Saturday, April 29, 2017

He is Still My Son

For months—if not years—I tried to ignore the signs. It was easier to make excuses. It was easier to brush them off. It was easier to assume that the behavior patterns I was seeing in my son were all related to Down syndrome or simply personality. But no matter how hard I tried, my suspicions grew…

As a two-year-old, one of Benjamin’s favorite pass times was to sit and twirl his little high-lighter yellow, stuffed gorilla in his chubby, little hands. He would study it from every angle, entirely absorbed and fascinated. It was pretty darn cute, though we always tried to encourage more interactive play. As a seven-year-old he still continuously seeks out plush toys (monkeys and Elmo are his personal favorites, but anything with limbs will do) so that he can obsessively twirl them or chew on their limbs. It is no longer cute but concerning. 

As a three-year-old, his fascination with light-up, musical, baby toys and the spinning of his See-n-Say, seemed age appropriate for his current level of play. He loved the repetitive patterns of the sounds and lights. As a seven-year-old, his interest in toys has not progressed, and he his favorite toys remain the same. They have become the common background noise in our home.

When Benjamin was only a few years old I would attend play dates with him so he would have the opportunity to be around other children. He showed little to no interest in them, but I chalked it up as his young age and current developmental level. After years of opportunity for peer interaction at school, and now the presence of younger siblings at home, he still displays little to no interest in playing with other children (unless they can sing him “Wheels on the Bus” with the hand motions)! So much of the time he seems to be off in his own little world. 

For so long I have been aching to hear my son say “Mama,” or any purposeful word for that matter. As the years slip by, his non-verbal state becomes more heart-breaking, but I continue to hold onto hope that one day he will speak.

When the repetitive hand-flapping surfaced a year or so ago, my suspicions grew even more. As a member of various Down syndrome support groups on social media, I was also becoming increasingly aware that our life with Down syndrome looks VERY different from others. But still, I struggled to admit my concerns. I was afraid that giving voice to them would solidify them, and was I ready to face that reality?

Finally, I realized that I was being selfish. I wanted to resist what I was sensing because I didn’t want to deal with the pain that may result. Benjamin is my son whom I love with all my heart. Nothing will ever change that, and understanding what is truly going on with him will make it easier to give him the help he needs. So, with a deep breath and a new resolve I told my husband, “I think we should have Benjamin tested for autism.”

There... I said it…I can’t take it back again. Shawn was surprised and resistant at first. He had been making the same excuses. He feared facing a dual diagnosis as well. I explained to him my reasoning, and before long he relented and even supported the new quest.

Where to begin? I began by contacting the pediatrician’s office, requesting a referral for testing. I was shocked by the response I received. “There is no reason to test Benjamin for autism since he already has Down syndrome. It wouldn’t change anything.” EXCUSE ME!!! At best this response was outdated ignorance. Not to be deterred I reached out to the local support group. I was referred to a child psychologist who would not require a doctor’s referral and whose services would be covered by Benjamin’s insurance. Thus, began a several month process--largely due to scheduling gaps caused by his full caseload.

There was the initial consultation with my husband and me, there were mountains of paperwork and questionnaires to be filled out, there was a one-on-one observation session with Benjamin and the psychologist, there was a joint observation session in which my husband was present and able to answer questions, and finally, there was the ending consultation that I attended while the psychologist reviewed the official results with me. This last session was less than a week ago at the time of this writing. Going in, I expected him to tell me that Benjamin is indeed on the spectrum, but I was hopeful that it would be a mild case. It was both surprising and disheartening to hear him say that my son has autism spectrum disorder level 3—the highest level. He did assure me that this can change as our son grows and develops and as we continue intervention services with him. But still…my baby boy is faced with another daunting hurdle after having been through so much since he was born.

That evening after Benjamin was asleep I snuck into his room and lay down beside him. I held him, and kissed him, and prayed over him. I told him how very much I love him. He is still first and foremost my son. A new diagnosis does not change that and never will…

This is the same little boy who opened my womb, giving me my first positive pregnancy test after over two years of trying and countless tears of longing to conceive, finally making me a mother…

This is the same little boy who flooded my heart with an intensity of love and a pain I never knew was possible when he entered the world fighting for his life…

This is the same little boy who defied the odds and was nurtured at my breast for over two years…

This is the same resilient little boy who has overcome challenges both medical and developmental, all the while teaching me that what others may perceive as little things are cause for big celebration!...

