Friday, September 28, 2012

Fall Back Into Faith - Part 3 Faith

Welcome back to Fall Back Into Faith Fridays, our fall bible study for busy women.  We have been taking a look at our faith - its foundation, the joy of our faith, and today our faith in a season of trials.

If you missed it yesterday, this week has given me a lot of fresh material to test my faith in the midst of trials.   

When we walk through a dark valley, one of two things can happen.  One, our faith can weaken in the face of opposition and we turn from God because we believe He has turned from us.  Two, our faith can strengthen because we have nowhere to turn for comfort and support but our Heavenly Father. 

I have seen both happen.  Heck, I have experienced both.  I have faced dark challenges and walked with friends through unimaginable suffering.  While we will certainly know joy in our faith, we also will doubtless experience suffering. 

The Bible shares stories of suffering from Genesis to Revelation.  We see countless trials in the life of Abraham, Moses, Job, Esther, Daniel, God's own chosen people, Paul, Stephen, and of course Jesus Christ himself, just to name a few. 

Walking through a dark valley can feel incredibly isolating.  I had one of my closest friends lose a baby at 9 days old.  I truly can not fathom her pain.  I sat with her for months as she cried and questioned God.  There is no answer.  But there is understanding.  God Himself suffered as he watched His own beloved Son tortured and killed. 

I have no idea what your heartache is today or what it has been.  I have no answers for why things happen the way they happen.  But I do know there is a reason. 

Romans promises the outcome of improved character and a shared inheritance with Christ.  Chapter 5 tells us, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope..."  Chapter 8 says, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."

2 Corinthians promises that not only will we find comfort in Christ in and in fellow Christians during a season of trial, but we will also be able to comfort others because of what we have endured:  "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ."

Paul shares in Philippians that our suffering will allow us to better know Christ, "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him...I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him...Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Ultimately, it is that wisdom from Paul that I try to keep foremost in my mind when going through a dark season.  Forget what is behind.  Press on.  Focus on the prize - knowing Jesus and and keeping my eyes fixed on Him. 

And friend, know you are not alone.  You are not alone in your trials and suffering.  Not only does the God of all Peace stand with you, carrying you when you can no longer walk, but your sisters in the faith stand behind you helping you move forward.  And so it has been since the beginning of the faith. 

 I leave you with I Peter 5, a reminder for those struggling followed by encouragement, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen."

A little while dear one.  Just a little while.  Then the suffering will pass and you will be restored and strengthened. 

Further Reading:  2 Corinthians 1, Philippians 3, I Peter 4 - 5,

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Be Careful What You Write....

In last Friday's Fall Back Into Faith post I talked about the joy of our faith and indicated I would write about our faith in a season of trials next Friday.  Then on Sunday I agreed to write to posts about fear for my amazing friend's devotional.

Then my week unraveled.  Did this happen because God wanted me to have fresh material with lots of fear and trials or because the devil would rather I be too overwhelmed to write words God might use?  Or neither? 

In any event, it has been a really hard week. 

Sunday, I got some disturbing health news from my father.  Monday, I got some disturbing work news at my job.  Tuesday, my nanny fell dramatically ill, and I had to rush home before she passed out.  Wednesday, Bray left for Canada for five days.

I was worried.  Fearful.  Alone.  Overwhelmed. 

I had the chance to work for about two hours yesterday morning between taking the kids to school and running to pick them and then tried to manage a couple of conference calls from home while keeping three toddlers quiet.  Ha.  For all my self-righteousness about not letting the children watch television, I now apologize.  If I were a stay at home or single mom, I would use the television a lot more than I do now.  I used it yesterday just to get through a 10 minute call. 

But here's the cool thing.  God always has an object lesson.  He sent me mine at the end of the day.  I made dinner, ate with the kids, played outside, gave baths, and then we watched a few minutes of a Disney movie together.  We all marched off to their room at bedtime.  Normally, I get on my knees with each child, ask for their prayer requests, and say prayers.  Last night, I suggested we all sit in a circle in the middle of the floor and say prayers.  They were thrilled.  Plus, I offered up some prayer requests of my own - we needed to pray for our nanny who was so sick and we needed to pray for daddy, grandfather, and uncle who were in Canada for the week.  Then, instead of folding our hands in prayer, I suggested we hold hands in the circle.  They were ecstatic about this proposal and we all held hands and prayed. 

There is this verse in the Bible, it's found in Matthew 18, and it says where two or more are gathered in God's name, there He is in the midst of them. 

