Monday, December 22, 2014

Waiting in Hope

More this year than ever, I have come to understand the Christmas story in a different light. It is not simply a story of a baby born in a stable in some far off land, but about a deeper meaning. The nation of Israel had gone through glorious victories and the agony of suffering. But through it all, underlying every high and low is a sense of waiting, waiting for a savior to come and fulfill all the prophesies of their forefathers, to save them from unfair earthly rulers and be their ultimate king and ruler. It sheds a whole new light to some of the Christmas carols I grew up with. Take "Oh Come, Oh Come, Emanuel" for example, the lyrics drip with their sense of waiting: "Oh come, Oh come, Emanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel (God with us)..." So the entire theme of the Christmas story is a grand fulfillment of hope after years of mourning and waiting. In fact the word advent in Latin means, "coming" or "waiting".

Isaiah 11:1 declares, "A shoot will come from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, states in her advent series, "The mattering part is never what isn't. What matters isn't about what dream has been cut down or what part of your heart has been cut out. The tender, mattering part is you have a hope, a tender branch that will shoot up into a crown of thorns, a rugged cross... Out of the stump of that fallen tree in your life, watered with living waters that come from the depths of his grace, a twig sprouted and that twig will be the subject that defeats your sin."

Proverbs 13:12 claims, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is the tree of life."
Jesus is that longing fulfilled who became that tree of life out of a stump.

Tim and I know what it is like to have hope deferred, we know what it feels like to have that metaphorical tree of all our hopes and dreams cut down, we know what it is to cry out for Jesus to come, what it feels like to be captive to something. But for the first time in a long time I can tell you there is a shoot coming out of that stump. Out of our waiting a hope has been fulfilled. I want to share with you that I am 14 weeks pregnant (due June 19th). We have heard the heartbeat a few times and as of right now, everything is healthy. Thank you. Thank you for your prayers, thank you for your tears, thank you for hoping for us when we had lost our hope. This doesn't mean we still don't covet your prayers. Being pregnant comes with worries of its own worries of tomorrow, worries of the future. Please continue to pray, pray for a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby, a spirit of peace and especially a spirit of joy. Our whole family is so grateful but we all are lacking joy. It is like a part of us is holding back, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But a longing has been fulfilled and I feel like every breath I take whispers "thank you". Thank you, Jesus for the Christmas story, reminding us that you fulfill our hope after years of mourning and waiting.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Does God Give Us More Than We Can Handle?

I grew up using the phrase, "God doesn't give us more than we can handle," and it works great as an encouragement for us when times get rough. It helps us to believe that whatever is thrown our way we were made to handle. But what if that is all wrong? I mean, I thought this was scriptural, but when I looked it up in 1 Corinthians 10:3 it stated, "No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to man, but God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able."  I don't know about you, but I believe that this verse is talking about temptations or sins in our lives, not to circumstances in life. In fact I'm going to be as bold as to say I think that phrase is wrong and we should stop using it. Because I believe God does give us more than we can handle because He doesn't want us to get through it ourselves, but to lean on Him.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 "I was crushed... so much so that I despaired even of life, but that was to make me rely not on myself, but on the God who raises the dead."

I believe I am living proof of this. Eight weeks ago Tim and I found out that after 21 months of trying, I was pregnant! We went in to do the blood work and my numbers looked great. We went in for the 6 week ultrasound to hear the heartbeat on July 7th. We had been in the ultrasound room a short while before we knew something was wrong. The ultrasound tech said, "It looks like the pregnancy is in your Fallopian tubes, but I'll get the Dr." The doctor came in and told me that because of my numbers, I was too far along and would have to go into emergency surgery to remove the ectopic pregnancy. So on a day we were trusting and looking forward to, everything changed in an instant. And as I lay in bed the next week and recovered from the surgery I thought, "This is too much!" I have gone from a miscarriage, to a child that died, to infertility, and now this ectopic pregnancy and surgery two weeks before the anniversary of Quinn's death. When is enough, enough?! I have been given more than I can handle!