This is the same little boy whose favorite things are his See-n-Say, “Wheels on the Bus,” Elmo, and stuffed monkeys, (not to mention food!)…

This is the same little boy who has always loved to have Mommy sing to him as he holds onto my neck and bobs up and down, dancing with delight…

This is the same little boy who has flooded my heart with joy every day with his sweet smile, contagious laughter, and affectionate hugs…

This is the same little boy who re-ignited my passion for writing and became the inspiration for my first book Reflections from Holland: A New Mother’s Journey with Down Syndrome

This is the same little boy who has given my husband and me the opportunity to connect with a beautiful community of people over the years who we may have never met otherwise…

When Benjamin was a newborn fighting for his life in the NICU, we knew very little about Down syndrome. So, what did we do? We began to educate ourselves. We allowed ourselves to grieve. We reached out for support. We prayed. And above all—we LOVED our son. We took to heart the wise advice from a dear friend to “Celebrate your son every day.”

We are now at a new crossroads with Benjamin’s new diagnosis. Presently, we still know very little about autism. So, what will we do? We will begin to educate ourselves. We will allow ourselves to grieve. We will reach out for support. We will pray. And, most importantly, we will continue to LOVE our son. We will choose to celebrate him every day, through good times and bad. After all, at the end of the day, Benjamin is still our son, and he is enough!


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

"Don't sweat the small stuff," a wise woman recently spoke over me as I was receiving prayer at a small group gathering. Her simple words resonated deeply on the inside, and through them I felt the gentle exhortation of my Savior.

It's so easy to allow the trivial circumstances and common frustrations of life to rob us of our peace and joy. It's so easy to make mountains out of molehills and become so caught up in the temporal that we have no time to consider the eternal. How quickly I can fall into this trap and find myself spinning in my mind and my emotions!

I'm behind on the laundry!...

We didn't get the dishes done, and now I have to prepare dinner in a messy kitchen so we're not late for our meeting tonight!...

Benjamin had a dirty diaper blow-out, and he's a mess, along with his clothes and his the sheets on his bed! Where do I start?...

I need to get all three kids out the door in the next five minutes so we're not late for Benjamin's therapy appointment. My four-year-old doesn't want to put on her shoes, my toddler keeps pulling off his shoes, and Benjamin is crying by the door because he's anxious to go!...

My toddler is trying to eat things out of the trash can!...

My four-year-old made a complete mess of her bedroom when she was supposed to be taking a nap!...

I have ten things on my to-do list, and I can't seem to complete even one without constant interruptions!...

These are some simple previews from my day-to-day life. Your list of triggers may be completely different, but you get the idea! There are constant opportunities in this journey called life to allow the tyranny of the urgent to take center stage in our hearts and minds. Before we know it we're caught up in simply trying to manage and maintain instead of living with purpose and vision.

We have a few chalk boards in our kitchen on which I like to write down scripture verses and inspiring quotes that I can read as I go throughout the day. Last week during my early morning devotional time, a phrase ran through my mind, and I quickly jotted it down as a constant reminder:

Steward the temporal. Cherish the eternal.

Isaiah 26:3 holds a wonderful promise...

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (NLT)

When I focus my mind on Jesus, I am able to see the circumstances around me from the proper perspective. I don't have to allow the trivial things of life to control me. I want to be a good steward of the mundane realities that come with caring for a home and raising small children, but I desire to approach these tasks with a heart of worship and an eternal vision. This will only happen as I take me thoughts captive and focus them on Jesus.

I've been considering this advice as it relates to the hearts of my children as well. Small stuff can appear VERY BIG to a young child's perspective. Simple inconveniences and frustrations can be perceived as a major crisis...

I can't get my toy to turn on! (Benjamin)

The Elmo DVD hasn't started yet! (Benjamin)

My shoe is on the wrong foot, and I have to switch it! (Joelle)

My little brother got into my toy box! (Joelle)

Mommy went into the bathroom and shut the door on me! (Josiah)

I want to pull things out of the cupboards and drawers, and Mommy stopped me! (Josiah)

I'm hungry and supper isn't ready yet!!! (All three)

From my vantage point, I can easily recognize how trivial the triggers for their meltdowns really are. (Father God could say the same about me!) However, in the midst of my children lamenting over the temporal, I have an opportunity to invest in the eternal. Let me explain...

In another hour (or even five minutes) they probably won't remember the mishap or frustration that currently feels so monumental to their little hearts. What they will remember, though, is my response to them in the midst of it. They will remember if I distractedly brushed them aside so that I could complete my "supremely important" task of chopping the vegetables for dinner or sorting the dirty laundry. They will remember if I reacted to their frustration with frustration of my own. They will remember if I disregard their very real feelings because I see the situation as so very trivial.