That scripture emblazoned itself on my mind's eye as we prayed.  I instantly felt God there. Holding hands with my three precious children and lifting up our requests to God I was not worried or fearful or alone or overwhelmed.  I had God on my side.  I had three amazing children praying with me as they learn daily about God and His love. 

They crawled into their beds.  I told them stories and sang them songs as I sat in the rocker in their nursery that I have used to feed and comfort them since they came home from the hospital.  They fell asleep as I sang old hymns.  The one I left them with, and that stayed with me, is this: 

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fear Factor

One of my closest friends has been writing a devotional book about the references made in the Bible to fear.  There are over 500 references to fear in the Bible and she has explored a variety of issues the Bible tackles.  Every once and a while she gives me the honor of writing one. 

So I had to laugh at God's timing today.  She had called Sunday afternoon to see if I would write a couple this week.  I agreed without asking the references.  Then I got sucker punched yesterday.  A blow that knocked the wind right out of me.  Apparently, as the punch was being dealt, her email came across cyberspace.  I didn't look at it until later in the day and I did actually laugh.  Thanks God for giving me some fresh material to deal with so I would stay relate-able, is all I could think....

There is this huge back story, and forward story, to the passage for the day, but all I can possibly tackle right now is the passage she sent me to write on.  Here's the passage

2 Samuel 14: 15-16:  “And now I have come to say this to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid. Your servant thought, ‘I will speak to the king; perhaps he will grant his servant’s request. Perhaps the king will agree to deliver his servant from the hand of the man who is trying to cut off both me and my son from God’s inheritance.’

Head over to this daily devotional I wrote from my own, very personal, fear of the day.  I hope someone going through something similar will find the solace I did. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Things We Could Learn from Straight Talking 2 Year Olds

My children are outspoken.  Everyone jokingly says, "I wonder where they get that from?"  But the reality is I was a very shy child.  So I don't know where they get it!  My triplets say what's on their mind, whether you want them to or not.  Despite my occasional mortification, there are some gems stored in their observations.

1.  Life is short.  Only hang out with people you like.
We mothers make play dates and parties and all sorts of other get-togethers out of a sense of obligation at times.  Sure, there are rockin' play dates where the mommas and the kiddos get along fabulously, but they are not all like that.  I was preparing my kids for an outing and innocently asked, "aren't you excited to see so-and-so?"  The reply was unanimous, voiced first by the little lady, "No Mommy, he's mean."  Why on Earth do I feel compelled to do kid stuff my kids will not enjoy?  Why do I feel compelled to do adult stuff I (and/or Bray) won't enjoy?  Duty.  Social appropriateness.  I should cut it out.  If they only want hang out with people they like, then maybe I should let them, and do the same. 

2.  If you are exhausted, go to bed. 
Last week the kids woke up early and Bray and I were in the kitchen preparing breakfast.  Bray went into the play room to ask the boys if they were ready to eat.  The eldest looked at him, climbed out of his chair with his blanket, and said, "No, I need some more sleep."  Then he padded down the hall and climbed back in bed.  After we stopped laughing hysterically at this interlude, we marveled at his self-bedding.  A child volunteering to go to bed is rare.  But it has happened a few times lately.  The little lady saying, "I'm tired" at lunch and going straight to her room to nap.  And now this.  We are all on this vicious cycle that says get one more email out at 11 pm and then "sneak in" a few hours of sleep before our 5:30 am wake up call.  I realize we can not sleep in on a workday, but if we are tired, I am convinced we could find time to go to bed (even if it's just crashing when our kids do). 

3.  When you feel happy, shout, dance, laugh, clap, or do all four. 
I love how excited my kids get.  I love that you can clearly tell when they are delighted.  They are going to be Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Tinkerbell for Halloween (and hang on to your hats, those costumes are going to kill you with how cute they are), so we bought the Peter Pan DVD to let them watch before Halloween.  When Peter Pan rescues everyone from Captain Hook on the pirate ship, there was clapping and cheering all around.  Heck, there was clapping and cheering and dancing and "let's try it on" when the costumes came in the mail.  We car-dance.  We tell jokes and fall onto the floor laughing.  We dance as a part of our daily ritual.  But you know, I only do it with my kids.  I don't so much do it in my own life.  Wouldn't that be fun for the giver of the joy to see the enjoyment displayed in our actions in response?  When my mom says, "why don't the two of you go out for dinner and I'll stay with the kids," couldn't I say, "Yippppppeeee!" and clap my hands instead of offering a, "Thank you!"?  When my boss offers me a cool opportunity, is it really that inappropriate to say, "Woohoo!  Yea!"  and do a jump?  I personally think it would be greeted with delight on the other side as well. 

