You Are My Joy.

I don’t know if I’ll publish this blog post.

Last week I went into the OB for an ultrasound appointment, I should have been 7 weeks pregnant. But when the tech zeroed in on that little black circle there was still just the tiniest little blob and no heartbeat.

I think I knew as soon as it came into view. My baby was gone.

We had been trying to get pregnant for 2 years, and after battling irregular cycles and months and months of negative tests I finally decided that I needed to deal with my heart before God. So I set to work preparing myself to never have another baby. I have one beautiful daughter who is such a blessing to me, and if God never gave me another child I didn’t want to feel like he had somehow held out on me.

So I stopped testing and just lived my life. My cycles were still irregular, but I didn’t watch to see how late I was. I figured that when I started barfing I would know I was pregnant.

Well.

In the middle of September I started having symptoms and took a test that looked negative, but when I showed it to a friend she insisted there was a faint line. A few days later I took another, and another. The lines were there for sure now.

There was major confusion about how far along I was because of irregular cycles, so I went through multiple ultrasounds and blood tests. But we had finally gotten through to where we could measure the baby and everything seemed fine. Until last week when I laid on a table and tried not to lose it in front of this stranger and my 3 year old.

So many women go through miscarriage and stillbirth. SO MANY. I posted in a Facebook group and got overwhelming response with the majority of women sharing their experiences. In some ways I feel like I’m joining the ranks of mothers who will meet their babies in heaven, but for now they live on feeling as though they are the only ones who remember and still cherish the little ones they lost.

I have been taking this week to cry, pray, and rest. Eden keeps me laughing and grounded, Jason gives his support in long silent hugs. God and I are working things out. Honestly, I think the foundation we built of trust that he is good even if we never have another child has made it easier to give that child back.

Eden knew about the baby, and so I sat down with her and explained that our baby went to heaven to be with Jesus. That night I thanked God for taking care of our baby and bringing her to heaven and I asked him to give Eden a special grace to understand. She laid her little hand on my cheek and asked God to give me special grace too.

When I pray about my baby it seems like a girl. She has a name, and I’ll remember her and pray for her for the rest of my life. I believe that when I get to heaven she’ll be there to meet me with her cousin, and the aunts and uncles that my mom lost before they were born. Maybe that’s not how it works, but I can see a great reunion with our complete family one day.

A friend told me that it’s okay to be a silver lining griever, and that feels right to me. I am at peace with this. I’m not devastated that my baby died, I’m sad and disappointed that she died. Death is temporary in so many ways. I would have loved to keep her, but if I can’t, I am at peace knowing she is with Jesus who loves her even more than I do. I can shoulder the pain and use it to be more compassionate to the women around me. I can use it to remind myself to cherish the loved ones I do have here.

Today I heard a song by David Crowder that breaks into a bridge where he sings over and over again.. You are my joy, you are my joy, you are my joy, you are my joy.

Probably because of the hormones, I started crying. Because He is my joy. Even when I’m really really sad.

 

 

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3 Creative Ways to Meditate on Scripture

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God is artistic.  He is creative and passionate about completing the work of art that he has started in us.  I like the passages of scripture that describe him this way because art speaks to my heart in a way that few other things do.  I enjoy study and discussion, I like the solidity of factual evidence, I don’t mind theoretical debates.  But there is something about using my brain and hands together to make beauty out of chaos that lights up the part of me that was made in the image of God’s creativity.

Having dabbled in many forms of art, I love to supplement my Bible study with something creative because I know that helps me internalize what I am reading.  Scripture talks about meditating on God’s word often (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:1-3, 119:15-16, Philippians 4:8), and so learning how to meditate has been a goal of mine.  To meditate on something means to think about it, to reflect on it, contemplate it, to ponder it.  It means spending significant time looking at a concept from different angles and asking questions about it.