I don't want these to be their memories.

I want them to remember Mommy being free to stop whatever she's doing to hug them and wipe away their tears.

I want them to remember Mommy coming alongside and helping them remedy the situation.

I want them to remember Mommy taking the opportunity to teach them that their emotions are not wrong, but they have a choice in how they respond.

I want them to remember Mommy praying with them and asking Jesus for His peace and His help in any given situation, teaching them to turn to the Lord in all things.

I want them to remember watching me make good choices in my responses because the actions I model to them will teach them more than my words ever could.

I want them to remember Mommy humbling herself and asking for forgiveness in the times that I let my emotions get the better of me and I don't respond well.

I want them to feel and know that Mommy is a safe place to run when they are hurting or upset so that they will keep coming as the years go by and the nature of their struggles and frustrations take on a new face.

Ultimately, I want them to see in me the One who is truly the safest place they can run, so that they will learn to make the Lord their refuge at all times.

Don't sweat the small stuff...REDEEM IT!

The truth of the matter is, the "small stuff" creates the building blocks for the "big stuff"--things like character development, communication, security, identity, relationship, priorities...and the list goes on and on.

Steward the temporal. Cherish the eternal. 

I want to faithfully steward the "small stuff" of the temporary in order to build on that with is eternal in my life and the in the lives of my precious children. And that, my friends, is BIG!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Gifts and Rewards

This verse is a favorite of mine because it so clearly speaks of God's heart and His value system. If the Lord of all creation has a gift He desires to give to me, I want to receive it gladly! If He has a reward with which He wants to bless me, I want to embrace it fully! How beautiful the thought that each and every child is a gift and a reward. How can anyone feel insignificant in the light of this reality? Each and every child conceived is a gift and a reward from the very heart of God. 

Notice that this passage does not hold any exclusions. It does not say, "Children who were specifically planned for...," or "children who are perfectly healthy...," or "children who we can afford...," or "children who were born under the right set of circumstances...," or "children in manageable numbers..." No. It simply says "Children are a gift from the Lord."

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that often perceives children as an inconvenience, a burden, or even a "mistake." We have been so deluded that we even deny the humanity of a child in the womb if that child is not wanted. These sentiments are often even stronger if a child has special needs and/or medical complications. But the Word of God says that "Children are a gift from the Lord..." This means ALL children, regardless of any external circumstances. 

My sweet son Benjamin, with his extra chromosome and the resulting challenges that he faces, is a gift from the Lord. He is a reward. It is our joy and delight to embrace him as such--to love, nurture, and care for him and to learn more about the beautiful heart of Father God along the way. He is a blessing, and he always will be!

If we read on in Psalm 127 it tells us, "Children born to a young many are like arrows in a warrior's hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!" (vs 4-5; underline mine). We also live in a culture that often discourages and even criticizes large families. So many couples want to limit their families to one or two children. We are given so many reasons for this--money, education, manageability, career pursuits, etc... However, God's value system is so different from our own. He clearly tells us that children are a gift and a reward, and that multiple children bring joy. Each child is created in the image of God, full of potential and destiny that no one else can carry in the same way. 

Shortly before I conceived Joelle, our second child, I attended a women's gathering called The Esther Call. It was a day of fasting and prayer for the ending of abortion in our nation. During the event we had amazing times of worship and prayer, along with powerful testimonies of women who's lives had been impacted by abortion. Some were post-abortive mothers who grieved for the children they lost, some were siblings of aborted children, who wished they had the opportunity to know their brothers and sisters, and some were abortion survivors, whose mothers chose life for them even at the last minute. As one voice, the hundreds of us who were gathered declared Psalm 127:3, and thanked the Lord for the blessing of children. At this time I was longing to have more children, and in His goodness the Lord rewarded me a few months later. We now have three precious gifts, and we are willing to receive more "arrows" from the Lord if He wills it for us. 


The truth is, so much of what the world perceives as gifts and rewards are material in nature. They are fleeting, soon to pass away. However, the gifts and rewards of God are eternal. Each new child is an eternal soul, one birthed from the heart of God, and one who Jesus shed His precious blood to redeem. As parents, we have the monumental calling of teaching and preparing our children to know the Lord, to walk in His ways, and fulfill the call of God on their lives. He did not promise that this calling would be easy or trouble-free, but He did promise that it will be filled with joy!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Unfailing Goodness

"I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." --Psalm 27:13, NKJV

For years the 27th Psalm has been one of my favorite passages of scripture. It contains such richness of trust and confidence in God's strength, protection, and faithfulness. It speaks of all-consuming desire for His Presence and beauty. It declares His goodness in the face of struggle and uncertainty. In different seasons of my life, specific passages from what I have come to refer to as my "life Psalm" have resonated within me at a deeper level. Presently, it is the above verse that is both stirring my heart with gratitude and anchoring my soul with truth. Let me explain...

