Four Miles

As I tied my shoe laces Saturday morning, I felt such pride in myself. It was 7:30 a.m., and here I was getting ready for a run while the rest of my town was sleeping. I grabbed a banana and my water bottle and headed to the car. Today was the day–four miles–and I was going to get them done while the air was cool and crisp, while my neighbors snuggled under their warm blankets.

But as I pulled into the packed parking lot of the park, I realized I wasn’t nearly as awesome as I thought. Evidently, a lot of people exercise early on Saturday morning. Nevertheless, I got out of the car ready to start my goal, albeit feeling slightly less important.

About a month ago, I had decided I wanted to train for a half marathon. I had run one about six years before, before I had kids, before I had become, apparently, out of shape. The training so far wasn’t going as well as I’d hoped. Running long distances has never been easy for me, but the first time I trained, I was able to increase my mileage each week. Now–well, let’s just say that if those heart sensors on treadmills had an alarm that goes off when one’s heart is about to explode, the paramedics would be ready and waiting most days of my training.

Prior to a race where Matt and I pretended to be runners only to almost die

This particular Saturday was no different. As my feet hit the pavement, my mind was thankful for the cool morning air and a change in scenery from the gym, but my body didn’t care; it wanted to go to bed. I knew from past experience that I take a few minutes to get going, to get a good pace and rhythm, but after five minutes, I was already struggling. My legs didn’t want to move, and I had to pee. Why, no matter how many times that I pee before starting, do I still have to pee two minutes into a run (I would guess childbirth has something to do with that answer. You men have it so good)?

It’s way too early to quit, I told myself. So I moved along and decided by a mile in, I’d find my groove. But after running one mile, I was still running at the pace of toddler learning to walk. I tried to stay positive and kept going. I smiled as a little chipmunk scurried in front of my path. I reflected on the wonder of God as a beam of light rays pushed through the tree branches ahead of me. I found a moment of joy.

And then I watched the 70-year-old man pass me on the left while I was contemplating if my own lungs would collapse.

I had run almost two miles, and I was still struggling. The little inclines were killing me. I was huffing and puffing. My legs felt tired, and my breathing hadn’t adjusted to a comfortable rhythm. I never found my groove.

I might have to stop. I didn’t want to have to holler after that 70- year-old that I was dying and needed his help to get me to my car so that I could go to Starbucks. I was ready to quit.

But I couldn’t.

My plan said I was supposed to run four miles that day, and if I didn’t run four, then the rest of the weeks of training would be that much harder.

So I kept going, shuffling my feet one in front of the other, hoping I didn’t see anyone I knew. But then something amazing happened.

Shortly after two miles, I noticed I could breathe. All of sudden, my body began to run on its own instead of me forcing it to move. I was now running at the pace of a four-year-old walking. I had found my groove. For the next two miles, I ran. I even passed some people. On a long, flat stretch, I picked up the pace again, and for a few moments, I slightly enjoyed myself.

When I saw the small, wooden sign marking my goal, I pushed myself and yearned for that finish. And when I finished, I felt good. My face was beat red, my stomach hurt, and I wanted to throw up–but I felt good. I could finally pee. I had finished. I had finished.

I wonder how many times we quit something one mile too soon.


While I was running, I felt like for the first time I could truly understand what it means to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12: 1-2). Sometimes marriage is not easy. Raising kids is not easy. Having a positive attitude at work is not easy. Sometimes, it’s easier to quit.

But if we would’ve held on for one more mile, would we have finally found our groove? Or would God have sent a little chipmunk or light rays through the branches of a tree to cause us to smile for a moment, distracting us from the discomfort of not being able to breathe easily, giving us just enough of a boost to continue a little further?

I’m convinced that my life is very much like running four miles. For some, they seem to run with ease, passing me on the left while I’m huffing and puffing and wondering if this is the end for me. But there are always those moments, always those moments scattered throughout my run to bring a smile to my face. And once in a while, I even fall into a groove, and when I do, I’m always glad that I didn’t fall down on the ground and ask the 70-year-old man to take me to Starbucks instead.

Two days ago, I watched my two-year-old daughter play with her best friend. I’ve never seen two children so small actually play with one another and not just alongside one another. They talked in their baby voices and laughed and chased each other, and they gave me that boost I needed to run uphill that day. So when I was digging through my son’s poop later that day looking for a Lego, I just thought of those sweet, little girls and realized now was not the time to throw in the towel–even though I still hadn’t found that stupid Lego and will have to dig again later this week.