I want to share three ideas about how to meditate on scripture creatively.  These are no substitute for actually reading the Bible, but they may help you slow your brain down and really wrap your mind around the concepts that you are reading.  For someone who is drawn to visual and audial beauty, these may be just up your alley.

1. Bible Journaling

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I have heard many differing opinions about painting and drawing in your Bible, and it may not be for you.  But I have found this to be a great visual for my study.  I love flipping through the special Bible I bought specifically for art journaling and seeing all of the different colorful entries.

Bible Journaling forces you to slow down as you work on the entry.  First as you choose what part of the passage stands out to you, then as you visualize what you want the piece to look like, and then as you create the art.  In this piece, I was reading the crucifixion story in Matthew and I wanted to show darkness and the ground being red like blood.  (It turned out more pink, but red was the idea initially.)  As the painting came together, I was reflecting on what Christ’s death meant for us and how essential it was.  He took all of our sins upon himself; our overall sin nature, but also each and every gross thing that we do in the dark hoping that no one will see.  How significant was it that the sky went black in the middle of the day?  The symbolic darkness of God, the source of light, turning his back on his son.  Wow, it still gives me chills.

I knew that I wanted to add a verse to the painting, but I wanted something more over-arching than any that I had been reading in the story.  I settled on Romans 5:18, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”  This picture is of the one act of righteousness that opened our way to heaven, and eternal life with our creator.

Other entries in my journaling Bible are more simple, most of them stick to the Bible margins and don’t completely cover the text the way that this one does.  Some are as basic as re-writing the words or just taking notes over a colorful paint color.  The concept is the same.  Use art to prolong your time ruminating over a particular word from God.

2. Paraphrasing

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Paraphrasing is a simple but great way to get creative with meditation.  Take a passage of scripture and read it over and over.  Then, using your own words, flesh out each verse.  Say everything in a different way, while sticking to the heart of what the author is saying.  Ruminate over it, look at different angles, consider the context, study what was going on and who these people were.

I recently paraphrased Romans 8:1-4, which in the NIV reads like this:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

My paraphrase helped me word this concept in a way that makes sense to me and that I can more easily apply to change my life.  Here is what I ended up with:

Because of Jesus’ death and subsequent defeat of the power sin had over me, I will not be eternally punished for my sin anymore.  He paid for my sin, giving me an alternative to hell and separation from God.  Instead, I have the option to base my life decisions and choices on what the Spirit prompts me to do.  My future is full of possibilities and light instead of certain darkness.  The law that was given to Israel in the OT was not enough to defeat the power of sin, because they/we are unable to live sinless lives.  Our flesh, our sin nature, our minds and bodies, are weak and susceptible to temptation and sin.  BUT GOD saw this, and he had a plan.  He sent Jesus, knowing that his pure heart and sinless life offered up in exchange for ours would be a sufficient payment in our place.  God does not break or bend the law, he upholds it.  He finds a way to honor the law and still give us grace.  Jesus’ sacrifice gave the law what it needed and pardoned us, letting us choose to live our lives in thanks and focused on honoring the One who paved this way for us.

It probably isn’t absolutely theologically correct, but writing that out in a different way caused me to read and re-read those verses multiple times and really wrap my head around what Paul was saying in them.  Where before these were just words that I had been hearing for my entire life, now they hold more significance.  I really see and understand them in a new way.  If your creative outlet is words, this is a great option for you.

3.  Songwriting / Poetry

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I have always been a lover of music, specifically Christian music.  Not because it is beautiful, which it is.  Not because it calls to some deep part of my soul, which it does.  But because music is one of the most effective ways to teach doctrine and memorize scripture. Music takes a concept and embeds it in your brain.  It is a whole different and amazing way of teaching that often gets overlooked because nowadays we are all into the emotional benefits of worship instead of the intellectual benefits.

Songwriting is a unique challenge, because instead of just word vomiting your thoughts onto a page (like you can do when you paraphrase), now you must make those words fit into a cadence, fit into a rhyme, fit into the confines of a melody that you have to come up with.  There is more structure and you need more control of the words that you use in order to make them fit.  You can paint a word picture, you can draw parallels, you can cite deep theology.  You can be as obvious or as mysterious as you want.

