Happy Birthday Bethany!!

Welcome…to the dark side…

I really don’t have any dark sides that I am aware of…as in things I hide away from others. I do have areas of my life that are less like the noon day all aglow by the blazing light of the sun and more like the very early morning. That part of the day that is still in the birthing stage. The part that most miss the magic of, because they are too tired to get up for it or too busy to be still and look at it. It is the part of the day that is cloaked in reverence…and wonder…and possibility.

This garden of my life does not get many visitors. I don’t hide it, but there have been but few to take the time to see and understand and appreciate this space. (Please note, appreciate does not equal agree. Agreement is not requirement for friendship.)

In this garden of my life is the story of sweet Bethany.

Picture 651

I have always wanted 3 children. More specifically, 2 boys and a girl in that order. August 13, 2004, Joe got me off to a good start. And bam! March 9, 2007, the arrival of Gabe and BrookelynClaire (in that order) completed that life goal.

I don’t remember exactly how old the twins were, but I remember everything else about the day I was folding teeny tiny preemie clothes (they wore that size for quite a while) when something so surprising and powerful happened that it was like some invisible thing gob smacked me and possessed my body! An overwhelming desire for another baby.

It was such a strong sensation that it actually startled me. I jumped up real quick and ran inside and stood by the couch. After calming myself, I chalked it up to an ailment I had never before heard of, but suddenly, without a doubt, knew existed: post-partum euphoria. I would see about getting pills for that.

Weeks and months passed, but the feeling did not abate. Long story short, Garrin quickly identified this as crazy talk not to be entertained. In a culture where surpassing the average 2.5 children per household had already won me a few less than favorable comments, I didn’t have any one to talk to about it….except Jesus.

So that’s what I did. And after a crazy IUD experience, I told God that I wanted to know what He had to say on the matter. I threw out all of my opinions and things I had been taught, and I spent a lot of time praying and studying what He had to say about it.

(DISCLAIMER: These are my beliefs based on my study, not beliefs I try to convince others of or judge them for or entice them to adhere to)

Conclusion: I have learned that I cannot in my own timing at my own whim create a life He did not ordain, but I can stop them. The latter I have regretted, and the former I have every time been blessed by.

My husband did not share this belief, and I respected that. In fact, Holy Spirit had instructed me to not bring the subject up to him at all. But I brought it up to Jesus…a lot.

In May of 2009 in Florida, Garrin asked me if I had been “praying about that baby thing.” When I answered in the affirmative he said, “Stop. If you nag, I can tune you out. But when the Holy Spirit nags, I can’t get away from it.” We had a laugh about it, and nothing else was said.

Later that summer, I felt impressed to bring up this matter again. I was scared. I didn’t want to bring it up. I knew how Garrin felt, and the last time I had brought it up had not gone well AT ALL.

I felt the nudge again, and more than I was afraid of confrontation, I was terrified of missing out on what God had for us. So I went to the altar to pray for courage. As I prayed, a sweet lady prayed over me and shared scripture the Lord had impressed on her heart. They were all scriptures about being a mother and the scriptures God had been pointing out to me. Poor woman, I think I just wept and stared.

Lying in bed that night, I very timidly said (as in it took forever for me to even get it out), “Garrin, I think God would have us trust Him for the size of our family.” And very quickly he said, “I know. But I am not talking about this tonight, so go to sleep.” It was all I could do to not jump out of bed! What had he just said?!! I didn’t talk about it…to him. But Jesus and I were up way into the night marveling at how He works.

It took longer than our experience had taught us it should take for me to get pregnant. but the week after Garrin said, “I quit. Riding this emotional roller coaster is ridiculous when we already have three perfect kids,” we found out we were expecting.

We wanted a name that meant, “God is gracious,” because that is exactly what we were experiencing after our very slow obedience…munificent graciousness. It took quite a lot of looking, but we found Gianna, and it was perfect.

Two weeks before she was to be born, we were still unsettled on a name. At the end of a church service, when the building was already emptying, and Garrin had gone out with the children to pull up the car; I found myself walking toward Cindy Jacobs at the alter. She had been our guest speaker that night. A name I had never heard prior to her introduction. These were my EXACT words:

“We are having a baby in a few days. Will you pray that we have peace about the name?”

I expected a sweet little obligatory prayer for peace…and honestly, I don’t remember really anticipating any change. But this is what I got:

“The LORD says this child’s name is to be Bethany…”

followed by a long bit of prophecy over the life of the child I carried. My head shot up…I wanted to say, “but I don’t really like that name. It just really isn’t my style.” I wanted to say, “Could you try again…and who told you I was having a girl?!”

I could feel His presence. At the end she said, “The name its self isn’t what is important. It is the meaning of the name that matters.” I left in awe…and wondering how to explain this to my husband…and thinking, “Loophole!! I’ll just find something I like better with the same meaning. There are always dozens of names with the same meaning.”