Perhaps I will begin by recalling a now cherished memory from over seven years ago. It was December of 2009. Benjamin was seven months old, and we had just discovered that he had double hernias that would require surgery. It was a minor procedure compared to the open heart surgery he faced the previous summer, but it was another medical hurdle after an already exhausting seven months of challenges. I was struggling to say the least. During this time a trusted friend encouraged Shawn and me to offer God a sacrifice of praise in the midst of our pain. To continue the narrative, here is an excerpt from my book Reflections from Holland: A New Mother's Journey with Down Syndrome...

On one particular day that week, Benjamin was extra fussy and did not want to be put down at all. I wasn't feeling well myself, and I was so weary by the afternoon. Needing a momentary break, I went out to check the mail. Some friends of ours who had a baby boy a few months after we did had sent us a personalized Christmas card and letter, with pictures of their family and their smiling baby. I noticed that, though younger than our son, he was holding his head up with ease. Benjamin's neck was still a bit floppy, and we had to make sure he wouldn't flail his head back while being held. As I read their Christmas letter that shared about how well their son was doing and how much they were enjoying life with him (as they absolutely should), something inside of me broke. Waves of grief swept over me as I mourned the early C-section in place of a healthy, full-term delivery. I mourned the long hospital stays in the place of bringing my baby home from the start. I mourned the numerous health conditions in place of a healthy, thriving baby. I mourned the developmental delays in the place of a typically developing child. And now we were facing another medical challenge. It wasn't fair!

I knew I was in self-pity, but I remembered the exhortation to offer a sacrifice of praise, so as I held my fussy baby, I began to sing the chorus "So Good to Me" out of sheer will. As my son's cries escalated, I sat down to nurse him, opened my Bible to Psalm 27, and began to read aloud. I didn't get very far before deep sobs rose up inside of me and I began to release my pent-up grief to the Lord. In the midst of the pain, I felt His peace wash over my heart, and I knew we weren't walking through this alone.

The memory of that day will forever be etched in my memory. Sometimes it is the seemingly insignificant and hidden moments of our lives that in fact become the most significant. They are the moments that begin to define us and establish those thing that have lasting value in our hearts. In that moment (and in many moments since) I experienced the reality that "The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit," (Psalm 34:18, NIV). I discovered that my pain offered to Him in worship could be transformed into a doorway for encounter with my beautiful Savior Who loves me and is present with me in ALL circumstances. What an extraordinary gift!

David, the lowly shepherd boy turned king, who authored most of the Psalms of the Bible, was keenly and intimately aware of this nearness of God in the midst of suffering. His fiery trials taught him the secret of how to strengthen himself in the Lord as he recalled time and again Who God is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do. It is for this reason that he was able to declare in Psalm 27:13 "I would have lost heart, unless I believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." In verse 14 he then goes on to exhort us, "Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say on the Lord!"

Recently, I have been struggling again. Benjamin is approaching his eighth birthday this May. He is still non-verbal, still in diapers, and still mesmerized by twirling stuffed animals and musical baby toys. In last few weeks we've had some viruses hit our home, and Benjamin has not been exempt. He can't tell us what doesn't feel good, so we have to try our best to decipher through his cries and symptoms. It hurts me to see him hurting. We have also recently begun the process of having him tested for autism. I have suspected this possibility for a long time, but I have honestly been afraid to give voice to it until now. However, I want to provide my son with the best opportunities to learn and grow, and maybe this will be a missing puzzle piece to aid us in our journey  At times I feel so helpless to help him. At times I feel hope waning that he will ever be able talk or relate in a deeper way. Our communication is so limited, and I long to know the inner workings of my sweet son's heart and mind.  It is here that I need to give pause and recall to mind the goodness of my God. It is in this place that I need to remember Who my God is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do! I do not have the time or the space here to list all the ways He has shown us His goodness since our son's birth, but will you please join me now as I testify to what He has done in and through Benjamin?

Benjamin could have died in the womb, but my low amniotic fluid, and his plummeting heart rate were discovered at just the right time.

Though I did not desire a C-section, the procedure ended up saving his life as the umbilical cord was looping around his neck.

The NICU staff did not expect our little warrior to survive, but when he was nearly a month old we brought him home.

