Thank you, Mack

He came out of my belly the sweetest thing, very happy and wide eyed. He still is the sweetest thing. Full of laughs, still with wide eyes, making those around him very happy. But within days of his birth, he wasn’t so happy anymore, always arching his back, screaming at me and struggling to eat. Breastfeeding was no longer an option as he had under developed oral muscles and just couldn’t consume what was needed. The old-man pediatrician just told me I was paranoid and depressed and had a colicky baby and to just go home. However, my insides knew this old-man had been doing his job way to long and was just wrong. We found another pediatrician and were told Mack had reflux and meds were prescribed.

The drugs didn’t work and soon Mack stopped eating all together.

I remember my obsession with how much he ate, when he ate. I kept a journal recording every ounce to make sure it was enough for him to gain fat and stay hydrated. I would rock him and pray and cry, begging him to eat but he refused and fell asleep starving in my arms. I would rock myself and pray and cry begging God to heal him but He refused and I fell asleep with a starving soul.

All the while I was working full time at a counseling center, helping families, yet I couldn’t even help my newborn. Mack’s weight continued to drop, and so did mine as my obsession with his eating continued. Sleepless nights with a hungry child that couldn’t swallow was gut wrenching for this brand new mama.

For the first time in my 30 years of living, I felt out of control, I felt that God didn’t care and was not good. Why would he not answer me, help this baby eat? The nourishment was available but Mack refused. I quit praying and reading my Bible. The depression resurfaced and brought anxiety with it. The doctors continued to change Mack’s meds but nothing worked to soothe his burnt and exhausted esophogus. The doctors continued to change my meds but nothing worked to soothe my scared and worn out soul. After many trips to the ER for IVs to hydrate him, we found a specialist who finally recommended a few days in the hospital with a feeding tube. Mack’s liver enzymes were off, indicating major malnourishment.

That was a scary day for me, hearing the news of putting my then 4 month old baby in the hospital with a feeding tube. Months before, the first time I sat in this GI specialists office, I was surrounded by tube babies but knew that would never be us. God wouldn’t let that happen. How wrong I was. 

We spent several nights with Mack in the hospital and the NG tube. We were surrounded by family and Mack was so happy as his belly was full and his throat had a break from acid and swallowing. The tube came home with us for a while. Every night Mack, Chris and I would all get in the huge whirlpool tub and played games to distract Mack as we removed glue beneath his nose, cleaned his face, then re-glued and bandaged the tube in place. Every night.

Mack’s mobility had to be on hold for a while as he couldn’t crawl with a IV pole and bag behind him. We brought him to small group until we found a sitter brave enough to refill his formula bag and monitor his tube. Our church nursery loved us well and cared for him while we sat in church exhausted but grateful for the break.

I began therapy as I was still stressed and anxious and unsure how this all could have happened to me, God’s faithful servant. My theology was naive and jaded. Of all people, my Jewish therapist helped me understand that my Christian faith needed room for a God who let his children suffer. 

I felt very alone during this season. I was a new mom while many of my friends still didn’t have children and the freedom that offers.  I was a working mom while other moms stayed home full time. I had a sick baby while many of my friends had healthy ones. I abandoned God while many of my friends were strong in their faith journey.

Now, that sick baby is almost 11 and wearing a men’s shoe size and never stops eating. Now that sick baby is strong and on a gymnastics team. Now, that tired mama is proud of who her boy is becoming. Now that tired mama has room for heartache in a much stronger faith.

I thought God was refusing to heal Mack because He just didn’t care. But I see now how much he did care. I see that he was strengthening and growing my faith. Growing up a baby faith that was naive and not yet tempered with suffering. Growing up a faith that could withstand the trials of marriage and parenting, a job as a crisis counselor, and ultimately the tragic, traumatic death of my father.