I looked up the meaning of the name right away: “house of figs” or “house of poverty”…so far I was only feeling confused. Its third meaning is “house of answers”. She was certainly an answer to a very long, continuous prayer…but I didn’t really feel like that was it. And I was frustrated, nothing else meant house of figs or house of answers. Ugh…

Out of curiosity, and what I can now only assume was the Holy Spirit, I dug deeper. I looked into the etymology and break down of the name in the original Hebrew. And I experience a thud of awe strike my heart even now when I think about it…it was what had been prophesied over this babe growing in my belly.

After much prayer, we decided it was indeed God that changed her name that night. With less than two weeks before her arrival, her moniker was changed and people informed. She would be

Bethany Gianna ~ House of answers; where the wounded, afflicted, and the poor find solace; where Jesus went to find respite and companionship; a place where peace is found; a house near to where sins were atoned for in the Old Testament and where He stands upon His triumphant return in the New Testament…it means to answer or respond or testify; timely or ready

Bethany Gianna is my tangible reminder everyday that God answers prayer. He is faithful. His timing is perfect. Just because some good thing is in His plan for your life doesn’t mean you wont have to go through some hard, some disappointment, some feeling like the promise may never come before it manifests. Conversely, just because you cant see so much as a glimmer of the promise in the far off distance of this treacherous night you are now walking doesn’t mean He doesn’t have the answer ready for you to be given at the designated time.

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Dearest Bethany,

You remind me to go to peace when I am storm tossed. Your name reminds me that Jesus does not abandon those in the house of affliction. He communes with them. In the house of the humble lived some of Christ’s dearest friends: many miracles occurred there. Stay humble.

God’s graciousness toward us runs through my house every day with giggles and long hair. And though 7 perfect years have passed since His graciousness wrapped in flesh came to our home, you remind me to look for it when I feel there is no reason to hope for it any more.

I hope big for you my girl.

Stay strong. Just as you are slow to conform to my view of how your room should be organized, stand strong against the pressures of this world to conform.

Continue to overflow with joy in such a way that little drops of it spill all around you as you bounce through your day.

Continue to enjoy every season of your life, savoring every morsel.

And my pledge to you stands: I will not exhaust myself and steal your beauty by trying to mold you into who I was or what I have envisioned you to be. In truth, I have no presupposed visions of your future…I have been amazed at the many miracles that brought you into our lives and the many miracles that have occurred around your little life. I know without the slightest doubt that you are God’s plan, and what He has in store will leave me in humble awe of Him in you.

I developed a habit when you were but a wee thing of calling you “My Beth.” I am frequently reminded of the night as I rocked you to sleep in the quiet of your nursery how Father scolded me, “She is not yours. She is mine. Do not forget that and begin trying to shape my child into your image.” It stung and it calmed me all at once. I did want to keep you, just as you were, all for myself; but what a relief it was to know someone so much more powerful, someone all good was who you belonged to.

Sweet girl, I wish I could promise you a life full of sunshine and all good things, but that would be a lie. I do not know what joys or sorrows the annals of your life will hold. But I do know that in it there will be blinding rays of His glory. Do not be fooled to think my darling that a life lived in Him is a life without pain or that a life He has called is lived out on a stage. These beliefs leave all those who hold them disillusioned, questioning their faith, and questioning God and His goodness.

Know that regardless of what your circumstances may hold, a life lived in God has joy in the darkest nights, hope when all seems lost, peace in the most ravaging hells, and comfort in the lonely places. It is a life that, in the face of loneliness has deep companionship. It is a life that exudes the beauty of one favored by a King in a world of sin’s ugly.

Lastly dear Bethany, do not ever lose sight of where your home lies and where your awards are stored. Do not ever fight for today or expect to fully grasp the beauty of a life while here. Our home is heaven. Store your treasures there. Fight for eternity. And know the answers to all you do not understand here, is with your Father there.

 

All my love to my most gracious answer on the anniversary of your birth.

 

Mother    xoxo

Lessons at the Beach

We had an incredible week at the beach! Two whole weeks in the keys! It was gloriously uneventful. And Internet access was mind numbingly slow…an unplanned, complete unplug. We walked across the street to the beach every day. My sister and I chit-chatted to the sound of the susurrus as the children played in the ocean, ventured into the ocean ourselves a few times, went back to the house for dinner, and returned to the beach in time to watch the sunset…everyday for two weeks. Ahhh.