Heaven

Heaven should be one of those topics that brings peace and joy to one’s heart, but I think I’m a little strange. Heaven was the topic at church this past Sunday, and for at least half the sermon, I was squirming in my seat. I actually have given a lot of thought to heaven, probably too much, wondering how far past the clouds I’ll have to travel to get there, if the streets are really made of gold, and if I’ll get bored at some point during eternity (I know, I know–silly, right?). And the concept of eternity? Yeah, thinking about it can send me into a mild panic attack.

When I try to think about time that doesn’t end, something that lasts forever and ever and ever, I start to freak out. Everything’s supposed to end. How can something not end? And at this point in my thought process, my body gets tingly and jittery feeling, and I have to shake my head to get rid of the thoughts and take some deep breaths.

I am willing to admit I’m a little crazy.

I know I need to trust that I won’t want heaven to end, just the way that I don’t want my time here on earth with my family to end. I need to have faith that a God who is good and merciful and love has figured this heaven thing out so that when I’m up there with Him I won’t spend eternity trying to figure out how eternity actually works. And I need to trust that panic attacks don’t happen in heaven.

But apparently I’m not the only one who has issues with heaven. During his sermon, our pastor offered that most people want to go to heaven but not now. I could raise my hand in agreement. Yes, even though I know heaven is a perfect place with Jesus (shouldn’t He make it worth it for me?), I’m happy to stay down here enduring the hell of carpool lines at two different schools every day.

But why?

Our pastor suggested one reason is that we don’t live our everyday with eternity in mind. We forget that our stay on earth is really a passing through point. We were made for eternity, and we are to live with eternity in mind.

We looked at the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven…

(God’s in heaven right now and always has been)

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…

(My life now should be consumed with doing God’s will here on earth)

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, now and forever…

(This life is temporary, but God will reign forever)

My life here on earth is sandwiched between eternity, but I have the tendency to live my life as if it’s the main event. Perhaps this point of view contributes to my fear of that wonderful home that’s prepared for me.

The fear of the unknown also contributes to my nervousness about heaven. Everyone has a different opinion on heaven. Some think we’ll spend eternity singing praises with the angels to Jesus. All the time. That sounds nice, but I have to admit, I’ve wondered if that would get boring (I know that’s horrible–I’m just admitting the very human thought that entered my mind).

One pastor told me that he doesn’t think we’ll have any recollection of our relationships from earth because, if we did, we’d notice who wasn’t there in heaven with us. Knowing we had family or friends in hell would make it impossible to live in joy for eternity. I guess that view makes sense, but it leaves me feeling sad and empty.

I want to remember my family and friends. I want to open my arms wide and help welcome my children one day, and I want to feel the sweet embrace of my husband again. Yes, of course I want to see Jesus, but one of the comforts that Christians find in death is knowing that death is not the end. We hope to see our loved ones again. I cling to that hope. When I think of friends who have lost a spouse or a child, I find comfort imagining their sweet reunion one day.

In the second part of the sermon when I wasn’t squirming as much, we watched an interview with Colton Burpo and his father, Todd. Colton was almost four when he got very sick and nearly died. The book Heaven is for Real is his account of entering heaven. Colton’s mother had had a miscarriage earlier but never told her son; however, he told his parents that he met his sister as well as his great-grandfather who had died 30 years before. He described them in astounding detail and counted spending time with them among some of his favorite parts of heaven.

Colton also describe sitting in Jesus’ lap as one of his favorite memories. What an image–sitting on the lap of Jesus. After hearing this little boy’s testimony of a powerful God and loving Jesus and beautiful animals and welcoming family, a wave of peace washed over me. Oh how I wanted this little boy’s account to be true!

And then I realized something. Whether or not every detail of this child’s account is exactly what heaven will look like for me doesn’t matter. What matters is that the God I worship wants me to realize that He has prepared a home with many rooms. He knew what He was doing before. He knows what He’s doing now. And He’ll know what He’s doing for all eternity.

My life wasn’t made for this earth; my life was made for communion with Him, and when I reach heaven someday, I’ll finally feel at home.

So maybe it’s best if I stop trying to figure out how long eternity actually is and how it works. Maybe I should stop trying to figure out what heaven will look like and instead focus on what I do know: God is good. God is love. God is merciful. And He will always be all of these things, even when I’m a nut. So I think I’ll take a deep breath, relax, and trust Him.