I listened to a sermon on disappointment that week online and it really spoke to me. It talked about 4 stakes we need to secure our tent (or the dwelling place where we meet God) for when the storms of disappointment come and the 1st one hit me like a ton of bricks. YOU ARE NOT GOD.  It seems so simple, but if we really reflect on that, we are all living our lives claiming God is #1 but acting as if we are God or like we could do a better job. We live in a society where I can build my own house, I can post pictures of how great I am and people write me praises, I can sit in front of a TV and push a button and it turns on. We are the gods of our own lives and when that is threatened (we don't get the job we thought was perfect, we don't meet the man of our dreams right away, we don't have children when we want to, etc.) that is the root of our disappointment and really most of our "whys". If there is a supreme being, that we call GOD, who sees the whole universe, our past, our surroundings, our future, our heart, who is all knowing, who IS love, then why do I secretly believe I (who am selfish, and have only been to this continent, and have only lived for 31 years, and have probably met 5,000 people in my life, and AM HUMAN)  would have the 1st clue on how life should be?

Isaiah 29:16 "You turn things upside down as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'You did not make me'? Can the pot say to the potter, 'You know nothing'?"

Jeremiah 18:3-4 "So I went down to the potter's house and saw him working at the potter's wheel. He was using his hands to make a pot from clay, but something went wrong with it. So he used that clay to make another pot the way he wanted it to be."

And this is why God gives us more than we can handle: 1. Because He is God and He can- He knows what he is doing and how our story is going to pan out and 2. Because He is God and we can trust Him and His ways. We don't have to "handle" it, that's God's job.
I don't necessarily think that something was wrong in my life, but I do think that God is the potter and He is making me, his clay, into something new. Right after Quinn died, Tim and I mourned for many things, but one was that we will never be the same. That a part of us died with Quinn. And even now I still believe that to be true, but I don't think any of us are meant to stay the same. This life brings us joys and struggles that continually evolve and change us. Some are more subtle, some more drastic. And with that change is pain, but also rebirth.

Revelation 21:5 "Behold, I am making everything new."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Sacrifice

Sacrifice. It is defined as “to surrender a possession as an offering.” And I've been thinking a lot about it lately with lent and especially with Easter just around the corner. I was always amazed at the sacrifices Jews were asked to make in the Old Testament for their sins but the story of Abraham and Isaac has always gotten to me. In short, Abraham and his wife were barren but they were promised by God that his descendants would outnumber the stars. They wait, and wait, and wait, and wait until Sarah becomes pregnant when she is close to 100 years old. And then one day God says something atrocious, “Take your only son whom you love up to the mountain and kill him as an offering/sacrifice.” WHAT?!  Abraham trusts God and takes his son up to the mountain and as he is about to sacrifice him, God stops him and says, “Now I can see that you trust God and that you have not kept your only son from me.” Abraham then sees a male sheep caught in a bush and he sacrifices the sheep instead. And for generations the Jewish nation makes sacrifices on the alter until the ultimate sacrifice was made hundreds of years later when God sacrifices his only son whom he loves on a hilltop to atone for our sins and the veil is torn and sacrifices don’t have to be made on the alter anymore because of this ultimate sacrifice. But that isn't the end of the sacrificing altogether. Sacrifice is part of love. Good relationships involve sacrifice, surrendering something we hold dear to honor another. Today our sacrifices look different than they did in the Old Testament, but it doesn't mean that they are any easier to give. What do they look like today? Let me give you an analogy…

I’m playing on a beach. It is a sunny day & I decide to get into the water. I am having a blast and life is good, but within an instant a storm rolls in. Before I can get to shore, it starts pouring, and the waves get bigger and the under tow takes me farther out. The shore and the memory of the good times that were just had gets farther and farther away until I can no longer see them. I am now alone with no protection, out in the middle of open water while a storm rages around me. I am shocked, I am scared, I am helpless, and I am making little progress, just keeping my head above the water. It is taking all the strength I have just to stay afloat. I have no idea how far out I am, if I will survive this, or if I will ever see the shore again. I am now so exhausted, I have been fighting to survive every way I know how until… I give up. I relax my body and slowly start to sink. I think to myself, “This is it… this is how I am going to die.” I close my eyes and am surprised at how much peace I have. In fact, the storm is still raging but it now holds no power over me. I have not gotten rid of the storm but I have been freed from fighting against it.