All those lessons learned while crying and rocking a starving baby were feeding a faith that could one day move mountains. See, things need to grow and sometimes it takes a pruning for the vine to produce the most fruit. A faith without challenge and question isn’t much of a faith at all. A faith that always wins won’t stand the test of time. But a faith that endures trials and digs deep will stand and is precious to the owner. Thank God for those long nights in the rocker and the hospital – they produced some beautiful fruit and a beautiful faith. 

Let me be….

On days when I don’t know who I am, or what I believe, on days when the lies are louder than your truth, on days when my head is foggy and the road is unclear…On days when I want to be someone else because my self doesn’t feel so great or so right or okay….

Let me be like creation: the mountains sing for you, the rivers and fields clap their hands for you; The stars shine and the sun wakes up only for you.                                               

Let me be like Mary and Esther and Ruth: saying yes when it’s hard but they know it’s right.

Let me be like Moses and Joshua and Abraham: believing even though the road is long, the cell is dark and the promise unseen.

Let me be like the 12: following you even when it doesn’t make sense and death is close and it feels like you’ve gone.

Let me be like David with a constant song in my heart and a faith in your rescue.

Let me be like the house built on the rock, standing firm despite the storm that comes and the lies that tear at my foundation.

Let me be like the child that sits close and believes every word you say because you are the king of the world.

Let me be like the widow who gave her last coin because she knew you were worth all she had.

Let me be like Nicodemus who sought you in the dark when the risk was high.

Let me be like the lilies of the field that never worry for provision. They exist simply to bring you glory.

Let me be in your shadow because there is rest and strength there.

Let me just be, just for your plan, your purpose, your glory, your kingdom.

Let me be for others, living water, an encourager, a refresher, a truth teller.

Let me be for you.

Lean in

God does hear our prayers, he does lend his ear towards this earth and stretch out his arm that is never too short.

I’ve had a wrestling lately, an uneasy spirit that has resulted in too many sleepless nights, an edginess, but I couldn’t put my finger on it…until.

Until I picked up this book, “Come Matter Here” by Hannah Brencher. It’s her story of an “invitation to be here in a getting there world.”

She learns the art of being present through some dark days. There are so many morsels on these pages. You really need a journal and pen close by.

One paragraph stopped me and forced out a prayer. After a motorcycle ride, making deep left turns, she states “I realized in that moment, with the night air so intoxicating and the engine roaring loudly, that if I ever want to enjoy this journey, I’m going to need to learn how to trust. How to let go. How to admit I’m not in control. I am not the driver; I am just the one who leans left. I need to trust. I need to live like there’s a left turn coming up and I’m expected to lean into it. I need to trust that God will be here to cover the rest.”

I am in a season of left turns but I have been pushing to the right. I am not leaning in to the uncertain and challenging things that God has laid before me. So there is a resistance, there’s a tug-of-war and I am definitely losing.03BD40E2-1E1B-4CA8-BA6B-8059EFEC7DAE

I caught these three in a rare moment of kindness today. They were laughing, and taking care of each other. If I’m honest, they are usually fighting and causing me heart palpitations. I’ve been pushing right with them, fighting against the powerful, aggressive boys God’s giving me instead of leaning left, pressing into the potential for greatness they have. They feel the push back too and it only causes mutiny. I am going to start looking for more of these moments and stop resisting who they are.

There is a uncertain freedom in leaning into the things that God places before you, even when you feel inadequate, even when you feel anxious, even when you feel afraid. To just lean in and to trust him with the rest. Thank you, Hanna, for your heart and honesty and for teaching Us to be present when our hearts want to run away.

 

It’s been a while

It’s been a while since I’ve written, typed lines on a screen or put pen to paper. It’s been a while since I’ve risen early to a quiet house with the warmth of coffee and the comfort of scripture. It’s been a while since I walked with my friend, and shared my heart and my fears. It’s been a while since I’ve just laughed and played with my kids without worry or agenda. It’s been a while since I’ve rested, truly had a soul rest, where I knew it would all work out.