His open heart surgery was a success, and was performed by the world class heart surgeon Dr. Nikaidoh, an amazingly humble, Christian man from Japan.

Friends and family poured out an abundance of support physically, emotionally, and spiritually during our most difficult days.

Benjamin's subsequent surgeries were successful with speedy recoveries.

Though he was diagnosed with infantile spasm seizures in early 2010, the Lord miraculously healed him a few months later, and he has never had a seizure since!

He was diagnosed with permanent hearing loss on the eve of his first birthday and soon after fitted with hearing aids. A few months prior to his third birthday, it was medically confirmed that his hearing had been completely restored, and we were told to discontinue use of this hearing aids!

Benjamin has worked hard to achieve milestones that felt so out of reach for so long, including walking, feeding himself, and using some sign language.

He has brought us such joy through his smiles, laughter, and unhindered affection.

He has grown in independence, attending school, loving the bus transport, and enjoying the simple structure of his days.

He has become a big brother to first a sister and now a little brother, and is a vital part of our beautiful little family.

He has taught us about life and the heart of God in unique ways that we would have not discovered otherwise.

He has a sweet connection with Lord, coming alive with joy in His Presence.

Benjamin is a child of promise with the hand of God on his young life. The journey has never looked how I expected it would, but, then again, how often does life ever look the way we envision? Circumstances change, trials and joys come and go. Life is uncertain, God is eternal. The air that fills our lungs, and the blood that pumps through our hearts are gifts sustained by our Creator. Each new days is a mercy, not an entitlement. I do not know what the future will look like, but I do know that whatever the landscape may be, the one sure thing is that I will see the goodness of the Lord. This is my hope, my song, and my confidence. HE IS GOOD!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

What Being Pro-Life Means to Me

If you are on social media, no doubt you've seen the recent increase of posts and articles concerning the issue of abortion. The pro-choice Women's March on Washington following the presidential inauguration contrasted by the pro-life March for Life shortly after on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade has propelled this decades-old debate into the spotlight once more. Opinions and passions run high from both viewpoints as people share the reason and rhetoric for their stance.

I must admit that I am among those that have been taking notice and using social media to raise my voice on this issue for which I am extremely passionate. My passion runs deep. For one, I am the mother of a beautiful little boy who happens to have Down syndrome. Statistically, the majority of women would have chosen to abort him. I also know the sting of personal loss at the hands of abortion. While I never have (and never will) have an abortion myself, I have lost family members at the hands of abortionists--family members I was not given the opportunity to know because they were not given the opportunity to live. I have witnessed first-hand the long-term regret and grief that rises from such choices, and I have had my own share of grief as a result. (I may write more about this in time...) Finally, as a Christian I believe that every life is knit together in the womb by the Author of Life, that every life holds immense and eternal value in His sight, and that every new life is a miracle, regardless of the circumstances surrounding conception.

One of the things that has struck me this week as I have scrolled social media and seen the various posts is that there is not only a debate between being pro-life or pro-choice; there is also a debate about what it actually means to be pro-life. It's got me thinking...

I noticed one article that was basically calling out white, conservative, Christians for not truly being pro-life. Since I match the above criteria, I was interested to see what the author had to say. Some of his points were valid. He made the argument that the conservative, pro-life view often only focuses on the birth of the child and not on the care of the child and mother henceforth. I firmly believe that being pro-life MUST include being pro-adoption. If we want to see these precious lives saved from the abortionists scalpel, then we MUST be willing to welcome them into our homes and hearts. I also would love to see greater outreach to pregnant women in crisis, not only in the form of crisis pregnancy centers and government-sponsored programs but also in the life-styles of every day people, reaching out with love and support. I pray that Christians especially will rise up, embrace these women, come along side them, and mentor them in motherhood. We must be willing to give of our own lives.

"This is My commandment, that you love and unselfishly seek the best for one another, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends." --John 15:12-13 Amplified Bible 

However, the author of the article went on to propose that if we do not accept, embrace, and celebrate diversity in the areas of religion, sexual orientation, and personal morality, we are not truly pro-life. This is where the line is drawn in the sand, and this is where I cannot agree.

I would like to interject something here. Sadly our nation has become so polarized with an "Us vs. Them" mentality: conservative vs. liberal, republican vs. democrat, pro-this vs. pro-that, anti-this vs. anti-that. In reality, neither "side" has it all right. There are definite merits and glaring flaws on both sides of the fence. Why? Because we are flawed human beings operating within flawed systems. None of us have all the answers. So, my disagreement with the author's stance mentioned above does not have to do with political allegiance but with my allegiance to the Flawless One, the only One who truly has all the answers. Let me explain...