4.  When you love someone, tell them.  Show them. 
Mmmm.  This is my favorite.  Each of my children say, "I love you mommy."  They even say, "I like you mommy!"  They say, "I love daddy."  They say it about their grandparents.  They tell me their favorite friends.  They hug and kiss me and each other and even the hairstylist!  Yesterday, when they were thanking a school chum for their birthday party favors, they hugged and kissed him.  Flagrant affection.  Unbridled displays of adoration and love.  I do tell my children I love them every day.  Bray and I say it every day too.  But that's about it.  Wouldn't it be nice if I shared my great affection for others as my two year olds show theirs?  Without censure and restraint?  We all would be happier - heck, we might even break into a dance. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fall Back Into Faith Fridays - Part 2 Faith

If you missed it last week, Fridays this fall will be an on-line bible study mirrored after my working women's study last fall called Fall Back Into Faith.  We are currently studying aspects of our faith.

Today we study joy.  The joy we find in our faith.  The joy we find in receiving Christ's blessings in our lives, no matter how big or small.

Often Christianity (like politics) can swing between two extremes.  The believers that count it ALL joy and preach/study/believe only about the prosperity and blessings of Christianity without recognizing the struggles.  But then there are believers who feel that their entire Christian walk has to be a struggle and to recognize, accept, or pray for blessings is to have only a shallow faith not rooted in the sacrifice of Christianity.

I do not have a degree in theology.  But from my personal study and walk of faith, I reject that true faith has to exist at either of those extremes.

So today let's talk about the joy of our faith and giving thanks to our Father for His gifts, and next Friday we can talk about the challenges and hardships our faith will encounter along the way.

Our faith calls us to joy.  There are nearly 250 uses of the word joy in the Bible.  Nehemiah reminded the people that "the joy of the Lord is your strength."  (Neh. 8:10)  Jeremiah and Isaiah repeatedly remind us joy is to be found and that we must sing or SHOUT for joy because of what the Lord has done. One of my favorites is: the Lord sent him to bestow "the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."  (Isa. 61:3)  Of the nine fruit of the Spirit, aka qualities that show faith to people around us, one of the characteristics is JOY.  (Gal. 5:22)  Those are just discussions of "joy" - the Bible is replete with words like blessings, providence, provision, Healer, Deliverer, overflowing, goodness, bounty, and more.  Talk about some language to fuel your joy!

Sometimes though I struggle with HOW, or even if, to share my blessings and joy.  I never want my joy to be salt in the wound of a believer that is struggling with a similar issue and walking a different, harder, road.  Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts, a book I highly recommend, wrote a passage recognizing the suffering of the world around us but simultaneously issuing a call to action to give thanks:

I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives.  Why would the world need more anger, more outrage?  How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us?  Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering.  The converse is does.  The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy  even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.  When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows.  How can this not be the best thing for the world?  For us?  The clouds open when we mouth thanks.  

Wow.  What a charge.  Our joy can bring Light into our suffering world!  Always bear in mind though that your joy must have a strong foundation: a faith built upon solid roots and a deep and growing love and knowledge of Jesus.  The authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all share the same parable of the seeds.  A farmer was sowing his seeds and some were eaten by birds, some fell on rocky ground where lack of moisture prevented them from growing, some were choked by weeds, and finally some fell on good soil and yielded a bountiful crop.

This is what He tells his disciples the parable means:
The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." (Luke 8)

Every single author translates those rocky ground people to have received the Word of God with JOY but fell away when tested.  That is the prosperity gospel - God is good all the time and if you encounter struggles you just must not be believing hard enough.  No wonder people run from God when they are confronted with challenges if that is their understanding of faith!  

This joy, the real joy bubbling out of our faith, is rooted and grounded in Christ.  This faith finds joy even when those around us might find circumstances joyless.  Our joy, blessing we can see given to us by a gracious and loving God, is light in a dark word.    

Romans 15:13:  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace 
as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope 
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For Further Reading: Hebrews 12Galatians 5Romans 15

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Catching Your Breath

The baby has asthma.  He does not suffer from the acute asthma that many children battle, but if he gets sick, he gets really really sick. 

I didn't write about it this week, but our house has been a sick one.  This weekend, while Bray was at the farm with the kids, the eldest came down with something akin to croup.  While he was up coughing most of the weekend, the other two had a great time.  By the time they returned home Sunday, the baby had started coughing.  Knowing how quickly he can degrade, I took both the boys into the doctor on Monday morning.  Armed with some treatment techniques, I prayed for the best. 

