Friday, August 11, 2017

Suffering Well

No one has been promised smooth sailing in this world. It's pretty much a given that at some point we will each go through hard times. Those times can look different to each of us, but the emotions and struggles that go with the situations are the same.

I was recently reading the story of Hannah in I Samuel chapter one. It's not her whole story, but it gave me a lot of insight on how to handle suffering. In brief, Hannah lived in a time where having a child was a status symbol, a blessing really. Any woman who couldn't have children was looked down upon and thought to be cursed by God. Hannah was a woman that society loved to hate. She was married and childless. And if societal expectations weren't enough, she was bullied for years by the "other woman" in her husband's life, his second wife, Peninnah (whom he probably married because Hannah couldn't have children). After many years of painful infertility, Hannah was blessed with a child. Her child, named Samuel, later became a judge and prophet who changed the history of his nation for the good.

But first there was suffering.

If we find ourselves as Hannah did, she has given us an excellent example on how to suffer well. What is "suffering well" you ask? Suffering well is when we handle our disappointing circumstances in a way that builds our character, is done with integrity and honors the God who made us all.

What are the ways that Hannah suffered well?

1. Hannah suffered with a personal issue she was unable to change, but she remained faithful. She remained faithful to the husband who loved her. She remained faithful to her God. We read that year after year she offered sacrifices and prayed to God for her situation to change. She didn't give up. Despite her circumstances, she kept her faith and her attitude was one focused on what could happen and not what was.

2. She was bullied and took the high ground. We all have Peninnahs in our lives. Peninnahs are the people who continue to point out our flaws, who pick at us and push us when we are down. Maybe your Peninnah is a micro-managing boss on a tirade, a spouse who fails to acknowledge the work you are doing and only sees what you've missed, or a troll on social media who gets his kicks from hounding your Pinterest post about the cupcakes that looked more like blobs than the minions they should have been. Truth is, as long as there are humans there will be Peninnahs and there will be Hannahs. Hannah was bullied, wept to God and described her condition as one of "great anguish and grief." She was tired, yet we don't see her lash out at Peninnah, bad mouth her or treat Peninnah with the same treatment she received.

3. Hannah shared her condition with a close acquaintance who helped carry her burden. As humans we are made for relationship. Hannah shared her deep anguish and pain with her husband and he, in turn, suffered with her. He walked along beside her and comforted her. We're told he prayed for her and loved on her. When we suffer, we should let those who are close to us comfort us. Circumstances may not change, but we aren't alone.

Then there was good in her life.

After years of infertility, Hannah was blessed with a son. Her suffering was then part of her story. But the cool thing about Hannah was she saw the bigger picture. The story could have ended there, but it doesn't.

Hannah gave her son back to God. When he was two or three (after he was weaned), she took him to the temple where she learned she would one day become pregnant and she essentially gave her baby to the priest there and entrusted Samuel's life to God's will. As a mom I can't imagine taking either of my children and giving them to someone I barely know. But Hannah's faith was huge and through her suffering she learned that life is bigger than one person. Her suffering taught her that. Her God was bigger than her infertility and she knew her God could be trusted with her story.

Samuel later became a prophet and judge who led his people (Israel) out of a dark time in history and into a promising one. Hannah later had three more sons and two daughters, but it wasn't until after she first re-gifted what she had been given. Her gift back to God blessed a nation. Out of her suffering comes a story of hope and life.

How can we suffer well and let our stories become bigger than just us?

