In My Weakness, He Is Strong

On August 21st, 2015, I welcomed my third-born child into the world.  Not even 13 months earlier, we had welcomed our second-born into the family; and not 19 months before that, was my first child born.  In a matter of 30 months, I became a mother to three under three.  Now, this would be a challenging situation no matter the circumstances.  But, on the day my newborn turned 9-weeks old, my husband, her daddy, left for work: to the field for six and then three weeks without any communication whatsoever.  No phone calls; no text messages; no Skype, not even letters.  Not only were the struggles of everyday life with a new baby complicated by my other two, needy, young children’s demands, but I now had no sounding board, no best friend, no decision maker or fellow disciplinarian to help balance the scales of parenting and life in general.  Add to that extended family living over 3,000 miles and three time zones away, and you can imagine how isolated, overwhelmed, and constantly defeated I felt.

I was suddenly a situationally single-parent of a two and a half year-old in the throes of tantrums and inability to express her emotions of missing her daddy, a fourteen month-old in denial of his new baby sister’s existence, and a newborn who would shriek and scream literally every. single. time she was not in my arms and didn’t ever sleep for more than three hours at a time.  Simply put, I struggled moment by moment just to keep my head above water.

Those days were the most demanding, unrelenting, exhausting, out of control of any I had yet experienced in life.  Honestly, it took me a solid year to recover fully from those few months of what felt like despair.  In those days I constantly found myself, face on the ground, crying— really, screaming— out to God in confusion and frustration over my absolute inadequacy and mental & physical inability to handle what He had put before me.  Had He made a mistake in giving me all of these little people to care for and putting us “alone” in this military family?  Were my husband & I wrong to take God at His Word in believing that children are a blessing and a heritage?  Where was God in all of this, anyway?  What did He even want from me?  It was one morning when I was too tired to think straight and too overwhelmed to hold back my boiling anger that I once again yelled out at the heavens, “Don’t you know that I can’t DO this, Lord?!”  In this moment I heard, undeniably, the Holy Spirit whisper to me, “Exactly: you can’t.  But I can.”  Right then, God gave me His Word from 2 Corinthians 12:9: “‘My Grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.'”

I learned that God wasn’t asking me to do it all.  He was more than willing, more than capable, of taking on every single burden, frustration, fear, and need I had been bearing on my own.  He had never intended for me to carry these circumstances on my shoulders which were, clearly, too feeble and overworked to hold any weight for any longer.  Instead, He wanted to do the work; He wanted me to surrender my will, my plans, my control, my future to Him and His perfect ways and trust that He would take care of all the details— even when it didn’t seem that He was.  It was my own, extreme weakness that was evidence of my need for a loving Savior to take the reins: not just for my ‘ten year plan’ but also for the next ten minutes.  Only in Him was I able to accomplish anything of value or worth.

I’d love to tell you that once my husband came home, things normalized and life was again sweet.  But that wasn’t, still often isn’t, the case.  We are blessed and grateful, but I routinely, daily even, still feel the pull of the ocean’s waves trying to submerge me in the difficulty of this season of babies and military separations.  The reminder of God’s strength being perfected in my weakness is an ever-present lesson I must continue to learn.  But, in all things, He is faithful and He is strong, and there is no better place for myself and my family to rest than in His all-capable hands of mercy and grace.

I don’t know what you’re facing today.  I don’t know what mighty mountains God has called you to climb or what seemingly insurmountable obstacles you are up against.  But I do know that, if you are a follower of Jesus, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the Mighty Creator of the heavens and the Earth is for you, and He gives good & perfect gifts (James chapter one assures us of this).  Cheesy as the phrase may be, “God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.”  So let’s embrace our weakness knowing that, in this, the Lord proves His strength.  Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus doing His work and receiving the Glory.  What an honor that He allows us to engage in this task!