The best did not arrive.  The baby's condition had completely degenerated by last night.  By that time I had already had three consecutive nights with a maximum of 3 to 4 hours of sleep because both the boys coughed all night.  I tried everything.  I called for backup thinking I would have to take him to the E.R. because he started throwing up he was coughing so hard.  That condition is not only frightening, it exacerbates him not being able to catch his breath.  I couldn't reach anyone.  Bray wasn't set to be home until later that night.  I tried to feed the other two dinner while managing the baby's struggle.  We employed every suggestion I was given - put his face in the freezer so he can breath cold air - check; put vapor rub on his feet with socks to reduce the coughing - check; use his rescue inhaler frequently - check; have them calm down in a resting position - check; take a steam shower - check.  By the time I was in the bathroom, door closed, with three toddlers and the hot shower beating down near a small bucket with Vick's, I was at my wit's end.  Then the shower rod fell on my head.  For no reason.  I was just sitting there holding the baby on my lap while the other two were pouring water out of the sink and the rod dropped on my head. 

No. More. Please. 

I couldn't cry because the other two were already crying.  I attempted to get them in bed. I remembered we had an emergency pack of oral steroids that I could start the baby on while I waited for Bray to arrive.  The eldest crawled out of bed asking for some medicine too.  I told him no, that the baby was really sick.  He burst into tears and blurted, "I sick too mommy.  I coughing too!"  Meanwhile, the little lady ran defiantly in the background disobeying every order I gave.  By that time, she earned a spanking.  And I don't even spank. 

All night the baby was up.  Twice, Bray and I almost went to the ER.  We felt utterly helpless.  And my precious little man was miserable.  He just couldn't catch his breath. 

Can't you sympathize?  Whether you have real asthma or life asthma, haven't you felt that way?  That you were trapped under the bell jar?  That no matter what you tried, you just could not catch your breath? 

I still feel breathless today. 

But I know God breathed life into us and gave us our first breath.  I know those before us have struggled to breath and God sustained them.  Daniel 10 says, "'How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.' Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. “Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.”  When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, 'Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.'"

Isaiah 42 encourages us:  This is what God the Lord says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you..."

If I could encourage you today, then let me offer you this hope:  if you can't catch your breath, then He, the creator of all that grows and moves around us, will be your breath.  He gives breath to His people.  He will speak to you and strengthen you.

My baby is better today.  We were back in the doctor's office first thing this morning.  More breathing treatments.  More steroids.  Add on antibiotics.  It will still be a trek going down the mountain, but she assured us the worst is over. 

That's all any of us can ask for. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Body Battles

I had a great massage on Saturday.

I love massages.  I rarely get them, but I love that hour when I do.  I always think the same thing when I'm getting a massage:  my hips and thighs and every other inch of my body that I criticize must love this time.  Those moments are the only few out of my life they receive some unconditional lovin'.  That may be the only time my "problem areas" relax without judgment and without being battleground #1.  The rest of the time I am weighing and measuring and eating and starving and exercising and "taking a break" and criticizing and turning the lights down and finding extra-strength Spanx.

If you are new to this community, you may have missed the posts on my annual battles with weight.  This is my heavy year.  Last year was my slim year.  I work really hard and get in shape and eat only the right things and then just get worn out from the never ending effort it takes to keep my body in a modicum of appropriateness and I take a "break."  After, generally, a year or so break, I get so fed up with the fact that I am out of shape and gained 20 pounds, I start all over again.  I realize this is a terrible cycle.  I understand the negative health impacts this has on my long-term healthfulness.  Yet, I still have three sizes of clothes in my closet.  That rule that if you haven't worn it in a year give it away would be a terrible one for me to follow because I would constantly be buying new wardrobes (or go naked, which in a heavy year wouldn't be pretty, heck I've had triplets, there is no year in which that would be pretty).

In Tina Fey's very funny book, Bossypants, she has these two short chapters on remembrances of being very skinny and remembrances of being a little bit fat.  At the end of the very skinny chapter she says, "We should leave people alone about their weight.  Being skinny for a while (provided you actually eat food and don't take pills or smoke to get there) is a perfectly fine pastime.  Everyone should try it once..."  And then at the end of the little bit fat chapter she says, "We should leave people alone about their weight.  Being chubby for a while (provided you don't give yourself diabetes) is a natural phase of life and nothing to be ashamed of..."

It made me laugh.  Not much of the commentary out there about weight makes me laugh.

