Wednesday, January 21, 2015

As the tale is unfolded...

The world is full of comfortless hearts, and ere thou art sufficient for this lofty ministry, thou must be trained. And thy training is costly in the extreme; for, to render it perfect, thou too must pass through the same afflictions as are wringing countless hearts of tears and blood. Thus thy own life becomes the hospital ward where thou art taught the Divine art of comfort. Thou art wounded, that in the binding up of thy wounds by the Great Physician, thou mayest learn how to render first aid to the wounded everywhere. Dost thou wonder why thou art passing through some special sorrow? Wait till ten years are passed, and thou wilt find many others afflicted as thou art. Thou wilt tell them how thou hast suffered and hast been comforted; then as the tale is unfolded, and the anodynes applied which once thy God wrapped around thee, in the eager look and the gleam of hope that shall chase the shadow of despair across the soul, thou shalt know why thou wast afflicted, and bless God for the discipline that stored thy life with such a fund of experience and helpfulness.

Streams in the Desert

The tale is unfolding, and I forewarn you - these pages are raw and messy. My heart still feels so very tender as I struggle to tell the story of these past few days...

I was on my way to Birmingham last week, a two-hour drive to our neurosurgeon's office where Faith Ana was having her pre-op consultation when I first heard the words to this song. They were seared on my heart from that morning on. M
ercy paving the way for the coming days.

Come out of sadness
From wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted
Let rescue begin
Come find your mercy
Oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal

So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are

There’s hope for the hopeless
And all those who’ve strayed
Come sit at the table
Come taste the grace
There’s rest for the weary
Rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t cure

So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are
Come as you are
Fall in his arms
Come as you are
There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal

So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are
Come as you are

When I was listening to the details of Faith Ana's operation that day, listening to this particular doctor tell me that it may or may not be successful, listening to the risks, the possible complications, wondering if we were making the right decision to go forward with this operation...

These words. 

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.

One day…

There will be no more surgeries. 
No more hospitals. 
No more paralysis. 
No more cognitive delays. 
No more unknowns. 
No more tears.

Later in the week, I was at yet another doctor's office. This appointment with our pediatrician, a dear friend of mine, and we talked about another child's multitude of issues, the improvements we have seen with the new medication she is on, and the progress she is making. 

Melanie, she said, you might not see it right now, but she has come so far. And although I know she's right, I also know that I do still struggle to see and we do still have hard days with our girl.

I thought about the words to this song again as I reflected on all the hard things this little girl has had to endure and the hard things we have had to endure as a result. I remember these words when I think about what it must be like for her to have no words of her own. I think about what heaven will be like for Sophi...

These words. 

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.

One day

There will be no more low iqs. 
No more speech disorders.
No more reactive attachment disorders.
No more autism.
No more rages.
No more confusion. 
Or tears. 
No more tears. 

The next day, when we were preparing for a meeting with Sophi's new teacher at her school and were making notes, trying to find words to describe our daughter and her background, I was reminded of the place she came from. They say that in orphanages children don't cry, and it's true. They learn very early on that it doesn't do any good. No one listens, and no one comes.

This was true for Sophi and Faith Ana. I see the lingering effects often in their little lives. Even after being home for 2 years, Sophi will still choose to lie in her bed, covered in her own vomit and filth, rather than crying out for help. There have been times in the middle of the night that Faith Ana wakes up crying. I just happen to be awake, and if it weren't for our video monitor in the girls' room, I never would have known she was upset. I never hear even the slightest sound. Silent tears. And the heartbreaking thing is that there are millions more, precious children and babies, all over the world, living in unthinkable conditions. 

These words. 

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.

One day

There will be no more orphanages. 
No more mental institutions. 
No more children who are considered worthless. 
No more children left alone in cribs, laying in their own filth. 
No more silent tears. 

That same night, I was packing and preparing for Faith Ana's surgery. I fixed her an early supper, knowing it would be important for her to have a good meal since she wouldn't be able to eat or drink for the remainder of the night and throughout the next morning. I remembered these words again when she stubbornly sat at the table and wouldn't chew her food. 

Faith Ana, you need to eat. You are going to be hungry. She wouldn't listen. Child of my heart.

These words. 

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.

One day

There will be no more eating issues. Hers or mine. 

A few hours later, in the dead of night, my alarm clock went off. It was 2:00 am. We made it to Birmingham before the sun came up, just in time to check her in for the early morning surgery. We waited patiently when we found out that her surgery had been moved behind another little one's surgery. We continued to wait {a little less patiently} when that surgery took longer than expected. We were still waiting when the doctor popped his head in and told us they were preparing the operating room and that her turn was soon. He just needed to step in to help a colleague out with a surgery upstairs. It wouldn't be long, he said. Almost five hours later, we were still waiting. The smiles were long gone, and by this point, Faith Ana was upset. She was tired and hungry and angry at me because I wouldn't give her anything to eat. She didn't understand, and I struggled to explain. 