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The Spice of Life

I was raised in a home that valued all sorts of noble and profitable accomplishments: academics, music, obedience to name a few. Cooking, however, was not exactly a skill set I was taught from an early age. Rather, meals were not typically esteemed as much more than a practical manner in which to fill one’s stomach. (Growing up, we were more of a Hamburger Helper & tater tots kind of family.) And– no criticism here– that worked for us.

But as I entered college and began to think of myself as something of a burgeoning adult, it became immediately apparent that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing in the kitchen. Honestly, the first time I ever “cooked” a chicken breast, I grabbed a brick-frozen slab of poultry from our apartment’s freezer and (much to the curiosity and entertainment of my roommates) stuck it in an otherwise empty frying pan which I then turned heat on beneath. To put it plainly, as a young woman I had a lot of room to grow in the culinary accomplishments department. So when my then fiancé proposed and I was staring face-to-face at a lifetime of wedded bliss-to-be, amongst my first priorities was learning how to prepare meals in a manner that left a favorable impression.
Thus I set-off on an arduous, mistake-riddled journey of learning how to cook. While I certainly have not yet “arrived” as a chef, I’ve made it leaps and bounds from my humble, immature beginnings. Perhaps the most noteworthy error I’ve made to date was the chicken pot pie fiasco of 2010 in which I prepared a meal for my husband and his work friend (whom I had never before met) that contained a whopping six-times too much pepper. Y’all, SIX TIMES! If I remember correctly, the recipe called for 1.5 teaspoons of ground, black pepper, and I incorrectly added 3 tablespoons… oops. What a memory that meal made!

Ironically, up until today (some seven-plus years later), I had written this incident off as no more than 1) my most embarrassing dietary failure, and 2) a tale of caution to always double-check a recipe with which I’m unfamiliar so as to ensure I’ve including proper amounts of key ingredients. But just this afternoon thoughts of this, seemingly random story popped into my head at exactly the time when I was dwelling on a topic I feel God is recurrently aiming to teach me….
You see, life is kind of like that dinner experience. The aroma, the pungence of our lives leaves an impression on those who partake in it. Sometimes it’s strong: contributing valuable, necessary components of a well-crafted recipe to hungry connoisseurs who gladly, voraciously devour the contents. But sometimes our impact is paltry and disappointingly weak: leaving no quantifiable evidence of worth or meaning. Worse yet, there may be times when the influence associated with our brand is disgusting and offensive: augmenting the bad and down-right damaging what good may have contrarily been achieved…. How we flavor our days leaves a taste in the mouths of those we encounter and, most especially, those with whom we spend the bulk of our time: our co-workers, family members, teammates.
As a follower of Jesus, the Bible tells me to be salty: “‘You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet’” (Matthew 5:13). Just as that overly peppered dish from a quarter of my life ago left a distinct and lasting impression on those who consumed it, what I do, how I act, the very person I am should and does have consequence for other people: every last person with whom I interact. I am supposed to develop goodness, convict sin, display generosity, embody Jesus as I leave a trail of encounters in my wake. And when I operate in the works and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I am able to accomplish this high and lofty demand! But when I try to take on God’s work all by myself or carry burdens that were never meant for me to bear alone, I miserably and memorably leave a proverbial “bad taste in the mouth” with every “meal” I create.
What’s more, the Bible also reveals that humanity is in an all-out, do or die, sudden-death war of genuinely epic proportions. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12). Our foe is a pure-evil, crafty, double & triple-crosser who is [not figuratively] hell-bent on taking captive any and every soul he can by deplorable exploits of darkness unfathomable to our mortal minds. Behold: the state of eternity is at stake! Yet we far too often treat this war like a “Call of Duty” video game: our destiny is but a flip-of-a-switch away from being reset, completely within our own command; casualties are not real and, furthermore, insignificant (reference the aforementioned ‘reboot, die, repeat’ cycle); we can turn the console off & walk away because what we just did in that artificial reality doesn’t actually matter or affect the “real world” one bit. But the hard and oft overlooked truth is that it does matter. We are not our own gods; we do not have control, ability, or privilege to simply forsake ‘the game’ and move on once the next scene ends. What we do in this true reality has crucial, critical, life-or-death implications that no amount of ignoring or pretending will forsake.
Friends, I issue this message sternly, but I mean it with equal-parts grace and hope. What flavor is your life leaving behind? I admonish you: this is not a mission to be taken lightly or a responsibility to shirk. You were made to make a difference; the flavor with which you season life– whether liberally or nominally– counts: for better or for worse.
What, then, will your life be known for and by? Will your legacy impress; will it offend; will it even really make a difference? In light of the assurance that struggles of everlasting import are being waged today– right now as I type, in this very moment as you read– how is the spice of your thoughts, your actions, your words leaving a mark? We have an ultimate opportunity and a highest-stakes obligation to make a life-changing difference if just because we still reside on this earth. I beg you not to miss this! “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” Overplayed as it may seem, the answer really is Jesus. He is the Way; He is the Truth; He is the Life. He can renew saltiness in ways unimaginable and impossible. That’s just Who He is. So if you’re in need of a renewal– if your salty taste has worn off and you’re feeling like a bland excuse for seasoning or a repugnant and repulsive one, turn to Him. Take your needs, your desires, your plans, your shame, your mistakes to Him. He wants it all: because He wants ALL of you. He loves you enough to take you exactly where you are today, yet He loves you enough to not leave you there. No flavor will more impress and effect the world than the flavor of God’s own Son willingly, generously giving up His life in exchange for an unworthy, unlovely, undeserving human who does dumb things like pouring too much pepper in her guest’s dinner. I know that if He can vindicate my wrongs, He assuredly can (& will!) do the same for you. Take heart; He is Good, and He is for you!