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The Dance of Comunication

When my husband and I were talking about our wedding plans, we discussed dancing. And we discussed it again and again. You see, my husband is NOT a dancer and claims to have to left feet (I checked and he doesn’t). I on the other hand LOVE to dance. So, when we were talking about our wedding we had to compromise. Aren’t weddings a great place to practice the compromise that a marriage should have? I promised him that he’d only have to dance once with me and it would be during our first dance. But then, knowing how he felt about dancing (and not liking to be the center of attention) I took it a step further (no pun intended). I told him that during the first stanza he had to dance with me and that after that we would invite our wedding party on the floor and they would dance all around us so people wouldn’t be as focused on us anymore. He agreed to the compromise and we stuck to the terms we discussed. When the dance was over, I didn’t try and pry him back on the floor or pout that my husband only danced one song with me. Instead, I danced with our friends on the floor and he chatted with those who didn’t dance. At the end of the night, we left hand in hand with smiles on our faces (and bird seed in our hair).

Marriage is so much like a dance and communication is key to staying in step with one another. My husband and I will celebrate our five-year anniversary in July. Since our wedding day, we’ve become parents to two children. We’ve adapted our communication as our family has grown, but there are some main communication ideas that transcend any relationship.

1.     Start with respect for one another. Speak in a way that shows you respect the person with whom you are speaking and listen with the same mindset. Speak in a tone that conveys you care about how the other person feels and listen (don’t just hear) what his thoughts and opinions are on a matter.
2.     Wait for the right opportunity to have “big discussions” about important topics. Don’t throw an idea at your spouse as he is walking out the door to work or about to be away from you. Wait until the kids are in bed and you can talk face-to-face for uninterrupted time.
3.     Keep in mind that some topics take a lot of time (and many discussions) to conclude.
4.     Pick your battles. Seriously. If you are fighting over something, really examine the importance of it to you. If you realize you are arguing over something that’s less important to you than it is to your spouse then let it go. And let your spouse know WHY you are letting him “win” an argument. Make it a practice to let each other “win” as you figure out who is more passionate about the topic at hand.
5.     Before you commit yourself and your spouse to something, talk about it with that person first. Keep one calendar and talk to your spouse as you make plans. You will both feel more valued as you make each other number one when making plans.
6.     Keep your relationship baggage off social media. Seriously, can we stop this practice?? Getting a few “likes” from your girl friends as you husband-bash will only backfire on you. It’s super disrespectful to your spouse and it’s a cheap way to get attention. Just don’t do it.
7.     Lift each other up in front of each other. Compliment your husband in front of your friends. Brag on him. Go ahead and see what happens to your man’s countenance and demeanor. I promise you that you won’t be disappointed.
8.     In the same spirit, don’t tease or bash your spouse with your friends whether he is with you or not. You may say something in a moment of anger or frustration about your spouse and then later forgive him and forget about it. It’s much harder for family or friends to forgive and forget.
9.     Listen more than you speak. There’s a reason God gave us two ears and one mouth. Really listen to your spouse and try not to interrupt. That’s a hard one and one that I struggle with constantly!
10.  “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as God through Christ as forgiven you.” What a great verse and such words of wisdom. At the end of the day, let kindness, compassion and forgiveness win. If you do, then you’ll both be winners in your marriage and in other relationships.

It’s hard to go from being “numero uno” to married and having to think about the other person. The true challenge is making your spouse a priority. As you shift into that mindset you will find that it really makes the dance more fun. That and a good pair of shoes!

Monday, April 04, 2016

Walking in Love

Life's been busy. This weekend I attended two baby showers, one of which was for a woman who attended the parenting class that I voluntarily teach at the Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center (GPCC). She is due in six weeks and is SO excited about being a mom!