For the first week and a half, the waves were very small: perfect since half of the kiddos are under the age of 10. And the shallows go on for days at the beach we were at. I have never been to a beach where kids looked dangerously far out and could still touch. On more than one occasion, one of us would jump up in a panic hollering to a little to come in closer as we waved them in with large, dramatic arm motions. They would give us a puzzled look, stand up, and begin walking in. The water was only at their knees. Sheepishly, we holler, “You’re fine!” and wave with our arms for them to go back out. Poor kids. Lucky for us the beach was only sparsely occupied.

A week and a half in, we begin our daily routine. We grab our gear, load children up with their gear, and begin our lazy stroll across the street to the beach. The kids aren’t running anymore, there is no skipping or elated shouting about beach plans volleying from one to the other. They look for lizards as we walked along silently and slowly. Relaxation and a healthy boredom has set in.

As we approached the dunes, I notice\ a difference. There is a dim, rolling roar. The sky is bright…not thunder. I pick up my pace…sounds like the waves are up…ugh, the kids probably won’t enjoy this…keep walking. None of them have noticed anything yet. As I crest the rocks lining the dunes, I see the swells. My eldest son had gone out with my sister. When my eyes find him, he is standing, looking right at a wave quickly approaching him.

surfer dudes

“That wave is a good two and a half feet taller than him.” my husband says as the wave absorbs my son into itself, continues its course, crashes into a small mountain chain of foam, and spits him out rolling and laughing.

I prepare myself for a short stay. There is no way the littles are going to like this.

My ten-year-old son runs out to join his brother. The others line up watching. BrookelynClaire runs to join her twin…never wanting to be left out. The seven year old quickly joins them with giggles, the five year old with a tiny body joins, and finally, though hesitantly, the six year old wades in.

With eyes sharp as hawks we watch them, counting every time they go under (boys do not appreciate a mom that dons her Wonder Woman cape too soon), and we watch their expressions.

It is rough. They are tossed like rag dolls. They ride boogie boards high atop cresting waves. When trying to walk they are knocked down over and over. But all I see are giggles and beaming faces…

The waves are rough, but the joy is high…

a picture of what my life in Christ should be…I am sure of it.

Sometimes tough seasons last longer than I feel they should. At times I have mounted a boogie board and made the best of the ride…on top of the wave. At other times I’ve resembled a rag doll tossed from one spot to the next just holding my breath for survival.

I watch my eldest son, as he tries to make his way across the ocean to the others, he does not fight the wave. When he sees the waves that loom high above his head approaching, he stands. Not run. Not swim. Not jump. Just stands and gives himself to the wave. It would absorb his body and he would disappear in a wall of green, (it gives me a strange feeling to watch) but when he comes up, he is further along in the direction he was heading.

I don’t know if he swam inside that wave or just let it take him, but he saved so much energy.

How many times does God allow tough things to come my way with the intention of it moving me further along? How many times does He offer joy in the tough seasons? Joy that can only be found in Him when the waves are high. And how often do I miss the joy fighting the wave? Fighting for my plan or what I think is right.

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We stayed out much longer than I anticipated that day. They laughed hard that day. The lazy saunter to the beach turned into running and skipping and rolling in the waves. And as I watched them I wondered, on the way back to the house I wondered, and sitting here in my office I still wonder…

Might our greatest moments of joy be found when the waves are high? Might some of life’s greatest obstacles be meant to move us along if we will only give ourselves to them? There is a time to fight…might there also be a time to trust that this too is for my good, because He is good…and in trusting Him surrender the fight and rest in Him in the wave.

And I am certain that we can only laugh when we know that He too is watching. He is counting. He will never let a wave destroy us; but remake us and move us further along. pexels-photo-waves

And so today I resolve…that when the waves are rough, because of Him, my joy will be high.

What a Farmer’s Hands Taught Me

These hands…
We were out admiring the first small evidences of fruit from the many plants planted. It is a farmer’s joy to call out the wife to admire that which he has carefully coaxed into producing small life with his rugged hands. This year my farmer has been relegated to a sparse little garden in the backyard of our city dwelling. But he still loves and caresses and nurtures and protects and intimately watches his little plant babies.
And he calls me, calls me out from the domestic demands within the four walls we call home. He calls me to share in the complex miracle of life that happens in the plainness of the rough sawn garden boxes he fashioned with his hands. In this garden, I enjoy the awe without the work…there is no need for more than one pair of life fashioning hands in this year’s garden.
I scan the garden and stop. The hand checking the progress of life blossoming is dirty. There are scratches and callouses from where he has planned, created a place for, and made an environment suitable for his little plant babies to grow. How many times have his hands been sullied in hopes for a harvest? No evidence that there would be one other than memories of the multitude of times green vines, plants, and bushes have responded to him with life-giving nourishment.budding blueberries
And I think of my own hopes. My own wavering dreams. How long am I willing to wear sullied hands? How long will I sweat? How long will I work my mind, heart, and body hard in hopes for the harvest?
Too often I build a box, fill with dirt, throw in seed, and march triumphantly off to bed only to be devastatingly crestfallen in the morning when the fruit of my labor is not fully formed and evident. I cry, get angry, decry my inability to accomplish anything and complete lack of worth to all of the birds and squirrels that will listen, and sulk away. Dreams and hopes abandoned, left to die for lack of nourishment, lack of commitment, lack of faith in the work I was doing and the process of growth and time.