Would you raise your hand as one who wants to go to heaven but not now? Has thinking about heaven ever caused you fear? Linking up with Michelle and Jen today!



 

 

A Fresh Start

We parked the car and immediately unbuckled seat belts in our haste to get inside the church building. Caleb bounded out of the van exclaiming, “I can’t wait to go to school tomorrow!” Matt and I laughed at his enthusiasm, a new kindergartener not yet disgruntled by the institution of school.

That night as I ironed new uniform shirts, I was surprised at the familiar smell of the hot iron meeting the shirt fabric. Seven years ago I stood ironing a navy Polo shirt to wear on the weekends of Officer Training School. After so many weeks, we could earn privileges to go off base, but not without donning that navy Polo with the letters O-T-S spelled below the shoulder.

Seven years ago.

It’s unbelievable how quickly time escapes us, unbelievable that I have a child starting school. It feels like yesterday that I was starting my own adventure, but, instead, Caleb was starting his.

Leading up to this day, I wondered how I would feel. Would I cry, feeling sad because my oldest would no longer spend his days home with me, or would I rejoice, feeling relief that summer was over and a few hours of freedom for me were in sight? Surprisingly, I felt neither. Instead, I felt excitement.

Five a.m. did not come easy for me that morning, or at all, for that matter,  mostly due to the fact that all three kids had managed to worm their way into our bed at some point during the night. I slept later than I should have, so I didn’t get to write my blog that morning as I planned or spend time with the kids over a leisurely breakfast. They had trouble waking up, too.

But the excitement kept me moving forward.

Caleb was starting school. My little boy with a fountain of constant questions pouring from his mouth, holding an innocent curiosity, would start his journey of learning within the walls of the cozy classroom, full of books and bulletin boards and crayons.

That Sunday morning when Caleb bounded out of the car expressing his excitement at starting school, I sat in the cushioned chair at church reading from 2 Chronicles 14. Our church’s word for the year is ‘gumption,’ the character to commit and complete, so we looked at the life of King Asa. King Asa was an Israelite king who started his reign doing what was good in the eyes of the Lord. He turned the nation back to God and away from idols and trusted God for military success when surrounded by enemies.

However, later in his reign he sent Israel’s gold and silver to the king of Aram, requesting a treaty with him, showing he no longer trusted in God to protect Israel. And from that point on, his reign took an unfortunate turn, as he forgot who was the source of his blessing and protection. King Asa lost his gumption–he didn’t complete the plans God had for him.

My pastor asked us to evaluate our own lives and search our hearts for those areas where we have lost our gumption. I thought of a few spiritual disciplines, but the focus of my mind was on my kids. I haven’t lost my gumption–I am committed–but I want to complete and complete well.

God recently reminded me of what I signed on to do when I left my career in the Air Force to take on the career of ‘mom,’ and because of that renewed purpose, I can look to Caleb’s first big step into independence with excitement. I’m not sending him to school to wash my hands of the job–this decision came with a lot of prayer as we weighed homeschool, private, and public school options–but instead to work alongside his teacher as he embarks on this journey.

I look forward to volunteering every week and pouring myself into his education. I can’t wait to take him to a museum when I hear that an exhibit correlates with a unit he is studying. And I’ll gladly wear his school colors when we cheer on the sports teams together.

Perhaps part of this excitement stems from the realization that I have a fresh start as we begin a new phase of life. For many reasons, Caleb’s preschool years were tough for me. When other kids his age may have had a sibling come along and join the mix, Caleb already had two by the time he was three. Because most days for me were about survival, I never really felt like I could sit and treasure that time the way older moms always advised that I should.

But I won’t waste time on regret. I’ll treasure this stage and the next and the next for the different joys that they bring.

That morning when Matt and the girls and I kissed Caleb goodbye, I didn’t leave with tears but a smile. Caleb eagerly entered his classroom and barely looked at us as we walked out the door. But that’s okay. He had looked forward to this moment since he turned five, five months ago.

I can’t believe how quickly five months has flown by…or five years…so I best not get caught looking behind me. We’ve got new sight words to learn.

Caleb, I love you so much, and I’m so excited for you! Because you’re my firstborn, every new experience for you is a new experience for me, too. I’m glad we get to take this journey together. And even though I sent you to school on that first day with a smile, I felt a pang of sadness when I read “Sarah, Plain and Tall” to your sister that afternoon without you. You’re my buddy, and you make me proud.

