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!




XOXO,
Melanie

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