The reality is that I am in a constant battle with my body.  Sometimes rightly so.  Regardless, my body is a gift.  I can walk.  I can see.  I can speak.  I can hear.  I can lift children.  I can drive a car.  I can kiss the man I love and feel him wrap me in a hug.  I can chase my kids down the driveway.  My body is a gift.  I should treat it better at times.  I should exercise more frequently in my "break periods."  I should eat more healthfully in my rebellious months.  But even when I am not a size 8 and things move where I wish they wouldn't (and other things don't move where I wish they would), couldn't I still love my body?  A masseuse once a year should not be the only one to be kind to my hips, my legs, my arms, my feet.  A massage shouldn't be the only retreat from the battlefield.

Ann Voskamp, my favorite author writing today, authored a post Friday that prepared my mind to receive the blessing of the massage Saturday.  And to think about my body battles.  I leave you with her words.  Entitled What Women Need to Say to Each Other, she shared these gems, among others (and I encourage you to read the entire beautiful post):

The curve of a smile is a woman’s most perfect curve 
and the only tag that matters is the one that says 
Robed in the Righteousness of Christ.  
It may not be easy to be a woman in this world. 
But it is always perfect to be a woman in His hand.

Every woman should breathe peace in her own exquisite skin. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Empty or Full?

Do you ever wonder if we women spend our entire lives vacillating between feeling too empty or too full?  Or at least "we women" that live fairly comfortable lives in first world countries?

Maybe it's just me. 

I ask because I had an empty house this weekend.  Some of you may remember my conundrum from a few weeks ago and my eventual decision was to agree to Bray's generous offer to take the kids to the farm for the weekend.

This is the first time I have been alone in my house since the trio came home from the hospital.  Almost three years ago. 

I loved it.  I slept past 9 am both mornings.  I had a fancy dinner out with my best friend Friday night.  I used my spa gift certificates on Saturday.  I cooked all day Sunday, since I truly love to cook and miss cooking dishes from scratch.  I never wore a stitch of make up.  I did not see a single soul I knew for over 24 hours.  I ate a meal out by myself and read a book as I indugled. 

I found myself thinking a lot about empty and full during this time.  How a meal alone takes on different dimensions depending on where you are in your life.  How an empty house can replenish you or compound your aching isolation.  How a day without another soul you know can be a reprieve or a harsh punishment. 

I didn't meet Bray until after I turned 30.  I think I struggled with my 30th birthday so much because I had hoped I would be in a different place with relationships and family at that crossroads.  I remember weekends stretching on for what felt like forever because my girlfriends were busy with their husbands/boyfriends and I had no one to spend time with on Saturday evenings.  I remember sometimes making foolish decisions out of that loneliness.  I remember moving into a two story townhouse and rattling around, wanting to cook a gourmet dinner, but not having anyone to eat it when I finished. 

Then, after getting married, I remember eventually boycotting Saturday afternoon baby showers because one season I had over a dozen to attend.  Everyone asked if we planned to have kids, innocently enough, and I would fight to keep my composure as I smilingly replied, "God willing," because it is bad form at a baby shower to say that we tried everything and it turns out we can't have kids.  I could not sit through a baptism at church.  If I ate dinner out, the boisterous table next to me with harried parents and mischievous children looked like the best Christmas present you could receive. 

Yet, here I sat, reveling in my solitude.  The people and chaos and schedules and messy busy lives weighed me down.  I longed for the quiet townhouse.  For the dinner alone. 

Empty or full?  Why do I resist finding satisfaction? 

God gave me each season.  I found joy in each season along with the heartache and struggles.  Those single days were filled with career successes and travel opportunities I could not have imagined.  Those married years without children were filled with freedom and a learning of one another that would have been lost if children came sooner.  And these years, ahhh these years with toddlers soon turning three, are filled with first words, and first plane rides, and first experiences, and first days of school.  While I have not experienced it, I would expect the next seasons, teenagers, empty nest, and so on, are also filled with the same highs and lows. 

What if we could find fullness in each place?  In each space?  In every season?  What if we allowed Christ to reveal to us a tiny portion of the reason He has set us in the seat of today?  What if I did that? 

Philippians 4:  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Fall Back Into Faith Fridays - Part 1 Faith

Last fall, I hosted a working women's bible study downtown.  Because of location issues this year, I was not able to host the bible study again.  But then it hit me, do it online this fall! 

The reality is, so many of the women that wanted to come would have a last minute conflict come up with work, so the group was always revolving and changing from month to month.  Everyone can get on the Internet during the day though! 

So every Friday this fall I will explore a scripture passage that has to do with one of the topics we studied last fall:  Faith, Family, Fortune, and Fun. 