By three in the afternoon, I had a strong sense that we needed to cancel the surgery and leave the hospital. I couldn't explain it. I just knew. We drove home, through the rain, me trying to make sense of the day. By the time we got home, I was exhausted. And yet I knew the day was not wasted. Nothing, nothing is ever wasted. I needed to remember this.

These words. 

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.

One day

There will be no more exhaustion. 
No more fatigue. 
No more weariness. 
No more confusion. 
No more struggling to understand.

The next morning, since we were not at
 the hospital as anticipated, we were able to go pick up Faith Ana's wheelchair. Ordered back in September, it was finally ready. Faith Ana was leery of getting in the car with me again that day, but I kept telling her this was a good thing, a happy day. 

Today is a happy day, Faith Ana. Today is the day we've been waiting for. Your wheelchair is here!  

When I picked up my lanky girl and placed her in it for the first time, I had to work hard to hold back the tears. They were happy tears, seeing her recognize that this was indeed a good thing. A good gift! 

I listened to this song on the way home from her wheelchair fitting, thinking about what heaven will be like for this child. Seeing the joy and sparkle in her eyes that moment when she realized that she could actually push it herself was just a foretaste of what it will be like for her when one day she will finally be able walk. 

These words. 

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.

One day

There won't be any more wheelchairs.
No more crippled little legs. 
No more pressure sores. 
No more parents with hurting backs from lifting their hurting children. 
No more hurting.

Within fifteen minutes of being home from our wheelchair fitting, the day that was supposed to be our happy day, I knew something was wrong. This time it was my doctor that I was talking to, the one who had delivered each of my six babies. I told him what was going on, and he told me to watch it over the weekend and if it got worse, to call him. Will kept telling me not to lose hope, but I knew. I was so thankful that I was at home, instead of in Birmingham. I spent that afternoon in bed - something I never do - hoping and praying that the bleeding would stop. But by the middle of the night, I knew that it was not good, and by early morning, I was so weak from blood loss, that I passed out trying to get back to my bed. My doctor met us in the emergency room and within the hour, I was the one in the operating room, waiting for an emergency D and C.

I was 11 weeks pregnant the day our littlest one went to be with Jesus. It still feels so surreal. Just in the past two weeks, I was beginning to feel like I was over the hump with the first trimester morning sickness and was finally beginning to feel a bit more like myself. We were making room in our home for another little person, and we were so excited, knowing the Lord had big plans for the littlest Blackmon. We had told the kids about this pregnancy earlier than usual, making this loss harder than I could have imagined. The boys are old enough to understand. They wanted to know details. They asked question. How do you possibly explain?

These words. 

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.

One day

There will be no more pain. 
No more loss. 
No more miscarriage. 
No more questions. 
No more guilt. 
No more sadness. 
No more tears.

Today, a few days later, and the tears are still coming. Surprising me at random times, there are moments during the day when I'm so unbelievably overwhelmed by sadness. There are times when my heart feels so heavy. There are times when the voice of the Enemy is so loud, whispering and shouting his lies: 
I should have taken better care of myself and this is all my fault and on and on. These have been hard days.

I already loved this little one so much. I don't understand how it's possible, but it is.

Life around here continues to be loud and lively, fluid and fast-moving. I feel like the only thing that is constant is that things are constantly changing. Our routines, our schedules, our goals, our plans. We are learning to walk through these days and this season with open hands and open hearts. Rarely does a day go by when I don't find myself on my knees praying for wisdom and asking the Lord for direction. It's such a humbling thing to be the momma to these eight precious little lives. 

Sophi started school this week. She rides the bus to and from school every day, and she has a wonderful new teacher this year. We are so very hopeful that this will be a positive experience for her. Once Faith Ana learns to navigate her new wheelchair, she will go to school as well. Over the Christmas break, we decided to pull Web, our oldest son, out of school and homeschool him for the remainder of the year. This has been such a blessing for him, and I can't even begin to describe how much I have loved having him at home during the day. Barrett, especially, has loved having his biggest brother home and is very proud to be doing school right alongside him. Palmer and Hank are back at school and doing well. Evie is her usual spunky self, and Haddon, my sweet baby, is looking more and more like a little boy everyday. Just a week shy of his first birthday, and this child is mobile and into everything! 

My tender hearted third-born is the one who has seemed most affected by our loss. Many, many sweet tears from this dear heart have been shed. But through this sadness, I already see how the Lord is working good. The night after this all happened, Hank asked if he could get a Bible on his iPad. He wanted me to wake him up earlier than usual the next morning so that he could read his Bible while I was reading mine. The next morning I didn't even have to wake him up. He was up before the sun, by my side. 

