When All Seems Cold and Silent

I opened my inbox this morning to read of a infertility/adoption heartache of a friend of a friend. Fourteen years on knees, beseeching the Father for children, willing to accept even the honor of bringing an unmet soul into existence. Barren womb, run-away mothers, empty arms. Such grief.

And when He seems to not be answering, what then? When He says no, what then? When all seem cold and silent?

Ann spoke beautifully to this yesterday. A small snip from her heart-tugging, heart-growing post:
She whispers it, “God does loves us, doesn’t He, Mama?”

And I nod and this is always the question and maybe this is all our faith really is — Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here. Unwavering trust all the time though I don’t understand all the time.

God is always good and we are always loved.

Loved enough to be shaped into goodness of Christ Himself.

Oh, but the molding can hurt so. Can’t it? It’s hard to see the Son sometimes…

And we question His love, His goodness.

And He brings us back to the knowing with the little things.

Years ago, it was a simple line that brought me back to the knowing of His love after years of dark doubting. It’s been the embrace of a friend, the tears of a loved one, typeset words, handwritten words – His words or the words of His people. Other times, it has been the counting of the “small” gifts with which He fills my life.

He loves. And even when He seems silent, He knows. (Listen, please. I still cannot seem to embed.)

Here are some verses that I shared with my friend this morning, praying that they would strengthen her heart and help her as she seeks to help her friend to the knowing of His love. If you are in a silent time now, may they bless you today. If the silence is later, may He remind you of His unending love when you most need it. And may we learn to see His beauty and love, even in the cold and the silence.

Psalm 27:4-8,13,14
(4) One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.
(5) For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.
(6) And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
(7) Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!
(8) You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
(13) I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
(14) Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!

Psalm 84:10-12
(10) For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
(11) For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor (grace and glory!).
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
(12) O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

Psa 73:25-28
(25) Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
(26) My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(27) For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
(28) But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Rom 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or
danger, or sword?
(36) As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
(37) No, in all these things we are more than conquerors
through him who loved us.
(38) For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
(39) nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again
to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
(4) to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you, (5) who by God’s power are being guarded through faith
for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
(6) In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary,
you have been grieved by various trials,
(7) so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold
that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result
in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(8) Though you have not seen him, you love him.
Though you do not now see him, you believe in him
and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
(9) obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Romans 11:33-36
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
(34) “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
(35) “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
(36) For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory
forever. Amen.

Psalm 56:1-13
To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam
of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.
(1) Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
(2) my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.
(3) When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
(4) In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?
(5) All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
(6) They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
(7) For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
(8) You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?
(9) Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
(10) In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise,
(11) in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
(12) I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
(13) For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God in the light of life.

Here’s the Thing…

We have been working on getting some steady forward motion in our schooling. The State Fair put a bit of a kink in our efforts, but this week we are getting down to business again. I was feeling extremely frustrated and overwhelmed this morning, at which point I generally start thinking we need to switch this or that about what we are doing for school. Or that I am just a failure as a home schooling mom. I called Jonathan in anguish and told him all the things I needed him to tell me. In detail. Things like: It’s only the second day back at working on a new daily routine, and I shouldn’t expect everything to be perfect from the start; it’s more about being consistant than about having the “perfect” system/curriculum/schedule; really, it WILL be okay. And so on. He’s so patient with me.

Continuing to think and pray after talking with Jonathan, I was convinced even more that what we truly need is to reduce distractions and Just Do It. Every weekday, unless there is a true emergency. Yes, educating at home is wonderful because there are so many opportunities for learning outside of book work. But, if my children are not able to keep their checkbooks balanced because we were too busy with other fun learning experiences, then I will have not done my job.

So, after chatting with the principal upon his arrival home from work, here’s the plan: School is in session every Monday – Friday of every week for at least the next month, so that we can truly get a routine established. That means grocery shopping, library trips, etc. have to happen evenings/weekends. That means yard jobs for the boys have to be done after school work is finished for the day. Until the apples come in and we go crazy with apples for a few days, we are going to be being very intentional and focused about getting a good groove established. And after apples, it’s back to business.