Faith encompasses everything that we believe and that sustains us.  I am a Christian so my faith is in Jesus Christ and the passages we study will be from the Bible.  Family covers everything from a husband and kids to your parents, siblings, and extended family - those family members who are a part of your life in whatever stage that may be right now.  Fortune means our money.  The money we make, our job, and the money we spend, which often covers our struggles with false gods.  Finally, fun includes everything from our friendships to what we do with our time. 

I would love it if you would join me on Fridays, the post will always be up by lunch, and study the scripture with this community.  I know commenting on blogspot can sometimes be a challenge, but if you can't comment here, feel free to do so on Facebook.  I would love hear what God reveals to you during this time. 

Because of the introduction today, we will start with a short, but powerful, verse on faith, Hebrews 11:1-2:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
This is what the ancients were commended for.

The chapter goes on to list the faith of Old Testament greats and how they were still living by faith when they died even though they had not seen all of what God promised.  Then the author goes on to say, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."  Then, in closing the chapter, we are reminded, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect."

Some days it is hard to have faith.  Some days we look at our circumstances and wonder where God is.  Some days we doubt it will get better.  Or we struggle to continue to believe against all odds. 

The New King James translation of that first verse in Chapter 11 says faith is "the evidence of things not seen." 

I am having a good day.  But I have had some bad days.  And I know that I will have them again in the future.  Storms will come.  Battlefields will arise before me.  Faith requires having confidence in what we hope for even if the evidence does not bear it out in the present moment. 

Hebrews tells us that God has planned something better for us.  God (creator of the universe) has planned (way in advance He designed what cool things are going to happen) something (we can't possibly imagine what it is) for us (that's right, you and me).  We just can not see it right now.  But you're in good company - Noah was in the same boat (pun intended), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the list goes on and on.

Whatever storm is assailing your ship today, please do not give it the power to topple you and your faith.  We serve a God that stills the wind and storms.  Have faith.  He has something better planned for you. 

For further reading:  Hebrews 11, Ephesians 3, II Corinthians 5

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Week O' Disney - The Miracle

So this is my final post on our Disney adventure.  I've recapped the madness, highlighted the mechanics, but want to end with my miracle moment. 

While we awaited our first character encounter at Chef Mickey's Thursday night, we started making kids plates at the buffet and generally trying to manage the chaos.  As we tucked into our dinner, both Donald Duck and Pluto arrived.  The hilarity began and the kids hardly touched their food as they hugged characters and posed for pictures. 

After Pluto and Donald headed into the next room, there were a few minutes before our next encounters.  The couple at the table next to us approached us and asked if we could take their picture with the next character so that they could be in the shot together.  They were visiting Disneyworld for their 20th wedding anniversary.  The wife started sharing with me that they were thoroughly enjoying watching our kids wide-eyed and in wonder.  She said they had tried for years to have children, but never were able to conceive.  They had fostered some but had no children of their own.  They enjoyed coming to Disney because of the children. 

It was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears.  I know that struggle.  I felt her heartache.  Our outcome was just different. 

We took their picture with Mickey, and they took ours.  When their anniversary cupcake came, the wife invited the little lady over to blow the candles out with them.  Toward the end of the evening she came over to the table and gave me a pack of "fairy dust" (Mickey confetti) that she was given in the gift store but told us the children would enjoy it so much more. 

We all wished them happy anniversary as we left and I shared their story with Bray. 

I had spent so much time being exasperated over the madness and mechanics, I had forgotten the miracle.  The three miracles to be exact.  We could have been that couple in a few years.  We could have felt the aching absences as we spent time with children that weren't ours.  We could have, and did for a time, experience heart break watching families run around knowing it would always just be the two of us. 

It was, and is, a miracle that we were at Disney with two sons and a daughter.  Not even ONE child, but three children.  Kids that we could love on and kiss goodnight and send off to their first day of school and raise into a family that loves God and loves each other.  I had missed the miracle. 

Friday was not without chaos.  Friday at Disney was still hard as triplets melted down and stubbornly argued with us.  But Friday was also filled with gratitude.  A heart full knowing that God, beyond reason or deserving, had blessed us with three healthy, funny, active, loving babies, toddlers, children.  Friday celebrating our family of five. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wordless Wednesday (almost)

(Note:  There will be many Disney Wordless Wednesdays to come.  But since today was the trio's actual first day of Pre-K2, I had to do first day of school photos!)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Week O' Disney - The Mechanics

So, as you read yesterday, we survived Disneyworld with three two year olds.  I had a number of people ask me about things that worked and what didn't worked when traveling to Disneyworld with young children and/or multiples, so today's post is on the mechanics of our trip.  Here are the highs and the lows and everything in between. 