…the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil,

being patient about it… ~James 5:7

Don’t give up yet. Don’t abandon your garden yet. We cannot always know how far off the bearing of fruit may be, but we can rest assured that through continued labor there will be a harvest.

May you again today dirty your hands in pursuit of your dreams, your children, your marriage, your purpose. May you find joy in the process ever hopeful of the promised fruit.

First Blueberries

Come a Little Closer; I’ll Tell You a SECRET

Hey you. Yea, you. Come a little closer, and I’ll tell you a secret…

A little bit of math, a little ELA, a little Bible, history, science, language, and a LOT of reading keep the mind from dropping the precious morsels of learning gained throughout the school year. And seriously, there is so much amazingness in this great wide world to know! How many “aha” moments and “Oh my goodnesses” would we miss if we abandoned the mind’s exploration of the world around us, in books, and museums all summer!…positively criminal I say.

If this sounds awful to you, then someone has done a grave injustice by you at some point in your life and made you think that learning is confined to a pen and paper, desk, and upright chair (comfortable to no tush might I add).

Learning is fun and amazing and exhilarating and breath-taking and downright addicting. All it takes is one hit of discovery, one glimpse of the coffers of knowledge out there available to all who will but pursue them to leave anyone with an unquenchable fire in their belly that drives learning and discovery day and night.

I am a dealer, knowledge is my drug.

I am a dealer, knowledge is my drug. My goal is hopeless addiction. So I offer the hits. I shine the light just right to make the treasure in the coffers gleam. I make it feel as though they are getting something for nothing. I don’t push, I coyly lure until I know they are desperately hooked. And then I stop just short of satisfaction…Psychology has shown us that we convince ourselves that, that which we must beg for is of higher value…so I    make.      them.      beg.      And I act indifferent. Then I step out-of-the-way and watch them run wild without me. I have taught them to sleuth to get their fix, to leave no stone unturned, no subject unexplored. The chase is on. They run...a fire has started…

I am going to let you in on my dealer’s secret for this summer. They swallowed it hook line and sinker immediately, and I began to see the fruit of success within 24 hours!

I ran across these little flip books in Wal-Mart in the first part of May. And I knew I had struck gold.

Summer Learning Tools
Great tools to start a learning challenge for just $0.98!!!

*Dealer’s Secret: Things that you can flash and then walk away from as if they are of little value to you are insanely powerful!

I bought 4, one for each of my addicts in training. Then I began thinking about what I wanted them to learn this summer. What fire did I want to stoke in their little bellies and leave to consume their thoughts and time and falling asleep conversations…there were a few, but I decided the fire I really wanted to flame was scripture.

“Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against You.” ~ Psalm 119:11

I keep a running list of verses I want my children to learn. After praying, I decided I wanted a mixture of scriptures they could pray, scriptures that reveal the nature of God, ways to be like Jesus, scriptures on how to treat others, and practical wisdom. Crazy, not long after that we were challenged in church by Hamp Greene to read through the book of John. Guess what! Many of the scriptures ended up coming from John! I love dealing with God as my lead man!!

For practical wisdom, I added James…a lot of James…like all of chapter 1 and I’m still adding. (big, cheesy, and slightly sheepish grin) I LOVE James. It is my personal addiction.

We went to visit my Granddaddy for our first week out of school, and the day we left, I threw my shiny lure out on the water. I included Granddaddy in the conversation (that he had no prior knowledge to…Thanks for always being a sport) for added sparkle and skip to attract my prey.

Me: “Hey guys! I want to show y’all something. Come here Granddaddy. I have our summer challenge. Here it is. For every five verses you memorize, I will get you a treat. Now, this is cumulative, I want learning, not memorizing; so the first time you quote five, then those five with an additional five, so forth and so on. If you manage to memorize them all…Granddaddy and I will come up with something awesome!”

Kids: “What?! What are the prizes?!”

Me: I will reveal them one at a time. Number one is a Freeze from Taco Bell. We will go get it the day you quote your first 5. No stumbling. No help.”

Kids: “What?! Seriously?! Awesome!! What is the prize if we learn them all?”

Me: “We haven’t even talked about that yet. Not sure you can do it.”

Kids: “We can! What is it?!”

Me: “If you start getting close, I’ll call him and we will figure something out.”

 

The conversation ended. I laid the cards on the table. Everyone went back to the pool. (Not sure it has taken…act cool. Just act cool.)

