him, and we’re with Him, we are all, somehow, together again.

And because of this, in His phenomenal way, God transforms this day, which could easily be filled with sorrow and regret and mourning — into something different. Something better. Something more. Something that, even if it may not make you want to buy a Hallmark card, is worth experiencing. Worthy of gratitude. Filled with healing. Bursting with light.

Because of this unfathomable grace, He makes it possible for  me to say to you, with all love and sincerity and compassion and hope and tenderness, that today, I will celebrate.

Happy Mother’s Day. May you find in this day — in Him — all that you need. Amen.

 

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