Why is this? I think I’ll blame it on Summer. I stay up late, we sleep in, I lose my rhythm and routine. We have more fun but the discipline fades a little. So does my intention. Apathy shows up as well, and things, important things slip away. It’s my fault too, but Summer is going to be my scapegoat. 

But there was a day this week I rose early with anxiety and poured my heart out to God reading Psalm 16…”Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest. You will show me the path of life. I find joy in your presence.”

There was a day this week that I walked with my friend and remembered that I don’t have to change my surroundings to find peace. The Peacemaker is my best friend and lives inside me.

There was a day this week that I forgot about the chores and that unanswered prayer and played an hour of board games with two of my boys.

And there must be a day this week that I find that soul rest and truly believe Psalm 16, that the Lord is my portion and that is enough, that I have a perfect inheritance because my Abba is a King – making me his princess, that He counsels me even in sleep and I cannot be shaken because He is holding my outreached hand, that He will show me the path of life, the answers and way in the midst of uncertainty.

It’s been a while since I have believed this, this truth of who I am and what I have because of him and what he did.

It’s been too long of a while.

 

Taste and See

A week has passed and I see scratched knees and bug bites. I see tired eyes and smiles. I see boys that smell of sweat and taste like salt. I see tiny hearts ready to grow because of gospel-seeds planted. Summer camp. Bathing suits and sandals. Bibles and worship. Water bottles and sunscreen. Bug spray and baseball caps. Counselors who’ve given their summer break to pour into the lives of little people, my little people, and I am forever grateful. All for one man.

Who does this for one man? A man they’ve never seen or met. A story they’ve only heard but still believe. Jesus. The one man, the only man that can turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. That can take broken pieces and create something whole, different but whole. That can redeem all things and make them new, even better, than before. Only one man can do this. Only Jesus. How do I know? How do these counselors know? How will my boys know?

How did Noah know the boat would be used and the rain would come? How did Abraham know baby Isaac would arrive? How did Mary know what grew in her belly would save the world? How could they believe?

Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8) When you’ve had a taste of God and his goodness, you know. You know it’s worth giving up your summer break to serve. You know its worth your time to build a boat when the land is dry. You know the baby will arrive even though your wife if barren. And you know your virgin belly holds Messiah. All because you have tasted of God. And it tastes good.

I was playing Bethel music this week and the lyrics brought me to tears. The intimacy and love towards God in the words broke me. There is great closeness to be had between us and God. The Spirit of God in us lets us know we are his children and gives us the ability to cry out “Abba, Papa.” (Galatians 4:6) Why was I crying over these lyrics? Why was I moved to tears? Because so many of God’s children do not know he is good, do not know he is Papa. Do not know the Spirit inside them that is longing to be used. He is in tears over this too.

Some of us spend our days knowing we made it into heaven but things end there. We might never know his heart for us or for the world. We might never give God a break or a boat or a baby or a belly simply because we love him. We might never give him anything of ourselves and that is a tragedy. Because God is so good at giving to us. He gave us everything, his sweet Jesus. His precious child, he gave freely. He gave so we might live, so we might taste his goodness and his heartbeat and know it taste good.

All we have to do is ask. Ask for more, ask to know him like the lyrics of these songs, ask to have a heart that is moved to give, ask to change, to experience Abba, to believe. To taste and see…..

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Lessons from a fruit stand

During a stay with my mom, the boys and I decided to take a visit to see my grandmother’s husband, Pat.  They married 15 years ago and found love the second time around after my grandfather’s passing. My grandmother, Charlie, really changed Pat’s world with her southern charm, knack in the kitchen and constant optimism.

Did you know you can heal someone’s soul with fried chicken and German chocolate cake? I didn’t, but it’s true. I watched it happen. Pat’s family was broken and bruised and my grandmother would rally them weekly for Sunday dinners and her secret prayers for reconciliation.