Bait on the Table

When we got ready to go, I went to get my cards…they were gone. (sly grin)<7:00 pm>

They worked on their verses the whole way home, and they took turns helping Bethany learn hers. (She only has to learn 2 at a time.)<10:30 pm>

The next day, everyone said their first 5 verses perfectly…except Bethany who can’t say “glory” right. (Laughs all around at her adorable sweetness.) No prodding or pleading or begging from me.

It is Monday, and I have already awarded two #2 prizes and have two more to pick up in the morning. (Prize #2 was a McDonald’s sausage biscuit for breakfast.)

Summer Challenge Treat #1
Summer Challenge Treat #1 (excuse the teenager goofiness)

Guys, my bigs have memorized 10 new scriptures! When I wake up, they already have the cards out. When they are taking turns on the computer, they have the cards out. Riding in the car, the cards are out. The talk in both rooms every night has been scripture. The fire is growing. Not addicted yet…but on the right track.

And can I just add right here…don’t you DARE tell them this! I have already had my big prize up front. I can’t even begin to tell you of all the giddy excitement I feel as I overhear this. Heart palpatations, stifled squeals, sore cheeks from all of the smiling…it is my constant right now. If they don’t learn them all (that would really be an insane feat) I am pleased as punch.

An added bonus!!!! They keep coming to me and asking:

“Mom, what does this scripture mean?”

“Mom, who is talking in this scripture and who are they talking to?”

“How can I use this scripture in my life?”

“Mom, I think this scripture means this, but he thinks it means that. Who is right?”

“Then those whose lives honored God got together and talked it over. God saw what they were doing and listened in. A book was opened in God’s presence and minutes were taken of the meeting, with the names of the God-fearers written down…” ~Malachi 3:16

They are declaring scripture in their rooms and everywhere they go. They are reading scripture and asking questions. They are learning to study the Word without even knowing it. And all day, as I hear their little voices, my mind’s eye sees and my Spirit feels the ear of Elohim drawing near to my home, listening close to hear these conversations being had, and writing their names in The Book of Remembrance…of which few of them even know of yet.

“…He Bends down to listen…” ~Psalm 116:2

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A fire has been started…

…may it consume them.

Dear Mom in the Trenches of the Little Years…

The Little Years

I remember this day well. She was a beast this day. I was trying to get some bills paid. She came and demanded to sit in my lap.

 

This daughter of mine with translucent fairy-like skin, wispy white strands, and rosebud lips could produce a dragon like, earth-shaking rage that had thrown the entire house off kilter this particular morning.  She had tried my patience, pushed my limits, and tested my sanity. Her brothers were steering clear, and my momma’s heart had long ago “left the building”. I was exhausted from remaining calm, consistently disciplining, and trying to reassure this little being of my love and her boundaries all at once.

Pretty Pout

Mamma, I know how hard this task is. How emotionally, physically, and mentally draining.

I was ashamed then, and I am ashamed to tell you now (but I will, so that you will know you aren’t alone) that I wanted my space. I had things I needed to do. But the brutal truth was that I just wanted to be left alone for a single minute to take a breath, re-balance, and to feel peace.

She wasn’t having it. (This has always confused me about my children. After discipline, I wanted to get as far away from my parents as I could. Not mine. They seem to throw themselves into me after these hard moments.) She wiggled her little self into her desired spot with no help from me. My initial response was to put her down. Demands do not get you what you want, regardless of emotions. But Holy Spirit pulled at me, He arrested my tongue, and I wrapped my arm around her and continued working. I looked back down within 5 minutes and saw this.

Napping Beauty

This moment was not just about her, my Heavenly Father, the greatest of parents, was giving me a gift I could not at the beginning see. He was healing the hurt of my heart through the very one that had bruised it. He was restoring my peace through she who shook it.

My Father gave me the wisdom in that moment to know that everything could wait, after all, what was one more late night. And I watched. I had been here before, she is not my first-born, so I realized there were few of these moments left. I settled deep into this one. I tried hard to memorize how she smelled, I traced the soft lines of her baby face trying to commit every tiny curve to memory.  She slept 4 hours that day, every precious one in my lap, against my chest, as I listened to her tiny breaths.

Four hours was a huge part of my day. We had sandwiches for dinner, I only completed one load of laundry, two little boys had lots of play time, and I did stay up until the birthing of a new day. Six years later, those four hours are but a drop in the bucket of time, but they occupy a HUGE spot in my vault of precious memories. I would give up the hours of a whole day to go back and do it again.

I am so glad I fell behind, because that was the last time she slept, really slept, nestled against me. It was my last chance to hold that sleeping baby.

