Journeying through this season of winter, I’m reminded of the beauty even in the silence that is covering the ground. I’m trying to be okay with winter and these two littles help me plow through the unknown of our lives. Somehow, it helps to focus on the snow angels, hot chocolate, and Saturday morning hikes instead of getting paralyzed by the overwhelming uncertainty of the future. When I see life frozen by my lens, I have no reason to be anything but really, really thankful. This is their first official Michigan winter of building “Olaf’s,” throwing snowballs, and feeling just how cold, cold is.

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  • Jada - Love these beautiful pictures you have captured Christen. So many special moments now and in the days ahead.ReplyCancel

We were high schoolers that camped out in the back pew of a small denominational church in Northern Indiana. Our immaturity coupled with passion filled the entire back pew. Congregational prayers would turn into my friend’s cat naps as you’d start to hear quiet snoring halfway through the service but the last hymn, taken from Isaiah 55, would always wake him up. There was a lot of joy in our ridiculous and free spirited worship. We loved God. We sang loud. We danced in the back pew which also meant that we were the closest to the refreshments in the lobby. And this final song of every service was always my favorite :

“You shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace;
the mountains and the hills will break forth before you;
there’ll be shouts of joy, and all the trees of the field
will clap, will clap their hands!
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands,
the trees of the field will clap their hands,
the trees of the field will clap their hands
while you go out with joy.”

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JOY. 

I’m learning that it’s often something you have to choose, fight for, pursue wholeheartedly, and/or accept as a gift. Lately, I have felt such a deep joy that can only explained by God’s gracious provision. He has been lavishing sweet reminders of his faithfulness over my days. It’s a beautiful thing to know and live into the truth that Nehemiah calls God’s people to: “Do not grieve! For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) There’s a theme throughout scripture that joy is a gift from God. He anoints us with joy. In Isaiah 61, Isaiah speaks of being anointed with the oil of joy, instead of mourning and God gives us a garment of praise instead of a spirit of a despair. I think this is the only explanation for my deep and now overflowing joy that exceeds my circumstances and diagnosis.  I truly believe that the joy of the Lord is my strength although I’m slowly unraveling what exactly that means.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.”

Isaiah 61:1-3

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In Christ, we are clothed with a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. I have seen God bring healing to my heart and life in such obvious ways over the past few months and I’m praying that you also will see undeniable evidence of that healing and clothing of praise and joy.

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These past few weeks, I wake up each day with incredible hope and faith that the Word of God will be carried to completion. This is not by my own strength but out of the grace of God that His joy is my strength.

 

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Isaiah 55:9 begins…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

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As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 

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You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

I imagine the slow clap of creation growing into a thunderous applause as God’s people experience the joy and freedom that can only be found in him. The slow clap begins with the mountains and as the applause accelerates, the stars and moon join in, followed by the birds of the air and all living creatures, and finally, the image bearers of a living, loving, grace giving, joy breathing God. God invites us to join in to this overwhelming experience of giving God glory and worship and honor. May you hear and participate in creation’s slow clap today and feel the joy of the Lord.

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It has been 5 months since my parents put their dog to sleep after an aggressive cancer took over his sweet black and white, smushed face, snorting nose, sweet little being. He actually was put to sleep the same day that I found out I had cancer. It was a rough day all around. My almost 4 year old son asked: “Mama, where’s Gus? I miss him.” And as I explained that Gus had died and tried to make sense of something that is overwhelming and confusing for even me, Sam started crying: “Mama, I don’t want Gus to die. I don’t want him to go to heaven!” All I could do was give  him the biggest hug  and continue to process the loss of this sweet dog that we all dearly missed.

An hour or so later, we were driving to the library for story time. He started crying again: “Mama, I don’t want Gus to be in heaven! I’m sad…” which trickled into: “Mama I don’t want to go to the lie-berry, I want to go to the jungle gym.” As I affirmed his sadness and tried to share my own sadness of Gus’ absence in our lives and I shared fun memories that I had of Gus, I decided that the jungle gym was just what the doctor ordered. We pulled up to the park and he quickly forgot his sadness as he chased his sister and they pretended the playground equipment was a ship, a house, a castle… And I was an alligator going after their feet hanging over the side of the draw bridge. I was really just trying to chase away their tears for a moment.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8

Five months had passed… and my son was finally asking questions about the permanent absence of our beloved Gus. As he grows in his ability to express his sadness and as I strive to stay ready to affirm and welcome those tears that accompany those intense moments of sadness, I know that processing the loss of a dog is an opportunity for God to mature his little but oh-so-passionate heart so down the road, he can grieve over even greater losses. My own grief is often delayed and unpredictable as I often don’t even take time to sit with a loss until weeks have passed and I’m in child’s pose at a Holy Yoga class. There is something about being flat on my face that allows me to finally accept and surrender my sadness, anger, fear, and emotions that don’t yet have words. I’m not sure what made my son finally sit with the pain and loss of Gus’ death, but I wonder if it had something to do with feeling safe, slowing down, and having a bit more quiet in our daily rhythm.