Hopefully, as time goes by, we will be able to be more flexible again. But we’ve had too much flex for too long, and it’s time to get busy!

It’s a Weekday!

Starting a new weekday habit on Friday night makes things a bit tricky. I almost forgot today.

And the streams of thought run through my head so quickly that it’s difficult to grab onto one.

Provision.

There’s one that I can hang onto.

I mentioned that Jonathan was recently off work for three unpaid weeks. For some reason, I felt awkward talking about God’s provision for us while we were in the midst of it. For some reason, now that he’s working again, it doesn’t seem as uncomfortable. But really… why should there be a taboo against praising the Lord for providing for our needs?

Anyway, it was amazing to see the way the Lord uses His people to be His hands and feet in our lives. We have received groceries, a cooler full of meat, money with which to carry on financially, and more. For me, this “sparse” time has been a great blessing as we have been loved and provided for in such neat ways. I feel loved and cared for by our body of fellow believers in a way I can’t adequately describe. Especially at almost eleven at night with two minutes left on my timer! But I am thankful.

The four year anniversaries of the passing of my G’pa and G’ma Byrd are coming up quickly, and the waves of grief have been coming. I’m trying to remember to remember they are somewhat akin to labor pains, in that I find it most helpful to work with them as they come, and let them go when they are done. There will be more, and I pray they are somehow productive.

My Health Journey – an update

I’ll get the confession part of this post out-of-the-way right off the bat. I got stuck on my journey for a few weeks. I had five days of sickness, which had some scale advantages, but also weakened me considerably and contributed to my difficulty in getting back into my fitness routine. But honestly, my stalled-out-state was more mental than physical.

I got stuck in complacent mode.

Yes, I was still thirty pounds from my goal weight.

But …
I was over thirty pounds down from the weight I “settled” at after Andrew’s birth.
I no longer cringed when I passed mirrors or saw pictures of myself.
I was into the smallest clothes I owned, aside from a few favorite “thin” outfits I’d saved.

I was starting to think, “You know, I look pretty good for a mother of eight.” Not in a “maybe I’ll stay here for the rest of my life” kind of way, but in a “hmmm, maybe I don’t need to walk today after all” kind of way.
But you know what? “Hmmm, maybe I don’t need to walk today” thinking leads to “maybe I’ll stay here for the rest of my life” thinking.

Thankfully, I “woke up” last Saturday and remembered that my reasons for eating carefully and moving more are bigger than not being disgusted at myself or wearing a particular size of clothing. That being healthy and strong is much more important than looking “pretty good for a mom-of-eight.” That I don’t want to be the fat old lady who hurts her children and grandchildren as they try to care for her. That I want to be the mama and gramma who runs and hikes and swims and plays actively with her children and grandchildren. That I want to glorify God in my body.

So I got moving again this week. I walked with my friend Bethany on Monday and Wednesday, did lots of active work outside with the Blessings, and was thoughtful with my eating. It was nice when the scale showed the difference yesterday morning (I crossed 20 pounds lost since joining Sparkpeople and 35 lost from my “settled” post-baby weight), but better than the numbers is the way I’ve felt. I’m back to pursuing my health goals and becoming who I am meant to be in this area, and it changes my perspective and attitude about so many things!

Thank you, Lord, for the gentle reminders! Help me to be faithful to abide in You and to bring joy to Your heart as I pursue being the woman You’ve called me to be, both inside and outside.

Here are some pictures of my journey that I posted yesterday on my Sparkpeople page.  I was surprised by how dramatic they seem to me…
September 1995 – Our Wedding Day

August 2010 – Three months post-baby and heavier than the aforementioned “settled” weight.  I was already cringing at the thought of looking at this picture.  Can you tell?

May 2011 – Making progress. And loving it!

Welcoming 2011

What we had thought would be our big New Year’s bash wound up being a delightfully cozy evening with family and a few friends.