Mom, what's this word? 

As tears were streaming down my face, I read him the word. Eternity.

He was reading about heaven.

These words. 

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.

One day, I told him

There will be no more tears. 
No more sadness. 
No more pain. 
No more death.

The Lord has been so faithful during these days. I'm pretty sure that He sent these warm, sunny days just for me. We've spent lots of time outside, soaking up the sunshine, and I'm so thankful for the time I've had to rest and reflect. 

I know the tale will continue to unfold. And as it does, His mercies will keep coming. He's so gently and patiently applying the anodynes that my heart, mind, and body so desperately needed. He's using this littlest life in many, many profound ways. The Lord did indeed have big plans for this littlest Blackmon.

In a way that I can't explain or even expect anyone to understand, this momma's heart hopes our story will unfold to include another little life. The boys ask me all the time if we will have another baby. I tell them that I don't know, but I know Who does. And we can trust Him. We can trust the One authoring this story, knowing that He is writing it in such a way that it will undoubtably be for our best good and His greatest glory. 

Today, as I continued to wade through these deep waters of such sadness, as I wrestled with my own questions and answered theirs, I found myself overwhelmed yet again with His faithfulness to me and to our family. I am so grateful for the many prayers that have been offered on our behalf, on my behalf. We are so incredibly blessed.

Tonight, my heart is so full, yet still so heavy. There will be more to share as the tale is unfolded, I'm sure. I know it will not be wasted...

A tiny portion of the anodyne He gave me today, His words to me...

Will you trust me, child? Will you let this story speak much about Me, about My faithfulness, and about My ability to restore broken things? Melanie, will you trust Me and not be anxious? Will you wait on Me while this tale unfolds? And as it unfolds, today, right now, will you let Me comfort your broken heart? Will you feel the sunshine and sense Me smiling over you? Will you rest in these few moments of quietness and know they are My gift to you. Will you receive the anodynes, will you receive My grace, will you stop condemning yourself, and will you accept My love?

Can you trust Me with the story that I am writing for your life? Will you trust Me in the midst of this hard chapter? Right now, you don't know how it's going to turn out. You don't know what the next page may bring, but I do, and it will be good! I promise. Can you simply trust Me? 

One day, you will look back on these pages and you will see the tear stains and the blood splatters, but not only these hard things, you will also see how My name was glorified, how lives were transformed, how your life, My sweet and struggling one, was transformed. You will see how I used this tiniest baby of yours to bring about much healing. This life has grand purposes beyond anything you could ever imagine...

Tonight I'm trusting His purposes as the tale unfolds...


Friday, December 26, 2014

My Most Favorite Name of All {Part Two}

If you haven't read Part 1, you can click here!

This year, I didn't even attempt a family Christmas picture. The reality is simply that it is extremely rare for every single one of these little people to be happy and smiling all at the same time! And guess what I've learned this year. It's ok. It's really, really ok. Christmas Day was far from perfect, and it included multiple meltdowns by multiple sleepy children {and sleepy parents}, and by mid-morning our house was once again in a state of massive mayhem, but this is ok. He was here with us. Emmanuel. God with us. God With us in our mess!

Do you remember what Advent means? Advent means coming, and, even though, Christmas is over, we are still waiting and we know that He is still coming. We are waiting for the day when He comes back again and makes all things right, all things beautiful, and all things whole. We are waiting for the day when there will be no more tears, no more sickness, no more brokenness, and no more mess.

That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, 
God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along...

Romans 8
The Message

I know that His Spirit helped us along throughout this Christmas season. There's no doubt and no question in my mind, He was here with us in our mess. He was here with me in my messoffering grace for the many times I reacted {often ungraciously} to their mess. And though we had many hard days {though I had many hard days}, we've also had plenty of joyful days and an abundance of reasons to celebrate! 

And, yes, there are plenty of unknowns in the days ahead. An upcoming surgery for Faith Ana, a possibility of some changes in our schooling situation, just to name a few...

There will, quite possibly, be a great deal of hard and challenging days as we move into 2015. There will be innumerable tantrums, plenty of rages, untold sicknesses, and lots more tears. 

There will be countless lapses of judgement {this is guaranteed with a houseful of little boys-growing-into-big boys}, a multitude of mistakes {many of which will be mine}, and probably a few more failing grades {although we are all learning that scores and grades do not define who we truly are}. 

Without question, there will be a multitude of messes. 

But without fail, He is Immanuel

And, without a doubt, He is…

God With Me In My Mess.

Because of this, we welcome and celebrate this new year {just as we welcomed and celebrated Christmas yesterday and today and will do, Lord-willing, again tomorrow} with hope and anticipation, knowing that He is coming back again… 

Christmas might be over, but this is true Advent.

I saw heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven. Gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem. new-created, descending-resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. 