I started this post three days ago, but I’m still figuring out our new schedule and how to squeeze in time to write. Nevertheless, I’m linking up (albeit late) with Michelle for her “Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday.”  What emotions ran through you during your last transition from one stage of life to the next? Did you long for the past, or were you excited for the future?

So Nothing Is Wasted

Wednesday night I pulled clean sheets out of the dryer only to put them back in the wash on Thursday morning, two out of my three kids having wet their beds sometime during the night. And as I sat on the floor in Chloe’s room, unrolling the t-shirts she had made into ‘hot dogs’ (I have no idea, but it’s one of Hannah Grace’s and her favorite pastimes) I acknowledged how much of each day is spent redoing tasks I had just completed. Many days I have complained to Matt that I feel like my efforts are for nothing, wasted since it is inevitable that the day I mop, one of the kids will immediately spill a glass of milk, smush a strawberry, or pee all over the kitchen floor (we have issues with pee in this family). And often, I have looked to the day when I can engage in more meaningful activities.

But as I sat on the floor turning hot dogs into t-shirts again on this particular morning, I did so without the normal level of frustration that I’m apt to feel. Instead, I recognized a thought not original to me: Cleaning up hotdogs and pee is my ministry.

I’m not sure anyone has ever written that thought precisely as I just wrote it, but I’ve encountered the sentiment many times. How I handle all the gross and mundane tasks, the chores that I do and then redo, is not wasted effort. Raising my children, complete with the tasks that accompany this role, is my meaningful activity.

I get frustrated when the activities director at the nursing home says I can volunteer, but my children are too young; I long for the day when I can travel with my church group to Mozambique to help build wells; and I sigh deeply when the baby who wouldn’t go to sleep last night wakes up early when I’m trying to write. But I have forgotten one important fact: Volunteering, building wells, and my blog are not my job.

But they are.

God gave me my passion to serve and to write, so I’m not dismissing my desires. When I can, I should pursue these passions, but I should not allow myself to fall into the trap of thinking that building wells is a more important job than washing wet sheets. I have to admit that even as I write those words they sit a bit funny. For too long I’ve allowed myself to gloss over the positive impact I can make on my children, that just as clean water brings life to a community my efforts at home bring life to my family.

When I make my children clean up the spilled milk on the newly mopped floor, they learn responsibility and the importance of caring for those possessions with which we have been blessed. When my children see me make a meal for a neighbor, they witness compassion and will hopefully embody a spirit who looks outside themselves to the needs of others. And when I fail them and don’t demonstrate love as I should, they understand that even family will disappoint, but there is One who will never fail.

The challenge for me is to recognize my every day as a chance to make a difference, not just those days that I have deemed more important. This challenge remains for everyone. Whether stuck in a crappy job or lamenting the one we recently lost, we each have a purpose. We can look to ‘better’ days when we fulfill all our dreams and desires, or we can embrace the life in front of us now.

I plan to do a better job of embracing my children and all the crap that I have to do over and over. Because, truly, my actions will speak louder than my words. One day my children will look back, and I hope they remember a mother who found honor and privilege in her ministry as their mother. And when they look back at their times of making hot dogs and peeing on the floor, I hope they remember how weird they truly were and what a saint I was for dealing with them.

Learning Dependence

 

image courtesy of photobucket.com

Over the last few months, my mind has been wrestling with an idea. Many times in my life, I’ve asked to know God’s presence, for Him to feel close or real. I’ve asked for His guidance or to know His will clearly. And lately, if I’m honest, I’ve started to fear my own question a little.

I look at my friend who mourns the death of her husband. I listen to the young pastor at church who lost both his mother and father to debilitating illnesses within three months of each other. I read examples in the Bible like Gideon. And I know all of them truly experienced God.

This young pastor shared his own story of loss as we looked at Judges chapter six at church on Sunday. The Israelites were hiding in make-do shelters in the clefts of mountains and caves because the Midianites had so oppressed them and ravaged their land. Gideon is in a winepress threshing wheat to keep it hidden from the Midianites when he encounters the angel of the Lord. And after learning that God wants to use him, an ordinary man from the weakest clan in Israel, to deliver the Israelites from this oppressive hand, Gideon responds by building an altar to the Lord called “The LORD Is Peace.” And this young pastor, months after losing both his parents and struggling with questions, felt that same LORD of Peace is his own heart.