She passed away last year, and the kitchen grew cold and the family stopped coming by. The kitchen is the heart of the home, and this home became quiet and tired without her in it. I believe Pat’s soul grew quiet and tired too without the constant chatter and love of his bride. He crawled into a dark grief hole for a while, and it was a deep one to climb out of. He surfaced again, and we decided it was a good time to visit. He and his sister live on over 100 acres of farmland, so we braved the heat with mom and headed out to Eatonton, GA for a day of fishing, sweat and Dairy Queen.

On the drive, we approached Mom’s favorite fruit stand. She drove this road multiple times weekly as she cared for her dying mother last year. She would always bring fresh peaches for my grandmother and Pat. We stopped and had a look around. The boys had never stopped at a fruit stand and weren’t quite sure what to think, but we assured them we were safe and the fruit was edible.

The owner had lots of wares available other than fruit, including boiled peanuts and statues.  After purchasing a large styro-foam cup of salty boiled peanuts, I found the perfect cement Georgia Bulldog. How cute Ugga would be on my doorstep on Game day! However, he was about $7.00 to steep. After my disappointment over the cement dawg’s price, My eyes lifted and were shocked by what they saw.

Just behind my favorite mascot were sets of cement families, yes, there were life size children made of cement. What on earth would someone do with a cement family? Sit them out to scare trick or treaters? One little girl had her cement hair painted yellow  and was wearing a blue dress. Just behind these clearly caucasian statue-families was an identical cement family except their skin had been painted black- jet black, black as the night sky. I couldn’t believe it, this cement family with caucasian pigtails and facial features, had black paint covering them as if that made them another race. It was offensive and shocking and caused the boys to have many questions, and was something that you would only see driving down a deserted country road in the South.

I was thinking on this visit this morning, and those black cement families came to mind. I thought about how I’ve painted myself, covered myself, thinking I was in disguise, my imperfections and flaws hidden, incognito. Not realizing everyone could still see the real me if they looked hard enough. It was still me, just covered in a smile, or too much makeup, or new clothes or forced laughter. I spent a long time just putting that paint on so that others might assume I was someone else, someone better, someone who had it all together but it was really me, just covered up by the paint.

I am sure God looked down and was shocked, offended even that his daughter, who he had spent time creating, had slathered and covered her true self, trying to appear as something she wasn’t. I am guessing I am not the only one who does this, covers up their true self, because that self is hurt, or torn, or tired. Why do we do this? What are we afraid of?

I remember the day God asked me to take some of that paint off. He asked me to share some of my hurt, my past that I had kept hidden so long. So I stood in front of a large audience and talked about  the 17 years of darkness that I lived in. I had to share those hurt spaces, painful moments that no one knew the depths of. I had to stand before many women without the paint, and just be me. The broken and tired me.

I had to… because he asked me to…because obedience brings blessing…because I love Him that much.

And he asked me to…because he loves me that much…because there was someone in that audience he loved that much.

They needed to hear my story to know they could take their paint off too.

It was terrifying and really freeing to say those words, to say I was a mess but Jesus wasn’t, to say I had crawled in a hole and couldn’t get out, much like Pat after my grandmother died.

Being that vulnerable, that obedient, well, it opened doors for me, for my heart, for more freedom, for the need to wear less paint. Maybe it freed others up too.

I think it’s time some of us took our paint off and showed the real us, the broken and tired us, to someone, someone safe that we trust. Someone who might offer us some love, some grace. Like my grandmother did for Pat and his family with her fried chicken and German chocolate cake. Did you know those can heal souls? She walked into their broken and hurt places and offered what she had and brought healing. Maybe we need to offer what we have to someone who is hurting and broken and covered in paint.

I dream a lot and I’ve had several dreams about kitchens over the last year. Kitchens are the heart of the home and I would say God has been doing some heart work on me, calling me out of hiding, showing me how precious I am to him, asking me to take the paint off and to help others take their paint off too.

What if we all did this: loved others well, loved ourselves well, revealed our true selves and helped others be themselves.

What if we brought healing and love with what we had just like my grandmother, Charlie?