When you meditate on a passage or concept with songwriting or poetry, you are creating something that has the potential to be shared with others.  There is a greater responsibility to make sure that your song has correct doctrine, because if it would ever be sung by an artist or a congregation you have no way of explaining that you threw that line in because nothing else rhymed well.  Not every song or poem needs to be shared, but there is a greater potential than with Bible Journaling or paraphrasing.

One of my favorite scripture songs that I have written is based on Isaiah 61:3, which says, “..that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”  I wanted to write a song about how God plants and cultivates seeds of righteousness in our lives, paralleling the spiritual growth of righteousness in our hearts to the physical growth of an acorn becoming a mighty oak of righteousness.  After ages of prayer and work and study, this is how the song ended up:

Like a field of dried up soil is my soul.
Full of rocks and brambles, left untended and alone.
Yet where I see a barren place where nothing good can grow,
you promise me you’ll plant a mighty oak.

In this heart so full of guilt and pain,
will you plant a seed of righteousness for the glory of your name?
Send that living water flowing down in drops of rain,
the tiny seedling sprouts a fragile stem.

Till my heart.
Cultivate the soil of my soul.
Where nothing used to be
now a tiny sapling tree grows.

In autumn slender branches lose their leaves,
and winter wraps a blanket ’round the work you’ve done in me.
Every year, I fear that I will never see the spring,
till the light of the world comes to warm all things.

Tend my heart.
Irrigate the corners of my mind.
You use the hardship and the joy
to make my heart a little more refined.

It’s hard to see the change with just your eyes,
and I fear that you’ve forgotten me and your promise was a lie.
But what I can’t see is that you keep adding rings inside, until I find…

That you have pruned my heart,
you have nurtured every aspect of my life.
This is the planting of the Lord,
that in me, you may be glorified.

You made a tiny acorn grow into a righteous tree.

I hope that even one of these ideas appeals to you and can enhance your study and understanding of God’s word with meditation.  Let me know what you think!

How do you meditate on scripture?  Share your ideas in the comments!

A Long & Winding Love Story

My love story!

The Happy Wife of a Human Husband

We met years before I ever remember him.  It seems like he gradually came into my life, and then suddenly he was there, integrated, and had been there for ages.  He was four years younger than I was, and so the husband-hunting section of my brain didn’t even register him as an option.

He attended the youth group that I had graduated from and was volunteering with as a leader.  Because he didn’t have a car, my family often picked him up and drove him home from church events.  He spent the night on our couch, and I would sit up late at night with him and my siblings, talking about God and life and anything else that came to mind.

I grew to appreciate his perspective.  I liked the way that his mind worked, and the conclusions he came to.  I enjoyed the easy banter we had.  I knew…

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The Deepest & Darkest Depths of my Soul

I’m speaking on Sunday at church, and as I was writing my sermon I found myself typing “the darkest depths of my soul” and had a good laugh over how dramatic that sounded.

My sermon is about the spiritual responsibility that comes with parenting, and about how it is our job to model what a right relationship with God looks like to our children.  If I just say that I believe in God, but don’t allow that belief to have an effect on my daily life and decisions, I am teaching Eden that Christianity is just a persona, or a cause that we like to identify with.

In my experience, God is after the darkest depths of my soul.  He wants to rip out all the rot that I have allowed to decay in the back of my heart.  The sin that I let my mind skim over, the indulgence that I justify, the inactivity where I need discipline.  God is all about pushing me to give him more than I initially wanted to.