Momma’s who are in the trenches of the little years, it’s okay to fall behind in your house work or to serve sandwiches for dinner…again, and it is imperative to acquiesce to the nudges of the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to parent God’s children on loan through you, and let Him. Don’t get so busy doing, that you forget to live, to remember (dimpled fingers, chubby cheeks, funny phrasing, and sticky kisses). Four children…I birthed four babies…and yet…somehow, the dimpled fingers and toddling steps of the little years are gone. My baby’s baby voice is fast fading. So please hear me. It goes by faster than you can imagine as you sit in the messy, exhausting trenches of the little years. You will yearn (though you may not be able to imagine it now) for these days again. Your arms will ache to hold that sticky baby one more time. In your future, you will one day look back and declare these to be Golden Years.

BrookelynClaire turns 2

Spotlighting the Good in a Generation: A Royal Pursuit

The Notre Dame walkout. That is all of the attention I will give to that. It is time that as a nation we take the spotlight off of the entitled and shine it on people that we would like to see more of this generation, and any other generation for that matter, emulating. Today, I am choosing to use the light I have to spotlight such a one.

Project Transition is going very well. My children are all thriving and loving the new life we are settling into here, but the road has been rough for them at times.

I don’t need to tell you about the beast that is the middle school years. As a teacher, I often referred to this as the swampy armpit of adolescence. It is awkward and everything keeps changing (including their body), it can be difficult to know who their friends are from one day to the next. Hormones go insane awarding most everyone a brief ride on the rollercoaster experience that is bipolar disorder. There is a desperation to be cool that usually falls in the northern pole of utter annoyance or in the southern pole of icy cold…rarely, very rarely, do middle schoolers bask in the equatorial beauty that is consistent, smoking hot coolness. All of the excitement of this season of our lives happened when my son was in this portion of his life’s journey.

Meet Alex Bisignani. He is the youth intern at Church of the Highlands in our area. He texted to check on Joe within days of our arrival to this new town. My son’s introduction to his new youth group was walking up to a huge building teeming with the life and excitement brought by the workers and teens that filled it. Upbeat, music was pumping energy into games, activities, and clusters of happy kids. It is an overwhelming scene when you are one of the youngest in the group and do not so much as recognize a single face. Alex met us at the door. He helped Joe face the discomfort that is necessary to move past the awkward and uncomfortable and get to the good stuff. That night was a victory in that Joe stayed the whole night.

Alex Bisignani

Every time we walked into the doors of the church it was like Alex had a radar for Joe. He immediately came over with positive energy and high fives asking Joe about how his week had been and inviting him to next events ensuring him he would be there to hang out with him. You would have thought Joe was the coolest kid in the building.

Church of the Highlands City Group
Alex and City Group friends and leaders!
Unfortunately, Joe did not always return Alex’s enthusiasm. He did just enough to be polite, but gave Alex absolutely no reason to extend such kindnesses again and again. There was a point when culminating circumstances in my son’s life turned my outgoing, confident child into a complete homebody. I appreciated that he wanted to spend all of his time with his dad and me, but my heart ached for him because this was out of character for this child and for this age in life. In the middle of this brewing storm in Joe’s life, Alex showed up again after church and Joe was in the south pole of icy cold. He barely uttered audible words and did the shoulder shrugging, head dangle so common amongst middle schoolers. My heart hurt for what my kiddo was walking through, but I was mortified.

I held my tongue while we were in front of people, but I had already planned my speech for when we got in the car. I do not care what you are walking through, you can be polite! As soon as the doors to the car closed he hung his head and tears ran down his face. I was shocked by the tears, and Holy Spirit used that moment of shock to grab my attention. We sat for a minute, and I finally asked why he had been so rude to a guy that had been so incredibly kind to him.

“I don’t know Mom. I know he is so nice to me, and I want to be nice back. I just don’t know.”

The next Sunday we were walking through the church and mid sentence I see Joe’s eyes get big and he starts falling back. Then he spins around and starts walking the other way. I stop, shocked again. When I look the other direction, I see Alex Bisignani with a giant smile headed our way. As Joe’s pace picks up in the opposite direction, Alex’s pursuit of him picked up pace. Alex called out, “I see you Joe, and I’ll chase you down if I have to.” Joe slowed. Alex caught him by the shoulders, and when he turned him around my heart leaped. The kid he turned around was not the kid in the middle of a brewing storm, it was my old Joe. Alex turned around a beaming, laughing boy.

 

That was the turning point. Everything changed from there.