The humanistic ideology of our day would proclaim that love and acceptance must mean embracing all beliefs, all religions, and all lifestyles as equal and legitimate. There is no actual plumb-line for truth, but truth is instead based on individual preference and desire. The author of the article I read held to this belief, proclaiming that I do not truly value life unless I embrace this "free-for-all" world-view. 

However, the Lord of all Creation describes life and love in very different terms, and His Word is my plumb-line for truth and what it means to be pro-life. Listen to the words of Jesus from the Amplified Bible...

"The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. --John 10:10 

"Jesus answered her, 'If you knew [about] God's gift [of eternal life], and who it is who says, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him [instead], and He would have given you living water (eternal life)." --John 4:10 

"...If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink! He who believes in Me [who adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Me], as the Scripture has said, 'From his innermost being will flow continually rivers of living water." --John 7:37-38

"For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life." --John 3:16

"...I am the [only] Way [to God] and the [real] Truth and the [real] Life; no one comes the Father but through Me." --John 14:6

God created human beings in His own image to be in loving relationship with Him forever. He created us to find our life and our satisfaction in Him. However, when Adam and Eve sinned by their disobedience to God, death and destruction entered our world and separated us from the very One for Whom we are created. Not willing that we be lost from Him forever, our Holy and Merciful God gave the life of His own Son on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and restore us to relationship with Him. He extends to us the free gift of forgiveness for our sins and the promise of eternal life with Him, but He does not force us to accept. However, for those who refuse His incredible grace, only judgement awaits.

"If we say we have no sin [refusing to admit that we are sinners], we delude ourselves and the truth is not in us. [His word does not live in our hearts.] If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just [true to His own nature and promises], and will forgive our sins and cleanse us continually from all unrighteousness [our wrongdoing, everything not in conformity with His will and purpose]." --1 John 1:8-9 

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God [that is, His remarkable, overwhelming gift of grace to believers] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." --Romans 6:23 

"Then these [unbelieving people] will go away into eternal (unending) punishment, but those who are righteous and in right standing with God [will go, by His remarkable grace] into eternal (unending) life." --Matthew 25:46

"And if anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was hurled into the lake of fire." --Revelation 20:15

All roads do not lead to heaven. When it is all said and done, the ETERNAL DESTINY of every human being from the dawn of time until its end will be DETERMINED BY THEIR ACCEPTANCE OR REJECTION OF JESUS CHRIST. Life is only found in Him. For this reason, I cannot embrace and celebrate any other religion or lifestyle that is contrary to Him. I cannot passively accept that which will ultimately lead to another's destruction. If I truly love people, and if I truly value life, I will spend my life pointing others to the Source of Life. The Lord is so patient, continually extending grace and the opportunity to repent and turn to Him. 

"The Lord does not delay [as though He were unable to act] and is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is [extraordinarily] patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." --2 Peter 3:9


In this day of moral relativism, the Gospel of Jesus Christ offends people because it brings our sin into the light, and it establishes truth that cannot be erased, no matter how inconvenient it may feel. We cannot live life however we please, free of consequence and accountability. One day we will all stand before the Lord and give an account for how we lived our lives in response to His Son. The day will come when...

"(A)t the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow [in submission], of those who are in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess and openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord (sovereign God), to the glory of God the Father." --Philippians 2:10-11 

If I am truly pro-life, my value for life and my love for people will be greater than my fear of offending them or of being misunderstood by them. To use an analogy, if my neighbors' house was on fire but they did not perceive it, I would not sit idly by and "accept" their difference of belief and opinion. I would yell "FIRE!" and warn them of the impending danger. Maybe my warning would offend them because they cannot presently see what I can see. Maybe they would question my motives. Maybe they would respond with anger and hatred. However, if I truly believe that their lives are on the line, I will not allow these things to deter me; I will continue to do what I can to lead them out to safety. Anything less would not be love. 

I am pro-life. I pray for the ending of abortion. I pray for a culture of adoption. Most importantly, though, I pray for another Great Awakening in our nation. I pray that God will pour out His Spirit and turn the hearts of men, women, and children of all various races and lifestyles to Himself, the Giver of Life--Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever! 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

De-Cluttering Heart and Home

Clutter--one little word that encompasses so much MESS! How quickly it can creep in, overtaking homes and hearts. It can feel like an uphill battle filled with great effort yet little returns--one step forward, two steps back. Writing from the perspective of a stay-at-home mom this battle is especially keen. How much energy is spent during a given day simply trying to maintain some semblance of order in the crazy and beautiful chaos of family life, when efforts are so quickly unraveled and the cycle begins afresh with each new sunrise? Toys picked up off the floor are quickly strewn about again, books placed neatly (or not-so-neatly) on the book shelf are dismantled in lightening-quick speed by tiny hands, laundry piles are in constant motion, empty sinks are quickly filled again, empty trashcans are soon overflowing, and the list goes on and on...