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: "Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making His home with men and women. They're His people, He's their God. 

He'll wipe every tear from their eyes. 
Death is gone for good - 
tears gone, crying gone, pain gone - 
all the first order of things gone." 

The Enthroned continued, "Look! I'm making everything new…"

The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God - the Sovereign Strong - and the Lamb are the Temple. 

The City doesn't need sun or moon for light. God's glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth's kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won't be any night…

Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. 
Never again will anything be cursed…

He who testifies to all these things says it again:
"I'm on my way! I'll be there soon!"

Come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 21-11
The Message

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We are adventurously expectant that 2015 is going to be a year full of great blessings!


P.S.    If we had attempted a Christmas picture, which we didn't, I'm sure it would have gone something like this:

#1, #2, & #3) Web, Palmer, and Hank would most likely cooperate during a Christmas picture attempt, especially if I bribed them with candy. They have each been working very hard on self-control, listening to Mom's voice, and accepting Dad's answers. However, daily, often multiple times a day, we have our moments. There is a fair share of wrestling matches and disagreements and disobedience. But when all is said and done, my big boys really are growing up to be good helpers. They are kind and considerate, and they are slowly learning to put the needs of others above themselves. I know the Lord is at work in each of their little hearts, and I am so thankful for each of my big boys.

4) Barrett would also probably cooperate for a family picture, unless he was sitting next to Evie. It's highly likely that Evie would get mad at him for absolutely no reason at all, and he would feel it necessary to defend himself. (Bless him! She can be pretty ferocious, and it requires tremendous self-control for him to not retaliate, especially since he knows he's not allowed to push, shove, hit, or bite his sister.) After our massive moving mayhem a few weeks ago, Barrett and Evie are now bunk mates, and it's been extremely lively and comical helping these two learn how to share a room. They are hilarious together!

Christnas Eve Communion Service
{My sweet mom and sister offered to stay with Sophi, Faith Ana, and Haddon so that Will and I could go together!}

5) Evie would probably be screaming "NO" just as she was doing when we attempted our Thanksgiving pictures to use as thank you cards a few weeks ago. It's her favorite, most used, most expressive word. It's often accompanied by a full-body crashing and kicking episode on the floor. I cannot figure out who this strong-willed little thing takes after, but I'm certain it couldn't be me! She is a hoot! She copies everything that "Bear-tret" does and follows him wherever he goes. I'm pretty sure she thinks that she's one of the boys, and as you could probably tell in most of her pictures from part 1 of this post, most days she has her shirt off and refuses vehemently to wear a bow or even a clip in her hair, which is always in her eyes. I love this child!

6) Sophi would be throwing up. (She's was sick the entire week leading up to Christmas.) She continues to have a difficult time, lately struggling with more attachment issues. Right now, she's having a very difficult time (no matter how clear we make it) of separating herself from any correction or discipline we might be giving Faith Ana. Meal times, in particular, have been brutal. For example, I might say, "Faith Ana, first finish the bite in your mouth before you get another one" and Sophi will erupt. If I make Faith Ana finish her water, Sophi will rage. If I encourage Faith Ana to put her pants on all by herself, Sophi will get hysterical. It has been extremely challenging, and we are pretty sure that this throwing up episode we are in the thick of right now is just another example of the long-term and very damaging effects of whatever trauma she might have experienced or witnessed or perceived. She displays many, many signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and we continue to struggle to know how to help her function on a daily basis without multiple meltdowns. Right now, she is an emotional mess. 

Finally, by Christmas Eve, Sophi began feeling better, and I started to see that pretty smile again! I'm learning to appreciate the happy moments!

7) Faith Ana would, undoubtably, have a mouth full of food stuffed in her mouth, and we would be reminding her for the thousandth time to not talk until she finished the bite in her mouth. And unless she was highly motivated, this could take a very, very, very long time. We are talking hours not minutes. We witnessed this on her birthday a few days ago, and we weren't sure she was ever going to get to her chocolate peppermint cake! But, finally, she did, and she loved it. She especially loved the little necklace that we gave her. This funny girl loves sparkly jewelry almost as much as she loves to talk! 

{We have a tentative date scheduled in January for surgery to treat her hydrocephalus. It's something we've debated and prayed about for a while, but feel like it's the right time to move forward with. I'll be sure to share more details in the coming weeks.}

8) Haddon might be a little fussy, most likely chewing on something or somebody, and he would definitely be drooling. He's cutting his 8th little tooth. Bless my littlest boy. He's such a trooper, and for the most part, when he's not teething, he is a happy-go-lucky baby. He's already walking, a full two months before any of our other babies learned, and this little guy can get himself into quite a bit of mischief. He loves to get into Henry's dog food, into the boys baskets of legos, and into every single one of my kitchen cabinets. Thankfully, he's finally sleeping {almost} through the night. This is the main reason we did this massive rearranging/swapping out rooms. And although his tiny new closet of a room is still painted pink {since it was originally Sophi's room and then Evie's room}, he seems to love it, and we are thankful, which makes all the created chaos very much worth it! 