What if we just lived this paint-free life and loved others in a way that let them live paint- free?

It might look like this:

Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” Colossians 3:10-15

Lost and Found

I am always losing things. Always. My keys, my kids, my mind. I’m just a scattered, messy girl. I can never remember where I have put stuff! But whenever I lose something, I find something else. Like when I am looking for my keys in the bottom of my purse, I find my favorite lip gloss I bought last summer. (It stinks because the lip gloss is usually expired.) Or when I am looking for that earring back, I find the battery to the kid’s remote control car. (because earring backs and batteries belong in the same place, right?)

I’ve lost some important things lately, and they have all landed me in the same place: a church surrounded by people from my past.  I have been to 3 funerals in the last few years of people I loved dearly: my father, my grandmother, and my grandfather. It’s a tragedy to me; however, in the process of losing these precious people, I found something else. I found the memories of my childhood, the history and nostalgia of what makes me me. For each of these funerals, I spent some extended time in my hometown of Macon, Georgia, grieving and visiting with dear ones. I drove down old streets, sat with old people, listened to and told stories with family and friends and remembered. I remembered who I am and where I have come from.

I remembered that I grew up going to my grandfather’s country church to hear “Just as I am” played for 3 stanzas so that the lost could come down front for salvation. I remembered that cross-stitching was an art that my grandmother taught me and we would sit for hours and craft. I remembered that dad loved Mountain Dew and would sit in an old folding chair with buddies covered in grease stains from hours under the hood of a car. I remembered that VBS was where I met Jesus at age 9 and soon after my grandfather baptized me on Easter evening. I remembered Wednesday night suppers and pink foam rollers on Saturday nights so my hair was curly for Sunday School. I remembered how much I loved hymnals and Jesus and choirs and homemade lemonade with my great grandfather on his back porch.

I remembered how strong and faithful my family is to our tribe and we all stick together and when we lose one it hurts us all. I remembered snuggling up close with my grandmother for sleepovers and fresh made biscuits in the morning. I remembered youth group and lock-ins and my crazy friends and dancing with brushes for microphones. I remembered mom having us at church whenever the doors were open because she cared for the outcome of my soul…and it is well with my soul.

All of these memories and deposits made me who I am. There are many more, too many to write. Too many beautiful conversations and hugs with wise ones who had deep wrinkles and love in and around their eyes. For some reason, this last visit, this last funeral, made all these moments so real and so vivid. They were like a perfume in the air that I was grateful for. I missed them at the time. Missed the importance, the necessity of them. Tradition and memory are like hot soup on a really cold day, you don’t appreciate them until your body has an ache and a craving.

I think I’ve had an ache and a craving lately. I didn’t realize it was there. I’ve gotten a little lost over the years, not sure exactly where I fit in, who I am, what I believe about certain things. I’ve lost that confidence of my 16 year old self. At 16, I could win the race, because I was surrounded by this army-family that believed in me, that had poured tradition and memory and love and Jesus into me all those years. I could fly as high as I wanted according to them. They had placed treasures in me, beautiful treasures of faith, love and hope and I had no doubts.

But we all leave the nest and the world grabs a hold of us, and doubt and sin and loss place their ugly fingerprints on us and we forget. We lose something. Maybe we lose ourselves.

Thank goodness though, when we lose something, maybe ourselves, we find something. I found a lost piece of me this week, at a church, at my Papa’s funeral. I found what I had forgotten, who I am, what was put inside of me. What my grandparents and parents and aunt and uncles and cousins put inside of me, what my pastors and church and friends put inside of me, and that I still have an army-family that loves and believes in me. That’s who I am, full of tradition and memory, and country churches and hymns and salvation. That’s what inside of me and I love it. I had forgotten, I had lost it, but I am so glad I found it.  

The Holy, Hard Things

I have had the honor of having two Papas on this earth, my father and grandfather. Both were men who loved God, sharing his good news every opportunity they had. My father would share the love of God in sunday school classrooms and hospital halls and my grandfather from the pulpit. The pages of their Bibles were worn and covered with pen and highlight markers. I loved both these men and they were loved well by their friends and family. My father left us almost 5 years ago and my grandfather left us today.