We purchased our home well over six years ago, shortly after Benjamin celebrated his first birthday. Up to this point we had only been renters, and we were thrilled to take the big step of becoming home owners. After living in fairly small spaces, our three-bedroom home just shy of 1200 square feet felt like a palace! I had more cupboard and closet space than ever before, and with only one child at the time, we utilized the third bedroom as a home office. I could not imagine filling the space we now had--HAA!

Two more children and six years of accumulation later I feel we are close to busting out the seams! Our desk and bookshelves have been housed in the garage since we welcomed Joelle into the world, and it keeps filling up as the grand "catch-all" of our home. (Forget about parking a vehicle in the there!) Closets are stuffed and overflowing, furniture arrangements have had to become more creative, and I feel like I'm in a constant juggling act to maintain it all. 

As I said, clutter creeps in over time, and I believe that mothers especially are prone to internalizing the external. The clutter of the home can so quickly become clutter of the soul, igniting feelings of stress, frustration, inadequacy, and a general sense of being overwhelmed. In our hearts we desire to love and serve our families well, to enjoy and cherish the childhood years, and to cultivate and maintain a life-giving home environment. However, the monotony of the mundane and the tyranny of the urgent--if allowed--can rob us of our joy. 

This has been my struggle as I have embraced this beautiful, difficult, rewarding, and exhausting call of motherhood. One moment I can be drinking in the giggles and cuddles with my little ones, and the next moment I can be tense and frustrated by the messes I see piling up around me. As I calculate the never-ending to-do list, the conviction and desire to spend quality time with my kids, and the constant demands and interruptions of little ones when I just want to complete one household task start to finish, the exasperated cry can quickly well up within me, "I can't keep up with it all!!!" 

This is the clutter of the heart that turns my focus from what is truly important to that which is fleeting. The seemingly unending tasks of maintaining a home are truly only temporary, while the little souls of my children are eternal. 

Isaiah 40:11 holds a wonderful promise for mothers,

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.

As we entered this new year, I told the Lord that I want to focus on knowing Him more as my Shepherd. I want to go deeper in my understanding and experience of being led and nurtured by Him. We become what we behold, and as I behold Jesus as my Shepherd I will be better able to shepherd the little lambs He's entrusted to me. 

Earlier this week I was nursing Josiah to sleep for a nap and scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across two separate articles shared by a few of my friends. In a nutshell, one was about de-cluttering the heart, not allowing our to-do lists and projects to crowd out our devotion to the Lord or our enjoyment of our families. The other was about de-cluttering the home, purging out our abundant accumulation of stuff so that we have more time and freedom to enjoy what's truly important. I have read advice of this nature before, but this time it felt as though my Good Shepherd was leading me onto a life-giving path.  

I will begin with the latter. This week I have had a renewed resolve and motivation to DE-CLUTTER our home. I started with something easy--the kitchen cabinet shelf that hosts our wide array of children's cups. I mean, how many plastic cups do you actually need! It took me less than five minutes to sort out what to keep and what to send to the recycle bin, but what a wonderful feeling to open the cupboard and see neatly stacked cups instead of stray lids and bases threatening to spill out onto the counter!

The next day I began the great toy purge. The recent celebration of Christmas made me more keenly aware of the congestion of toys that has built up in our home. The top shelf that spans Benjamin's closet is completely dedicated to toy storage. Joelle and Josiah have a small toy box in their room, and our large toy box is in the living room. How quickly the entire house can become strewn with toys and miscellaneous pieces that no one is playing with!

I have been reluctant in the past to part with much of their toy collection, always justifying reasons for holding onto things. Benjamin does not typically like anything new, and for years he has been interested in the same toys: a See-n-Say, light-up baby toys that play music, and stuffed animals that he can twirl. We have tried again and again to introduce new objects and aspects to his play, often to no avail. I've bought toys over the years, excited to think that it may launch him into a new level of developmental play, only to be disappointed when it is cast aside again and again and again. I have held onto things with the hope of "one day." Recently I have become more accepting that this is where my son is right now, and that's okay. He is not interested in pushing a toy car, or building with blocks, or engaging in imaginative play. Maybe these things will come in time, and maybe they won't. I am learning to let go of my expectation of what his play should look like at any given age and simply let Benjamin be Benjamin. 