9) And if you weren't looking very, very closely, you might miss Number Nine

Our Surprise Christmas Gift! 

We are trusting and believing that He knows every single detail in our lives and will work it all out into something good. 

He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked out into something good.

Romans 8:28

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Most Favorite Name of All {Part 1}

I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. 

It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.

He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Every year, it always makes me smile. Little hands playing with our nativity set. Bigger hands still enjoy playing with it, too. I'm pretty sure one of those bigger hands was the culprit one day this week. This is the scene I found. I couldn't help but laugh. The donkey and sheep must have really been desperate to see Jesus. {I can relate in so many ways.}

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud.

A new power is in operation.

The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

A few days later, I noticed that a few pieces of the stable were beginning to fall off, and, again, I'm pretty sure I know who the culprit was. 

I started to fuss but before I could even get the words out of my mouth, one of my big boys stopped me mid-sentence.

It's ok, Mom. It's a stable. It's supposed to be messy and stinky, and the stable Jesus was actually born in, well, it was probably falling apart, too. So don't worry, Mom...

This boy's words stopped me in my tracks. Actually, HE stopped me in my tracks. 
Mid-sentence. Mid-season. 

Don't be deceived or fooled by these pictures. 
These types of things always start off orderly, but without fail, they always liven up when Little Girl joins in.

God went for the jugular when He sent His own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In His Son, Jesus, He personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity
in order to set it right once and for all.

More than halfway through this Advent season, and I get these words. I really, really get these words. This disordered mess of struggling humanity is everywhere I turn. It's here in our home, here in our children, and here in me. Especially in me.

Yes, that's a stick he's chewing on.

The law always ended up being used as a band-aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

And, yes, that's a giant clothesline running across the entire backyard.

It's been a season of broken dryers and two-year-old tantrums and hard, hard days and glitter disasters and little girls that try my patience and stretch me in ways that I never dreamed possible. It continues to be a season of stinky accidents and chewing issues and learning about post traumatic stress disorder and sickness and throwing-up and absolutely not knowing what to try next.

Happy 7th Birthday, sweet girl!

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them - living and breathing God! 

It's turning into a season of little boys growing into big boys, of hearts that need to be shepherded and behaviors that need to be corrected. A season of struggling to know how to help these kids learn and grow and take responsibility for their actions without squelching their fun-loving, adventurous, and uniquely boy hearts.

Posted on the boys' bathroom door.

But if God has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than Him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we are talking about. But for you who welcome Him, in whom He dwells - even though you still experience all of the limitations of sin - you yourself experience life on God's terms.

I probably should be the one writing and rewriting and remembering these words.
"I will accept my Father's answer."

It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, He'll do the same thing in you that He did in Jesus, bringing you alive to Himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and He does, and surely as He did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With His Spirit living in you, your body will be alive as Christ's!

So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life.

He's not the only one with an F by his name.
The Enemy is constantly pulling out his red pen, pointing out my shortcomings, putting a big fat F by my name. Maybe by yours, too?

God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who He is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us - an unbelievable inheritance! We go through hard times with Him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with Him!

It became a season of changes, of rearranging bedrooms, of cleaning out closets, of moving little people around, and of trying to figure out how to make more room and make each space in our home as functional as possible. It's been an all-out, total, and entire house spring-cleaning. {Except that it's not springtime. It's late-Decemeber.} And I can't think of a worse time to purposefully create chaos, unparalleled messes, and disasters that are impossible to capture with a camera. We've done this type of thing many, many times before, but this move ranks on the top of the list. Epic mayhem!

It remains a season of intense enemy attacks and fighting battles and fighting to not lose heart and not give up hope. 

It continues to be a season of desiring to have the right perspective, of choosing to see the good, of wanting to count the mercies and consider all things joy, but more days than not, this has been a season of simply struggling to do the next thing. 

It's becoming a season of seeking direction and asking for wisdom. A season of praying for love. It's especially, especially a season of praying for love. For His love to break through my own darkness. For Love to make a way, to push through the hard soil, and to bloom despite the cold.

It's been a season of wonder. Wondering what in the world we were thinking….

Wondering how to get through these challenging days, and honestly, wondering if it will ever let up. Wondering if this season will ever pass. 

It reminds me of birth pains. Like contractions, that are rhythmically and constantly increasing with both frequency and intensity. 

There have been tears and blood and sweat and pain, and this is labor. 

It brings back many, many memories. I know it all too well. It's messy business. It's hard work. It's a stretching that physically seems utterly impossible. And it hurts like nothing else I've ever experienced before.