These men had women beside their beds as they breathed out the earth and breathed in the kingdom. These women, my mom and grandmother, are two of the strongest women I know. They are very different, and I believe God placed the best of them inside me. My mom is powerful and decisive, and efficient. My grandmother is scattered and silly and loves to feed you. They are different but the same. They both believe in serving their families and their spouse no matter the cost. No matter how hard, no matter how isolating, no matter how heartbreaking.  Both of the men in their lives were very sick in the end. I had the privilege of watching them serve past the point of exhaustion: Sleepless nights, doctors visits, home health, countless medications. They fed these men, made sure they rested, made sure they kept their dignity in the last days that strip dignity away.

They never left. They never stopped. Despite the fear, despite the heartache, despite how hard it was. And I got to see it all. I got to see their tears, their faith, their love, and their surrender. And it changed me. 

It seems today some of us have lost this: the fight, the faith, the surrender to the hard things. We want to run away or let go or look for a way to ease the pain. Somehow, we bought the lie that God isn’t in the tough stuff, that we shouldn’t have to experience suffering. And if we do, we seek a remedy to make it go away. But God is there, ever present in hard things. Those times are holy times, when you sacrifice, surrender and find yourself alone with only God, crying out “Abba, Papa.”

What if instead of running away from the struggle in our life, we stayed put, served, loved, cried out to God….and found him. Found him in the Holy, hard things.

In Joshua 3 and 4 , the Israelites are getting ready to cross the Jordan river on their journey to the promised land. The priests are asked to go ahead of them with the Ark of the Covenant, which holds the presence of God. Joshua 3:17 states: “Meanwhile the priests stood on dry ground in the middle of the river bed as the people passed by them. They waited there until everyone had crossed the Jordan.”

And in 4:10, 11 – “The priests who were carrying the ark, stood in the middle of the river until all of the Lord’s instructions were carried out. And when everyone was on the other side, the priests crossed over with the Ark of the Covenant.”

These priests, these servant leaders, were asked to be brave, to give, to step forward, to endure, to wait, to be last. They held the presence of God while the wandering people, thousands and thousands of wandering people, walked past them. Who knew their doubts and fears and fatigue? The Jordan was at flood stage. What if the water receded, what if the people made it through and they didn’t? What if Joshua was wrong? But they endured so that others could be blessed. 

They were carrying this precious heavy load, the presence of God. And we see that they never let go and they stood until God’s instructions were complete. My mom and my grandmother have done this. They have carried a heavy, precious load because of the presence of God in them, because of their heart for the holy things. They didn’t run away when it got too hard, too much. They endured so that others could be blessed. 

Isn’t there a holy lesson here? To stand and bear the burden, to not give up, for the sake of the holy things, to serve and endure because the promised land is on the other side. And how privileged I feel to have observed it through these women in my life. Stand firm friends, God is in the hard things, carry his presence until his instructions are complete.

Galatians 6:9 “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Abba Father, Papa, give us strength to endure, to press on, to find you holy in these hard spaces.

Walks and talks

This summer, I went for a long walk on the beach with my oldest son, Mack. We were at the tip of Florida where the shells are amazing. The waves are mild so the mollusks don’t bury so deep in the sand. Because of this, they are brought in by the gentle tide and land on the shore. There are beautiful, unique shells all over the place. Ones like I’ve never seen before.

This beach walk was a precious slice of time with no brothers, no ipad, no distractions. Just me and my boy and the sea. And the shells. We started looking on the sand, but then begin to look to the left at the upcoming waves and there they were, these perfect baby conch shells just spinning in the tide.  We would race to grab them before the tide took them back out. Many times it did and we would sigh, but then cheer as it brought them back a little further down the beach. It was a game with the ocean, could we catch the shell before he took it away from us? Would he spit it back out?