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Stand Firm, Mama

Before 10 AM today, I had already: been kicked, screamed at, called an unkind name, ignored, &  outright defied; washed two loads of laundry (and folded none of it); ran the carpet cleaner twice; cleaned up pee in three separate locations; picked up off the floor frozen fruit, hand-thrown nuts, toys, dirty clothes, a full diaper, and a tipped over chair & child within it. Today I woke to back labor & real (though non-productive) contractions and, shortly thereafter, when reminding my kids that today is a day to celebrate moms, one of my toddlers unapologetically yelled in my face, “Today is a day for ME!”
In this season of parenting young children, it is far too easy to focus, get hung up on, the details of chores, duties, demands and selfish, needy little people. This is the only season of motherhood I have yet experienced, but I’m told and believe that with each stage comes its own brand of difficulties and woes. I imagine it is easy– regardless of the age, number, gender or needs of our children– to lose sight of the promise, the legacy that is inherent to being our kid(‘)s’ mom. But God has made it clear through His Word, time and again, that children are a blessing and a heritage: a reward not one of us deserves or could earn.
So, on this Mother’s Day, I encourage each of us who bears the title of “mom” in some capacity to take heart and continue to hope: hope that our seemingly endless efforts will not be in vain, that our children really are learning what we are striving to teach them; hope that our prodigal child will recognize and return to the life & love we have always aimed to irrevocably deposit into his soul; hope that God’s timing sincerely is perfect and His promise is entirely trustworthy: that He will produce in and though us the godly heritage and family we so desperately desire….

A happy and special day I wish to all of my fellow mamas! No matter what circumstances you face today (or everyday), the calling you’ve been given as a mom is proof that God is up to something mighty and world-changing. Stand firm, and walk in His Truth!