Waiting for #5

This is our season. Messy. Hard. Feeling like everything could crumble apart and that if something doesn't give, a heart just might rip right down the middle. 

Maybe, it's your season too. Different circumstances. Different stories. But, like me, you see the mess. You understand the hard. You know that feeling. And, of all times of the year, Christmastime just seems like such the wrong time to feel this way. But can I remind you? Can I remind me, again, for the millionth time this Christmas season? My conversation with my oldest boy about our nativity set? He was so right. His simple words, profound and pregnant with meaning, they just keep ringing in my ears, echoing into my heart, and strengthening my soul. 

Mom, it's ok. 

Actually, it's more than ok. It's good and right and beautiful, and deep down, I know this is what Advent is truly all about. And it makes my heart swell, and it makes me smile. It gives me courage to press on, to labor away, to embrace and even welcome these contractions, knowing that they are doing the hard, painful, but necessary work...

Christmas Day, four years ago, waiting on #4

Joy sometimes needs pain to give it birth
~Streams in the Desert

I love that God chose to enter this world in a messy, stinky, falling-apart kind of place. He understands, and He knows just exactly what our travail is like. 

Friends, there is a birthing happening here. Right here and right now, right in the midst of this Advent season. Here in our home. Here in my heart. He is birthing new life and renewed love. He's rebirthing courageous hope, and He's pouring out fresh supplies of strength. We are in the throws of labor, and it is hard. And there are moments during these days when I feel so incredibly desperate for relief, but I know, through experience {through many experiences} that the pain will not last forever. I know that there will be delivery and deliverance and deep healing for each and every single one of our wounded places. And I know that the sweet and beautiful moment that we long for and wait for and groan for, I know that it will come. It will come. This is true advent. Did you know that advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which actually means coming?

That's why I don't think there's any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us, it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked out into something good.

Romans 7 & 8
The Message

I remember the morning of June 9th, 2012 like it was yesterday. It was the birth day of our fifth child. I went in to be induced that morning, and I was determined that after having epidurals with our first three boys and then a botched epidural with our fourth little boy, that this time I would have a natural childbirth. No drugs. No pain medication. No epidurals. I remember when the pain began to get intense, and I remember when, for a brief moment, I began to question if I had made a mistake. I distinctly recall when my eyes finally focused in on the big black and white clock on the wall, and His Spirit whispered these words into my heart, in the midst of my pain...

Joy is coming in the morning.

It was 11:30 am, and the pain was becoming almost unbearable. But 
I claimed those words as a promise, and I knew that I would be holding a baby in my arms before noon, before the morning ended! And for those last 20 minutes, the most intense of them all, I kept whispering these words. In between the contractions that were coming one right after another after another, and even when the pain was so severe that I couldn't even utter a word, I breathed those words. His words to me that day. Joy is coming in the morning

...and she did. Our fifth child; our first little girl. Joy came in the morning, and we laughed and celebrated and thanked the Lord for our precious Evie Sarris. She's our spunky, stubborn, strong-willed, brown-eyed beauty, and we love this little girl of ours! 

I treasure her birth story, I've stored it up in my heart, remembered it so many times, but never as much as I have now, two and a half years later. Tonight, I needed to see these pictures, to see this tiny bundle, to see these smiling faces, and to see my smiling face. I needed to remember how it felt, and how much it hurt, and how when it was all said and done and she was finally in my arms, how my heart was about to burst. And, tonight, I can remember that joy always comes after the pain. I can focus, bear down, continue breathing, and keep pushing through the pain, and I can claim it as a promise. I am claiming it as a promise. You can too. Joy always comes. He always comes. This is the meaning of advent.

After a few particularly rough days with Sophi, Will shared with me about an experience he recently had. As he was praying for wisdom and direction, reflecting on just how very hard and miserable these circumstances have been, he told me how these words kept flooding his thoughts, "This is SO _________!!!!" I will leave the blank empty for obvious reasons.

{Now, please hear me. We do not say these words here in our home or believe this about our precious little girl, no matter how challenging and difficult the circumstances may be.} 

Do you remember the warfare I mentioned earlier and the battles we have been facing? The Enemy wants nothing more than to fill our minds with destructive and damaging thoughts, but the voice of the Enemy was overshadowed that morning by the Voice of Truth. 

The One who is Faithful and True reminded Will this truth and gave us the counsel that we both so desperately needed to hear. These simple words…

This is so temporary. 

Just like pregnancy. 
Just like labor pains. 
Just like childbirth.

It's not permanent. 
It's Provisional. Fleeting. Brief. For the time being. Momentary. Passing. Short-lived. 
This is transitory.

It's what this season is. Really, it's what this life is.

And, it's ok.