We caught about 10, always checking to make sure there were no slimey friends inside. We gave a few away on our walk to shell hunters that weren’t as lucky as us. We felt a little prideful at our bounty. Every time we gave one away, the ocean would spit one back to us. I told Mack that is how God works, when you give, He gives back. The statement seemed to bounce off Mack. But maybe he heard it, really heard it. We also talked about marriage. His buddy’s parents are splitting up and I tried to explain a little about marriage. How it takes hard work, Jesus helps, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. He seemed to want to move on to less “boring” topics. Nevertheless, I tried to fill his ears with some wisdom while I had the chance.

It really was the perfect little walk, storm approaching, waves rolling, wind blowing, and my boy. Opportunities like this have to be seized, I am learning. I have to grab on to him before the world does. On this day, the world reminded me of  the ocean. It can pulls us in, toss us around and spit us out.  Who knows where it will release us. Who knows what’s out there, under the weight of the world, just like the dark water.

I’ve always been afraid of the ocean. It’s an unknown, curious place, full of danger and beauty, death and life. My husband loves to dive in, but I am always cautious, concerned that something might bite my foot off or slip by me and drag me under. The world is like that too I suppose. Some of us dive right in, some of us are more cautious. But it’s an unknown, curious place, full of danger and beauty, death and life. We can easily get pulled under and tossed around. It’s easy to lose our way.

I think on this more these days as Mack approaches 11 and the teen years are just around the corner. Have I prepared him for the beautiful, deadly world? Will the world pull him in and spit him out? Who will win? Will he find beauty or danger? Death or life? Will he be tossed about like these shells who didn’t dig deep, who just floated at the surface?

Sometimes I feel tossed around by the world and all it’s distractions. But I am reminded that Christ is what grounds me, what keeps me steady.

This verse is my prayer is for Mack, and all of us that get tossed about like these beautiful shells: “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”  (Hebrews 6:19).

I later found out that these shells are called “fighting conch.” I loved this and the imagery it brought. We are all tossed around by this sea of a world, but we must have some fight in us. Fight to stand firm, to fight for our marriages, for our children, for our eyes and minds and souls. Jesus, may we be found faithful, fighting for you and the things you hold dear.

The Smell of Poverty

I remember roaches dropping off the ceiling then scampering on my paperwork. I hate roaches and when I see them, chills run up my spine and I become paralyzed. But here I was, sitting with this family, in government housing, trying to conduct a therapy session with roaches falling from the ceiling.

I remember testifying in court, telling the judge that the mother was unfit to keep her three children, while watching her cry in the seat in front of me. I had no children of my own, but I had to guess that when you cook meth in the shed out back you aren’t fit to parent.

I remember standing in the single-wide with a little guy when his mom walked out the door. She had left me with her son because she just couldn’t do it anymore. I had shown up for a family session and was left with a little boy. The authorities and child protective services showed up and I left crying.

I remember sitting with a family at their kitchen table discussing all the safety measures in place, the alarms on the sibling’sdoors, the behavior plans, the therapy sessions, and my nausea from my unprepared heart. How was I supposed to help this family whose elementary age son was a sex offender?

I remember curling up in a ball on my family room floor, having a panic attack, telling my husband “I can’t do this anymore.” I was too young, too inexperienced, too afraid to do this too hard job I had been given. A “family therapist” for those at risk and I was only 24 and barely married.

There are so many more stories I could tell, stories of incredible heartache and heartbreak, of poverty and prison walls, of death and destruction. Nine years of watching the hurting and the broken try to survive. I worked for a non-profit that provided free therapy services to at risk families. I’ve seen things I can never un-see, things I wish I never saw.

I walked away from this job to raise my own family with a fingerprint on my heart that changed me. Sometimes that fingerprint is a little too dull. Like when I’m trying to figure out which pair of shoes I will wear because there are so many to choose from. Or what vacation we will go on because there is money that allows me to make a choice. Or what summer camp to send my boys to, maybe I’ll send them to more than one. When the fingerprint is too dull, I forget all I saw and smelled.