This is my analogy for my life since Quinn. Life was good, but in an instant it changed and I have been fighting ever since to stay strong, to stay afloat, to figure out the whys, to understand God and it is exhausting! But the last week has been different. In a sense I've stopped fighting it. I've daily made the decision to quit carrying this burden and to lay it down. I have taken my hopes and my dreams for the way that life is supposed to be and I have chosen to daily lay them down on the metaphorical alter as a sacrifice to God. This whole time I thought that if I gave up fighting against this, if I gave up asking why, then I would just fall into nothingness and I would be giving up on life. But that is the lie the world tells us. The norm in our culture is to sacrifice whatever we have to get what we want. The way of true sanctification is to sacrifice everything we want because of what we already have in Christ. In fact I am starting to believe that we have it all wrong. That taking that strong grip we have on how we think life is supposed to be, loosening the grip, and letting it go lifting our now open hands to heaven is not the end of our hopes and dreams but it is only the beginning. It is the place where we are open God’s hopes and dreams for us and they are so much more than our own, and what’s even more amazing is we are freed from the constant treading of water to try to keep those dreams afloat. And the Bible tells us so:

1 Corinthians 15:36 “You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.”

John 12:24 “”Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls onto the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

Matthew 16: 24-25 “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Romans 8:13 “If by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

I have discovered through all of these verses that the secret to truly living is dying. Daily dying to my self, taking those hopes and dreams I have for my life and laying them down on the metaphorical alter as a sacrifice for the God who gave his son as an ultimate sacrifice so that I would know that he loves me and has hopes and dreams for me that are better than my own. Some days I pray that God would provide a lamb, like he did for Abraham, and that not all of my hopes and dreams would die. Are any of us where we thought we would be in life? Are any of our plans going exactly how we imagined? This is life as we know it and the sooner we quit treading to keep all our dreams afloat the sooner we will be free to truly live.

**I dedicate this post to my cousin and friend Natalie Kuns who is being baptized this weekend on Easter Sunday. May the act of going under water, leaving your old self behind & buried and coming up as a new creation in Christ be something we all try to emulate daily.***

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Celebrate Quinncidence Year 2

Thank you. I don't know what else to say, but that the way friends, family, current & former students, and total strangers honored Quinn was something I will never be able to express my complete gratitude for. I wish I could personally thank each of you and let you know that your acts, big and small, meant so much to us.

Many people have asked us, "How did Wednesday go?" Those of you who have been faithful readers of this blog know that I don't sugarcoat information. Wednesday was amazing, but it was also really tough. The day was different this year. I'm sure every year will be different. Last year, Quinn's birthday was hard, but we were in such a deep spot in our grieving that it wasn't much different than the day before or the day after because every day was extremely hard. This year, after we have had a year more of healing, it was a harder day because we had to go back there... back to the place of deep grief. Because when you lose your child birthdays aren't just a celebration of life, but they also remind you that life is no more, that someone is missing and something is definitely wrong with this picture. It is also hard because, even though I wanted Quinn to be remembered and I made it a public thing, it is also a very personal thing. Seeing and hearing Quinn's name all day was incredible because it told me that she is not forgotten about, but at the same time her name holds such a precious spot in my heart that it also tugged at my heart strings all week when hearing it.

I am such a teacher at heart so I want you to know my objectives in all of this. Why did I want to do random acts of kindness again this year?

1. I don't want Quinn to be forgotten. And I went through many emotions on Wednesday, but one thing I knew for sure is that QUINN WAS NOT FORGOTTEN THAT DAY and you will never know how much that means to me.
2. I had so many prayers and dreams for my child. I remember praying that she would bring joy to everyone who met her. I wanted my daughter to make this earth we live on a better place. I wanted Quinn to affect every life she came in contact with. And although those dreams looked very different in my head when I prayed them. I still want those things. I don't want her life to mean nothing. I wanted you to help someone and I wanted it to ignite something so wonderful in your heart that you wanted to help people more and more. See, I know it is awkward to walk up to a total stranger and bless them. But I also know that is what we are called to do. This life is hard enough to do on our own. We need each other. The personal stories I received that day about how many people were moved to tears because of how powerful their interaction was or how much it changed their life is the greatest gift this mother could get.
3. I pray that others will see Christ in us. I want to be honest and let you know that I am grieving, but I am grieving with a hope. And I pray that you see something different in us, something that drives you to Christ.

 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14:
"Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him."