It starts with choosing mundane obedience when I am tempted by flashy indulgence.  Learning how to meditate and pray, choosing to give of myself by tithing and fasting.  It continues as I figure out what it will actually take for me to obey the Holy Spirit’s prompting in my heart.  As I build that foundation of discipline and obedience, God asks for me to air out the dark places that I had been hoping he didn’t notice.  Every time I submit a part of my heart, he asks for another one.  Till I am stubbornly shouting, “I DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO GIVE YOU THAT MUCH, STOP PUSHING YOUR LUCK.”

It sucks, really.  The process is rough.  It makes me look weak and it forces me to back track and make things right where I went wrong.  It calls for humility and some self-deprivation (*gasp*).

But my kid needs to see that.  When she is 16 and being told that all the cool kids are into sexting and cyber bullying, I want her to have the wherewithal to realize that a life built on self-gratification only leads to grasping for the next worthless thing.  A life built on trust and obedience may seem narrow-minded, but it is really the best way for God to mold you into someone beautiful and strong, ready and able to do good works, not bogged down by sin and selfishness.  I want her to see the value of following Christ wholeheartedly.

So, that is the gist of my sermon.  Being a mom has made me more aware of the responsibility I have to raise this little soul with a foundation in the truth.  My choices, actions, past & present sin all affect how she perceives God.  And I take that responsibility very seriously.

Cycles

I have heard that depression can reoccur as you cycle through the year and hit an anniversary of something traumatic.  I never thought about that too much, because I didn’t think that depression was something that I dealt with.  But coming up on the end of February and the beginning of March, I realized that this was happening to me.

Last year, I left a good company that I had worked for 6 years.  I thought that I was making a great choice to move from banking into marketing, which is something I have always been interested in.  And it wasn’t all bad.  There was a lot about marketing that I liked, and there was a lot about working at a small company in downtown Lancaster that I liked.  But from the very beginning I felt dissension with my coworkers, especially my boss.  The next few weeks I worked really hard to communicate well and excel at my assignments, but nothing helped, and one Friday I was called into the conference room and told that they were cutting my hours in half because I was not as adept in administrative work as I appeared to be at my interview.

I was terrified.  I was devastated.  And above all I was ridiculously angry at this pompous turd who smugly overturned my entire life without warning.

I have always been good at admin work.  To be essentially fired from a job because of that made me feel like a fraud, and completely inadequate to look for employment in that field again.  My confidence was at an all time low.  I sat at home in a fog with a 6 month old daughter and no idea how we were going to pay for bills once our savings ran out.

It took me 3 months to work my way out of that pit of self-pity and doubt and depression.  And I feel a little dumb for being depressed over losing a job.  But I felt like I had spent 6 years building a reputation of being reliable, hard working, creative, focused and organized, and in a few short weeks I had lost all of that.  I had been providing half of my family’s income and suddenly I was home trying to learn how to function without a workplace structure to keep me motivated.

But God was faithful.  I started babysitting, we learned to live on less, and I became adept at making money from home and keeping house well.  I gained back confidence, and worked on forgetting about the whole sordid experience.

Till this time of year rolled around again and suddenly it all came back.

I couldn’t figure out why I suddenly felt insecure and worthless about everything.  I would catch myself obsessing over what had happened and feeling anger build in my heart about the whole situation all over again.  And then I realized that it had been a year, and I bet that this is what they mean when they talk about depression cycles.

God brought so much good from that doofus firing me.  I am a stay at home mom, which I never imagined that we would be able to afford.  I am able to give my family a much cleaner house, a much healthier menu, and a much happier home environment.  My daughter lives in her house with her family more than she lives at a daycare, which is a huge blessing.  I get to explore new avenues of business, I have made new friends, and I have been so excited and fulfilled with where God has put me.

I think that I needed to write this out to remind myself that my worth isn’t based on my self-esteem or public opinion.  I am not trying to appear faultless, I know that I suffer from sin and my shortcomings are no secret to anyone.  But that doesn’t diminish my value, it only emphasizes the beauty of God’s grace in my life and his goodness.  I have been able to see him working all things together for good in my life, and even during this low point in the year I am grateful for that reminder.