We romped,
played (games and with favorite Christmas gifts),
And were reminded of what is needed as we face a new year:

I like Ann’s habit of seeking a focus word for the year. While I considered not sharing mine just because it seems to be “the thing” to do, I realized that that’s no good reason for deciding whether or not to share! Within the first few days of the new year, PW posed a question about what her readers goals were for 2011. It was part of a giveaway, so I naturally found myself in the comments box. I had been praying about a focus for the year, and as I sat with hands on keyboard, it came out with such clarity and simplicity:

To accept and to give more grace.

Ahh, grace. Truly, it is the story of my life.
And my prayer for this year is that I may “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3.18)

P.S. I’m seriously lagging on blog updates, but hope to get “caught up” soon.

Christmas/Advent Thoughts

Some post-Christmas thoughts on the Advent season and our developing family traditions as we seek to keep our focus on the Christ who was born to die that we might live eternally. Not prescribing or mandating for anyone else. These are simply some ways He is showing our family His grace at Christmas.

I wrote in early December about a couple of our Advent traditions and how blessedly they have helped us focus more on the Saviour during the season in which the world celebrates* His coming. Ann Voskamp‘s Jesse Tree book was such a helpful addition to our following of the story of redemption this December, and I loved being able to recommend it to folks. Our family Advent Wreath tradition continues to evolve, and I am prayerfully considering putting together a free downloadable Advent Wreath resource for next Advent season.

We wound up planning a trip to visit my folks and family in Florida during the third week of December. It wasn’t my first choice for timing, but God’s timing has this way of being better than mine, and He came through again with perfect timing and a wonderful trip.

I knew in November, as I looked ahead to December, that I was going to have abundant opportunity to stretch-and-release my expectation and perfectionism muscles. The Father was gracious in helping me to relax, to enjoy the moments, and let go of many less-than-important things that I ordinarily would think of as important.

So, our house was not dressed-to-the-nines this Christmas. When the Christmas boxes were brought down, a couple of them hid in the attic and avoided us altogether! I didn’t unpack my beloved Christmas dishes; the doors and bookcases didn’t have lights and garland; the wall hanging were not re-done for Christmas; we got out just a couple of ornaments for each family member; etc.

But oh the fun we had! And how our hearts worshipped our Creator made flesh!

We caught up on our missed week of the Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath during the week before Christmas. We also did some fun things that we’d either not done before or haven’t done for years.

We made salt-dough ornaments



We baked and decorated sugar cookies


We strung popcorn for our tree

I don’t remember ever doing this before in my life and I loved it. Davey popped two batches of popcorn in our air popper, and the next day we started stringing (I’d read that it works better if the popcorn has a bit of time to get stale before stringing). We would put a section on the tree whenever it seemed like it was getting too long, and put the last piece up Christmas Eve day. Definitely planning to do this again. And maybe we’ll string cranberries next year, too.
We let the Blessings hang Christmas lights in their rooms. They loved it, and it reminded me of college days.
While in Florida, I put up and decorated Papa and Mama’s tree for them. It was such fun!

Simplified Homemade Gifting
A college friend of Jonathan’s unintentionally inspired us to a handmade Christmas this year. The Blessing’s sibling drawing led to some creative thinking (on both their part and mine), and they really enjoyed both the making and the giving of their gifts. I made lapdesks for the older seven Blessings, and cheated on the handmade theme when I saw a collapsable baby gym at the resale shop for $2 for Andrew (needed, cute, and cheap). We also gave used books that we had gotten throughout the year at library book sales and thrift stores. Stockings were simple… mostly fruit, nuts, a bit of candy, and a couple of trinkets each. We also made gifts for other family members (so of which still need to be sent, so I’m not talking about them even though I don’t think my brothers-in-law read my blog) and friends.
We have always sought to have a minimal number of gifts so that the focus is not on “the haul,” but I was surprised at how much freedom I found in the additional simplicity of this year’s gifting plan. Yes, I spent quite a lot of time helping Blessings work on gifts and making gifts myself. But gift-making as a labor of love is so much more enjoyable than shopping, in my opinion. Even when it keeps you up into the wee hours for several nights before Christmas because you didn’t plan ahead well enough. It also was easier to not get carried away with impulsive buying. To walk through the stores with their shelves of Christmas-targetted gifts and feel no stress? That was wonderful. And it freed me to worship and enjoy being with my family. Definitely a tradition I’m interested in continuing.