Benjamin does not enjoy new things while Joelle is delighted in new things. I delight in seeing her delight, but as a result I have been guilty of indulging her too much. The initial excitement soon wears off, and I'm realizing that the more options she has, the less likely she is to play with any of them. 

I have also held onto to toys for Josiah, thinking of both his current age and his future play. However, he is often just as content if not more so to play with a simple household object while the vast spread of toys sit untouched. 

All that to say I did a big toy sweep this week. Benjamin's closet shelf is organized and no longer overflowing and toy boxes actually have extra space in them. I have also limited the amount of toys I allow to be out at a given time. The purged toys are currently sitting in the garage awaiting the city-wide children's consignment sale next month. So far there have been no questions or objections concerning "missing" toys, and I have noticed that the kids, Joelle especially, have been more engaged in playing with the toys that are available. I feel lighter as well, like a weight has been lifted off. Let the de-cluttering continue!

A few weeks ago we took the kids for a drive through a local light show. We turned on the radio to tune into the accompanying Christmas music, but before we could change stations, I was captivated by what I was hearing. By "chance" we had tuned into an interview with an author I was not familiar with by the name of Gloria Furman as she talked about her new book Missional Motherhood. I found myself hanging on the words of this fellow Christian mother, only a few years my senior and she talked about Jesus and the beautiful, messy, significant world of motherhood. 

When we returned home I quickly looked her up, and discovered that she has authored multiple books. I had yet to spend my Amazon gift card received at Christmas, and I was sure to add her new book as well as one of her previous works entitled Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms to my order. A few days ago I began reading the latter, and her wise words have been helping me in the process of de-cluttering of my heart. Here are a few gold nuggets I have read:

"When your eyes are fixed on the horizon of eternity, it affects your vision of motherhood. We need to have eyes to see a view of God that is so big and so glorious that it transforms our perspective of motherhood. In the context of eternity, where Christ is doing his work of reigning over the cosmos, we need to see our mundane moments for what they really are--worship."

"Our joy cannot be wrapped up in motherhood but only in God."

"Preaching the gospel to myself each day is the best way to remind myself that my life in Christ is the prevailing, permanent reality in my life."

"The gift of motherhood points mothers to treasure Jesus Christ as he transforms our heart from the inside out."

TREASURE JESUS, treasure family, treasure life, let go of clutter both internal and external. Worship in the mundane, rejoice in the glorious, messy, ever-changing, and eternally rewarding call of motherhood. Behold my Good Shepherd as He gently leads me to green pastures and still waters--may these be the hallmark of this new year. Here's to living clutter free!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Benjamin's Song

Mighty Warrior, Child of God
Mighty Warrior, Child of God
Mighty Warrior, Child of God
Benjamin Lee, Beautiful Boy
Benjamin Lee, Beloved of the Lord
Benjamin Lee, Son of my right hand
Benjamin Lee

While pregnant with Benjamin, I asked the Lord to give me a new song to sing over my baby. He answered my prayer with the simple lyrics above along with a simple melody. "Benjamin's Song" effortlessly flowed up from my spirit and out of my mouth one day. I began to sing it over my womb regularly. I sang it over my son after his birth as he fought for life in the NICU, and it was an anchor for my troubled heart. I have continued to sing it over Benjamin ever since. 

Benjamin LOVES his song. Each morning I sing songs to him as we wait for the school bus to arrive. I almost always include his song as well. As soon as I begin my son starts beaming. His face breaks out in a huge smile, he places his hands around my neck, and he joyfully bounces up and down, dancing with delight to this song that is just for him. He literally comes alive!

Whatever his level of comprehension may be, I believe that Benjamin's spirit knows that his identity and his destiny are being released through this simple song. He doesn't question the truth of these words; he receives them with joy!

The Lord has a song in His heart for each of His children. His song speaks of our identity and destiny. His song speaks the eternal truth of who we are created to be. His song speaks of His unconditional love for us. His song is true, regardless of what our emotions or circumstances may be saying to us. There are many voices trying to influence us and shape our perceptions and identity: the enemy, the world around us, the opinions of people, and our own shifting emotions. It can be difficult to drown out all the other voices and really listen to the only Voice that truly matters.

There is much I can learn from my son. He freely and readily receives the true song that is being sung over him. The world may try to sing many different songs over him, but he recognizes his song without question. I desire to cultivate this child-like simplicity that hears, believes, and responds to the song that my Heavenly Father is singing over me. His song is the only one that tells me who I am!