I want to know that peace. I want to have that intimate knowledge of God. But I don’t want to have to depend on God.

I know that God is available to all of us–we don’t have to experience extreme loss to know Him–but perhaps we feel Him most strongly in times of suffering because it is in those times that we can’t depend on ourselves to find the answers. Our own comfort is not strong enough. In those times, we truly lay ourselves at His feet and admit we can’t weather the storm alone.

I’m not good at depending on anyone. I don’t like situations out of my control. I try to act responsibly and make good decisions, which is good, but not if I let go of the hand that guides me.

I don’t think God hides himself until we suffer or that if I ask to experience God I need to first experience tragedy, but I do believe I need to learn how to surrender in the everyday. And if I learn to surrender in the everyday, when those times of suffering come because they will come I will know to whom I should turn.

Knowing to whom I should turn is the whole battle. The God who sends His peace out of kindness and love when we feel sorrow is the same God who wants to laugh with us when we feel joy. I want to learn to laugh with Him. I want to understand dependence. I want to want to lay myself down at the altar of ‘The LORD Is Peace.’ And I know when I do, He will be there.

Have you ever clearly felt the presence of God? Are you able to depend on God in times of sorrow AND joy? Linking up with Michelle and Jen this week!


 

The Bride

I woke up that morning and couldn’t really eat, my body full of excitement rather than food, and I carried that emotion with me the whole day through–as the last pin was placed in my hair and veil secured to the top of my head, as I completed my make-up with the shiny lipstick and a smile, and as I stepped into the full, white dress that transformed me from an ordinary young woman to a glowing princess.

I wasn’t nervous, but I was eager. The day was full of newness. We would see each other for the first time that day as I walked down the aisle, and we would leave together for the first time that night as we drove away, never again to return to separate homes.

The waiting was beautiful and fun and, parts, reminiscent of elementary school as we passed notes and messages through the hands of our best friends. The waiting, which started months before and, at times, seemed to pass too slowly, was now at its end, as I stood alone with my father outside the doors to the sanctuary.

What would he think as I walked down the aisle? Would I take his breath away?

And then the moment came as the piano played, and the crowd rose, and we walked through the open doors.

And the day was beautiful, the one day in my life that was truly full of joy and nothing else, not tainted by the pain brought into a fallen world, a day when my smile stretched from ear to ear as I took the hand of the man I would love forever.

Almost nine  years later, that day can seem so far away sometimes.

But I remembered as I sang the lyrics that flashed across the screen, and, for a moment, my body tingled with joyous expectation.  I remembered feeling beautiful in white; I remembered longing to meet my groom. And for the first time in my entire journey of faith, I understood for a moment what it means to be the bride of Christ:

When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing… You’re Beautiful*

The excitement, the twinge of nerves. Facing the one who knows my past yet sees me radiant, clothed in white. And finally taking His hand as we begin our new life together, no longer going home to separate places but instead stepping into eternity together, an eternity with joy, an eternity with the absence of pain or tears from a fallen world, an eternity begun with redemption.

It’s beautiful.

* “You’re Beautiful” Music and lyrics by Phil Wickham

 

What emotions did you feel as you waited for your wedding to begin? Has a song ever brought to a life for you a truth found in Scripture? Linking up with Michelle and Jen this week.

 

 

Ambivalence

I awoke a little after midnight on the couch where I had fallen asleep to sounds of cheering in Times Square, and the scene was eerily reminiscent of many of my New Year’s. I watched on the T.V. as Americans rejoiced in our capital and in the city which housed such tragedy near ten years ago, and I felt nothing. Or maybe I felt everything. I went to bed that night not knowing how to feel after learning that we killed Osama Bin Laden, and I spent most of the day yesterday trying to process my thoughts.

I read my share of Facebook status updates rejoicing in the death of one of the most miserable human beings my generation has known and those quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. reminding us to turn from hatred. I read blogs reminding me that this man got what he deserved, and I read articles from pastors urging Christians to respond with love. And I didn’t know what to feel.

Two nights ago, I was proud of our military. What an elite group of men who entered an extremely dangerous situation, lost a helicopter, but didn’t lose one American life! What a group of men who took out the target and then got out–I have such respect for all our military and their bravery.

I was proud of our Commander-In-Chief for allowing the military to do its job, for giving the order to finally get this man who brought such tragedy to our country, who destroyed thousands of lives and disrupted our way of life forever.