You can see most of the stories & pictures from the day at: But here are my personal pictures:

A former student of mine is now an elementary school teacher herself and had her 1st grade students make encouraging cards for each student in my first and second period class:
 Here are a few of the acts of kindness students at my school did that day:

 This was the act that moved me the most from the post its:

Lastly, thank you for all the prayers on that day. I felt them. We could not have made it through the day without the prayers. We are still in need of them. For God to heal our hearts and for Him to give us the desire of our hearts. Thank you, we are so humbled by your generosity.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Quinn's 2nd Birthday

We turned the calendar to March yesterday and it's amazing how much weight was in that page we flipped. I knew this would never be easy, but I thought I might be in a different place this year. But it feels just as unfair as it always has. I think of how our life would be different with a two year old running around our house. I try to picture what Quinn would look like and it's all so heartbreaking. I have tried to write a blog all week about Quinn's Birthday and words escape me. I just want to avoid thinking about it, because it hurts too much. But just as I said last year, Quinn's birthday is not about me. It is about Quinn and what she was to me. She deserves more. I have this little light and I would be keeping it to myself. I have said time and time again that I just want my daughter to be known. I just want her life to affect others and if I stay in bed on the day she was born, her life and what she was to me stays in bed for the day and she deserves more than that.

People have asked me if I have any stories to tell about Quinn and it is such a hard question because she was 4 1/2 months old. She wasn't moving around on her own, she wasn't talking, her life consisted mostly of eating, sleeping, and observing the world around her. So I only have a handful of specific memories or stories about Quinn and they are some of my greatest treasures. But one in particular is my favorite. Quinn was 9 days old and she had only been home a few days. I had just fed her in the early morning hours and was rocking her back to sleep. She was a little fussy. So I started singing to her. My dad was up with me and watching tenderly as I sat with my daughter singing her a lullaby. I started singing "Smile" by Nat King Cole. I have no idea why that is what I sang to her but I just kept thinking I want her to know that she might feel like crying, but I just want to see her smile, so I began singing...

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though its breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile 
If you just smile...

A few lines into the song, the most amazing thing started happening. Quinn started humming along with me. Now, obviously it wasn't to the tune, it was just the same note. But when I stopped singing, she stopped humming and when I started back up she started back up. I looked over at my dad and his eyes were glassed over and he said, "That is amazing, she's trying to sing with you!" I sang the song 3 times and she sang with me 2 times. The third time my dad had found the camera and tried to record it, but it's like she knew she was being recorded and fell asleep the 3rd time through. We never did get it on camera, but I won't forget it never the less. I have probably thought about that memory 250 times since she died. And analyzed every angle of it and I wonder if she wasn't singing it to me. If she knew I would need the words of that song in the coming months. But it has also spoken to me lately with her birthday. It will be my anthem of getting through that day and I will imagine Quinn singing me through it.

I have prayed about it and we have debated over whether we would do our "Celebrate Quinncidence"  a second year and we felt that it really carried us through a really tough day. But I would be doing a disservice if I didn't mention our ultimate source of strength that will really carry us through, Jesus Christ. This was the verse I read yesterday in my quiet time that is my theme verses for the day:

"Share your food with the hungry and bring poor, homeless people into your own homes.
When you see someone who has no clothes, give him yours, and don't refuse to help your own relatives.
Then your light will shine like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. 
Your God will walk before you, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.
Then you will call out, and the LORD will answer. 
You will cry out and he will say, 'Here I am'."                                        (Isaiah 58:6-9)

We have decided to do Celebrate Quinncidence again this year. Using the money we would have spent on presents, cake, and decorations for Quinn on others who need it through random acts of kindness. Your acts don't have to be big, you could write a nice note to someone who you appreciate, pay for someone's gas, coffee, or groceries, leave a big tip for a waiter, leave quarters on a vending machine or car wash, put flowers on someone's car, bring donuts to work, etc. I am opening this up my school, Washington High School, as well and will kick it off at the end of the week there, We were so blessed by the friends, family, and strangers who joined us in celebrating Quinn's birthday last year and we would be honored to have you join us in blessing the lives of others on Wednesday March 12th. Here is the link to the post last year: Celebrate Quinncidence .  Sioux Falls Education Association has offered to make a Facebook page where people could post their pictures and acts they did: Thank you SFEA. For those of you not on Facebook, post your acts in the comments below and I will take a few of these pictures and do a blog post with them on Thursday March 13th. And please keep us in your prayers for an abundance of grace this next week and a sense of peace in a time that feels so unfair. Thank you everyone in advance.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Shameless Audacity