It was about three months ago when I met her. She and her boyfriend attended the eight week class faithfully and they were so engaged in the class as they always asked questions and soaked up the information I threw at the attendees. About the fourth week of class, the mom-to-be (I'll call her Ashley) stayed after class and told me a little of her story. I always love when I hear peoples' stories and I was blessed to hear part of hers. You see, Ashley is in college and is a junior. She never thought she'd be able to get pregnant due to health issues she's had. So, she was surprised when she got pregnant, but she was also scared. This baby was unplanned. Her boyfriend (I'll call him Jay) was pressuring her to get an abortion. He too was a student in college and not "ready" to be a dad. So, Ashley went to a clinic in Greensboro that administers abortions. She told me that she got a pregnancy test there that confirmed her pregnancy and got the information about an abortion, but she didn't feel peace about it. 
As God would have it, she called and visited the Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center. She met with a trained, Christian counselor who spoke with her about her pregnancy and offered HOPE. Ashley left the Center feeling uplifted and encouraged. She now saw this baby as the miracle it is. She spoke with Jay and they decided to keep the baby she was carrying!! It was a few weeks later when I met them both in class. When I met them, I had no idea of their history; their excitement at becoming parents was all I saw.
What a blessing and honor it was to attend the co-ed shower they had yesterday. Mom-to-be was glowing. Dad-to-be was sporting a shirt with his daughter's name on it (I love it!!!). God is so amazing and is working every day at the Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center. I can't help but wonder who this baby will be and what she will do. Will she be a great physician, a teacher, a mom herself or perhaps an author who inspires other with the words she writes? Maybe all of those?!

I share this story with you so you'll catch a glimpse as to what the GPCC is doing. I am participating in their upcoming Walk for Life, where we are raising money and awareness for an organization that is standing in the gap between LIFE and death. Between HOPE and discouragement. Between JOY and guilt. GPCC offers free classes, free ultrasounds and STD testing, counseling and material resources for men and women facing an unplanned pregnancy. They are even unveiling a mobile unit that will be traveling in Greensboro and the Triad area to help those who don't have transportation to the Center!

I hope you'll be touched by what I've shared and will consider supporting my fundraising efforts here. My goal is to raise $3000 and I'm halfway there thanks to generous supporters! ALL of the proceeds will go directly to the Center where people like Ashley and Jay will be impacted and babies will be saved. Will you consider an investment in the people of Greensboro? How about in the next generation??

ANY prayer and/or financial support is welcomed. Thanks for making a difference in our community and world!

"And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. 
As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." 
- 2 John 1:6

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Happy 2nd Birthday, Buddy!

My Sweet Isaac,

Today you turned two. You love to say "two" in these ways: "two Papas, two Nanas, two cars" (referencing the two cars currently in the garage) and anytime you count two of anything. Speaking of which, you are an excellent counter. These days you can count to 27! Your counting goes like this: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, (you always skip 8), 9, 10, 11, 12, (you usually skip 13, but sometimes you say it too), 14, five-teen, 16, 17, (ain't nobody got time for 18 and 19), 20 (which you always say with excitement!) and 27!" Sometimes you throw in "30" and when you do you follow it with "yucky" because I think you associate it with the word "dirty" (since they rhyme) and we both know mommy says "dirty diaper, yucky!" What a smart boy you are.

When we tried to teach you how old you are today. You remembered the two, but not the "years." Instead you tell us you are "two minutes" old. Keeping it fresh, buddy, that's awesome. I hope you always keep life fresh.

You are SO smart and we hear it from your doctor, teachers at church, your family and people we meet in the store. Your doctor tells us your vocabulary is that of a 2.5 to 3-year-old child. It's no wonder when you frequently (and easily) use words like: helicopter, alligator, rectangle, pentagon and elephant. You learn things at an incredible speed and it's such a joy to watch you. Just today you said this to mommy as I was holding Hannah: "Upstairs Hannah. Lay in bed." You clearly wanted mommy all to yourself and wanted me to put your sister in her room.

You are always quick with a smile and LOVE to interact with people when we are out. You often will wave, smile and say "hello" (it sounds like hewo). Sometimes when the interaction is over you will even say "bye-bye", throw in a "later alligator (waiter ah-gator)" and blow a kiss for good measure. Maybe you are going to be a future politician (mommy hopes not, but I will be the first to contribute to your campaign if you do). ;)

Isaac, you bring your daddy and I such happiness. We enjoy watching you learn, interact with your sister (you're starting to do that more these days), explore your surroundings and become more independent (although that last item can be a bit more debatable during moments you are pitching yourself onto the floor and writhing because we tell you "no").