But I found myself not able to cheer.

I’d like to say that I felt sadness for a soul who, based on my beliefs, is spending an eternity burning in hell for his deeds. But I don’t. Bin Laden got what he deserved. I can honestly say that while he was alive, I did pray for him–I’m not sure I even believed my own prayers–but I did pray that the miraculous would occur, that he would repent and turn to the God who has grace and love for anyone who would accept it. But now that he has died, this coward who recruited others to kill themselves in order to advance his mission of hate, this man who grabbed and used one of his own wives as a shield in a desperate attempt to save himself; I feel disgust for him. And I feel nothing.

Yet, I am very sad. I know this man mattered to God and was created in His image. What a tragedy of a life wasted, a life that refused to see the value in others, a life who allowed his soul to turn as black as the hell in which he is now residing.

My mind waffles back and forth as I wrestle with my own political beliefs and spiritual instructions. I don’t believe a nation can turn the other cheek when attacked, yet I know a Christian can’t embrace the love of Jesus and rejoice over the death of anyone who lived a life apart from God.

I want to celebrate that the good guys won, but I think of the thousands of lives lost on September 11th and the thousands more in pursuit of justice. I think of the military families who have endured years of separation and those who broke apart under the weight of the burden. I think of a nation divided over Guantanamo Bay and whether or not we should be involved in a War on Terror. And I think of the time I placed my shoes in a bin at airport security and had to check if bottled breast milk could come on board.

I want to cheer for the good guys. I want to celebrate a victory.

But I fear there are no winners–

only a soul who was lost and a way of life that we will never get back.

Sleeping Through the Storm

 

I originally started to write this post for Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop. However, a late night watching the paths of  tornadoes, early risings from the kids, and a canceled kid-swap day due to a stomach bug kept me from getting this post published Thursday morning. After contemplating the topic some more, I decided this post is actually perfect for ‘Journeys,’ but since Mama Kat gave me the inspiration, I’m linking up with her, as well.

3.) What is going on in the bedroom? Describe a memorable sleeper.

 

For the last five years, sleep has been a commodity. With three children came three more reasons that I would never be able to count on a consistent routine of  a solid eight hours. Every night this week, my husband and I have either been stalled in our desire to go to bed or ripped from a deep sleep due to cries in bedrooms down the hall. Last night was different, however. Last night my own worry kept me awake, causing me to grab only a couple of hours here and there.

I had known all day that a storm was coming. The day before our trusty meteorologist warned through the radio that there was a chance we’d wake to thunderstorms, and even though that morning passed without those flashes of lightning, he warned that another system would arrive around eight p.m. I took notice, and I sent my husband an e-mail asking him not to work past six; tornadoes were supposed to accompany this storm, and I wanted him home with us before the fireworks began.

The kids were ready to make their way upstairs as Matt arrived home, and we had everyone tucked into bed by 8:15. I went downstairs to check my phone that had rung while I was rocking my daughter, and I noticed a missed call from my dad. I called him, knowing that he doesn’t usually call me in the evenings.

“I just wanted to make sure that you’re ready for the storm,” he said after I told him I saw I missed his call.

“Umm…no. I mean, we know it’s coming, but we haven’t done anything, yet.”

“Well, if you guys want to come over here and stay in the basement, you’re more than welcome.”

I got a little nervous after his suggestion. After all, Dad had never invited us to share the basement for any other storm. I told Matt the offer, but he didn’t think we needed to make the drive over there. We’d just take the necessary precautions here.

Together we pulled tray-tables and plastic bags full of party decorations out of the downstairs closet. I stacked plastic totes with red lids full of Dr. Seuss hats and paper Thanksgiving turkeys, butterflies and sundry other creations made in preschool. I found small boxes of pictures that had not yet made it to albums, and I retrieved around six blankets that Matt and I cuddled under on those rare nights when we watched a movie. And while I was preparing for the storm, I was performing a mental checklist of the items I would need to organize this closet.

Matt found all the bike helmets from the garage, and I grabbed a football helmet from the playroom. We had four helmets and five of us. I ran upstairs and threw down the massive pillows that adorned our bed and grabbed the flashlight from Matt’s dresser drawer. I remembered seeing Caleb’s little flashlight under his bed when I had hunted down the missing Easter candy earlier, and I got on my stomach, squirming my way under his bed until I could reach the little light. I set the two flashlights next to each other on my nightstand in case the power went out while we were asleep.