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A Casualty Irredeemable

When we awoke on the morning of 12 September, 2001 the emotions tied to the events of the previous day remained thick and opaque, clogging our thoughts and minds. But in the days and weeks following that morning, the shock, despair, grief, disgust, and confusion began to be, ever so slowly, replaced by shows of force: strength in the unity of a people composed not of blacks or whites, republicans or democrats, gay or straight, natural born citizens or immigrants, but of survivors bound by an unspeakable atrocity done against our home. In that season following one of the most extreme attacks in recent history, we weren’t offended when a stranger offered a “God bless America” salutation, we didn’t outcry when someone openly professed a lifestyle any of us personally opposed. Because, for that brief and fleeting moment in our nation’s history— in our own history— it wasn’t about me: it was about us. We had endured a tragedy so ruthless, so appallingly despicable that no matter who our neighbors were we shared a common enemy. No matter what our friends and coworkers stood for, they stood for the USA and her people. Rival sports teams held hands as the “Star Spangled Banner” played; political opponents prayed together; enemies in the professional realm loaned their time, their money, their talents to help their brothers and sisters in need. In that temporal, momentary breath what mattered most was that whatever was next to come we would face it together. Our world, clichéd as the phrase may be, really was a better place in light of the recognition of what we did have: one nation together, inspired.

The world I woke up to today is, in my opinion, deeply dissimilar to the one I awoke to 15 years ago. As much as change offers an opportunity for advancement and positive profit, I fear that over these last 15 years we’ve allowed our differences to steal our unity, dividing our loyalties like September 11th, 2001 did the timeline of American history. Admittedly, remembering the lives, the futures, the innocence lost that day is not about promoting whatever special interest I have today. But it is about honoring the memory of those killed, those indelibly affected, those sacrifices that no amount of time or healing can make back. So, in response to the 15 years gone since downtown Manhattan, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania became hallowed ground, let us take up arms: not against one another but against our mortal enemy, the evil which only Jesus can (and has) overcome. In memory of all lost and unrecoverable following the consecration of our homeland’s and foreign soil with the blood of Mother America’s people, may we never forget who we, the people of this great land, are— lest that, too, become a casualty irredeemable.

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In Memorium

In America on the last Monday of May each year, we lower our Flags as the sun rises.  We remember those fallen in battle; we honor our dead.  They’re ours: whether we supported their cause, if we knew them or not, because they made us theirs.  For us they stood in places of conflict: for us they gave their all.  We pause to reflect, to say ‘thank you’, to consider the role that our killed in action serve(d) in keeping us free.  And then, as the sun takes its peak position in the sky, we raise our Flags.  We celebrate the liberties, the privileges, the opportunities America inherently offers her people—due in immeasurably large part to the ultimate sacrifices paid by the service members who never came home.  We look on with hope to a more peaceful world because they gave us that prospect.

I submit that there is no greater means by which to honor our fallen, to accept & pay tribute to everything they gave up on our behalves, than to live intentionally, meaningfully: to fully & truly live lives worthy of the exchange they made.  This Memorial Day let us rededicate ourselves to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in remembrance of and homage to those who fought for these ideals even unto death.

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A belated “happy Mother’s Day” to us

Being a mommy is so very hard.  The day to day of rearing young children full-time is the most demanding, exhausting, unrelenting, overwhelming thing I have ever done: and I’m only 28-months and two kids into it.  I have given up my body, my career, my independence, my sleep, and often my mental acuity to fulfill this role.  I realize that these admissions may make me sound ungrateful, but the unfortunate even shameful truth is that I sometimes am just that.  When it comes to my kids, I am too quick to anger, too prone to frustration, too small-focused, and too underappreciative just about every day.  But, in spite of my thorough guilt and consistent failure as a mommy, the Lord has found me fit to bless with [going on] three precious little souls who [will] call me Mommy.  The truth is that, difficult and trying as my “job” really is, being a mother is an esteem, a privilege: it is a special calling that bears reward and prestige I believe no other role affords.  And while I don’t know why God blesses some people with children and provides others with blessings of different sorts, I do know that I am not blessed with my family because I am deserving of the recognition; rather, I am utterly undeserving and consummately underqualified.  So happy mother’s day (albeit a bit late) to all of us who miss the “Mother of the Year” mark well more often than we hit it; many warm & happy wishes to those of us who feel harried and burdened because we are moms yet recognize the extreme, inexpressible gift that being our kid’s mom actually is.  And also a very special recognition to every woman who longs for the day when her child will call her “mama” but has not been afforded the opportunity so far in life.  In a culture where sharing on social media can mean flaunting the good and overlooking the bad, I just want to be real and share the truth as I see it.  I hope I have conveyed that here.