Joe is now serves in Highlands Kids. He is involved in small groups, City Groups, a Bible Study group that meets at his school and is completely organized by kids from Church of the Highlands that go to his school. He has opened up and shared slithers of his experience with his breakout groups, and I cannot even share with you how my heart almost burst with pure joy and gratitude when he stood in front of his City Group and lead them all in prayer.

leading City Group in Prayer

Alex Bisignani is a millennial that does not operate on the entitlement his generation has been labeled with. He does not live his life focusing on what he can get out of others or quit at every offense. No one enjoys the icy, too cool for school attitude of a preteen. Time and again I have seen adults wounded by those icy barbs walk away. A guy like Alex gets nothing out of continuously walking face forward into the firing squad…unless…unless he is not working and operating on his own agenda. Unless he is about the business of someone much higher. Unless he has seen, embraced, and is totally sold out to showing the pursuit of Jesus Christ to a generation.

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I saw Elohim’s loving pursuit of me and of Joe in Alex. How many times have I walked away? How many times have I begged out? How many times have I shot icy barbs at the One that lovingly pursued me in spite of myself?

Alex still reaches out to Joe, but Joe looks forward to seeing his red hair and giant welcoming smile coming across the church now. And every time I see Alex, I pray a silent thank you to a Father that has so many times pursued me. A Father that pursued this red headed Godsend in such a way, that it impacted him to pursue on behalf of a loving, Almighty King. A Royal Pursuit.

And I will leave you with the challenge Alex’s actions have left with me: Are you pursuing on behalf of The King? When others see you, do they see the Father’s unrelenting pursuit of them? If not, it’s time we become a little more like Alex.

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The One Thing They Never Told Me That Would Have Stopped Me From Having So Many Children

Maybe the one line that would have stopped me from having more children…heck, maybe from having children altogether, I never heard.

“They are expensive.” “It gets harder as they get older.” “Just remember that every baby will turn into a teenager.” “Think about the cost of college.”

Just some of the phrases I heard from alarmed family, friends, & total strangers as our family continued to grow. I did my best to accept their concern gracefully & smile, but I loved my family. Every little ounce of it. It was chaotic and challenging, but I honest to goodness loved my life with all the littles!

If someone would have sat me down and said, “You will have to be an advocate for your children. Some won’t need your advocacy but from time-to-time, others will require profound advocating. You know how you feel about defending yourself, fighting for yourself…advocating for your kids will not feel like standing in the gap on behalf of someone else. It will feel like defending yourself. You suck at that. You may want to reconsider children.” I am pretty sure I would have. 

I hate conflict. When it comes to defending myself, most of the time I just back away and hope in time who I am, my actions, the whole picture unfolding will change their minds or hearts toward me. I prefer to not fight for myself. Now, if you need a fighter, I’ve got you covered and I’m usually pretty good 😁

I try to find mommas that encourage me in life, in book, on TV. Anything to be like, “if they can do that, surely I can do this.” There is such a woman that blogs. Her journey and advocacy requirements are immense. Her son taught himself to read at 2, fell in love with the periodic table at 3, tested as profoundly gifted, and schools said there was nothing they can do for him.

Here is an excerpt from her blog:

The fear of failure.

Profoundly gifted children are the most at risk for dropping out of school. I don’t have a link for that because it has been drilled into my brain from every article I’ve ever read about them. Why on earth would they drop out when it comes so easily for them? Because it comes so easily for them! People thrive on an appropriate amount of challenge. Children are programmed for learning. There’s a misconception that if you leave these kids alone they’ll be just fine. Best case scenario: they do okay but never reach their own potential and struggle with that knowledge when they’re older, and the world misses out on whatever greatness they could have offered us and themselves. I don’t want that for my son. I want him to work hard for what he has, learn from his mistakes, and use what he’s been given to its greatest potential. How he uses his gifts is up to him. But I don’t want them stolen from him before he’s able to make a decision on how he wants to use them.”

She shares her own advocacy journey, the toll, and the imperative importance of it. My journey is much different. Neither as profound or as interesting, and yet I feel the same things: I am embarrassed by my delicacy.

Advocating saps my energy. It makes me question everything about my thought processes & think maybe I didn’t understand the experts right. There are the experts & friends & family, & they often contradict…maybe I just made this up…maybe I didn’t understand. It makes me feel crazy. 

So to those of you that have found yourself wearing the advocate hat (we wear so many as parents), I want to encourage you as Life at Tiffany’s Blog has encouraged me.  

Don’t give up! Every day I consider quitting and just letting the pieces fall where they may. Every. Day. So I get that. But Don’t!!

Find people that understand your journey & encourage you! I long for these areas of my life to just be normal. I hate the panic I feel inside when questions that will reveal the different in my journey are asked. It literally takes my breath debating (every time) the best answer to give that isn’t a lie but doesn’t spotlight the “weird” in our life. A support group is paramount! A group that can laugh at the absurdity of your situation with you, that can reassure you when the status quo leaves you doubting yourself, a place to collapse & be recharged when the exhaustion is too much. It’s SO important.