Poverty has a smell. Did you know that?

I smelled it the other day in the gas station. I was buying my son a snack and two gentlemen were buying lottery tickets. They looked like they were day laborers with ripped clothes and work boots. It was a really cold day and they smelled of really strong propane. Poor families have to use propane heaters to warm their homes because they can’t pay their heating bill.  They smell because they don’t always wash their clothes because detergent and water costs money. I forget that sometimes. They smell because life is hard and things aren’t guaranteed.

I was thankful to smell them and continued to breathe them in. I know that sounds weird, but I wanted to remember the smell of poverty. I had forgotten and my soul needed to remember. The fingerprint had gotten too dull. It’s been dulled by big houses, and beautiful clothes, and vacations and good food. I had to remember the smell of poverty so I could remember all I had learned and how I had changed those 9 years. I never want to forget.

I’ll never forget sitting in that DFCS waiting room to drop off paperwork. I was surrounded by mothers who had to convince a caseworker that they were working the plan and could see their daughter this weekend. Mothers who needed to get approved for food stamps so they could fill bellies and then go buy cigarettes. Mothers who wished they were me in my nice clothes and my nice car, just dropping off paperwork.

I’ll never forget sitting with school counselors and social workers and probation officers and judges and caseworkers trying to decide the fate of a family. I’ll never forget sitting on a back porch with a grandmother, deciding to cut her granddaughter’s hair because the lice were just too much. I’ll never forget securing a mattress for a family because that was all they had left to get in order for the kids to come home.

I was thankful to cross paths with those men in the gas station, thankful to smell them, to remember poverty and what it means. I came across a prayer today by Billy Graham: “Might I always remember the poverty of my soul before Your love invaded my life, Lord Jesus, and I knew You as Savior.”

I read a little today on the poverty of the soul. Some feel it is the condition we are in before we know Christ as Savior, some believe it is our inability to see the good in life. However you define it, soul poverty is hard. Billy Graham asked that he would always remember it. Why would we want to remember this poverty? This soul poverty where we are broken and tired and wandering, just looking for a home to rest our mind and bones. Soul poverty has felt like a wandering for me. A constant looking for approval, acceptance, purpose, a place to rest my mind and my bones.

I was walking around with treasure inside, yet had no idea it was there. How frustrating that must have been to God. He had given me his everything and I was walking around like I had nothing, soul poor looking for a home. I was striving to find meaning, and it was inside me all along. Buried deep by doubt, but there all along.

So, again, why would we want to remember the poverty of our souls? A friend once told me, you can’t know the light until you’ve been in the darkness. It’s so true. Spending time every day with the poor allowed me to appreciate the good things in my life, things taken for granted. Like name brand ice cream and hair products. Like wrinkle cream and air conditioning. Like new tennis shoes for my boys and trips to the beach. Because of those days with the poor, I usually don’t take for granted the richness in my life. The same is true for the poverty of my soul. Those days of dark wandering make me appreciate the light I’m living in now. The blessed assurance I have now, finally knowing all that I am because of my Savior. Please let me remember the dark poverty of my soul so I can appreciate the light, whole and healed soul that I have now.

Poverty has a smell, but so does our life in Christ. 2 Corinthians 2: 15-16 states, “For we are to God the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved…a fragrance that brings life.”Look around, are you being the sweet aroma of Christ to others? A fragrance that brings life? Or are you walking around soul poor and kind of stinky? Doubt stinks, you know. I bet the enemy stinks pretty bad too. He loves keeping us poor and broken and just smelly.

I have come out of a season of doubting and entered a season of declaring. Declaring who God is and who I am because of him. I am smelling sweet these days! I believe I am sweet aroma to him. No more stinky, stale soul poverty for me.

So come out friends and be a sweet aroma to those around you but let us never forget the poverty of our souls before we met Christ!