I pray that you will continue to love playing outside and exploring the world God has made for you. Any chance you get, you ask to be out there (you are truly your daddy's boy in that regard). Things you regularly look for when you are outside: mushrooms (yes you can say that too), flowers, airplanes, trucks, drain holes (that's one your Papa Duncan taught you), birds and mailboxes. You love to check the mail. You also regularly remind us (even when you are not outside) to not go in the street ("no, no in street"). Let's hope you remember that fact!

As I watch you grow, I am so thankful to God for your presence in my life. I am grateful that He has let your dad and me take care of you and it's my prayer that you will grow to discover God in your own life. He has such amazing plans for you, Isaac; they are even bigger than mommy can dream (and that's saying a whole lot!). His Word says that God's plans are to prosper you, give you hope and a future.

I will continue to hold your hand for as long as you'll let me. I promise to kiss all your boo-boos and listen to your dreams. I will pray with you and walk with you as you explore your world. It's these moments that mommy treasures. Keep on reaching out to others, ask as many questions as you can and dive all-in to your world. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Happy second birthday, son. May it be filled with all the big trucks, planes, cars, rocks, buses and trains that you can imagine!

I love you,

Friday, June 05, 2015

From Three to Four: A Reflection

The last entry I made on my blog was a love letter to our second child who will be arriving within the next 24 hours. The child will turn our family of three into one of four.

I've gotten pretty used to this family of three. We are in a state that is familiar. Sleep patterns, for example are familiar. I actually get sleep right now and I'm rather spoiled by how much. When we put Isaac to bed, Mike and I get some quality time together that consists of 2-3 hours depending on how late we stay up. When Mike gets up to go to work, Isaac will usually keep sleeping and I get another hour to myself to do with whatever I'd like (confession: usually this means I go back to sleep!).

Isaac had a night just last week that reminded me of the early days of his life. He'd wake, cry for me (and no, he wanted nothing to do with Mike who tried to help, but was rejected by a mommy-clinging, 19-month old boy), sleep for 10 minutes and wake again. The pattern repeated for hours and my weariness began overtake me. I couldn't help but wonder if it was God's way of reminding me what was in store in just a short time.

But besides sleep, I've grown comfortable in this role of a mom to a precious boy who (at this point in life) has eyes only for me when it comes to many moments in life. I'm enjoying this season of having time with my husband when we want it. We've both grown comfortable in our roles as parents to the point that they are natural. We've been able to shift our focus again to us.

So, as I look ahead to tomorrow, I have to tell myself to breathe deep. This is what we planned (RIGHT!?). We wanted this and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a mama to another precious life that God has deemed me worthy of pouring myself into.

Before I was pregnant, I heard moms confess a fear of their hearts not being big enough to properly welcome another child. How could they love it as much as their first? How could they split their attention among more than one and be fair to both? How could they still give their husbands the attention he deserves? Until I was pregnant I didn't get their fears. Now I do. I've had the same fears and questions. The answer I've heard from those who have crossed over from a family of three to four is: "your fears are valid, but your heart just gets bigger."

So, here I am. I feel as big as a house and wonder how anything in my body will expand. Physically, I feel like my heart is already crammed halfway up my neck. Yet I know something magical will happen with the birth of our second child: my heart will get bigger.

It will probably be the moment the nurses lay that little person on my chest, but who knows? Maybe it will be when I see Mike hold our second child for the first time. Or maybe, just maybe, it won't happen until Isaac, Mike and I are all snuggled around the baby as a family. Either way, this mama is looking forward to expanding more tomorrow. As I trade baby weight for the weight of being a family of four I will embrace it. This is part of how we women are made. Our hearts keep expanding and giving and our Creator keeps applauding and singing over us as He watches us grow.