Weeping may endure for the night, 
but joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30:5

Evie's first Christmas

Somehow, sometime, during the upheaval, piles, and mess of the past few weeks, our Mary went missing. It was only for a few hours, and this time, I confess that I was the culprit. I was moving the nativity set to higher and safer ground, away from little fingers {and little mouths}, and I put her somewhere, in some random pile. And I forgot, and then she was missing.

The entire time she was gone, I kept thinking {how comically fitting it was that she was the figurine that I had misplaced} and about what those days and hours leading up to Jesus' birth must have been like for her. I can only imagine how weary, exhausted, confused, and afraid she must have been. When I envision her laboring away in a stinky, messy, falling apart stable, I wonder if she ever wanted to disappear. Did she ever, even just silently, question if she was cut out for this? Did she wonder if she had misheard or misinterpreted the angel's message? Did she doubt? Did she despair? Did she want to quit? 

Of course, we know The Whole Story. We know how it ended. We know the Holy Spirit filled her with great courage and helped her not to be afraid. We know she was given supernatural strength. We know that Immanuel was very much with her, and we know that the most beautiful and miraculous birth of all times happened there, in that messy and stinky place. Through her travail and pain, Deliverance came. The Deliverer was born. 

But, there's more to the story. There always is. This Christmas Story it just keeps happening over and over and over again. Different settings, different characters, but the same Birthing, the same Baby, and the same Miracle. Repeating itself throughout history. Across cultures. Throughout generations. Throughout time. It's happening right here, right now. Deliverance is Coming.

Christmas with all of its sparkly lights and wrapped presents and stuffed stockings, the day on the calendar that my kids can hardly wait for all year long is finally upon us! And, yes, my house is finally clean and all of the piles are miraculously gone {until Christmas morning when we experience mayhem all over again}. 

And we are excited. We love this day! But, here's the thing. Christmas is more than a single day. It was yesterday and it's today and, yes, most definitely on the actual day when we light the candles and sing happy birthday to Jesus, but it's also the next day and the day after and every day after that. Christmas just keeps on coming

Every day - in our lives, in our homes, in our hearts - there is always something that resembles that messy and stinky stable. There is always something that requires a difficult stretching, always seasons of agonizing waiting. There is always something that needs to be birthed. And, yes, in this life there is always pain and suffering and trauma and hard things. But there's more. There's also always a deliverance waiting to happen. And, there is always, always a Christmas miracle for any heart willing to receive it.

Just like Mary, when our pain feels the most intense, His Spirit fills us with the most courage. He helps us not be afraid, and He helps us do what seems impossible. At all times. Constantly. Ceaselessly. Forever. For good. For always. Immanuel. He is with us.

Just like Mary, when we don't think we can go on another moment, He gives us supernatural strength. He enables us to do all that's hard, and He perfectly and completely equips us for the path that He puts in front of us. Without fail. Without exception. No matter what happens, it's the one thing that we can always count on. He's the one thing we can always count on. Immanuel. He is with us.

Welcoming baby Haddon home & our January 2014 snowstorm

I can't help but remember each of my kind nurses who offered me the support that I needed when my own labor was the most intense {thank you, GiGi & Martha, I am so grateful for both of you and all the others who helped me through the rough moments!}. I can't help but think about my long-time, favorite doctor, the one who delivered all six of my sweet babies, the one who saw me through each of my pregnancies {and some hard days in between} and was there by my side through the thick of it all, always with encouraging words, a sense 0f humor, and a calming presence {thank you, Dr. Smith, we are incredibly thankful for you, too!} And then how can I not smile when I remember Will's soothing hands that rubbed my back unceasingly during the worst of my own contractions and squeezed my hands tightly when I was afraid {thank you, Will, there are not enough words to say how much I treasure you!}. 

Each of these examples, isn't this how it is with Jesus? It's such a beautiful picture of the One who truly never leaves our side. Immanuel, God with us. Our Husband. Our Helper. Our Support. Our Strength. Our Rock. Our Healer. Our Physician. 

The Bible is full of hundreds of names for God, each one describing a different aspect of His character and each one rich and full of great meaning. This year, we decided to make a garland with many of these names on our tree to serve as a reminder of who Christmas is all about. But there's one name that isn't written on our garland {yet} and you won't find it, per se, in any page of the Bible or in any list that compiles all of the names of God. 

But it's there, countless examples throughout the Old Testament and the New. Stories that show this particular aspect of God's character that I've come to love so much. Stories that I know by heart. Stories that I learned as a little girl…

Moses and an unreasonable pharaoh. David and a towering giant. David and Bathsheba and a messy affair, murder, and cover-up. Daniel and the lion. Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego in the blazing fire. Paul in prison. I could go on and on.