Tree notes: We bought our first fake tree of our married life this year. Last year, there was just too much stress over water-damage concerns. And since we were gone for a week, it was great to come home to a tree that was still in great condition. Instead of putting our Jesse Tree ornaments in a separate location, we hung them on our Christmas tree (and loved it that way) this year. Incidentally, we also purchased the second fake tree of our married life this year… the day after Christmas. It’s a smaller tree that was 50% off and will be a lovely Jesse Tree.

Whew, thanks for sticking with me through this long post (if you’re still reading!). I felt the need to “jot down” some thoughts, and I pray our journey is an encouragement to you.

*Yes, the worldly celebration is mangled and twisted, but isn’t it amazing that His coming is proclaimed and honored amidst the greed? Just a tiny foretaste of “every knee shall bow,” in my opinion.

Advent – Anticipating the Coming

Jonathan and I come from a church tradition that does not not embrace the celebration of Advent. Yet, over the last several years, two Advent traditions in particular have deepened and enriched our savoring of the Christmas season, and of the grand story of Redemption itself.

You can get a glimpse of our little journey if you click on “Advent” in the category cloud. I also thought I would share a bit about the Advent traditions that have become so meaningful to our family.

The Advent Wreath:
The basic physical layout of the wreath is four smaller candles (one for each week of Advent) surrounding a central white candle (the Christ candle, to remain unlit until Christmas Day). The candles are usually entwined with greenery or placed in an actual wreath. Usually, three of the surrounding candles are purple, while one is pink (to express Joy, a traditional them for week 3). Blue seems to be easier to find than purple in taper candles, which is what we use, so ours are often blue and pink. Some use blue and red. More important is the focusing theme for each week.

Each of the four weeks of Advent has a theme, which differ according to varying church traditions. During the first week, one of the surrounding candles is lit as the theme for that week is highlighted. In each of the following weeks, another candle is lit, so that during week 4, all four candles are lit while the wreath is in use.

Our Advent themes are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. In the evening after supper, we light the candle(s), read related Scripture, and sing related songs (carols, other hymns, Scripture songs, etc). Because we are not part of a church tradition that uses this tool, we have developed our own eclectic version. It is a time of quiet reflection (punctuated this year by little outbursts of energy from our darling three-year-old-in-need-of-training) that helps to ground us during a time of year when it is so easy to be distracted.

There are many websites that might be helpful if you are interested in learning more about Advent Wreaths. I’ve done a lot of searching as we’ve settled into our our family wreath tradition.

The Jesse Tree:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:1-2

The Jesse Tree tradition is a tool that traces the Story of Redemption from Creation to the Coming of the Savior. Each day of Advent (or, in our house, as often as we can manage), the participants look at another piece of the tapestry that the Father wove in preparation for the coming of the Son. It is breathtaking to watch His plan unfold.

Each day, an ornament representing the day’s event is placed on the Jesse Tree. This can be a branch that you stick in a pot, an evergreen tree, or a tree formed on the wall by the ornaments themselves. One year we used a leftover giant campaign sign and painted our tree on the back side. The particulars are not a smidgen as important as the Story.

We are enjoying a new aid for our Jesse Tree this year, from Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience. There is a link on the righthand sidebar of her blog to a wonderful free ebook for the Jesse Tree. It gets right to the heart of the matter. So much so that I struggle to read through without tears of gratitude.

We have other “Christmas traditions,” but these two Advent tradtions have become a priceless part of the season for us. They are tools that we intentionally choose to use to calm and focus our hearts and minds. They make our anticipation and celebration richer and fuller.

What Advent/Christmas traditions aid you in focusing on the Grand Story?

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