What worked:

1.  Staying on property.  A range of price points are available for Disney hotels on site, and while it would have been nice to stay super close to Magic Kingdom on the monorail (like the Contemporary or Grand Polynesian), I could not justify the expense for toddlers AND the Art of Animation was perfect for us.  We NEVER packed a car seat which is huge when there are three car seats for triplets.  We flew without one, which I was comfortable with since the kids are almost three, and then the huge Disney bus took us back and forth from the airport (the Magical Express, wouldn't you know), plus buses took us back and forth from our resort, Art of Animation, to Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom.  Most of the time we caught one right away, and only a couple of times did we have to wait 15 minutes.  PLUS...Art of Animation rocks.  Of the four themed suites, we were in Finding Nemo, plus our family suite looked out on the Splash Pad/pool area.  We utilized that outdoor space several times, mostly in the evening when we were fried from the parks.  There was a pool bar with food and drinks (though see note #1 below) and music played underwater.  Fabulous space for young ones and the largest resort pool on Disney property. 

2.  Picking portions.  There was no point to try and tackle Epcot and Hollywood Studios, even if we would have enjoyed it, with three two year olds.  Even Animal Kingdom didn't have much in the way of rides for little ones, so we only spent one day there.  We segmented Magic Kingdom and did a couple of lands Wednesday, a couple of lands Thursday, and our favorites on Friday.  Favorites for the under five set are Winnie the Pooh, Tea Cups, Dumbo, It's a Small World, Peter Pan's Flying Carpet (all in Fantasyland), and Jungle Cruise and Aladdin's Carpet in Adventureland.  We rode Pirates of the Caribbean but it freaked one of ours out.  The rockets, race cars and train also worked in Tomorrowland.  The steamboat was slow and boring in Liberty Square.  I don't know how anyone could do it in one day. 

3.  Hit Every Parade. These parades really are tremendous.  The music is awesome.  My favorite was the afternoon parade at Animal Kingdom because of all the character interaction and great music.  That parade was long and the floats were fun - plus, since little bit danced so intensely, we got a lot of one-on-one attention from the characters as they came by because they couldn't help but notice her rockin' out.  There's a cool street parade in the mornings at Magic Kingdom where the kids can actually dance in the streets with the characters around the palace after they come down Main Street.  Little bit once again rocked it with the dancers and Woody. 

4.  Dine with Disney.  We had a few really fun character interactions at the parks, note the lines to meet the characters are a LOT more reasonable at Animal Kingdom than Magic Kingdom, even in off peak (thank heavens I don't have a princess girl or we would have waited forever).  But the best was breakfast at the Crystal Palace with Pooh and crew and dinner at Chef Mickey's with Mickey and pals.  Plus the food there was so much better than at the parks.  Every single character came over and hugged the kids and posed for pictures and there was even a little parade they did through the restaurant with the Disney dudes and dudettes. 

5.  Go Off Peak.  We were there in the slowest month of the year.  It was a little hot, maybe go later in September, but I could have NEVER navigated the park with toddlers or young ones in high peak seasons - the park said it had about 30,000 one day we were there versus the 70,000 a day they have in the summer and spring break.  Ugh.  I could not go when it's more crowded.  And really, they can miss a couple of days of school young. 

What didn't work:

1.  The Food.  There is no good fix for this.  The food is not good.  Apparently it is perfectly acceptable at high end resorts and Epcot.  We did not experience this.  Odds are, with young kids or multiples, you won't either.  Plus, the food is expensive.  We did not buy a dining plan because it doesn't cover kids younger than three, but we probably should have.  We packed a ton of snacks in our suitcases, so we didn't ever have to buy a snack, but we did have to buy a lot of water (though we did start refilling our water bottles from the water fountains) and we had to buy meals.  The food is mediocre and EVERYTHING is self-serve.  If you have young kids, that is impossible.  One parent is trying to keep the grumpy hungry kids seated at the table while the other parent is ordering food and waiting on it.  Then you get it to the table and try to remember extra plates and cups and cut everything up and parcel everything out.  I'm sure when they're 10 and can just grab a hot dog it will be easier, but the food will still be sub-par and expensive.  Good luck. 