We were ready.

While sipping warm soup at the kitchen table, I sent my sister a text asking her to tell Dad that we were prepared now; he didn’t need to worry. She texted me back with Dad’s offer of the basement again and concluded with the words “good luck and god speed” if we decided to stick it out at our house.

Godspeed?

I had never in my life heard my sister or anyone in my family, for that matter, use those words. I reached across the table to show Matt the text, and I admitted that I was officially scared. What kind of storm did we need to expect?

After our quick dinner, I ran upstairs to take a shower before the thunder and lightning began. And as is typical for me, my thoughts took off as soon as I was alone getting ready for that shower. What if we’ve made a mistake and should’ve gone to my parents? What if we went to my parents, but the storm hit there and not here? If we have to take cover, how will I keep the kids calm? What would I do if anything happened to Matt or the kids?

I began to worry. I knew a storm was coming, but I didn’t know when, and I didn’t know exactly where. And while I didn’t want to dwell on morbid thoughts, as I kissed each kid goodnight again, I wondered if I would get the chance to do the same thing in that same room again tomorrow. I was assuming the worst–that the tornadoes would hit us–based on the urgent nature of the newscasters and the number of friends on Facebook heading for their basements. And I found it strange to know a disaster was coming and to have to sit tight and wait. And I found it unnerving to know that what I was waiting for could change my life forever.

But praying and waiting was all there was left to do. We made the best preparations we could, and now we just needed to see if they were necessary or not.

 

photo courtesy of photobucket.com

I pretended to read  on the couch where we continued to listen to the excited weatherman and watch the giant red blob work its way across the screen. I peered over the top of my book as the weatherman gave the countdown for each city in the path of the mile-wide tornado. Floyd, you have two minutes to take cover. Sandy Springs, you have eight minutes to get ready–you are in the direct path of the storm. And I knew I wouldn’t sleep tonight.

But I woke up an hour or so later on the couch to the boom of thunder and sound of rain beating on the windows. I immediately sat up and focused my tired eyes on the T.V., looking for the red blob and the small cities named on the screen. It was almost one a.m., and two different storms were nearer, yet they looked as if they would slide by us, one overhead, one below.

Matt was sound asleep. I tried to wake him, desperate to know if he had a plan for how we would hear if we needed to take cover. All of the preparations would mean nothing if we slept while the storm was knocking at our door. Matt said he’d turn on the radio on his nightstand, but I was not comforted knowing that I woke Matt, not his alarm, most mornings. But, alas, we didn’t have any other options, and from what we could tell, unless the storm turned, we should fare okay.

Good sleep was hard to come by that night. Chloe had acted upset at bedtime and awoke crying again after we had fallen asleep. And at five a.m., I again jerked awake to hear the conversation on the radio that the threat of dangerous weather for our area was now over. I no longer needed to be afraid; we were safe.

Even though I try to wake up at five most mornings, I decided to go back to sleep. I was exhausted. Unfortunately, my kids decided to wake an hour earlier than usual.

As I went about the morning routine of getting the kids ready for school, putting tray-tables and unused helmets back in their places, I thought about the preparations Matt and I made the night before. We didn’t know when or exactly where, but we knew the storm was coming. And while we hoped for the best, we didn’t know if we’d be counted with those who had lost something precious in the storm.

Almost 300 individuals lost their lives as a result of this storm system that swept through the southeast. As I poured milk in cereals bowls, I thought to myself that their end is no different than the one I’m going to face–I will die, too. The only questions are when and how.

And just as I prepared for a tornado last night with pillows and flashlights, there are preparations to be made for that moment when I will cease to exist in this life, that moment that we all know is coming.

I know I have areas in which I need to improve, habits I want to correct so that I’ll leave this Earth with no regrets. But I also believe that when I leave this world, I’ll enter another where I’ll meet my God. And when I see Him face-to-face, I will tell Him, “I tried to prepare, but I have done nothing that can make me worthy to enter into your presence, nothing except for one preparation–to love your Son who thought me worthy to die in my place.”

We all face the same end. The end of the story is not a surprise–it’s just the journey that’s different for all of us. So are you prepared? Do you know what you believe? And if not, when do you plan to prepare? The storm is coming while you sleep, and there is no guarantee that there will be time to get ready when you wake up.