But the truth is that I never quite grasped the magnitude of these stories and the God in these stories until now. Now, when I have little girls {and little boys} of my own, when I've faced giants, lions, and Enemies of my own, when I've been in a furnace of my own, when I've been in messes of my own doing, when I've felt closed in, not by prison bars like Paul, but by the walls of this home and the circumstances surrounding this season. It's not until now that I am finally beginning to know the God in these stories by this particular name

Since I was a very little girl, I've known God as My Savior. And as I've grown older, I've also come to know Him as my Father. As I've walked with the Lord throughout many different seasons, I've grown to understand many different aspects of His character. 

But it wasn't until these hard days, as my life and family has turned out so very differently than I ever could have imagined, that I really came to understand and that I really came to know Him as God With Me In My Mess. It's become the name I love the most!

This year, for the first time, it seems nearly impossible to attempt a family Christmas picture. The likelihood is so slim that every little person would be happy and smiling and coordinating in colorful Christmas attire all at the same moment. Quite honestly, I'm not sure I even want to make an attempt. This year, nothing is picture perfect. 

Not that it was ever perfect in Christmases past. It's never been perfect, and I know it never will be on this side of eternity, until He comes again. This is, after all, a season of Advent

But, yes, in years past, there has been this tendency in me, in my prideful, ever-seeking-to-be-in-control heart, to always be working so hard to create and maintain something akin to a picture-perfect Christmas card. 

{If the stack of beautiful Christmas cards that daily arrive in my mailbox is any sort of indicator, I think that perhaps I am not alone in this struggle.}

Instead of admitting and accepting that we really are a disordered mess of struggling humanitywe pretend just like we did when we were little girls. We play dress-up and paint our faces with make-up and smiles. We go to exorbitant extremes to  portray a certain type of image to those around us.  

We hide our messes. We sweep our junk {all of the unpleasant and painful parts of our stories} into dark piles underneath beds and tucked-away corners behind bookshelves. We stash away our secrets in the backs of closets and isolate our failures to the furthest corners of dusty attics. {I know all about this on so many different levels!

It's living a lie. It's something that most of us, as parents, would not tolerate in our little ones. Yet, day after day, we find ourselves living in the midst of this very deception and dishonesty. And just as I tell my boys when they get caught red-handed in a lie, it's dangerous for our souls and deadly for our hearts. But there's something even worse that happens. 

First, by our pretense, we don't give God a chance to reveal Himself through our lives to a watching world. No matter how stinky and messy and in shambles our lives, families, and situations may be, He has given us this promise. It's one we can all claim, no matter what our stable may look like. 

He is able to bring good out of our messes, He's able to create beauty out of our ashes, and He's able to bring joy out of our darkest night. Deliverance will come! It might not be in this life, and this is ok because this is all so very, very temporary, but, yes, for sure, without a doubt, I am one hundred percent confident that Deliverance will come!

Despite what we often think, we all have an audience. And when we are willing to be transparent about our messy stories, the Lord uses our lives as a platform to show a broken and hurting world the hope that He has birthed in our hearts. The hope that He is Coming Again. We are waiting for Him to come. Remember, this is true Advent. 

And we are waiting for Him to make all things right. I am longing for the day when a little girl, unable to speak and communicate even the most basic of needs now, will one day be able to speak clearly and sing joyfully and think clearly. I am anticipating the day when little lame and crippled legs will run and hop and skip and dance with joyful abandon. A day when there are no more rages or temper tantrums or tears or big fat F's or lapses of judgement or poor self-control. A day when there is no more sickness, no more throwing up, no more pain, no more sadness or confusion or fear or insecurity. I am waiting for the day when there will be no more mess.

Just as my children anticipate Christmas morning, more and more I find myself longing for this day. And it will come. He will come. Because of this, we have great hope. And because He is with us in our waiting, we can have great courage. No matter what may come, no matter how difficult it may be, we are ok. Our lives become a stage, albeit a messy, stinky, and falling-apart-stable-kind-of-stage, and in this place, on this stage, He is with us! Immanuel

Second, because of our sheer humbug {which is simply deceptive or false talk or behavior}, we miss out on the opportunity to know God in a deeper way. As we learn to admit our struggles and be open about our messes, and as we learn to live transparently and humbly in the midst of them all, we discover that we are not alone. There are others who struggle as we do and whose messy stories might be similar to ours. If we all threw out the humbug, we might just find that the endurance and hope of others could be an encouragement for us and, likewise, us for them. 

And even if we were to find that our stable is uniquely ours and that no one else's mess looks quite like ours, it's ok. Because, ultimately, we know that even if no else understands, He does. Even when we feel alone, we are not alone. He is with us. Immanuel. 

It's during these hard days, this advent season, these pregnant days of waiting, and this birthing process with all of its stretching and tearing and unbearable pain, that we often feel His presence the strongest and know Him to be the nearest. This is true for me nowImmanuel. God with me.

God With Me In My Mess... 

My most favorite name of all!