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Just Small Change

Mahatma Gandhi is generally recognized as the author of the statement, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Whether or not he actually coined the phrase is apparently disputed, but for the purposes of this post I’m going to go ahead and give him credit.  Though Gandhi and I don’t exactly see eye to eye on many matters, he had an undeniable way of influencing people while alive: and even now, more than half a century after his death, his words and actions continue to persuade.  Whatever your feelings on this man, I find it inspiring that he used the power of his influence to correct injustice as he saw it.  In an obviously very different way, here I find myself striving to do the same….

I’m no expert on running (heck, I’m no expert on anything), but in my limited experience in the sport I have learned that it’s the smallest of changes that can make the largest of differences.  If you want to increase your distance from one to ten-miles, you don’t just get up one day and run nine miles more than you did the day before.  If you try to do too much too fast, you will end up burnt-out, overwhelmed, disenchanted, and/or injured nearly every time.  So when—in running and in other aspects of life—you come up with a grandiose dream or a seems-impossible goal, what should you do?  I submit that most of the time you should start with nothing more than a small change.

Somewhere in a relatively inaccessed portion of my psyche I used to imagine what it would be like to run a half-marathon.  I have some friends who have run such distances (and even a few who routinely do so for the fun of it), but until lately the idea of attempting to run 13.1 miles [no less all at one time] sounded more to me like misery than amusement.  But, as I’ve chronicled in previous posts, my heart, my mind, and my body have each been revised in recent months: and it’s all because of an admittedly strange association between running and human trafficking.  It was largely a result of these changes that I decided to do something rather outlandish.  A few months back I challenged myself once again to do what I had neither done before nor even had proof that I could, and I signed up for a half-marathon: the world-renowned Disneyworld Princess half-marathon, in fact.  Not only did I want to run this race for personal fulfillment, but more importantly I wanted to do so for a much bigger objective than the super cool, glitter-laden medal I would receive when I crossed the finish line.  I wanted to run this unimaginably far distance to raise awareness and funds to put an end to human trafficking.

My primary aim up until this point has been to promote and draw attention to the fact that human trafficking is a grave, despicable concern and that it is as much your & my problem as it is anyone else’s.  But as for the latter part—the whole raising money goal—I was at a pretty debilitating stand-still until a few weeks ago. After all, what good is a mommy running with a stroller in Cumberland County, North Carolina against a multi-billion dollar, global enterprise that kidnaps & smuggles human beings?  Who am I to openly oppose a criminal monster defined as much by its violence & corruption as its pervasiveness & villainy?  Well, if you ask God, apparently I’m worth a lot in this fight.  No, I cannot resign my day-to-day activities and take flight to the front lines where the trained and informed are fighting first-hand against those doing the abducting and coercing.  But I can financially support them.  No, I am not able to guide the recently recovered victim to her new home and aid her in reestablishing her personhood & rehabilitating her life.  But I can give to the organization that provides for such rescue.  Instead of jumping in the deep when I cannot swim or biting off more than I can chew (to borrow a few clichés), I can make simple, practically unnoticed resignations of my own comfort and abundance in the name of, for the sake of those enslaved.  I can make just small changes in my own habits that will amount to revolutionary profit for those who will feel & experience them in positively life-altering ways for years to come.  And I am asking for you, as well, to rise to the occasion and join me in this pursuit.

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