Journeys

Please keep the families devastated by this storm in your thoughts and prayers today. Click here if you’d like to make a donation to the American Red Cross to help these disaster victims.

Have you ever had to prepare for a literal storm coming your way? What thoughts ran through your mind? How much thought have you given to the fact of your own mortality? Are you ready if you died today?

 

 

 


http://www.inlinkz.com/cs.php?id=50111

Accepting Simple

photo courtesy of photobucket.com

After years of remembering ‘Good Friday,’ certain aspects of the day can fade from my memory. Yet one scene took a front seat in my mind as I watched a passion play with my in-laws.

While hanging on the cross next to Jesus, one of the criminals is acutely aware of his own depravity in light of the goodness of Jesus. He proceeds to rebuke the other criminal sentenced to die with them for the insults he throws at the Son of God:

“Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 40-43, New International Version, 2010)

And I’m struck by the simplicity of the story.

This man didn’t know the doctrine of the Trinity. He didn’t formulate his position on the ideas of predestination versus free will. He didn’t state his preference for infant versus adult baptism. And he didn’t recite an eloquent ‘sinner’s prayer’ highlighting each key tenant of the Christian faith.

He simply knew that he deserved death for his sins, and he turned to Jesus.

And thankfully, that story is just as simple for me.
Remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Remember me, a sinner. You didn’t deserve death, but you died so that I wouldn’t have to.

It’s that simple.

Journeys

What strikes you about ‘Good Friday’? Share in the comments below, or link your own post describing a spiritual journey. And have a Happy Easter!

 

http://www.simply-linked.com/listwidget.aspx?l=0deeb9ca-e146-4305-bc3d-318f297d6f72

In the Dark Belly

As the days grew longer and my belly bigger, I began to marvel at this life growing inside of me. Crammed in this watermelon-shaped space were two little legs that would find the need to stretch, revealing just how tight my skin had pulled across my belly. Little fists and elbows used my insides like a punching bag, and Matt and I would look with amazement as one side of my stomach would bounce in and out in its quick rhythm.

And during this time, I wondered what it felt like to live as this developing fetus, crammed into a dark space, living every day rolled up in a little ball amidst warm water and the constant sounds of the mother’s heart beating, her voice echoing to down below. Frankly, to this claustrophobic lady, the concept seemed terrifying, yet we know that babies don’t enter the world with a mind full of phobias–they don’t want to be dropped or experience loud noises–but beyond those two conditions, they are at peace.

I’m always amazed where my mind travels during a sermon at church. As we were studying the story of Jonah, and the pastor was describing Jonah’s anxiety at finding himself in the dark belly of a fish, my mind traveled to when I was pregnant and recalled the three different times I pushed babies from within the darkness of my belly to the light of a new world.

In the story of Jonah, Jonah disobeys God and tries to flee from his calling but, instead, finds himself trapped inside a giant fish. The first time we see this prophet pray is when his anxiety is at an all-time high, when he has no where else to look but up:

The engulfing waters threatened me,[b]
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, LORD my God,
brought my life up from the pit. (Jonah 2:5-6, New International Version, 2010)

Like Jonah, we have experiences in our life that bring us to the height of anxiety. Our anxiety over our jobs or lack of jobs in a tough economy, anxiety over parenting and rebellious children, anxiety over secrets in our marriages–all of these anxieties squeeze out our breath, leave us feeling like we are trapped in a small, dark place with no way out.

And my pastor pointed out that these times of anxiety in our life are a signal for us to communicate with God, a time to get on our knees in prayer and share our worries with Him.

But my mind kept traveling to the image of the developing baby, also in a small, dark place. This baby, kept in its warm home for the perfect amount of time until his fingers and toes are developed, his eyes ready to take in those first fuzzy images of the mother ready to hug him close into her bosom, his lungs ready to take its first breath outside in the new world–this baby who undergoes a traumatic ordeal to leave its small, dark home for a wide-open space. Yet this baby enters the world without fear.

While Jonah lay trapped in the belly of the fish, he grew. He learned there was no escaping the will of God, and he learned who is sovereign. And, perhaps, we are kept in our own dark spaces so that we, too, can grow. And we will grow, and we will learn until we can look up with peace at that wide-open space on the other side, trusting that we have a Father waiting to hold us close to His chest, whisper softly in our ear, a Father from whose arms we will never fall.

 

Linking up with Michelle today. What’s your giant fish?