2.  The Strollers.  There is no good fix for this. You have to bring strollers when your kids are pre-K and younger because they get exhausted and need them.  HOWEVER, folding them up and down to get on and off buses, parking them around all the rides, fighting with your kids when they insist on pushing them instead of riding in them, it's all a hassle.  We took a double umbrella and a single umbrella stroller, but most of the time the kids were fighting with us because THEY wanted to push them.  As you might imagine, since I can barely even navigate the stroller, the kids were terrible at it, and when you finally gave in, they just ran people over with the strollers and got them stuck in flower beds.  Ugh.  Maybe you don't have willful kids, if that's the case, congratulations.

3.  The Schedule.  There is no good fix for this. Your family may not be much of a schedule family.  Since I have three two year olds, we are a schedule family.  Less so than a year ago, but still roughly on a schedule.  They wake up around 7 am, eat lunch at noon followed by a nap, eat dinner around six pm and go to bed (not to sleep) around 8 pm.  Of course there's no schedule at a park, and it's catch as catch can.  We tried on Wednesday to bring the kids back to nap at the hotel in hopes for happier children in the evening but, while they slept on the 15 minute bus ride, they would NOT sleep in the hotel.  That means the parents got no rest either.  No. Rest.  As we were saying non-toddler approved words under our breath after two hours of attempted napping when we boarded the bus back to the park, they promptly fell asleep. Lovely. 

All in all, it really was exciting and magical.  But if I had to do it all over again, I probably would have waited another year.  This time next year they'd be nearly four and have less bathroom issues and stroller complications.  I might also schedule some time to go to Downtown Disney where apparently you can get a decent meal and some table service.  We will certainly go back, though not nearly as soon as my kids want, but I would imagine it will be several years before we venture back, and then we'll probably hit the parks in October when it's a bit cooler - September is still hot in the afternoon.  I'd love to hear your tips, and I'll incorporate them in my travel planning for next time around!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Week O' Disney - The Madness

We are back.

From Disneyworld if you missed it. 

It would be ludicrous to call it a vacation.  It was work, people.  Hard work.  Three two year olds at Disney is the equivalent of six to ten people in any other setting.

We, of course, had fun.  There are many funny stories and memories.  The character encounters are probably my favorite moments.  The kids went nuts.  They LOVED meeting the characters.  Dinner with Mickey and his pals and breakfast with Pooh and his friends is a must if you have young children. 

The parades are also just utterly amazing.  We experienced the afternoon parade at Animal Kingdom, the street parade at Magic Kingdom (where the little lady got to DANCE in the street with the characters), the electric light parade at Magic Kingdom, and finally the afternoon Magic Kingdom celebrate parade.  Little lady danced like a fiend through the entire parade despite the heat.  Her little red face was undeterred as she lifted her hands and danced to the beat, causing most of the dancers and characters to stop and dance with her and give her a kiss or a compliment.  Precious! 

But no day, no morning, no afternoon, no evening was complete without a complete and utter meltdown by someone.  Luckily, none of them ever melted down at the same time except for the very last night in our hotel room when I told them to go to bed (that was hysterical though because it was private and they howled because they found out they did not get to MOVE to Disney permanently).  Bray looked at me during one of the individual public meltdown sessions and said, "I don't hear any kids crying this week but ours."  To which I replied, "there ARE other kids crying."  He retorted, "I haven't heard them," and all I could come back with was "maybe our kids are immune to the 'magic'."  Truth is, there were other kids crying, but you somehow only hear yours and yours are somehow always the loudest. 

I loved our vacation.  I did.  I love that I have a family to take a vacation with, I love that we have the resources to travel, I love that we got to enjoy the magic of Disney together, I love that we stayed in a really fun Disney hotel (the Art of Animation - this is an awesome hotel for those of you with little kids, everything is Finding Nemo, Cars, Little Mermaid, and Lion King with a killer pool just outside your room if you're in the Nemo suites).  This was the first week I have taken off from work (full week) since my honeymoon in May 2006.  Vacations, family vacations, are going to be a staple of our life now - Bray and I have already discussed ideas for next fall's outing.  The kids will have fun memories.  And we will too.  However, this year presented challenges inevitable with THREE two year olds that are still mastering their potty skills and in need of strollers.  Disney five years from now will be cake, and that is probably how long it will be before we head back. 

There will be a few other funny recaps this week, but here are the lines I remember as the most frequently uttered by our little people:
The eldest:  I can do it by myself! (most often said when determinedly pushing the stroller he refused to sit in)
The lady:  Can I take my shoes off?  (said everywhere from walking around Disney to riding buses, I did at one point say, "your feet are going to fall off" which Bray taunted me with for the remainder of the week)
The baby:  I love it!  (this was paired with everything from our hotel room to the ice cream sundae he devoured on Main Street)