Advocate the heck out of your situation! Study, research, talk to specialists. It is a constant learning journey. And when you want to give up, or if you get uncomfortable advocating for your child, then think of those that will follow you. There those that come behind us that will not have advocates. Those whose advocate will wear out and not be able to continue…fight for them. No matter how rare your situation, you aren’t the only one. 

If you are advocating for a child with special needs, a misunderstood child, a child batteling illness, a child in poverty, or, like Tiffany, a gifted child; I commend you for the efforts you’ve made so far & implore you to not give up the good fight, even when you loose a battle. There is too much goodness at stake!

I’ll leave you with the words from Tiffany that encouraged me today:

So whatever your battle is fight it. Because if you don’t fight it, no one else will.

And since everyone of these precious beings got here before I had any idea of how unfit I would be as their advocate, I’ll fight. 
Be sure to check out Tiffany’s amazing blog and incredibly interesting life here

Trying vs. Striving & A Car Conversation with 6 Year Olds

Twins kindergarten graduation day

A Car Conversation with six year olds:

BrookelynClaire: This weather is hideous!
Me: Do you know what hideous means?
BrookelynClaire: Yes ma’am. (& she seamlessly launches into an accurate definition.)
Me: I’m so proud if you for using such a great adjective.

…conversation about what adjectives are followed by examples & them sharing every one they can think of…

Gabe: Mom, I know big words too, see: Mom You are a beautiful adjective! (He was positively beaming)
Me: Well thank you Gabe! (Whilst stifling my chuckles)

The exhausting job of a parent. That job that is never finished, never satisfied…the job that fills me to overflowing while leaving me like a wet, wrung out paper bag…parenting is just messy…sometimes the messes are gross, sometimes the messes are physical, sometimes the messes are emotional, sometimes the messes are funny, sometimes the messes are beautiful…but always messy.

This most overwhelming of messes that I vacillate between bending my back to the labor of eradicating or falling into with joy soaking it all in knowing that time is daily marching it toward the door of my life. But in it has come an unexpected gift. This messy job has given me an intimate understanding of the heart of the Father towards me.

This conversation was one of those moments. As I bathed in the sweetness of the moment, God soothed my heart and drew me to appreciable understanding of His love toward me.

I am a first born, and the traits psychologists attribute to first borns…well, I am a poster child. In case you haven’t studied this, it means I am prone to perfectionistic tendencies, I strive to please authority figures, I am a rule follower, I fear failure, I like for i’s to be dotted and t’s to be neatly crossed and for my work to be thorough as well as aesthetically pleasing. It all served me pretty well in school, but can make my relationship with God harder than it is supposed to be.

I want to please Him. I want to live a life without blemish. I want to be the perfect wife. I want to raise beautiful, clean, intelligent, God adoring, Bible reading, people tending children that never say bad words or fight or scream or move me to scream at them. But I fail…almost daily when presenting my life before Elohim…can’t you just feel your muscles knotting up?

I love that my children try to learn more each day, that they try to get along better, that they try to please their father and me…trying allows for joy: like the joy we all experienced in the car that day: she who succeeded, he who tried, and parent who joyed in accomplishment and delightful effort. Try is simply an indication of some effort and mindfulness. It does not condemn mistakes. It learns from failures and laughs at best efforts gone funnily awry. It finds joy and rest in the day’s end, because it is a fallible child that can receive love from a Perfect Father. Try can receive nurturing compliments and is still open to loving criticism and therefore can grow.

I would be broken hearted, bumfuzzled, and frustrated if they lived lives of strife. If in their efforts to learn and grow they were overwhelmed, never felt like enough, if they never walked in the grace poured out by their father and me to lubricate the failures they will experience in life, they would be living a life of striving. Striving leaves us malnourished; a striver cannot receive nurturing compliments and atrophies so that they are brittle. Brittle people bristle and break even under loving criticism, and breaking down under every day’s lesson does not allow for growth.

Father God wants us to put forth effort and be mindful of Him in all we do and say. But He wants us to live a life so covered in His lubricating grace that it saves us from feeling damned by our failures and leaves a dripping trail everywhere we go. He wants us to live lives open to Him so that we can be nourished by His presence and His Word. He wants us to feel love in His discipline (Proverbs 3:12) and go to bed every night with the peace that we are enough and wake up every morning rejoicing in His new mercy.

Where are you today? Are you living in the joy of His grace in your daily walk? Or has striving left you feeling unworthy, not enough, dried out, and brittle?

Abba,

Help me to cease striving. Remove from my hands the murderously heavy weights of perfectionism in my relationship with You. As I lie my head down tonight, let me lie down in your nurturing green pastures in the presence of the waters of Your Holy Spirit. (Psalm 23:2-3a) Let me sleep in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3) and wake up in the joy of tomorrow’s new mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23). Move me from the death of striving the the grace and pleasure of trying.