Have you ever watched a great battle scene in a movie and imagined what you would do? What kind of strategy would you have? I have and it always involves me playing dead. I would lay on the battlefield and play dead until the enemy passed and then I would cut his Achilles Tendon. I guess that is why I haven't blogged in 3 months. The battle of grief and unanswered prayer is still waging in my life and instead of fighting it I have metaphorically "played dead" the past couple of months- especially when it comes to prayer. I don't know what to pray because I feel like I have said it all in a thousand different ways. God definitely knows the desires of my heart, and part of me thinks He already knows what He's going to do, right? Are my prayers really going to change things? I prayed and cried out to God for a baby and I got Quinn.  The night she died in my arms, my entire family cried out for Him to save her, cried out for a miracle and God let her die. And now I have prayed in a million different ways for Him to give us another child and every month I am let down. It is hard not to question if prayer works. It seems this year has been one giant wrestling match with God and I finally yelled "uncle!" That's when the silence came in my prayer life and yet, my questions to God about unanswered prayer have only grown stronger. The issue of unanswered prayer has been tugging at my heart strings so much that I have begun searching like an archaeologist in search of a rare treasure. The Bible verses that have struck me most are:

Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus used this story to teach his followers that they should always pray and never lose hope. "In a certain town there was a judge who did not respect God or care about people. In that same town there was a widow who kept coming to this judge, saying, 'Give me my rights against my enemy.' For a while the judge refused to help her. But afterwards, he thought to himself, 'Even though I don't respect God or care about people, I will see that she gets her rights. Otherwise she will continue to bother me until I am worn out.'"  The Lord said, "Listen to what the unfair judge said. God will always give what is right to his people who cry to him night and day, and he will not be slow to answer them."

Luke 11:5-10
Then Jesus said to them, "Suppose one of you went to your friend's house at midnight and said to him, 'Friend, loan me three loaves of bread. A friend of mine has come into town to visit me, but I have nothing for him to eat.' Your friend inside the house answers, 'Don't bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, if friendship is not enough to make him get up to give you the bread, your shameless audacity will make him get up and give you whatever you need. So I tell you, ask, and God will give to you. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will open for you. Yes, everyone who asks will receive. And everyone who knocks will have the door opened."

Both of these verses seem to go against everything I know. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So to me- continually saying the same prayer over and over again is insane. Yet, there is a secret in both of these verses that tells us there is something God desires in continuing to ask and I think it lies in what it does to our hearts.
I remember when I was younger I loved the story of Aladdin. A poor boy who stumbles upon a genie in a lamp. Aladdin gets 3 wishes, but in the end, the story is so inspiring because the genie becomes more than a vending machine on steroids, he becomes a friend. The story goes beyond having all our wishes granted into an enduring relationship.  How many times have I used God like my own personal genie? And if He doesn't give me what I want, what good is He to me? Like his chief purpose is to grant my wishes. Jerry Sittser writes:  "I am learning that my natural inclination is to use God, not to love God. I am like a spiritual junkie. I want the quick fix that answered prayer can provide. Once I get what I want, I return to my normal state of spiritual indolence. Unanswered prayer can actually serve to fan the flame of spiritual desire to know God as my supreme end in life."
Maybe the story of Jacob in Genesis 32:22-32 can teach us something about what God values in the asking. Jacob is about to go back home to face some of the "demons" of his past but the night before he reaches home the Bible tells an interesting story of Jacob wrestling with a heavenly being/God throughout the night until the sun came up. Jerry Sittser finishes the story best in his book When God Doesn't Answer your Prayer: "The divine being finally seized the advantage by putting Jacob's leg out of joint which caused Jacob to limp for the rest of his life. Then he gave Jacob a new name, "Israel." It is a peculiar name, and not particularly complimentary. Yet the name reflects a quality of character that God values. It literally means, 'one who strives with God.' Jacob was a fighter, so that became his name- and not only his name, but also the name of God's chosen people."
Persistence is the key theme interwoven though the middle of each of these stories. Maybe because "it takes one to know one." The Bible is full of stories and parables all leading back to a God that continually chases after his people like a loving groom wooing his wayward bride. Jerry Sittser continues, "That is what God looks for in us. He wants us to strive with him, as he does with us. To wrestle with him as if our life depended on it, because it probably does. To persist in prayer, no matter how much the odds are stacked against us. To refuse to take "no" for an answer from God, just as God has refused to take "no" for an answer from us, no matter how long and hard we have resisted him. It is the least we can do, what God has done for us, what love requires and prayer demands."
So that is my new year's resolution. To pray with persistence. To come before the Lord with "shameless audacity." To convince my God like he daily convinces me and maybe somewhere in the wrestling, something beautiful and unexpected will happen. He will stop being my genie and become my groom. That I will go against my spiritual inclination of using God and start loving God.