There are so many triggers to those deeply stored feelings of loss…vivid memories or familiar moments to your senses, perhaps, of sitting in a chair, seeing the season change, or feeling the leaves crunch under your feet. My childhood best friend’s dad passed away four years ago this November. I remember driving a few hours to be with her and her family when his health was quickly fading. I remember how my friend stood next to her dad while he played the keyboard. He got choked up as he heard his daughter sing these favorite hymns. And I sat quietly and absorbed the sacred and comfortable moment occur. It wasn’t my moment, but I was blessed to observe it. Even now, it is crazy how often waves of sadness sweep over me when he and his family are brought to my mind. Sometimes, it is the worship song that we sang at his funeral or remembering how he’d drive my friend and I to ballet classes when we were 7 years old, his peaceful and assuring presence in the front seat while we sat in the back of his station wagon,  sharing pages from our diaries, giggling, and eating apples. Or sometimes, it’s remembering the phone call where my friend shared about her dad’s diagnosis through tears and confusion. And while I feel that pang of loss, it reminds me of the enormity of loss that my dear friends carry with them with exponentially greater intensity and frequency that I cannot even begin to imagine.

 

With pangs of loss, there is a deep hope, trust, and peace that followers of Jesus have in eternity… that death is not the final word. And in those moments of grief and loss, I rest in the promises of our God who is in the process of restoring and redeeming all things for His glory and purposes. But whether it’s at three years old or thirty-three years old, the permanence of someone’s absence hits the depths of your emotions at the most unexpected, often delayed, and always unplanned times.

 

I’m so thankful that my son is asking the hard questions, sharing his feelings, and letting himself cry. I think a lot of us adults can learn a few things from the authentic grief of a small child.

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” Revelation 21:1-7

 

I’m so thankful for the ways that children keep us authentic and engaged at the heart level. What a gift.

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  • Alecia - Thank you so much for this post. I totally relate to your comments on grief. It’s so hard to let ourselves feel or face grief sometimes. I appreciated the reminder. 🙂 We will be praying for you all during this season of difficulty. Keep us posted!ReplyCancel

“The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17. 

It was a simple gesture that displayed a desire to delight his grandchildren with sweet surprises. On hearing of his two grandkids utter delight in a pile of leaves on an usually warm November morning, he decided to spend part of his evening raking an even bigger pile of leaves to welcome them to a new day.

 

My mom gave away the surprise to me: “You should see what your Dad did…”  Never one to boast or share about his own accomplishments or gestures of love, my Mom pointed out the window. He raked a big pile of leaves for the kids. 

 

IMG_6677They will be ecstatic to find a pile of leaves taller than their heads and wider than their combined little bodies. While the sun has risen, they haven’t found it yet… but when they do, their Autumn fun 101 training will prepare them for how to respond. And. there will be joy and. squeals. of. delight. 

 

I have a quiet moment to rest and reflect on all God has given to us… all He has provided. I have seen his extravagant love over and over again in the love of four very devoted and smitten grandparents and many, many others. All the grandparents have crazy busy work schedules (and my Mom is even afraid of flying) but they all made time to fly over the ocean to spend time with their grandkids. They each pay attention to the details of their grandkids’ lives and surprise them with good gifts. My father-in-law recently surprised Sam with a Spiderman suit that he wore for hours, mask and all. They have driven crazy distances in short amounts of time to be there during a scary crisis and unknown diagnosis. They simply enjoy these precious little people who are growing quickly and remind me that our Heavenly Father is one who pays attention to what brings joy to His children… and He surprises them with simple things and extravagant gifts that show that He is the God who sees, who loves, who pursues and cares… no matter how crazy life gets. If grandparents, who are human and broken, can love so well, how much more beautifully does our Father in Heaven, who is perfect, without sin, holy and whole, love His children?? 

 

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,

who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

I could (and might) list hundreds and hundreds of examples of friends  and even strangers taking time to care and love us in such amazing, generous ways. My prayer is that in this new season of restoration and renewal, the love that has been so generously lavished on us can then be poured out from our family to others who are struggling in far greater ways.

Okay God… I’m starting to get it.

 

And in case it takes me a while to say it again, thank you Mom and Dad, Larry and Fran for showing us and our children such extravagant love.
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For the four weeks, Sam has been attending a local pre-school for three mornings a week. He. loves. it. Today, I went with him and Ada to join his class for a field trip to a nearby farm. We had such a wonderful time in the pumpkin train, giant slide, eating still warm pumpkin donuts, feeding the goats, and learning about the animals on the farm through an interactive story time and demonstrations. What a gift. But as I watched these pre-school teachers herd the kids from one activity to the next, I found myself about to cry. What they have offered these children is not quantified by lessons learned or letters mastered. They have created a structure that is predictable, safe, and fun for these children to grow up a bit more. They have seen their students with a fresh perspective which they can then share their delight in each child as parents come to pick them up. What a joy to have other teachers see the joy, uniqueness, and charm in my own son. What a comfort to know that Sam has been thriving over this past month and coming home happy as he shares stories of his day on the drive home. They are usually stories about Charlotte or Ellie. Thank the teachers in your life today — even if your children are struggling academically — chances are, they are still flourishing because of the nurturing, predictable, enthusiastic presence of their teachers.

If you think of it, please pray that we can say goodbye well tomorrow on his last day and that we can show Sam how to make another transition … and he can hold these sweet memories deep in his heart. I hope that we can thank his teachers well for what they’ve given to us during this crazy season in our lives. The gift of structure is a beautiful, wonderful thing.

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